We are going to look at some concepts in the Book of Esther which will help us understand this book in a deeper way. As usual in our “concepts” series, we will not be doing a verse by verse study but we will go over concepts, idioms, phrases and the eschatology that is presented.
Like many books in the Tanak, the author of Esther is not known, but Jewish tradition says it was Esther and Mordechai, and later redacted by the Men of the Great Assembly. It takes place after the Babylonian Exile when Persia was reigning. The story is set in Susa (Shushan) and it was the royal city of the Persians, not the Medes. The modern day city of Shush in Iran is the site of ancient Susa and there are several archaeological sites there today.
The reigning king is Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes, and he is the king who invaded Greece and fought the Spartan King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. He reigned between 486 and 465 B.C. Some Jews had returned to Jerusalem already and had control over their own lives, as we have seen in our study of Ezra and Nehemiah. But others, like Mordechai and Esther, remained behind for reasons only known to themselves. However, the majority of the people remained behind so that was not unusual, but the Jews were a minority group and this was a very dangerous position to be in. As we shall see, they will face a life threatening series of events.
The Book of Esther tells us about how a Jewish girl became queen of Persia and how she thwarted a plot to exterminate her people. She will be assisted in this by her guardian named Mordechai. But, besides the historical events presented in this book, we will look at how this story will play out again eschatologicall in the coming of the Messiah.
As part of the introduction to this book, we would like to quote from the book, “Prophecies in the Book of Esther” by Joseph Good of Hatikvah Ministries, p. 2-6, “The Book of Esther is unique in that it is the only book in the Bible that never mentions the Name of God directly in the text. However, the Name is found several times encoded into the text. The name of the book is derived from the Babylonian name Ishtar which means ‘as beautiful as the moon.’ It’s Hebrew derivative, vocalized Ha Ester, means ‘covering or the covering of God’s face,’ “And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they turned unto other gods” (Deut 31.18).”
“This is, perhaps, one reason why the name of God is not spelled out in the text of the book. Rashi, a Talmudic scholar of the eleventh century, stated that there was a concealment of the divine countenance during the days of Esther. Why would God conceal his face from those he loved? The rabbis teach that the Jews assimilated and began to forget and neglect their total dependence upon God. This caused the conditions that clouded the Divine Image and allowed an obstacle to conceal his countenance. However, though concealed, God never departed from his children, but went with them into captivity. The virtue of Mordechai and Esther showed and caused a return to God (repentance) among the Jews during which time God’s presence was again revealed.”
“Although his countenance was covered, it was later revealed. There are at least four times when the ineffable Name of God appears in acrostic form embedded in the text of Esther. This ineffable name, known as the tetragrammaton, was pronounced only by the High Priest of Israel, only on the Day of Atonement. The Hebrew letters Yod, Hay, Vav, Hay are vocalized YHVH. In Hebrew texts, whenever YHVH appears, it is pronounced Adonai (Lord) in order to keep from using the Name in vain. The YHVH appears in Esther 1.20 as the first letters of four consecutive words when read backward: Hi v’chol h’nashim yitnu, ‘It, and all women will give.’ In Esther 5.4 these letters appear again by initial letters of four consecutive words when read forward, Yavo hamelech v’haman hayom, ‘and let the king and Haman come today.’ Again, in Esther 5.13 the YHVH is formed by final letters of four consecutive words when read backward, zah ainenu shoveh li, ‘This gives no satisfaction to me.’ Once more the tetragrammaton is seen in Esther 7.7 by the final letter of four consecutive words read forward, ki chaltah ailav hara’ah, ‘that his fate had been determined.’ “
“Without a doubt, the book of Esther gives a vivid description of the triumph of the true Messiah and glimpses into the Kingdom of God on earth. The book of Esther is unique in being the story of ancient accounts, yet it provides a profound vision of the future. More than any other book of the Scriptures, Esther deals with the nature of the False Messiah and his demonic hatred for the Jews.”
“Many years before the events of this story came to pass, the earthly stage was set and the characters were created. The Babylonian Empire had succumbed to the power of the mighty Persian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews into Babylon in three stages. Among those taken were Daniel, who later served the Babylonian king and sat at his gate, Ezekiel, and many more who would later return to Jerusalem. Jeremiah prophesied that after seventy years of captivity the Jews would return to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. No one knows exactly when the seventy years begins or ends. A prince of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, provoked God by using the sacred vessels from the Temple for lustful purposes. He died within hours as Cyrus the Mede conquered Babylon, and thus began the Median-Persian empire.”
“Cyrus is regarded in Scripture as a just ruler who beheld the awesome power of God and vowed that the Temple in Jerusalem would be restored. His reign was short’ however, and his empire passed into the hands of his son, Cambyses and Smerdis. Smerdis probably tried to usurp the throne and was later assassinated by the cohorts of Darius I. Cambyses presumably died in battle with Egypt. By this time the foundation for the Temple had been laid, but work stopped and would not commence for another twenty years.”
“Cyrus began restoring the old Elamite city if Susa. Darius continued the restoration and conducted many affairs of state there. Susa is known in the Bible as Shushan. He enlarged the empire and began a large building campaign. Darius is regarded historically as a great ruler, and according to tradition, this is the same Darius is Scripture who allowed many Jews, such as Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Yeshua the son of Yosadak the High Priest, to return to Jerusalem and undertake the task of rebuilding. At any rate, the Persian Empire flourished under Darius’ regime. He was succeeded by his son, Xerxes, who reigned for twenty years and was succeeded by his son, Artaxerxes, who commissioned Nehemiah to return for the rebuilding of the walls of Jeruslaem.”
“Tradition holds that the Jews were allowed to return during the reign of Darius, but were called back to Persia during the reign of Ahasuerus. The rabbis teach that Ahasuerus disliked the Jews and was afraid of their efforts to rebuild the Temple. There is no factual evidence to support this tradition, but timing would allow for such an event to occur. This would also lend itself well to reasons for the story of Esther to transpire, to further allow for the Jews to finish rebuilding the Temple as Cyrus had long ago promised.”
“It is not known for certain exactly which king Ahasuerus represents, but most theologians support that he must have been Xerxes. This concluded by the similarity in descriptions of their reigns. each had a large banquet with many nobles during their third year as monarch. Each is described as being a ruler of numerous provinces. Although nothing exists in Persian history to substantiate the story of Esther, nothing exists to disprove the story. Also, the timing of events in the book of Esther coincides with the timing of recorded history concerning Xerxes. In the third year of his reign, Xerxes began his campaigns with the Greeks which lasted until his seventh year, at which time he returned to Persia in order to develop his kingdom. It is during this same seventh year that Ahasuerus takes Esther as queen. Most of the historical accounts on Xerxes are in Greek literature, therefor, they may be tainted as Xerxes led several campaigns against the Greeks and lost. His Persian name was Khshayarsha which the Greeks translated as Xerxes. There are several similarities between Ahasuerus and Khshayarsha. The Hebrew pronunciation of Ahasuerus is Achashveyrosh.”
“Whatever the plight of the Jews during the reign of Ahasuerus, there were many Jews still captive in Persia. Those taken into captivity from the old Babylonian Empire learned to live new lives a foreigners in yet another country. everything that develops in the story had already been seen by a Higher Authority. The redemptive work had already been provided many years before. The stage had been set, and so the story begins.”
What is interesting about this book is God is never named. Going back to Deut 31.18 again, which we have quoted above, the word “hide” is spelled Esther. God’s name is hidden in Est 1.20, 5.4, 5.13 and 7.7 and that’s why this book was never found at Qumran and part of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), or a genizah, which is a depository for old writings with the name of God (YHVH or Yehovah) in them. Because Esther did not have the name of God in it, they did not need to put it into the caves at Qumran, so it was never found there.
The cast of characters in the book will play major roles in the court, but they will also be a picture of several eschatological characters. First, we have Ahasuerus (ruler among kings, or king of kings), also known by his Greek name Xerxes. He will be a picture of God who is the ruler among kings, and whose laws cannot be broken or changed. Then we have a man named Haman (noisy, illustrious), who is a descendant of Agag, an Amalekite. He will be a picture of the False Messiah. He will have ten sons who will be hanged when Haman falls, and they are a picture of the ten kings who fall with the False Messiah. They will also be a picture of the ten Nazis that were hung after the Nuremburg trials. In an encoded message in Hebrew where the sons are listed in Esther, the date for their hanging is given. Mordechai (of Marduk, bitter oppression) is a descendant of Shimei, who is a descendant of King Saul, who cursed David in 2 Sam 16.5-14 and was allowed to live by King David. He will be a picture of the Messiah. We will have more on the relationship between King Saul and Agag, David and Shimei, and Mordechai and Haman later on in this teaching. King Saul is picture of the first Adam who sinned, and Mordechai will be a picture of the Second Adam (Yeshua). Esther (star), who had the Hebrew name Hadassah (myrtle), will be a picture of the believer. Queen Vashti (beautiful one) will be a picture of the unbeliever, who was called before the throne of the king but refused to come. So, as we move along in the book keep these concepts in mind because they will be playing out an eschatological scenario.
The festival of Purim will be inaugurated in this book to celebrate the deliverance God provided, and it occurs on Adar 14 every year. Although it is not one of the festivals listed in Lev 23, it is a biblical festival and it will play a role in biblical prophecy because in the birth-pains, the Abomination of Desolation will be set up around that date by the False Prophet, pointing the way to the False Messiah, who will declare himself to be God about one month later, on Nisan 10 (2 Thes 2).
So, as we can see, this book is full of historical facts, but it is full of eschatological pictures, and we will point these out as we move along in our study. We will pick up in Est 1.1-22 in Part 2.