The Book of Esther is the Scripture’s clearest example of the doctrine of providence.
The story of Esther is set in the capital of the Persian empire, early in the reign of Xerxes (486-465 B.C.). It tells of a plot to exterminate the Jewish race, thwarted by the brave and beautiful Esther, who has become Xerxes’ queen. That deliverance is still celebrated today in the annual Jewish Feast of Purim.
While the historicity of the Book of Esther has been challenged, it meets every reasonable test. Descriptions of the Persian court and the customs of the times, the provision of precise dates, and the use of Persian names current in the era, as well as the characterization of Xerxes, are completely accurate. Independent confirmation of Mordecai’s rise to power comes from a cuneiform tablet found in Borsippa, which identifies Marduka (Mordecai) as an official in the royal court at Susa in the early years of Xerxes’s reign!
Esther is one of 2 books in the OT named for women. It is also one of two that contains no mention of God, the other being the Song of Songs (Solomon). Yet God’s supervising presence is felt throughout the book, as events fall together in a pattern that reflects the Lord’s ancient commitment to Abraham and his offspring. In fact, the Book of Esther is the Scripture’s clearest example of the doctrine of providence. God, although hidden from our view, works through circumstances and human choices to accomplish His own ends. Esther teaches us to see the hidden God revealed in the ebb and flow of personal and world events and to praise Him for His continual care.
The Book of Esther is set in the era of Persian empire. While a small group of Jews is established in Judah, most Jews live outside the Promised Land. Most live in major population centers, like Babylon, where they prosper.
The story told in Esther is about an orphaned Jewish girl who lives with her uncle, Mordecai, a minor official in the Persian court of Xerxes the Great at Susa (Shushan). The book reports a series of incidents which lead to Esther becoming queen, just in time to abort a plot which would have wiped out the Jewish people.
The action takes place between the 3rd and 12th years of Xerxes (483-471 B.C.). The feast mentioned in Esther 1:3 is the feast the Greek historian Herodotus identifies as one held to discuss plans for a military invasion of Greece. Esther 2:2,3 tells us that the search for a new queen began that year, but Esther was chosen in the 7th. This fits Herodotus, who says Xerxes spent four years gathering his armies and then campaigned in Greece.
In Herodotus, Xerxes’ wife is identified as Amestris. This may have been a 2nd wife, or Vashti, now deposed as queen but still a wife. This woman accompanied the king, but was disposed of after she brutally mutilated one of Xerxes’ mistresses.
A pattern of events fits together showing that despite the attempt of evil men to destroy the Jewish race, God shapes history to preserve His chosen people.
Where It Takes Place
The setting for the story is Susa, the capital of the Persian empire. During this time a few thousand Jews were resettled in Judea and rebuilt the Jerusalem wall. But several million could be found scattered throughout the empire, with large communities in its principle cities. It’s not at all surprising to find Mordecai the Jew in the Persian bureaucracy.
Date and Authorship
The author of the Book of Esther is never identified. As Esther 10:2 implies the death of Xerxes, the book must have been composed sometime after 465 B.C. The period between 450-300 B.C. seems most likely.