Ezra and Nehemiah recount the story of the rebuilding of the nation of Israel by survivors of the Babylonian exile. The period extends from 539 B.C. to 433 B.C. and between the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah, the story of Esther takes place. Ezra and Nehemiah tell us about those who returned to Judea. Esther tells us about those who remained behind.
One of the enduring themes of the Old Testament is the high position Israel enjoyed just because she was the people of God. Whoever criticized or hurt the people of God – even if they deserved it – suffered for it. Israel was the “apple” of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8) and no one touched her without suffering retribution.. You see this protection and exalted status in the story of Esther.
There are four main characters in this story. Xerxes is the great Persian King who, while a military master, was pretty inept as a human being. In a drunken stupor he made a poor decision that caused trouble between he and his wife. Then he listened to poor advisors and divorced his wife and began to look for another.
The second character is Haman, a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites, constant enemies of Israel. Haman had become an important man in the Persian empire, and he determined to use his position to exterminate the Jews.
The third character is Mordecai, a good Jew who takes his cousin Esther into his home and raises her when her parents die. Mordecai has the good fortune to be at the right place at the right time to foil an assassination attempt against Xerxes.
The fourth character is Esther, a young woman whose character and personality won the hearts of everyone who met her. When the King went looking for a new wife, Esther was one of the ones brought to him. Because of the strong anti-Jewish sentiment in Persia, Mordecai had insisted Esther keep her Jewish identity a secret.
The story of Esther is the story of how a most unlikely person (a Jewish orphan) becomes the queen of Persia and foils a plot, hatched by the second most powerful man in the world, to exterminate the people of God. It provides for us the background to the Jewish festival of “Purim” that commemorates the event.
One of the amazing things about this book is the absence of God’s name. He is nowhere mentioned. But no one familiar with the literature of the Old Testament can fail to see the similarity between this story and the stories of Joseph and Moses where God often works in ordinary ways through ordinary folk to protect the people He loves.