Background

The book is named from its primary character and gives what seems to have been her Persian name, probably meaning “star.” “Hadassah” was the Hebrew name of Esther and its meaning is “myrtle.” Her name was likely changed when she became the queen of Xerxes.

Authorship

We really do not know who wrote the book of Esther, though scholars generally agree the author was a Jew who lived in Persia. This is because of the many internal evidences that show the author’s familiarity with Persian life and culture and the absence of any Palestinian references or perspective. Some have echoed Josephus, who considered Mordecai to have been the chosen writer. The suggestion is a possibility, since Mordecai was a competent writer (Esther 9:20ff) and perfectly qualified for the task, but it is based on silence. Also, the words of Esther 9:3-4 and Esther 10:2-3 make some uncomfortable with this possibility and are sometimes cited as evidence that Mordecai was not the author.

Ancient Jewish tradition attributes Esther to the writing of “the men of the Great Synagogue,” and they may have had Ezra or one of his contemporaries in mind. Conservative scholars typically suggest that the book was written by an anonymous writer sometime during the reign of Artaxerxes I (Longimanus), 465-425 BC. This dating adequately accounts for all literary features observed. Since the writer obviously had access to or familiarity with royal records kept at the Persian court, Ezra, Nehemiah, or one of their anonymous contemporaries has been suggested as a possible author.

Purpose for Writing

The purpose and theological content of Esther points us to God’s providential activities to protect his people in a thoroughly secular society that has little or no regard for messianic faith or piety. John Brug offers these fitting words:

The book of Esther is especially meaningful for Christians today, because more than any other book of Scripture it demonstrates the way God works among us at this time in history. Like Esther, we do not see God’s power on display in mighty miracles such as those performed by Moses in Egypt. Today God normally works with the same quiet power which is on display in the book of Esther. But the power and the effect are the same, whether God destroys the enemies of his people with dramatic displays of power as he did in Egypt or whether he turns the hearts of kings with quiet power visible only to the eyes of faith.1Brug, John F. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1985. 156.

Date

The historical setting of the account provided in this book is that of the reign of King Xerxes (Ahasuerus), about 486-465 BC. The actual events here related took place in and around Susa and are dated from the third year of Xerxes’ reign, 483 BC (Esther 1:2-3). Esther became queen four years later, in 479 BC (Esther 2:16-17). The year of the first Purim was 473 BC, fifteen years prior to Ezra’s expedition to Jerusalem. In other words, the events of Esther took place after the temple had been rebuilt and dedicated in Jerusalem (516 BC, see Ezra 1-6) but before Ezra returned to Jerusalem (458 BC, see Ezra 7-10).

See also the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Christ Connection

In the book of Esther we see God’s loving preservation of his covenant people. Though the exiles faced the threat of being wiped out by Haman (Esther 3:1-15), God works through the courageous Esther to ensure their safety. With God’s people preserved, they later returned to rebuild the temple and the city walls in Jerusalem, where they would await the arrival of the long-promised Messiah.

Notable Passages

  • Esther 4:14
  • Esther 4:16
  • Esther 7:5-6
  • Esther 8:17

Outline

The book of Esther can be divided simply in the following ways:

  1. The Plot against the Jews (Esther 1-4)
  2. The Deliverance of the Jews (Esther 5-10)

or

  1. Esther becomes Queen of Persia (Esther 1-2)
  2. Haman becomes the mortal enemy of Mordecai and the Jews (Esther 3-7)
  3. The Jews are providentially rescued and establish their Purim festival (Esther 8-10)

References   [ + ]

1. Brug, John F. Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. The People’s Bible. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House, 1985. 156.