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Holman Bible Dictionary

Esther

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(ehss' thuhr) Persian personal name meaning, “Ishtar.” Heroine of biblical Book of Esther whose Jewish name was Hadassah. Esther is the story of a Jewish orphan girl raised by her uncle, Mordecai, in Persia. She became queen when Queen Vashti refused to appear at a banquet hosted by her husband, King Ahasuerus. Esther did not reveal that she was Jewish.

Mordecai heard about a plot against the king's life which he reported through Esther. Haman was made prime minister and began to plot against Mordecai and the Jews because they would not pay homage to him. The king issued a decree that all who would not bow down would be killed. Esther learned of the plot and sent for Mordecai. He challenged her with the idea, “Who knoweth whether those art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 ). She asked Mordecai and the Jews to fast with her while she decided. She entered the king's presence unsummoned which could have meant her death. The king granted her request.

Haman was tricked into honoring Mordecai, his enemy. At a banquet, Esther revealed Haman's plot to destroy her and her people, the Jews. Haman was hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. Mordecai was promoted, and Esther got the king to revoke Haman's decree to destroy the Jews. The Jews killed and destroyed their enemies. The book closes with the institution of the festival of Purim.

The Book of Esther The Book of Esther has been placed among the writings in the Old Testament. It, along with four others small books—Song of Solomon, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations, was placed on one scroll called the “Meghilloth” and was used for festival readings. Many scholars feel that the Book of Esther is a short historical novel or short story sprinkled with historical data and names to make its message more urgent and important. Thus it would be comparable to Jesus' parables. Others think it is an attempt to write history with free interspersion of speeches and conversation following the conventions of history writing of its day. Others insist on the historicity of every detail, pointing to Esther 10:2 .

The Purpose of the Book The purpose is not clear from a reading of the book. It considers the question of destruction or survival of the Jews under persecution. Though the book deals with religious issues, the name of God is never mentioned in the book. The writer deliberately avoids the name of God. When Esther prepares herself to present herself unrequested into the presence of the king, prayer does not accompany fasting. Also vengeance is more prominent than devotion. An important function of the book is to explain the observance of the festival of Purim. The Purim festival was a Jewish commemoration of deliverance—deliverance of the Jews from the hands of the Babylonians.

If this is the purpose of the book, then that explains the absence of the name of God. The book was intended to be read at the Purim festival—a festival of merrymaking, noise, and conviviality. Thus the major theme of the book, persecution returning on the head of those who initiate it, leads through all the details of the story to the final victory which Purim celebrates.

Theological Teachings Many feel that the religious concepts taught in the book are sub-Christian. Probably the persons who can understand and appreciate the attitudes of Esther are those who have lived through persecution and occupation by others. In times of peace it is incomprehensible and unforgivable that hard suffering creates such rigidity and callousness. Though the book does not mention the name of God, it has a definite theology. Throughout, the book points to justice and indicates that faithfulness to the covenant people is a duty whether it pays or not. Mordecai's insistence that Esther must intervene to save her people is based on the idea that a good Jew must worship and be loyal to the covenant God and to Him alone. To be faithful to Him means to be faithful to His people.

The book teaches the axiom that “the Lord helps those who help themselves.” During the days of oppressive persecution the very survival of the people depended upon the Jews doing something. The book shows the sovereignty of God working in a foreign land to preserve His people. It shows God working through people of unpretentious backgrounds as they prove faithful to Him. It shows ultimate punishment for those who oppose God's people. It calls for celebration of God's deliverance.

Outline

I. Humble faithfulness can lead to large responsibilities (Esther 1:1-2:18 ).

A. Political power of ungodly rulers may be far-reaching (Esther 1:1-8 ).

B. Protection of personal rights may result in loss of position and rights (Esther 1:9-15 ).

C. Family relationships and respect cannot be enforced by political means (Esther 1:16-22 ).

D. Self-giving love and loyalty to family, nation, and God may require hiding one's identity to gain opportunity to serve (Esther 2:1-11 ).

E. Humble obedience can lead to opportunities to serve (Esther 2:2-18 ).

II. Faithfulness to one's people can be expressed through service to a foreign ruler (Esther 2:19-3:15 ).

A. Loyalty to one's people does not require participation in conspiracy against foreign rulers (Esther 2:19-23 ).

B. Loyalty to the foreign ruler does not mean participating in immoral government practices (Esther 3:1-2 ).

C. Loyalty to God and godly traditions over loyalty to foreign rulers may cause personal and even national persecution (Esther 3:3-15 ).

III. Positions of influence bring responsibility to act for God's people (Esther 4:1-17 ).

A. Mourning rites are appropriate responses to national danger (Esther 4:1-4 ).

B. God's people must act and pray in times of danger (Esther 4:5-17 ).

IV. Responsible actions for God are honored by God's actions for His people (Esther 5:1-8:17 ).

A. Self-giving action is rewarded in unexpected ways (Esther 5:1-8 ).

B. Human pride leads to rash actions (Esther 5:9-14 ).

C. Honor comes to God's faithful at the opportune moment (Esther 6:1-3 ).

D. Human pride often leads to humiliation (Esther 6:4-12 ).

E. God's people will experience vindication eventually (Esther 6:13-14 ).

F. Brave action for God's people brings deliverance (Esther 7:1-10 ).

G. God's providence brings reward for faithfulness and joy to God's people (Esther 8:1-17 ).

V. Celebration through the ages helps God's people remember His salvation and the lessons of history (Esther 9:1-32 ).

VI. Work for God's people can bring new opportunities for service and honor (Esther 10:1-3 ).

Jerry Stubblefield


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Esther'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/e/esther.html. 1991.

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