Perhaps you were made for such a time as this! This is the theme of the book of Esther; our next lesson from The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men. It’s a story about how God used a queen and her cousin at His perfect time, for His greater purposes.
About the Book of Esther
The ten chapters of Esther were written about 470 B.C., about 10 years after Esther becomes queen. The author is unknown though some presume it was Ezra or Nehemiah, the writers of the two previous books in the Bible. Others presume the author is Morcedai, Esther’s older cousin, who plays a prominent role in the book.
Although it follows the book of Nehemiah, the events in this book actually occur prior to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem that we learned about in MANual Lessons from Nehemiah. The setting is the Persian Empire after Xerxes the Great becomes king in 486. Most of the action takes place in the king’s palace in Susa, the Persian capital of the provinces ruled by Xerxes that stretch from modern-day India to Ethiopia.
Interestingly, the book of Esther is one of only two books named after women; the other being Ruth. The book of Esther is also unusual as that the original text has no name, pronoun, or title for God. This caused some church fathers to question the book’s inclusion in Scripture. But God’s presence is clear throughout the book.
The Deposed Queen
The book of Esther opens with King Xerxes giving a banquet for all his nobles, military leaders, and officials in preparation for going to battle. The celebration lasted 180 days and displayed the opulent wealth of the proud and impulsive king. After the ensuing battle, Xerxes invites all the people in Susa, from the greatest to the least, to another banquet that lasts seven days. He shows off his wealth by providing all the decorations, food, and especially a large amount of royal wine with no limits on consumption. At the same time, Queen Vashti, the first wife of King Xerxes, gives a banquet in the royal palace for all the women.
Xerxes, feeling high in spirits and full of himself after several bottles of wine, calls for Vashti to come so all could gaze at her beauty. But Vashti refused to be paraded before the king’s all-male party, which angered Xerxes. Xerxes’ not-so-wise advisers suggest that he banish Vashti due to her disrespect. The king issues a decree to find a new, more beautiful queen from among the young women of Susa. The king’s personal attendants gathered virgins into a harem for the primary purpose of the king’s sexual pleasure. Each received beauty treatments of oils, perfumes, and jewelry, then paraded about and taken to the king’s private room. One girl, Esther, is more beautiful than the others and the king loved her more than the others. Xerxes discards Vashti by naming Esther as the new queen.
It’s OK to “Just Look” at Her
Middle Eastern kings often did not have close, personal relationships with their wives. Xerxes demonstrates this by maintaining a harem, showing no respect for Vashti’s personhood, and by choosing wives solely based on their beauty and his sexual enjoyment.
Today, many guys feel ogling women is just normal male behavior. Whether it’s provocative attire or easy access to pornography, many situations trigger lustful thoughts and sexual misbehavior. As I’ve written before, man’s toughest challenge is Maintaining Sexual Purity so he must learn to 1) bounce their eyes, 2) clean out their mind, and 3) protect their heart. Men need moral fences in the area of sexual integrity.
- Did you choose your girlfriends or spouse based solely on beauty?
- If you are married, how do you protect your eyes, your heart, and your mind?
Uncovering a Conspiracy
Mordecai is an older cousin of the new queen. His Jewish great-grandparents were among the exiles to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. Upon their return, the family settled in Susa, where Mordecai was born and later grew to become an official in the Persian king’s court. After his aunt and uncle died, Mordecai cared for his young cousin, Esther.
Chapters 2 and 3 describe how Mordecai overheard plans to assassinate King Xerxes. Mordecai gives this information to Queen Esther, who tells the king of the plot against his life. She gives credit to Mordecai, hoping for his favor. Xerxes has elevated Haman to his second-in-command, but Mordecai refuses to kneel before Haman knowing of his evilness. This enraged Haman who hated all Jews because of their different culture and dedication to God. Xerxes agrees to Haman’s decree to kill that all Jews, young and old, including women and children, later the next year.
Every generation has its code word for prejudice. You can even spot it in Haman’s words to the King, “a certain people,” “their customs are different,” and “It is not in the king’s best interests to tolerate them.” Regardless of the words used, the same types of prejudice exist today. People whose with different customs or ethnicity are subject to rude jokes, taunts, and even real physical abuse. Needless to say, God does not approve of targeting people based on their race, background, customs, or gender.
- How do you see racism in the world today?
- Have you experienced racism yourself? Have you done something that you now understand as racist in the past?
In chapter 4, Mordecai requests Esther’s help after hearing the decree to kill all the Jews. However, the Queen knew she would risk her position if she questioned the king. Esther also knew she would risk her life since she kept her Jewish descent secret all these years. Cautiously and courageously, she decided to put everything at risk on behalf of her people.
He Works in Mysterious Ways
It’s easy to dismiss God’s involvement in situations. A check comes in the mail at just the right time to help you recover from financial hardship. A relative helps you land a job quickly after you become unemployed. An open seat on the last flight out becomes available when you are on the standby list. People who don’t know God attribute these to luck or chance. But God’s provisions are perfectly planned for those who love Him and follow His commands. He forgives those that acknowledge and repent of their sins. He works quietly through the Holy Spirit in those who worship Him.
- When “coincidences” happen, do you tend to attribute those to luck or to God?
- When have you turned one of those blessings into something that helps another person?
The King Honors Mordecai
The end of chapter 5 describes Haman’s rage against Mordecai and his plans to kill him. Haman’s hatred backfires in chapter 6 though. Xerxes has trouble sleeping and reads in the historical records of his reign when he realizes that Mordecai had exposed the plot to kill the king. Xerxes honors Mordecai while also humiliating Haman by outfitting Mordecai in the finest robes and having Haman parade him around on a royal horse.
The King also grants Esther’s wish to spare the lives of her Jewish people. Xerxes gave a new decree to reverse Haman’s orders to destroy the Jews, which went into effect on the same day Haman planned to kill all the Jews. Haman is later executed using the same pole he planned to use to kill Mordecai.
These new decrees also allowed the Jews to fight their enemies, which included defeating Haman’s ten sons during a two-day battle. Mordecai is promoted to the king’s palace as prime minister, with authority next to that of a king because he worked for the good of his people. Today, Jews still celebrate the victory with the annual Festival of Purim.
God Buddy Focus
Even when it looks like the world is in the hands of evil people, God is still in control. This is even more important when we see the abuse of power, a decline in sexual morals, and an increase in hatred against people of color. Although we may not understand everything that happens around us, we must trust in God’s protection and retain our integrity by doing what we know is right.
Esther risked her life by appearing before the king but became a heroine. Effectively condemned to death, Mordecai eventually rose to the second-highest official in the nation. Both had the courage to live to their convictions. Both did the next right thing in God’s eyes.
- Review the post Guidelines for Male-Female Friendships with your God Buddies to help protect you against sexual temptations.
- Memorize 1 Corinthians 10:13 about enduring temptations.
- Discuss any recent “coincidences” and how you might attribute those to God’s plan for your life.
Next, we will learn about the poetic books of the Bible, starting with the book of Job.