The Book of Esther


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Esther SS Lesson and Commentary

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The Book of Esther

  1. 1. Week of May 8 (Mother’s Day) Using Your InfluenceSTEP 1 INTRODUCTION PACK ITEM 15“HANDOUT: CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE”Distribute copies of the handout. Instruct learners to write their own names in the center circle. In the nextcircle, they should write the names of people in their immediate family. In the next circle out, they shouldwrite the names of their closest friends and extended family members. In the fourth circle, learners shouldwrite the names of other friends and associates. Note that acquaintances and all other people are in theouter circles of our circles of influence.How far out from the center do you believe your influence currently extends? Why?Read the definition of the word influence on the handout and discuss whether or not learners believe thatthey influence someone in some way every day. Encourage them to explain their answers. Then ask avolunteer to read the remaining text on the handout. Encourage a brief discussion after this reading.PACK ITEM 13 “Poster: Study Theme 3”Call attention to today’s lesson title. Explain that in today’s Scripture a girl named Esther was confrontedwith that same challenge. State that the goal of today’s lesson is to recognize you have influence anddetermine to use your influence for God’s purposes and in godly ways.STEP 2 RECOGNIZE YOUR GOD-GIVEN POTENTIAL FOR INFLUENCEEsther 4:13-14Invite learners to share what they know about Esther. Using the Bible commentary* (p. 121), set thecontext for today’s passage by summarizing Esther 1:1–4:12.Read Esther 4:13-14. 13Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”Invite adults to recall Joshua’s story from last week’s session. Note that God had guaranteed Joshuasuccess in leadership.Did Esther have that same promise? (no)Direct learners to name some excuses Esther could have used to get out of doing what Mordecai asked.(Possible answers: “What good can I do if I’m dead?” “I’m a woman. It’s not like the king would listen tome anyway.” “If God parted the sea, He can find another way to stop this.”)What excuses might we older people give for not trying to influence others for God’s purposes?Note that most of us aren’t going to face death for doing the right thing, but all of us have God-givenpotential for influence. Explain that exercising that influence can be difficult and even costly.State that sometimes God sends someone like Mordecai to challenge us to use our influence. Share a time1|Page
  2. 2. when you had an opportunity to do a hard thing to influence another person. Share what fears you had atthe time and how you overcame them.LEARNER GUIDE (p. 122) Call attention to “What About Me?” and invite volunteers to share how theyresponded.What valuable experiences of older Christians can be used to influence younger people? How can suchexperiences benefit the church?What can get in the way of recognizing our ability to influence others? What can we do to overcome theseobstacles?Who has influenced you for good? Why?STEP 3 REALIZE THAT GOD IS THE ULTIMATE INFLUENCERESTHER 4:15-17How would you answer a person who questions, “If God is in control, then why did Esther have to risk herlife?”Read Esther 4:15-17 to find out whose influence was really at work. 15Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16“Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susaand fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will alsofast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I per-ish.” 17So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him.What does Esther’s reply to Mordecai reveal about her beliefs? (Use the Bible commentary* to aid you inyour discussion.)Write on the board: Do Everything Myself and Do Nothing.LEARNER GUIDE (p. 123) Focus first on Do Everything Myself by inviting learners to share how theyresponded to “Think It Through.”Note that many of us lean toward one of these two extremes when it comes to exerting influence. We tryto do everything in our own power, thinking that change is completely in our hands, or we do nothing,thinking that we are powerless to change anything. Lead learners to consider which of the two extremesthey tend to favor.Why do we hit a dead end with both extremes? What healthy balance had Esther seemed to find?Invite volunteers to name people from their own lives whose actions have demonstrated the belief thatGod is the ultimate influencer and to explain why. (Because May 8 is Mother’s Day, here might be a goodplace to acknowledge the influence of godly mothers.)We would be missing the point altogether if we only talked about God’s influence in Sunday morningBible study but didn’t live like we believed it Monday through Saturday.2|Page
  3. 3. LEARNER GUIDE (p. 124) Call attention to “What About Me?” and lead seniors to privately respond.Why is the support of other believers so important when we step out to do a difficult task?What is the relationship between prayer and a proper understanding of human limitations?STEP 4 USE YOUR INFLUENCE IN GODLY WAYS ESTHER 8:3-8Use information from the Bible commentary* (p. 127) to summarize the events in Esther 5:1–8:2. Notethat although Haman was no longer a threat the Jewish people still faced extermination.Read Esther 8:3-8 to find out if Esther thought she had fulfilled her responsibility to God. 3Then Esther addressed the king again. She fell at his feet, wept, and begged him to revoke theevil of Haman the Agagite, and his plot he had devised against the Jews. 4The king extended thegold scepter toward Esther, so she got up and stood before the king. 5She said, “If it pleases the king, and I have found approval before him, if the matter seemsright to the king and I am pleasing in his sight, let a royal edict be written. Let it revoke the docu-ments the scheming Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, wrote to destroy the Jews who are inall the king’s provinces. 6For how could I bear to see the disaster that would come on my people?How could I bear to see the destruction of my relatives?” 7King Ahasuerus said to Esther the Queen and to Mordecai the Jew, “Look, I have givenHaman’s estate to Esther, and he was hanged on the gallows because he attacked the Jews. 8Youmay write in the king’s name whatever pleases you concerning the Jews, and seal it with the royalsignet ring. A document written in the king’s name and sealed with the royal signet ring cannot berevoked.”LEARNER GUIDE (p. 126) Call attention to “Think It Through” and invite learners to share how theyresponded.Esther risked her life not just once by approaching the king but no less than three times.Why do you think God doesn’t always show us the results of our influence right away?Things don’t always work out the way we hope they will. Esther found success. But what about the timesyou stick your neck out to influence someone and it seems to fail?What do you do when you feel like you’ve failed miserably?Note that some believers might think that Esther’s situation does not relate to their own; after all, sheobviously had influence over the king and a charismatic personality to help her in the situation.Write the following on the board:• Her personal appearance• Her passion and determination• Her willingness to take a risk for God• God’s power to use the situation for His purposeRank the factors in order of importance to Esther’s success in this situation. Stress the importance oftrusting in God’s power to achieve His purpose for the task He has called us to do.3|Page
  4. 4. Note the gentleness and respect Esther used in her approach to the king. Emphasize the importance ofexercising our influence in appropriate and godly ways.We don’t get very far with people when we are demanding and unkind.LEARNER GUIDE (p. 127) Call attention to “What About Me?” Invite volunteers to share theirresponses. Be prepared to share how you responded. (TIP: As you prepare to teach each week, be sure tocomplete the suggested activities in the learner guide under “Think It Through” and “What About Me?”Your example will encourage learners to spend time preparing for the Sunday morning session as well.)What is the difference between exercising influence and wielding power?Why are humility and respect such an important part of exercising influence?An old sports adage says, “Nice guys finish last.” How would you counter this statement based on thispassage?STEP 5 CONCLUSION PACK ITEM 16 “POSTER: FOR SUCH A TIME ASTHIS”Call attention to the poster and read the verse aloud. Distribute index cards. Instruct learners to write onthe cards one way they will commit to influence others in the days ahead. Encourage learners to placetheir cards in their homes where they will see them every day as a reminder to follow through with theircommitments.LEARNER GUIDE (pp. 127-128) Use “Reflection” to aid in reviewing the main truths of the lesson.Encourage learners to follow through with the suggestion in “Applying the Word.”Invite volunteers to share how the group can pray for themselves to be the influencers God is calling themto be. Lead in prayer, asking God to provide opportunities for each learner to exercise godly influence thisweek.Note that we will continue our study of spiritual leadership next week as we examine Ezra’s life.Encourage learners to come next week with at least one question or thought from the study that theywould like to discuss.4|Page
  5. 5. CommentaryBackground Passage: Esther 1–10Focal Passages: Esther 4:13-17; 8:3-8What This Lesson Is About:This lesson is about leading by exercising godly influence.How This Lesson Can Impact Your Life:This lesson can help you recognize you have influence and determine to use your influence for God’spurposes and in godly ways.Spiritual Preparation Through Personal Bible StudyMay 8 is Mother’s Day. I grew up in a Christian home and gave my life to Christ as a child. My mothernaturally influenced my life significantly during my early years. In fact, my earliest memories are of Momtelling me about Jesus! As early as I can remember, she was doing her best to make sure I understoodabout God’s love in sending Jesus to die for me. The Lord used her influence to bring me to faith at anearly age. Although my mother lived much of her life with rheumatoid arthritis, she determined toinfluence others for good as best as she could. Over the years, she taught Sunday School, sang in the choir,and even served as church treasurer. The Lord used her spiritual influence in mighty ways in manypeople’s lives. The Lord took Mom home in August 2000, but her influence in my life remains.How has your mother influenced you? Exercising spiritual leadership means influencing people. Every believer can influence someone, just asmy mother did in her spheres of influence. Virtually all of us are leaders in at least one area of life.However, not all believers use their influence for God’s purposes. Today’s lesson focuses on Esther, a young Jewish woman who found herself queen of Persia. As Esthersubmitted her life to God’s purpose, she recognized her God-given potential for influence. She exercisedthat influence in godly ways, realizing at the same time that God was the ultimate Influencer. As she did,God used her to bring about the salvation of His people. As you study this lesson, ask the Lord to help yourecognize how you can use your influence for His purposes and in godly ways.Recognize Your God-Given Potential for Influence(Esth. 4:13-14) 13Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate ofall the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14If you keep silent at this time, liberation anddeliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s housewill be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time asthis.”The Book of Esther describes how an ordinary Jewish girl became queen of Persia and used her influenceto save her people. King Ahasuerus [uh haz yoo EHR uhs], also known as Xerxes (486-464 B.C.),deposed his queen Vashti when she refused to obey the king’s command to come display her beauty at theking’s banquet (Esth. 1:10-22). A search for Vashti’s successor then ensued, and Esther found herself asone of the candidates (2:1-9). Ultimately the king chose Esther and made her queen of Persia (v. 17).5|Page
  6. 6. Sometime after this, Haman [HAY muhn], son of Hammedatha [ HAM mih DAY thuh] the Agagite [AY gagight], one of the king’s officials, persuaded the king to sign an edict that allowed for the extermination ofthe Jewish people (3:5-15). Esther’s older cousin and guardian Mordecai [MAWR duh kigh] heard thenews and contacted Esther, imploring her to intervene with the king on behalf of the Jews (4:1-9). Heencouraged her to use her influence to save her people! However, according to royal protocol, no one—not even the queen—could approach the king in the inner courtyard unless the king had summoned him orher. In fact, the law prescribed the death penalty for anyone who violated this edict! Esther informedMordecai she would be risking her life by going to the king (vv. 10-12). Mordecai dispatched an urgent reply to Esther by the hand of the king’s messenger. The king’s decreeput Jews throughout the kingdom in peril! Mordecai strongly warned Esther not to think that somehowshe might escape Ahasuerus’s decree because of her royal status. The terrible fate that awaited all theJews would eventually overtake even someone such as Esther, who lived in the king’s palace. Every Jewstood at risk—even the queen. Mordecai challenged Esther with the thought that God had a purpose in placing her in her royalposition. At the same time, Mordecai placed his ultimate confidence in God. Esther indeed might decideto keep silent at this time, though Mordecai urged her to recognize her potential influence and use it todeliver the Jews. He remained confident that God somehow would bring liberation and deliverance forall the Jewish people. It might come through Esther or it might come from another place or source. ButMordecai was convinced that Esther and her father’s house would be destroyed if she did not act. Mordecai then challenged Esther with another thought. Had she perhaps come to her royal position inthe kingdom for this very reason? Did God want to use Esther as His instrument of influence to save Hispeople? Had she indeed become queen of Persia for such a time as this? Unlike Joshua in last week’slesson, Esther had no promise of success, but Mordecai apparently believed God’s work in Esther’s lifeseemed obvious. (See this week’s theological study on “God’s Sovereignty in the Book of Esther.”) God often uses other people to help us recognize our potential to influence others. Has God sent aMordecai into your life? Perhaps your Mordecai is a senior adult or someone who has lived the Christianfaith longer than you. Indeed, younger Christians often can learn much from more mature Christians. Mordecai challenged Esther to use her influence and Esther had a responsibility to act. We can use ourinfluence for good or for bad, but of course, God wants us to use it for good, even when we are unsure ofthe outcome. In fact, as we exercise our God-given potential for influence, God may even use us toinfluence unbelievers, not merely other believers. Ask the Lord to show you whom you might influence.Ask Him to put their names on your heart, and determine to take action this week.Realize that God Is the Ultimate Influencer(Esth. 4:15-17) 15Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16“Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susaand fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will alsofast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I per-ish.” 17So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him.Esther carefully pondered the serious message Mordecai had sent her. What should she do? Should shego to the king at the risk of her own life, or should she do nothing and possibly witness her people’sannihilation? Her actions could yield serious consequences whichever option she chose. However, thequeen recognized her God-given power to influence. Perhaps Mordecai was right; perhaps God had puther on the throne for such a time! Esther decided she should take action—bold action. She would present6|Page
  7. 7. herself to King Ahasuerus at the risk of her life. If he extended favor to her, she would plead her people’scase. The queen dispatched a reply to Mordecai, asking him to assemble all the Jews of the city of Susa[SOO suh]. Her impending action would have profound implications for her and for them! She asked theJews to fast and seek God on her behalf. Esther would present her case, but ultimately the verdict lay inGod’s hands.Read the article “Susa, Persia’s Capital City” in the Spring 2011 issue of Biblical Illustrator or onthe Spring 2011 Biblical Illustrator Plus (CD-ROM). A previous Biblical Illustrator article “Susa,Esther’s Capital City” (Winter 2006-2007) relates to this lesson and can be found on the CD-ROMin the Leader Pack and on the Spring 2011 Biblical Illustrator Plus (CD-ROM). By asking the Jews to fast for her, Esther acknowledged God as the ultimate Influencer. He knew thesituation better than any human could know it, and He alone had the power necessary to rescue Hispeople. The King of kings’ power vastly overshadowed any earthly king’s power! The Book of Proverbsreminds us that God in His providence holds even decisions of kings and rulers in His hands (Prov. 21:1). Esther asked the Jewish people not to eat or drink for three days, day or night. Such a serious matterrequired serious spiritual preparation! She and her female servants likewise would fast in the same way.Esther recognized the importance of seeking God for such a significant matter. At the same time,acknowledging God as the ultimate Influencer did not excuse Esther from taking action. The queen alsowas counting on the spiritual support of her fellow Jews and servants as she prepared to take action. At theend of the three days, Esther would go to the king, but the Jews of Susa likewise would participate inseeking God for deliverance through Esther’s intervention. Furthermore, Esther would go to the king withthe full knowledge that her action was against the law. All who entered the king’s presence unannounceddid so at the risk of their lives! However, desperate times demanded desperate measures. Esther’s statement, “If I perish, I perish,” indicates her courage as she resigned herself to God’spurpose. She recognized God as the ultimate Influencer. She had prayed, she had fasted, and believed Godhad put her in her royal position for such a desperate time as this. However, she was about to act knowingthat God was not required to intervene to spare her life. He might bring deliverance some other way. Esther’s life-risking decision illustrates how people who lead need the support of others. At times,leaders may find themselves in the spotlight or seem to be acting alone, but they always need the supportof others. Pastors need the support of church staff and deacons. Sunday School teachers need the supportof outreach leaders. Youth workers need the support of parents. Most of all, all leaders need prayersupport. Prayer acknowledges dependence on God and opens heavenly resources to advance His kingdompurpose on earth. Esther’s decision also illustrates the importance of utterly entrusting ourselves to God’s purposes for ourlives. She was willing to follow His leading even if doing so put her at risk of death. She no doubtwondered what the king would do when he saw her in the inner court, but she determined to try to use herGod-given influence. Sometimes as we look to God for guidance and the way appears crystal clear. In other situations, theway seems foggy or maybe even dangerous, and we must trust Him with each step. Regardless of howclear the path, we can trust God to guide us. We must remember that God can see the way even when wecannot, and that sometimes He calls us to trust Him and walk by faith when logic or reason suggestsotherwise. Sometimes as we attempt to use our God-given influence, we will encounter those who oppose God’sways. We need to learn to face such situations with humble confidence, trusting God as the ultimateInfluencer. When Timothy, the apostle Paul’s son in the faith, faced such a challenge, Paul exhorted him7|Page
  8. 8. to lead with humble confidence. Timothy could exercise his influence toward those who opposed hismessage, but Paul encouraged him to do so with gentleness and patience, for only God could change theirhearts (2 Tim. 2:24-26).Use Your Influence in Godly Ways(Esth. 8:3-8) 3Then Esther addressed the king again. She fell at his feet, wept, and begged him to revoke theevil of Haman the Agagite, and his plot he had devised against the Jews. 4The king extended thegold scepter toward Esther, so she got up and stood before the king. 5She said, “If it pleases the king, and I have found approval before him, if the matter seemsright to the king and I am pleasing in his sight, let a royal edict be written. Let it revoke the docu-ments the scheming Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, wrote to destroy the Jews who are inall the king’s provinces. 6For how could I bear to see the disaster that would come on my people?How could I bear to see the destruction of my relatives?” 7King Ahasuerus said to Esther the Queen and to Mordecai the Jew, “Look, I have givenHaman’s estate to Esther, and he was hanged on the gallows because he attacked the Jews. 8Youmay write in the king’s name whatever pleases you concerning the Jews, and seal it with the royalsignet ring. A document written in the king’s name and sealed with the royal signet ring cannot berevoked.”Esther had no promise of a successful outcome to her bold move. The king might accept her and grant herrequest, or he might order her death. Often we likewise do not know what outcome awaits as we attemptto use our influence in godly ways. However, even when we are unsure of the outcome, we should attemptto exert a godly influence. Again, we must remember God works through us as the ultimate Influencer. Heasks us to act in faith and leave the results in His hands. Esther put on her royal clothing and went to the palace’s inner courtyard. The king saw her there and shewon his approval. He extended the golden scepter toward her, indicating his willingness to receive her intohis presence (Esth. 5:1-2). Esther invited the king and Haman to a special banquet, and then to another(vv. 4-8). Haman, however, remained frustrated and angry that Mordecai refused to bow to him, anddetermined to hang Mordecai (vv. 9-14). However, that very night, the king discovered Mordecai hadnever received a reward for saving the king’s life (6:1-3). In an ironic twist of events, the king orderedHaman to help him honor Mordecai (vv. 6-11). At the second banquet, Esther revealed her Jewish identity to the king. She also revealed Haman’s planto exterminate the Jews (7:1-6)! The furious king ordered Haman hanged on the gallows Haman hadprepared for Mordecai (vv. 9-10). The king also exalted Mordecai, and Esther put him in charge ofHaman’s estate (8:2). However, Persia’s queen knew the danger had not passed for her and her people. Esther addressed the king again. The Jews’ situation remained desperate since they remained underthe king’s edict to exterminate them (3:12-13). Esther fell at the king’s feet, wept, and begged him torevoke the evil of Haman the Agagite. If he did not, Haman’s treachery would still prevail! Estherapproached the king with humility and respect, quite aware that although Haman was dead, her people hadnot escaped the danger of the decree Haman had convinced the king to establish. Esther asked the king toput a stop to the plot Haman had devised against the Jews. Esther’s humility before her husband, the king, may seem a bit unusual to readers today, but Estheracted in a way appropriate for her day and situation (1 Kings 1:15-16,31). The fact that the king extendedthe gold scepter toward Esther may suggest she again approached him in the inner court unannounced(Esth. 5:1-2). More likely the king was merely acting to reassure Esther to continue speaking. The queengot up and stood before the king to present her request. She would continue to exercise godly influence8|Page
  9. 9. so long as she had opportunity. Esther’s gentle, respectful words, “If it pleases the king, and I have found approval before him, ifthe matter seems right to the king and I am pleasing in his sight,” expressed a desire for the king tomake a decision that pleased him and suited the kingdom’s best interests. At the same time, Esther wasreminding her husband that she had found favor in his eyes. She believed his granting her requestultimately would please both of them as well as save her people’s lives. Esther asked that a royal edict bewritten that would revoke the documents that Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, wrote todestroy the Jews. However, her people in all the king’s provinces still faced death, since the king couldnot revoke his decree. Persian policy did not allow a king to change a royal decree; this policy compriseda significant factor in the story of Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan. 6:7-8,15). The king no doubt wanted tohelp Esther, but he could not cancel a prior decree he had issued. He had to figure out some kind ofcounter decree that essentially would nullify the first one. Esther’s questions, “How could I bear to see the disaster that would come on my people?” and“How could I bear to see the destruction of my relatives?”, are rhetorical, not really expecting ananswer. She intended them to show the king her deep stirring of emotion over the issue. In the Book ofGenesis, Judah, Joseph’s brother, raised the same kind of impassioned issue to Joseph when Judah pled tostay as a slave in Benjamin’s place (Gen. 44:34). Esther’s questions drove home the seriousness of herconcern. She was now fulfilling the purpose for which God had put her on Persia’s throne (Esth. 4:14).She used her influence in a godly way to intervene on behalf of her people. Christians today also must exert their influence in appropriate and godly ways. As God puts before usopportunities to use our influence for the advancement of His kingdom, we should lay hold of them. SomeChristians sense God’s leading to run for political office so they can help justice and righteousness prevailthrough the legislative process. Others use their places in the marketplace to live out their Christiantestimony. People see their integrity in their business practices, and they use their positions to share theirfaith as God brings them opportunity. Still others influence God’s kingdom work through local churches,exercising their spiritual gifts for the building up of others. God receives the glory as Christian leadersexert their influence in appropriate and godly ways in the marketplace and in the local church. King Ahasuerus reached a decision for Esther the Queen and her relative and former guardianMordecai the Jew. The king’s decree had awarded Haman’s estate to Esther and Haman was hangedon the gallows for his crime against the Jews. Ahasuerus now authorized Esther and Mordecai to write inthe king’s name an appropriate decree concerning the Jews. He knew he could trust them to get thewording exactly right. He further instructed them to seal it with the royal signet ring as proof of thedecree’s authenticity. Such a document would be considered written in the king’s name and thus wouldhave his full authority behind it. And as with any document sealed with the royal signet ring, it could notbe revoked for any reason. Esther and Mordecai used their influence in a godly way. They issued a counter decree that the Jewscould defend themselves against their enemies! As a result, the Jews were saved and destroyed theirenemies (Esth. 8:9–9:10). Many peoples of the kingdom gained a new respect for God’s people as theywitnessed His hand of favor upon them (8:17). Mordecai even established the holiday of Purim, an annualcelebration of God’s victory on behalf of His people (9:20-32). All of us need to recognize our God-given potential for influence. We should pray and actively seekopportunities to influence others, recognizing God will work through us as the ultimate Influencer. As weuse our influence in godly ways, who knows how God will use us to advance His kingdom?Biblical Truths of This Lesson in Focus• God has given to each believer the potential to influence others.• We must always seek to use our influence for good, never for evil.9|Page
  10. 10. • When we commit our actions to the Lord, we affirm that God is the ultimate Influencer.• God can and will work through us to accomplish His purposes.• We should consider carefully how we might intentionally influence others to get closer to God.Theological Study: God’s Sovereignty in the Book of EstherThe Book of Esther does not mention God’s name. However, we clearly see God orchestrating the book’sevents. Through Vashti’s action, the position of queen of Persia became vacant, and God guided the kingto choose Esther. As queen, Esther was in the right position to intervene for her people. As Mordecai said,Esther had “come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esth. 4:14). God’s unseen hand guidesthe book’s every circumstance.10 | P a g e
  11. 11. BACKGROUND PAS- Esther 1—10SAGE:FOCAL PASSAGE: Esther 4:13-17; 8:3-8LIFE IMPACT: This lesson can help you recognize you have influence and de- termine to use your influence for God’s purposes and in godly ways.LESSON OUTLINE: I. RECOGNIZE YOUR GOD-GIVEN POTENTIAL FOR INFLUENCE (ESTH. 4:13-14) II. REALIZE THAT GOD IS THE ULTIMATE INFLUENCER (ESTH. 4:15-17) III. U SE Y OUR I NFLUENCE IN G ODLY W AYS (E STH . 8:3-8)OVERVIEW OF BACKGROUND PASSAGE : Esther, Chapters 1—10Vashti’s Demotion (Esther 1:1-22) The Persian King Khshayarsha was known as Ahasuerus in Hebrew and Xerxes in Greek. He is commonlyidentified with Xerxes I (485-464 B.C.), who is remembered for his devastating naval loss to the Greeks atSalamis in 481. The Greek historian Herodotus described his kingdom as consisting of twenty provinces andextending from India to Ethiopia. The king convened a royal reception in his third year (483 B.C.) at Susa of Elam (modern SW Iran), whichwas the winter resort of the Persian kings (Esth 1:1-3; Neh 1:1; Dan 8:2). Archaeological work has uncoveredthe elaborate royal palace of the city. The assembly Xerxes called lasted for 180 days, during which he displayed the splendor of his wealth. Itculminated in a seven-day feast of luxurious dining and drunkenness. The opulence of the Persian court isdescribed to indicate the vast resources and power of the king (1:4-9). In a drunken stupor, the king called for Queen Vashti to “display her beauty” before his guests (1:10-11).Her refusal, probably out of decency, threatened the king’s reputation. At Memucan’s advice, the king de-posed her (1:10-22). Xerxes’ action is a parody on Persian might, for the powerful king could not even com-mand his own wife.The King’s Decree to Destroy the Jews (Esther 2:1-3:15) The second section of the story concerns the exaltation of Esther (chap. 2) and the evil plot by Haman toexterminate the Jews (chap. 3). The role of Mordecai as Esther’s cousin and Haman’s hated enemy links thetwo episodes.Haman Threatens Mordecai (Esther 4:1-5:14) Esther’s position enabled her to save the Jews if she were willing to risk her own standing (chap. 4). Afterrecounting Esther’s vow of devotion, the author told how Esther took the lead and devised her own schemeto outmaneuver Haman. Ironically, Haman unwittingly devised his own end (chap. 5).Mordecai’s Plea to Esther 4:1-1711 | P a g e
  12. 12. When Mordecai learned of the murderous plot, he and all the Jews joined in mourning, fasting, and thewearing of sackcloth and ashes (4:1-3). This spontaneous act of grief evidenced the solidarity of the Jews.The custom of sackcloth and ashes included prayers of confession and worship (1 Kgs 21:27-29; Neh9:1-3; Dan 9:3). Esther learned of the decree from her messenger Hathach, who relayed Mordecai’s plea forher help (4:4-9). But Esther explained that she could not approach the king because Persian law meted outdeath to anyone entering uninvited. Mordecai answered by warning her that as a Jewess her own life was injeopardy and that God could save His people by another means if she failed. He believed that her exaltationin the palace had a holy purpose (4:10-14). Esther’s trust in God was the turning point. She requested acommunal fast by all the Jews as they petitioned God (Ezra 8:21-23; compare Acts 13:3; 14:23). She repliedto Mordecai with courage and confidence in God’s will: “If I perish, I perish” (Esth 4:15; compare Dan3:16-18).Esther’s Banquet and Haman’s Folly 5:1-14 The prayers of God’s people were answered because Xerxes received Esther without incident. She invitedthe king and Haman to a banquet whereupon she would make her request known (5:1-5a). Once the guestshad enjoyed their fill, Esther wisely delayed her request for another day of feasting—no doubt to heightenthe king’s interest in the petition (5:5b-8). Haman left in a happy mood (5:9-10a), but it was tempered by his fury for “the Jew Mordecai” (5:13).Haman boasted of his authority, (5:10b-13) but these boasts would later turn into tears of humiliation(6:12-13a; 7:7-8a). Haman’s friends and family (5:14) would be repaid with their own lives on the very gal-lows they had recommended for Mordecai (7:10; 9:14).Mordecai Defeats Haman (Esther 6:1-7:10) This section features the key reversal in Haman’s and Mordecai’s fates. Mordecai was honored by theking, much to Haman’s humiliation (chap. 6). The final indignity of foolish Haman was his pathetic effort tosave himself from the gallows (chap. 7).The King’s Decree on the Jews’ Behalf (Esther 8:1-9:32) This royal decree Mordecai wrote answered Haman’s evil decree (compare 3:8-11). This parallelism contin-ues the theme of reversal, the decree enabling the Jews to take the offensive against their enemies (chap. 8).The thirteenth of Adar, the day planned for the Jews’ destruction, was exchanged for the two-day celebrationof Purim because of the Jews’ conquest (chap. 9).Mordecai’s Promotion (Esther 10:1-3) The story concludes in the way it began by describing the power and influence of Xerxes’ kingdom. Theauthor refers the reader to the official records of the empire where a full account of the kingdom and therole played by Mordecai could be examined (10:1-2; compare 1 Kings 14:19; 15:7). Mordecai contributed tothe prosperity of the empire and cared for the Jews’ welfare (10:3). The greatness of Mordecai vindicatedthe Jews as a people. Their heritage was not a threat to the Gentiles, but rather through Mordecai and theJews the empire enjoyed peace.SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, TennesseeINTRODUCTION: Exercising spiritual leadership means influencing people. Every believer can influence someone. Why,12 | P a g e
  13. 13. because we all have a circle of influence. Whether we realize it or not, we all have an impact on the peoplearound us every day. It may not be much, and hopefully it is a positive influence rather than negative. Vir-tually all of us are leaders in at least one area of life. However, not all believers use their influence for God’spurposes. Today’s lesson focuses on Esther, a young Jewish woman who found herself queen of Persia. As Esthersubmitted her life to God’s purpose, she recognized her God-given potential for influence. She exercisedthat influence in godly ways, realizing at the same time that God was the ultimate Influencer. As she did,God used her to bring about the salvation of His people. As you study this lesson, ask the Lord to help yourecognize how you can use your influence for His purposes and in godly ways.SOURCE: Adapted from Bible Studies For Life: Life , Ventures Leaders Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234Biblical Truths From This Study: • God has given to each believer the potential to influence others. • We must always seek to use our influence for good, never for evil. • When we commit our actions to the Lord, we affirm that God is the ultimate Influencer. • God can and will work through us to accomplish His purposes. • We should consider carefully how we might intentionally influence others to get closer to God. The Book of Esther tells a powerful story and contains some valuable lessons. Everyone has influence—some have good influence and others have bad influence. We generally think of influence in a passiveway. It is the impression our behavior makes on other people. But the influences of the two heroes of thisstudy—Esther and Mordecai—were actively expressed in the risky actions they took. Many things thatare taken to be coincidences are expressions of divine providence. What are the odds that a young Jewishgirl would be chosen to be queen of a pagan nation just in time to save her people? Evil is alive and activein the lives of many people who live for power to be gained at whatever the cost. The Christian influenceexhibited within the circle of influence can make a difference in all whose lives are touched by each be-liever. Are you using your circle of influence to serve God? On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how wouldyou rate your Christian influence? Need help? Ask God!13 | P a g e
  14. 14. COMMENTARY:(NOTE: Commentary for the focal verses comes from three sources: “The Expositor ’s Bible Com-mentar y Old Testament,” “The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job” and “The New AmericanCommentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,” and is provided for your study.)I. R ECOGNIZE Y OUR G OD -G IVEN P OTENTIAL FOR I NFLUENCE (E STH . 4:13-14) C OMMENTARY The Expositor ’s Bible Commentar y Old Testament 4:12-14 Mordecai responded to Esther’s words by telling her that she would not escape Haman’s edict against theJews because she was in the king’s house. He warned her that if she remained silent, deliverance of the Jews wouldcome from another source; but because of her cowardice, she and her father’s family would perish. Not even royal sta-tus could protect her from the king’s edict. Then Mordecai asked the question that has become the locus classicus forsupport of the doctrine of providence as a key to the understanding of the Book of Esther: “Who knows but that youhave come to royal position for such a time as this?” (v. 14). Her exaltation as a queen may have been God’s way of ob-taining a savior for his people. Mordecai confronted her with the options. Going to the king would involve the risk ofdeath for her, but refusing to go would mean certain death for Esther and her father’s house. The phrase “from another place” remains an enigma. Lucian’s recension of Esther, Josephus, and the Targums con-sider “place” (maqom) as a veiled reference to God. This seems to be the correct interpretation, though some scholarsbelieve it refers to political help that would come from another source, perhaps a foreign power.SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job (Esth. 4:13-14) 4:12-13. If Mordecai and Esther ever came close to engaging in a squabble via proxy, it was in this case. Mordecaiurged Esther to importune the king on behalf of the Jews (Est. 4:8). She demurred, citing Ahasuerus’ inaccessibility toEsther as king and as husband (v. 11). Mordecai challenged her evasiveness (vv. 13f). She then consented to be themediator and representative of her people before her husband, come what may (v. 16). We cannot be sure why Mordecai said what he did in v. 13. It may have been because he genuinely believed thathis younger cousin was trying to distance herself from her people, now that she was safely ensconced in the Persianpalace. Or Mordecai may have engaged in overstatement, possibly trying to shame Esther into intervening. In her ear-lier words sent back to Mordecai, she never hinted that she viewed her position and status in the Persian palace as aguarantee of immunity from the indignities that might befall all the Jewish people. 4:14. This is certainly one of the great verses of the Book of Esther. It is the only time that Mordecai’s words arerecorded in direct speech instead of indirect speech as elsewhere. To begin with, Mordecai warned Esther about the peril of silence (“if you altogether hold your peace at this time”).To be sure, there is a time when silence is a virtue. Hence, Prov. 17:28 states, “Even a fool, when he holds his peace, iscounted wise.” Among the pithy, proverbial statements of the English language is, “Silence is golden.” This does notalways hold true. Like most epigrams, it states a truth that does not necessarily apply to all situations. Sometimes si-lence is criminal. To spot a building on fire and not sound the alarm is not golden silence, but irresponsible and un-conscionable silence. Mordecai queried Esther on her justification for keeping her lips sealed. Mordecai then continued by saying that relief and deliverance for the Jews would arise from another place. Hiswords to Esther have engendered much debate among commentators, especially the last phrase “from anotherplace.”14 | P a g e
  15. 15. Relief in the OT designates deliverance from some kind of a painful, benumbing circumstance. A person could ex-perience “relief” from the judgment of God (Exo. 8:15), relief from physical or mental diseases (1 Sam. 16:23) or relieffrom speaking out feelings and emotions (Job 32:20). Among ancient authorities (e.g., the various Aramaic translations of Esther, and the rest of the OT, known as Tar-gums, and Josephus, the first-century A.D. Jewish historian who wrote in Greek), it was common to suggest that “an-other place” was a way of referring to God himself. For example, in one of the Greek Septuagint versions of Esther, thisverse is translated freely as: “If you disregard your nation so that you do not help them, nevertheless, God will becomehelp and salvation to them.” A few modern commentators also interpret the phrase as a veiled allusion to God. A simple solution to the meaning of this verse, and an acceptable one grammatically, is to read the words “en-largement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place” not as a statement, but as a question: “If you remainsilent, will relief for the Jews arise from another place?” It is a rhetorical question to which the answer is no. It is as ifMordecai said in reply to Esther, “If not you, who?” Interestingly, Mordecai stated that the consequence for her silence would be that “you and your father’s house willbe destroyed.” We know that Esther was an orphan (Est. 2:7), and so, “your father’s house” cannot include her parents,and no siblings are mentioned in the text. Since, however, Mordecai was not only her older cousin, but Esther’s step-father as well (2:7, 15), the expression “your father’s house” must refer to Mordecai himself and his extended family. Mordecai’s two-word question “Who knows?” betokens an expression of trust in an otherwise hopeless, irre-versible situation if this phrase “Who knows?” parallels other uses of the phrase. Explaining his weeping and fastingfor his recently born, but seriously ill, child, David replied, “Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that thechild may live” (2 Sam. 12:22). After calling upon the people to repent, Joel said, “Who knows if he will return and re-pent” (Joel 2:14). Similarly, Nineveh’s king stated, after calling his people to repentance, “Who can tell if God will turnand repent, and turn away from his fierce anger” (Jon. 3:9). Mordecai’s words after his “Who knows” were: “whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”They are among the best-known words in the Book of Esther. This is his way of stating that Esther’s rise to the queen-ship of Persia was no accident or coincidence. Someone has defined coincidences as “miracles in which God prefers toremain anonymous.” Esther had the opportunity to be to her people what Joseph was to his family in Genesis: a saviorof her people when their chances of survival seemed nonexistent.SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job. Copyright © 2000 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp. The New American Commentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (Esth. 4:13-14)12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in theking’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jewswill arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royalposition for such a time as this?” 4:13 Mordecai warned Esther that she could not hide. She faced danger if she approached the king uninvited; butshe also was in danger if she did nothing. 4:14 Esther could have ignored Mordecai’s request and remained silent. Her decision in the paragraph that fol-lows shows courage and faith. Again the author alluded to a principal theme of the book, that God takes care of hispeople Israel; he will deliver them when enemies try to destroy them.4 The Book of Esther provides a basis for dis-pcussing anti-Semitism, a danger even today. The charges that Jews control the press and government, hold financialpower in many countries, and are leagued together in a plot to take over the world are the creation of those whowould destroy the Jews. Anti-Semitism is a manifestation of demonic power, and its most violent and destructive out-415 | P a g e
  16. 16. break has come in the twentieth century of the Christian Era in a country that had known the Christian message for atthousand years. At this moment Esther’s life purpose was at stake. God had guided in her being chosen queen. In the biblical per-spective election is for service, not just for one’s own benefit. Being liberator of her people was more important thanbeing the queen of Persia. Mordecai’s statement reveals a deep conviction of God’s providence, a belief that Godrules in the world, even in the details of the nations and in the lives of individuals. Mordecai told Esther, “If you remainsilent, … you … will perish” (v. 14). In a crisis situation such as this, there was no neutral position. Failure to decidebrings personal loss and misses the opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose. In God’s providence each person has a uniquetask.SOURCE: The New American Commentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Mervin Breneman; General Editor: E. Ray Clendenen; © Copyright 1993 • Broadman & Holman Publishers,Nashville, Tennessee. II. R EALIZE THAT G OD I S THE U LTIMATE I NFLUENCER (E STH . 4:15-17) C OMMENTARYThe Expositor ’s Bible Commentar y Old Testament 4:15-16 Esther sent a reply to Mordecai, affirming her willingness to risk her life in behalf of her people. She askedhim to assemble all the Jews who were in Susa to fast for her for three days and nights. She and her maids would alsoparticipate in the fast. Afterward she would go to the king, even though to do so was contrary to the law. In a final ex-pression of courage and willing submission, she said, “If I perish, I perish” (v. 16). Her remark has also been interpretedas “a despairing expression of resignation to the inevitable” (Paton, Esther, p. 326; cf. Jacob’s statement in Gen 43:14).Prayer and fasting before God were customary concurrent practices in times of sorrow, anxiety, or penitence (cf. 1 Sam1:7-10; 2 Sam 12:16-17; Ezra 8:23; Isa 58:2-5; Jer 14:12; Dan 9:3; Zech 7:3-5). The author of Esther is careful, however, toavoid the mention of God or that prayer was made to him. 4:17 Mordecai departed from the open square in front of the king’s gate and carried out Esther’s instructions. TheHebrew only says he “crossed over,” which may mean he crossed the city square or crossed the river that separatedSusa from the citadel.SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job (Esth. 4:15-17) 4:15-16. Esther saw the wisdom in Mordecai’s words. She asked Mordecai to call the entire Jewish Diaspora inSusa to fasting. There is no specific reference to praying, but that may be safely assumed. There is a common denomi-nator running throughout all the instances of community fasting in the OT: the community is struck or threatened bya calamity that comes either from other persons (1 Sam. 7:6, from the Philistines; Jer. 36:9, from Jehoiakim, beastlyking of Judah; and here in Est. 4:16, from Haman) or from God (Joel 2:12ff; Jon. 3:5ff). But Esther did not leave all the fasting to her people. She too along with her maids fasted. In fact, there is a point inHebrew of “I also and my maidens will fast as likewise” that cannot be captured in English. We would expect the verb“will fast” to be plural, since the subject is “I also and my maidens,” that is, “we.” But the verb, even though having acompound subject, is a first person singular verb, literally “I and my maidens, I will fast.” This grammatical form indi-cates that the narrator thereby wished to draw attention to the principal participant. Esther was the instigator and di-rector of the action. She would not ask others to do what she was not willing to do. Defying the king’s law about approaching the sovereign uninvited, Esther would speak with Ahasuerus. She mightbe successful. She might be executed. She had no guarantee either way, especially with regard to the former. Estherexpressed her willingness to act as intermediary with her now famous words, “And if I perish, I perish.” These wordssound remarkably like those of Jacob when he agreed reluctantly to let Benjamin join his older brothers when they re-turned to Egypt: “If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Gen. 43:14). Although the wording is somewhat dif-ferent, the three Hebrew youths thrown into the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar echoed the same sentiment: “Our16 | P a g e
  17. 17. God whom we serve is able to deliver us from... and he will deliver us” (Dan. 3:17f). Esther’s “If I perish, I perish” paral-lels their “If we are reduced to ashes, we are reduced to ashes.” The difference between Esther and the three Hebrewlads is that the latter did not hesitate to speak of God. Esther, by contrast, never openly spoke to God or of God. 4:17. The Hebrew is strong in this verse. It says Mordecai “did according to all that which Esther had commandedhim.” The phraseology is very close to that used to describe Moses’ finishing successfully the overseeing of the con-struction of the Tabernacle: “Thus did Moses: according to all that the Lord commanded him” (Exo. 40:16). Three passages so far in Esther use the expression (HED #6943, 6142; 2:10, 20, “charged”; 4:17, “commanded”). Inthe first two, Mordecai is the subject and Esther is the object. In the third one, the roles are reversed. Esther is the sub-ject and Mordecai is the object. Esther knew how to take orders and how to give orders. She knew how to be submis-sive and how to be aggressive. Mordecai would fast for three days. The Susan Jews would fast. She and her maidens would fast. All the while, shewould think fast, plotting her strategy, and when the time came she would move fast.SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job. Copyright © 2000 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.The New American Commentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (Esth. 4:15-17)Esther Risks Her Life (4:15–17)15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat ordrink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though itis against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” 17So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions. 4:15–16 Esther felt identified with her people. She now looked to them for spiritual support. “And fast for me”implies prayer and fasting. This suggests that Esther had a genuine faith in God. By her request for fasting (and cer-tainly prayer is assumed), Esther showed that she needed the support of others and recognized the need for God’s in-tervention. Even she and her maids would fast as well. This meant she would share her faith with these maids. Estherbelieved God answers prayer. Such prayer changes situations; in fact, it is one of the chief instruments God uses tochange history. “I will go” marks Esther’s momentous decision that risked her own life. At first Esther apparently was more con-cerned about her own safety. But when she realized the influence she could have and perhaps God’s purpose inputting her in her position “for such a time as this,” she decided to act, committing herself to God. Many Christians aremore concerned about their own security than about the desperate physical and spiritual needs of the world. If theyunderstood that their decision could make a difference, many would make the commitment God is asking of them. “Do not eat or drink for three days” means until the third day, when Esther planned to appear before the king (5:1).The added words “night or day” mean the fast was to be continuous (not broken by eating at night); fasting usually waspracticed only during the day. The emphasis on fasting is worth noting. Throughout the Old Testament fasting seemsimportant, although the Israelites were required to fast on only one day in the year, the Day of Atonement. However,there are many examples of fasting on special occasions or in times of special need. In Isa 58:1–12 true fasting was notjust ritual; rather, it was the meeting of the needs of people. Fasting is a means by which one denies one’s own needsand focuses directly on his or her relationship with God and the world. “And if I perish, I perish.” Both Vashti and Mordecai displayed courage in life-threatening situations, and now so didEsther. Vashti showed courage in her refusal to humiliate herself for the whimsical desire of her husband, and Mordecaidid so in refusing to bow down to Haman. Esther proved braver still. She had decided to break the law of her husbandand risk her very life for her people (cf. John 15:13). God’s providential care had brought Esther to this point, but Estheraccepted the challenge that might cost her life.17 | P a g e
  18. 18. 4:17 This verse shows that Mordecai was satisfied with Esther’s decision and instructions. He proceeded to carry outher request.SOURCE: The New American Commentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Mervin Breneman; General Editor: E. Ray Clendenen; © Copyright 1993 • Broadman & Holman Publishers,Nashville, Tennessee. III. U SE Y OUR I NFLUENCE IN G ODLY W AYS (E STH . 8:3-8) C OMMENTARYThe Expositor ’s Bible Commentar y Old TestamentReversal of Haman’s decree (8:3-14) 8:3 With a great show of emotion, Esther fell at the feet of the king and begged him to “put an end” (lehabir, “tocause to pass over”) to the evil plan Haman had devised against the Jews. Haman’s overthrow and Mordecai’s eleva-tion could not give Esther comfort so long as Haman’s decree against the Jews remained unrevoked. 8:4 Some commentators (e.g., Paton) assume that Esther risked her life a second time to come uninvited into theking’s presence, because the king again extended his scepter to her (cf. 4:11; 5:1-2). However, the scepter was extend-ed only after her emotional plea and not at the moment of her entrance before the king. Therefore his gesture was in-tended to encourage her to rise from her prostrate position before continuing to speak. 8:5-6 With proper deference to the king and an expressed hope that she enjoyed the king’s favor, Esther peti-tioned him to issue an order “overruling” (lehasib, “to cause to return”) Haman’s dispatches (v. 5). She reminded himthat Haman’s orders had been sent with the explicit purpose of destroying the Jews in all the king’s provinces. Estherexpressed her grief in face of the impending disaster about to fall on her people (Heb., “the evil that will find my peo-ple”) and her kinsmen, thus revealing her true character—that she was not merely self-serving, as might have beeninferred from her previous statements. Esther was careful to place the blame on Haman for the wicked plot and not onthe king. 8:7-8 The king responded by first reminding Esther and Mordecai that he had executed Haman and given his es-tate to her. The king then told them to write another decree in his name in behalf of the Jews. He gave them permis-sion to word the decree as seemed best to them (Heb., “according to the good in your eyes”). He reminded them thathe could not write the new decree himself, as no prior document written in his name and sealed with his ring could be“revoked” (lehasib, “to cause to return”; cf. v. 5), even by the king himself (cf. Dan 6:8, 12, 15). It could only be neutral-ized by another decree.SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job (Esth. 8:3-8) 8:3. But Esther was not ultimately concerned about possession of confiscated estates and royal rings. Another is-sue was more profoundly important to her: the lifting of the death sentence upon her people. To that end, in an unusually profuse show of emotion, Esther fell at the king’s feet, wept and begged the king toput an end to the evil plan of Haman and signed as decree by the king. The key verb here is Esther’s urgent requestthat Ahasuerus “put away,” that is, cancel such a decree. The Hebrew word for “put away” (HED #5882) is the sameone used in the previous verse to refer to the ring Ahasuerus “had taken” from Haman. Esther deeply implored Aha-suerus to take back, that is, retract, his earlier decree. The problem, however, is that according to tradition, the laws ofthe Persians and Medes could not be repealed or taken back ( in 1:19). Since Ahasuerus was tricked into signing thedeath penalty, he was much like Isaac who was tricked into giving his blessing on Jacob (Gen. 27:1ff). 8:4-10:3. “All’s well that ends well,” says the aphorism. If that is true, then Est. 8:4-10:3 is a parade example ofthat truth in action. The last portion of the Book of Esther is about the safety and security of the Jews in Persia, at leastfor that period of time in history. Chapters 8-10 are about reversals: from tears to laughter, from fasting to celebrat-18 | P a g e
  19. 19. ing, from vulnerable Jews to victorious Jews, from a religion that did not celebrate its festivals to one that celebratedPurim to the fullest, from Jews who are written up for genocide to a Jew who is written up for greatness, from letterscalling for a crusade to letters calling for a celebration. 8:4. Just as recorded in 5:1f, in 8:4, when Esther goes to the king to speak, she must wait until the king extends hisgold scepter in her direction. No such procedure took place when Haman (6:4ff) or Mordecai (8:1) approached theking. A scepter is an emblem of regal or imperial power that looks like a rod or wand. 8:5-6. Two things stand out in Esther’s request from Ahasuerus. First, she addressed the king in the third personrather than speaking to him directly in the second person: “If it please the king, and if I have found favour” (v. 5). Sec-ond, she spoke to Ahasuerus in a series of conditional clauses (“if... if”) rather than launching immediately into herplea that the genocidal decree against her people be revoked. Such an approach reflected proper decorum and flat-tered the king by placing her at his mercy and by subtly reminding him how much she meant to him. Esther also demonstrated great wisdom by mentioning only Haman’s role in the hatching of this plot to extermi-nate the Jews. We know that although the idea was Haman’s, only the king could authorize it, and authorize it he did(3:8-11). Esther, having condemned Haman, now logically foils the edict Haman apparently personally wrote. It is interesting to observe that Esther recalled not only Haman’s name, but his father’s name (Hammedatha) andhis ethnic background (“the Agagite”). These names would be engraved in her memory forever. In v. 6, Esther expresses solidarity with the Jews (“my people... my kindred”). She is not so much concerned withher own deliverance as she is with that of her people. Her “how” questions (“For how can I endure... How can I en-dure”) are similar to Joseph’s “how” question to Potiphar’s wife in Gen. 39:9 (“How then can I do this great wicked-ness, and sin against God?”) and Judah’s “how” question to the yet unrecognized Joseph in 44:34 (“How shall I go upto my father, and the lad [Benjamin] be not with me?”). Esther’s self-incriminating “how” questions focused on the sinof omission and indifference. Joseph’s self-incriminating “how” questions focused on the sin of commission and in-dulgence. Esther, who had just “fallen” (Est. 8:3) at the king’s feet, could not stand idly by and see disaster “fall” uponher people (v. 6). 8:7-8. Esther does the talking in vv. 3-6, but the commands “write” and “seal” in v. 8 are plural (masculine pluralsat that), showing that the king is responding to both Esther and Mordecai. The inclusion of “Mordecai the Jew” in v. 7provides a counterpoint to “Haman the Agagite” in vv. 3, 5. Just as Esther discreetly omitted any reference to the king’s role in the genocidal decree (v. 5), so too the kingomits in v. 7 any reference to his role in the get-rid-of-the-Jews plot. Haman was not just the arch villain; he was theonly villain. Also, the king was careful to mention Esther’s real estate gains (“I have given Esther the house of Haman”)before he reminded them of his ordering Haman’s execution. In other words, Ahasuerus reminded them that he hadalready been beneficent to Esther. Because an earlier royal edict could not be simply cancelled or withdrawn, Ahasuerus gave Esther and Mordecaithe authority to write a counter edict that would supersede the first one, and would work to the advantage of theJews (v. 8). His “write... as seems best to you” (NIV; or lit. “write... according to what is right in your eyes”) gave Estherand Mordecai as much freedom as possible. It was the same expression the king used earlier to Haman in relation tothe Jews, literally, “Do with the people what is right in your eyes” (3:11). What was “right” in Esther’s and Mordecai’seyes was actually something right and deserving. For Haman, the “right” was wrong and dastardly. In both instances,the phrase witnesses to Ahasuerus’ indifference and incompetence. He merely granted permission, but others wrotethe script. He could approve policy but seemed incapable of forming policy. Drinking, dining and delegating responsi-bility to others were his specialties.SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library - Ezra-Job. Copyright © 2000 by World Library Press Inc. Database © 2010 WORDsearch Corp.19 | P a g e
  20. 20. The New American Commentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (Esth. 8:3-8)Esther’s Request to Save the Jews (8:3–6)3 Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan ofHaman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. 4Then the king extended the gold scepter to Esther and shearose and stood before him. 5“If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thingto do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, theAgagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. 6For how can I bear to see disaster fall on mypeople? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?” 8:3 Not just the fate of Esther and Mordecai was at stake but that of the entire Jewish population of the PersianEmpire. Esther had saved the Jews from Haman, but not from his handiwork: the death document. Still in force wasHaman’s original edict, approved by the king and sent to all the provinces for the destruction of the Jews on the thir-teenth day of the twelfth month. Esther did not stop with her personal deliverance; she was concerned about herpeople—the whole Jewish community throughout the empire. Her “falling at his feet and weeping” indicates herstrong emotions as she collapsed. She could only plead the king’s mercy. 8:4 “The king extended the gold scepter.” This happened before in 5:2. This time the scepter was not raised tosave Esther’s life but rather to show that she is more than welcome in the king’s presence. Some understand that Es-ther again risked her life by going into the king’s presence without being called. However, others suggest that v. 3does not introduce a new scene; it is a continuation of the scene described in vv. 1–2. Thus the king’s act ofextending the scepter was simply an encouragement to Esther to rise and speak. 8:5 Esther was extremely diplomatic in presenting this request. It was of utmost importance that the king accepther request. He already was upset because Haman had tricked him into making the edict to destroy the Jews, butreversing an edict the king had signed was a delicate matter. Esther did not use the word “law,” for she knew that Persian laws could not be repealed. She put all the blame onHaman and avoided blaming the king. 8:6 “How can I bear to see” is repeated in the parallel, almost poetic form of Esther’s request. She adroitly used herown feelings and the king’s favorable disposition toward her (“if he is pleased with me”) to secure his permission forher request.A New Edict PublishedThe King Commands the Edict (8:7–8)7 King Xerxes replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Because Haman attacked the Jews, I have given his estate toEsther, and they have hanged him on the gallows. 8Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews asseems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with hisring can be revoked.” 8:7 Because Haman attacked the Jews, the king had him hanged and gave his estate to Esther. The author wasmaking clear that he who attacks the Jews will fall. The king reminded Esther and Mordecai of all he had alreadydone, to show that he was favorably disposed toward the Jews. However, it was Esther, not the king, who took theinitiative in counteracting Haman’s destructive decree. 8:8 “Now write” is literally “you write.” The “you” is emphatic and includes both Esther and Mordecai. Verses 8–17are parallel in language to 3:9–4:3, but here the whole situation is reversed. Another decree was necessary to counterthe initial one. Now the Jews would destroy their enemies rather than be destroyed.20 | P a g e
  21. 21. The fact that laws sealed by the king were irrevocable calls our attention to the many inhuman laws in our day andthe number of lives that are sacrificed to them. God’s law of justice must always be above kings and human laws. “Re-move the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness” (Prov 25:5).SOURCE: The New American Commentary; Volume 10; Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther; Mervin Breneman; General Editor: E. Ray Clendenen; © Copyright 1993 • Broadman & Holman Publishers,Nashville, Tennessee.21 | P a g e
  22. 22. DIGGING DEEPER: God’s Sovereignty in the Book of Esther: The Book of Esther does not mention God’s name. However, we clearlysee God orchestrating the book’s events. Through Vashti’s action, the position of queen of Persia became vacant, and Godguided the king to choose Esther. As queen, Esther was in the right position to intervene for her people. As Mordecai said,Esther had “come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esth. 4:14). God’s unseen hand guides the book’s every cir-cumstance.SOURCE: Family Bible Study; Life Truths; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.God’s Sovereignty in the Book of Esther: Essentially the sovereignty of God refers to His activity in governingthe heavens and the earth as well as His control over the affairs of humanity. Since God created all things, upholds allthings, owns all things, and is above all things, then He is the rightful and righteous Ruler of all things. Although thistheological concept can sometimes seem perplexing, it is firmly rooted in Scripture and consistently reminds us thatGod, by His sovereignty, always knows the best thing to do and He holds the power to do it. God is in charge!SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.PURIM (Feast of Purin): Purim commemorating the deliverance of the Jews from genocide through the effortsof Esther (Esther 9:16-32) derives its name from the “lot” (pur) which Haman planned to cast in order to decide whenhe should carry into effect the decree issued by the king for the extermination of the Jews (Esther 9:24). In the apoc-ryphal book of 2 Maccabees (15:36) it is called the day of Mordecai. It was celebrated on the fourteenth day of Adar(March) by those in villages and unwalled towns and on the fifteenth day by those in fortified cities (Esther 9:18, 19).No mention of any religious observance is connected with the day; in later periods, the Book of Esther was read inthe synagogue on this day. It became a time for rejoicing and distribution of food and presents.SOURCE: SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Editorial Team, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church, Linda L. Scott, Marsha A. Ellis Smith, James Emery White; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee. THE MAIN CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER:XERXES (Xuhr xeez): A Persian king who reigned 486-464 B.C., known in Book of Esther as Ahasuerus. He was theson of Darius the Great and grandson of Cyrus the Great. He campaigned militarily against the Greeks, avenging theloss at Marathon in 490. However, his armada suffered a crippling defeat in the Bay of Salamis in 480, and he soon lostinterest in attempting to defeat the Greeks.VASHTI (Vash ti): Personal name meaning, “the once desired, the beloved.” Wife of King Ahasuerus and queen ofPersia and Media (Esth. 1:9). The king called for her to show off her beauty to a group he was entertaining, but she re-fused. Vashti was deposed as queen (1:19), and a beauty contest was arranged to select a new queen. Esther was cho-sen as the new queen (2:16). No records yet have been recovered which name Vashti as the queen of any king of theMedo-Persian Empire, leading some to speculate whether she was a historical person. The only other queen with Aha-suerus (also called Xerxes) was named Amestris.HAMAN (Hay muhn): Personal name meaning, “magnificent.” The Agagite who became prime minister underthe Persian king Ahasuerus (Esther 3:1). He was a fierce enemy of the Jews, and he devised a plot to exterminatethem. In particular, he had a gallows erected on which he hoped to hang Mordecai because Mordecai would not bowto him. Through the intervention of Esther, however, his scheme was unmasked; and he was hanged on the gallowshe had designed for Mordecai the Jew.AGAGITE (ay gag ite): Apparently, the term means a descendant of Agag. Only Haman, the arch villain in theBook of Esther, is called an Agagite (Esther 3:1). Agagite is probably a synonym for Amalekite. (See Agag below.)22 | P a g e
  23. 23. AGAG (ay gag): Agag, whose name means “fiery one,” was king of the Amalekites, a tribal people living inthe Negev and in the Sinai peninsula. The Amalekites had attacked the Israelites in the wilderness and were thereforecursed (Ex. 17:14). In 1 Samuel 15:8, Saul destroyed all the Amalekites but King Agag. Since the Lord had ordered thecomplete destruction of the Amalekites, Samuel, Saul’s priest, rebuked Saul for his disobedience and reported God’srejection of Saul as king. Then Samuel himself executed Agag. In Numbers 24:7, Agag is used to refer to theAmalekite people. Agag was a common name among Amalekite kings much as Pharaoh among Egyptian rulers.SOURCE: SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Editorial Team, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church, Linda L. Scott, Marsha A. Ellis Smith, James Emery White; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee. ESTHER (ehs thuhr): Persian personal name meaning, “Ishtar.” Heroine of biblical Book of Esther whose Jewishname was Hadassah. Esther is the story of a Jewish orphan girl raised by her uncle, Mordecai, in Persia. She be-came queen when Queen Vashti refused to appear at a banquet hosted by her husband, King Ahasuerus. Esther didnot reveal that she was Jewish. Mordecai heard about a plot against the king’s life which he reported through Esther. Haman was made prime minis-ter and began to plot against Mordecai and the Jews because they would not pay homage to him. The king issued a de-cree that all who would not bow down would be killed. Esther learned of the plot and sent for Mordecai. He challengedher with the idea, “Who knoweth whether those art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Sheasked Mordecai and the Jews to fast with her while she decided. She entered the king’s presence unsummoned whichcould have meant her death. The king granted her request. Haman was tricked into honoring Mordecai, his enemy. At a banquet, Esther revealed Haman’s plot to destroy herand her people, the Jews. Haman was hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. Mordecai was promoted, and Es-ther got the king to revoke Haman’s decree to destroy the Jews. The Jews killed and destroyed their enemies.The book closes with the institution of the festival of Purim.MORDECAI (Mawr dih ki): Personal name meaning, “little man.” Esther’s cousin and the mastermind behind herrise to power and subsequent victory over the evil Haman. Haman, a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag, soughtto destroy the Jewish race. Mordecai, a descendant of King Saul’s family, led Esther to thwart the attempt, Haman washanged on the gallows he had erected for Mordecai.SOURCE: SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Editorial Team, Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church, Linda L. Scott, Marsha A. Ellis Smith, James Emery White; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.23 | P a g e
  24. 24. ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:The Role of Queen EstherBy Janice MeierJanice Meier is editor in chief, Explore the Bible Series, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, Tennessee.W ho knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? (Esth. 4:14, NIV). These words of Mordecai addressed to his cousin, Queen Esther, reflect Mordecai’s conviction of God’s providence at work in Esther’s life.1 God had guided in her selection as queen to bring her to the place where shecould play a crucial role in delivering His people in an hour of crisis. What was that time for which God had given Esther such a crucial role? Specifically, it was a time when Haman,prime minister under King Ahasuerus, devised a plot to exterminate Esther’s own people, the Jews. More generally, itwas a time when the Persians ruled the Jewish people. Ahasuerus (also known as King Xerxes, 486-464 BC ) had selected Esther to replace his former queen, Vashti.Vashti’s actions, as well as those of Queen Esther, grant us brief glimpses into the role of a queen during the era of theMedo-Persian Empire. What privileges and restrictions characterized the queen’s role in “such a time as this”? Thequestion is difficult to answer, and biblical scholars hold conflicting viewpoints on many related issues. This articlewill present some of those various viewpoints and conclude by summarizing Esther’s contributions to the image ofthe Persian queen.A M EDO -P ERSIAN Q UEENThe role of the queen, of course, can be understood only in conjunction with that of the king. In the time of KingXerxes, the Persian king typically viewed himself as possessing unlimited personal power, as being above the law, andas displaying great splendor.2 The king displayed the power in dethroning Queen Vashti when she refused to complywith his whims. As punishment for failure to appear before the king when summoned, this queen was never again toenter his presence. The king and his counselors immediately recognized the disastrous repercussions that could occurthroughout the land if other women followed the queen’s example of refusing to defer to the king’s wishes (1:12-18).Queen Vashti has earned a place in history as one who was deposed for challenging not only her husband but also theroyal law of the Medes and Persians.3 Vashti’s courage in refusing to come before the king when summoned parallelsEsther’s courage in approaching the king without first being called. The reference to Xerxes’ process of selecting a new queen also sheds light on the queen’s role (2:1-4,12-14). Thisprocedure reveals that to a large degree, women were merely objects to satisfy a king’s personal desires. Obviously,polygamy characterized marital practices in the palace. The Persian king surrounded himself with a large harem ofwomen—some of whom were wives and others concubines. Chapter 2 of Esther refers to two different parts of theharem. Evidently virgins had to stay in one area of the harem (vv. 8-9). After a woman had sexual relations with theking, she then was moved to another part of the harem (vv. 12-14). The women in this latter group had no guaranteethat the king would ever summon them again. Many virtually became like widows. Although the women of the harem were isolated and dependent on male favor, a woman nevertheless could wieldgreat power within the palace, particularly if she were selected as queen. Xerxes himself was eventually killed in aharem coup. Thus although limited in many ways, these women did have the potential to acquire great influence andcontrol.4E STHER AS Q UEEN24 | P a g e
  25. 25. After winning King Xerxes’ favor, Esther succeeded Vashti as queen (2:17). She had faithfully kept Mordecai’s instruc-tion not to reveal her identity as a Jew. As the plot of the story unfolds, Haman succeeded in getting the king to issuea decree to destroy the Jews (3:8-11). Mordecai urged Esther to approach the king and plead with him for her peo-ple’s lives (4:8). Aware that such an unbidden approach to the king was a violation of the law and was punishable bydeath, Esther courageously agreed to enter the king’s presence (v. 16). Herodotus, a fifth century BC Greek historian,affirmed that Persian kings has such a law.5 The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that men holding axes stood nearthe king’s throne to punish anyone who approached the king without first being summoned.6 A person desiring an audience with the king was to make such a request by first sending a message. Such a law pro-vided defense against assassination attempts. As queen, Esther was bound by this law. Yet she demonstrated uncom-mon courage by her willingness to risk her life for the lives of her people by approaching the king unbidden. As Vashtihad displayed courage by refusing to humiliate herself to fulfill the whimsical desires of her husband, 7 Esther demon-strated courage by risking her life for her people. When Esther finally revealed to King Ahasuerus or Xerxes that she was a Jew and accused Haman of plotting evilagainst her and her people, she wisely avoided criticizing the king—who had authorized the genocide. She prudent-ly recognized that she must enlist the king’s help to bring about a reversal in her people’s fortunes. Esther’s powerwas that of a queen who knew herself and who refused to be defined by her circumstances. Several other passages specifically point out the status and power Esther possessed in her role as queen. First, ac-cording to Esther 8:1-2 she received the estate of Haman after he was hanged. This reward was in line with the indi-cation we have that Persian kings took possession of the goods and property of condemned criminals. 8 Second, theking also instructed his queen, along with Mordecai, to write a decree in the king’s name concerning the Jews and toseal it with the king’s signet ring so that none could revoke it (8:8). Furthermore, Esther 9:29-32 emphasizes that the queen used her royal authority to help establish the Feast of Purim.The Hebrew word translated “authority” (NIV) in 9:29 literally means “strength” or “power.” The noun comes from a verbroot meaning “to prevail against” or “to overpower.”9 The noun “authority” is modified by the adjective “full,” a transla-tion of a Hebrew term literally meaning “all.” Esther’s authority appears to be in line with that of the women of the royalhouse described in the ancient Persepolis texts.10 These royal women are portrayed as resolute, enterprising, and posi-tively active. They participated in royal feasts and organized their own banquets, traveled across the land and issued in-structions, and supervised their estates and work force.11E STHER ’ S C ONTRIBUTIONSWhat contributions did Esther make to the image of the role of a Persian queen? In many ways she fit the typicalmodel of a female Persian ruler. She acted prudently within the limitations of her role. Yet she also brought a distinctdimension to that role. Because of her faith in God, she dared to step outside the confines of the expected behavioralpatterns of a Persian queen when the lives of God’s people were at stake. She recognized both through Mordecai’s in-struction and by examination of her own experiences that God was providentially at work orchestrating her life’s cir-cumstances. She responded courageously when she recognized her place in God’s plan. Queen Esther demonstratedthat being faithful to God involved being faithful to His people. Thus, faithful to the meaning of her name, she be-came a shining “star” for her people in a time of darkness.SUSA in the Days of Queen EstherBy Daniel C. Browning, Jr.Daniel C. Browning, Jr. is professor of religion and history at William Carey University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.25 | P a g e
  26. 26. EAS THE STHER IS UNIQUE among biblical books in many ways. Most famously, the book does not overtly mention God, either by His personal name or generically. Additional, Esther is also the only biblical book in which the action takes place completely in Persia. To understand why, a brief historical background is needed. S ETTING FOR E STHERAt the beginning of the sixth century BC, the Hebrew kingdom of Judah, ruled by Davidic kings, found itself facing theNeo-Babylonian Empire, a Mesopotamian superpower. At first, in about 605 BC, Judah became a vassal state, thenquickly rebelled (2 Kings 24:1), capitulated after a Babylonian onslaught (in 597 BC; 2 Kings 24:10-12), and then re-belled again 10 years later (2 Kings 24:20). In response to the second rebellion, in 587 BC Babylon’s King Nebuchad-nezzar destroyed Judah, its capital Jerusalem, and with it the temple (25:8-12). After each rebellion, the Babylonianstook large numbers of Judeans (Jews) to Babylon into the experience called “the exile.” Forcibly resettled, these Jewsmade lives for themselves in southern Mesopotamia. Half a century later, the Persian Empire overtook the Neo-Baby-lonian Empire. Shortly after coming to power, Cyrus the Great formed the Persian Empire by uniting the kingdoms ofthe Medes and the Persians. Cyrus took Babylon in 539 BC and in the following year issued an edict allowing the Jewsto return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1:1-4). While many Jews returned to their homeland, many did not, and so a Diaspora (meaning “scattered”) community ofJews continued in this area around Babylon. These Jews, now free, began to conduct commerce and settle in othercities, including those in Persia to the east of Babylonia. Primary among the Persian cities was Susa, where the story ofEsther occurred in the fifth century BC.A RCHAEOLOGY AND H ISTORYSusa is identified with Shush, a collection of mounds on a natural extension of Mesopotamia into southwest Persia,modern Iran. This region, ancient Susiana, was sometimes under the control of the dominant state of southernMesopotamia, sometimes independent, and sometimes part of the large Persian states. Susa was usually its capital. After the British made a brief investigation of the area in 1851, the French excavated Susa almost continuouslyfrom 1884 until the Iranian revolution halted all foreign activity in 1979. Excavations revealed that Susa was occupiedwithout major interruption from about 4200 BC until the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century AD.1 Early occupation at Susa paralleled the development of civilization in neighboring Mesopotamia. Susa, sharing theUruk culture of southern Mesopotamia in the mid-fourth millennium BC, developed sculpture, wheel-turned pottery,and an accounting convention using tokens enclosed in a clay envelope—an important step in the development ofcuneiform writing. Breaking from Mesopotamia after 3200 BC, Susa produced its own still undeciphered abstractsymbols called Proto-Elamite. By 2800 BC, Susa was back in the Mesopotamian sphere as an essentially Sumeriancity-state. Sargon the Great controlled Susa as part of his Semitic empire from 2350 BC. When that empire failed earlyin the twenty-second century, though, the city became part of the Elamite kingdom of Awan, only to be reconqueredby Shulgi, a powerful Sumerian king of Ur. About 2000 BC, Elamite and Susianan invaders destroyed Ur and its em-pire.2 As the Elamite civilization took shape, Susa was integrated as a major center, so that the first ruler of theSukkalmah Dynasty (which existed about 1970-1500 BC ) called himself “King of Anshan and of Susa.”3 Elam reached its cultural and political peak in the Middle Elamite Period (about 1500-1100 BC ) and Susiana be-came increasingly Elamite in language and religion. A new capital replaced Susa around 1500 BC, but Susa regainedits prominence about 1200 BC under the Shutrukid kings. This dynasty conquered Babylon, from which they lootedseveral iconic monuments of Mesopotamia, including the Naram-Sin Stele and the Stele of Hammurabi, containinghis famous law code.4 A French archaeological team discovered these iconic Mesopotamian monuments on the SusaAcropolis about 1900, near the lavishly rebuilt temple of Susa’s chief god Inshushinak.5 This brief Shutrukid Empirecollapsed about 1100 BC, and all of Elam entered a dark age with almost no written records until late in the eighthcentury BC.26 | P a g e
  27. 27. When Elam reemerged into the light of history in 734 BC, Susa was one of three capitals of the later Neo-Elamitekings who found themselves in a struggle against Assyria, the prevailing Mesopotamian power. The Elamites were oftenallied with Babylon in the latter’s frequent attempts to rebel from Assyrian domination. For example, Elam supportedthe Chaldean Merodach-Baladan (Isa. 39:1) in his bids for Babylonian freedom against the Assyrian kings Sargon II andSennacherib. The last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, effectively destroyed Elamite power and pillaged Susa in 646BC. Ezra 4:9-10 reports that “Osnapper”—apparently Ashurbanipal—deported Elamites of Susa and settled them in theregion of Samaria. Meanwhile, the plateau of Persia was consumed by the growing Median and Persian kingdoms, anda modest Elamite kingdom was reestablished around 625 BC at Susa. In a vision dated to about 552 BC, Daniel saw himself at Susa, at the river Ulai (Dan. 8:1-2,16). The vision began with atwo-horned ram that surely represented the Persian Empire (also called the Achaemenid Empire). The Persian Empirewas created with Cyrus the Great uniting the Medes and the Persians in 550 BC. Cyrus took Susa in 539 BC, just beforethe capture of Babylon that made the Persians masters of the Near East. This was the Cyrus who ended the exile of theJews with his edict in 538 BC (Ezra 1:2-4).I N E STHER ’ S D AYCyrus and his son Cambyses II may have used Susa some during their reigns, but the vast majority of the Persian re-mains on the site date to the reigns of Darius I the Great (522-486 BC ) or Artaxerxes II (404-359 BC ). 6 Darius made Susahis main capital. This and the great Royal Road he built connecting Susa with Sardis brought many important foreignvisitors to the city. Herodotus relates that when the cities of Ionia, Greece rebelled against Darius and sought help fromSparta, they indicated on a map “Susa where lives the great king, and there are the storehouses of his wealth; take thatcity, and then you need not fear to challenge Zeus for riches.”7 The Greek geographer Strabo concurred, saying the Per-sians “adorned the palace at Susa more than any other.”8 The site of ancient Susa is spread over four distinct mounds, called by the French the Acropolis, Apadana, Ville Roy-al, and Ville des Artisans. The Acropolis, as the name suggests, is the tallest, with stratified archaeological remains 82feet deep. The earliest occupation and most of the Elamite and earlier finds were discovered there, including theHammurabi Code stele and other looted Mesopotamian treasures. 9 North of the Acropolis, Darius I created theApadana mound (and effectively reshaped the whole city) by constructing a huge 32 acre gravel platform on whichhe built a palace. The place consisted of residential quarters in the south with an official government center and audi-ence hall—called an “Apadana”—to the north.10 Archaeologists discovered a foundation inscription written in three languages in which Darius I described buildingthe palace by using materials and workmen from throughout his vast empire. This impressive complex is the settingfor the story of Esther during the reign of Darius’s successor Xerxes I. After his ill-fated military campaign against Greece (highlighted by the Battle of Thermopylae, the sack of Athens,and culminating in defeats at Salamis and Plataeai, 480-479 BC ), Xerxes retired to Susa. A monumental gateway discovered in the 1970s east of the palace complex contains inscriptions of Xerxes, at-tributing its construction to Darius. The inscription implies Xerxes continued to use the complex. As the gateway isthe only known access to the palace, associating it with the “king’s gate” where Esther’s kinsman Mordechai sat istempting (Esth. 2:19,21; 5:9,13; 6:10, RSV). The residential quarters would correspond to the “king’s palace” in thestory (5:1). Within outer walls, this structure has a series of inner courtyards aligned east to west. The first of theseserved as an entrance courtyard and may be the “outer court of the kings palace” of Esther 6:4. The third courtyardgives access to what appear to be the royal apartments and may thus be the “inner courtyard” where a nervous Esthermade her uninvited approach to the king (4:11; 5:1).11 The audience hall was hypostyle—filled with six rows of six columns each. More columns filled three porticos onthe west, north, and east sides. The columns themselves featured fluted shafts on square bases, topped with capitals27 | P a g e
  28. 28. in the form of two bull torsos facing in opposite directions. They rose 65 feet, an achievement unparalleled in the an-cient world. The entire palace, residence, and apadana were decorated exclusively with glazed brickwork depictingmythical animals and figures of the Immortals, the elite guard troops of the king.12 The royal parts of the city, consisting of the Acropolis, Apadana, and Ville Royal mounds, were enclosed in an im-pressive city wall. A canal diverted from the Chaour River on the west ran along the north and east sides of the royalenclosure, separating it from the unfortified lower city to the east, represented by the fourth mound, the Ville des Ar-tisans. These distinct parts of the city may be reflected in the text of Esther, where “Susa the capital” (9:6,11,12; RSV)can refer to the royal walled section, while “Susa” without further qualification (vv. 13-15) may indicate the lowercity.13L ATER S USASusa’s importance as a capital ended with the conquests of Alexander the Great, although the city continued to existand prosper under Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanian, and Islamic rule. It was finally abandoned in the thirteenth centu-ry. Nevertheless, Susa has been and remains a site of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Mandeans whovenerate a medieval structure now enclosed in a mosque as the tomb of the prophet Daniel. While the tomb ofDaniel has been known from at least the seventh century AD, 14 Susa has no shrine that is associated with Queen Es-ther.28 | P a g e
  29. 29. Capital Punishment In The Ancient Near EastBy Stephen R. MillerStephen R. Miller is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Germantown, Tennessee.B OTH ESTER in fifth-century BC Persia and Daniel’s friends in the time of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC) faced the death penalty (Est. 4:11,16; Dan. 3:6). These and other biblical passages (Gen. 40:22; Est. 2:21-23; 7:9-10) illustrate the pervasiveness of capital punishment in the ancient Near East. Vital for understanding the practice of capital punishment among Israel’s neighbors in the extant (known) legalmaterial. Most noteworthy are seven ancient Near Eastern law codes archaeologists uncovered in the past two cen-turies—the Ur-Nammu Law Code, the Lipit-Ishtar Lawcode, the Laws of Eshnunna, the Code of Hammurabi, the Mid-dle Assyrian Laws, the Hittite Laws, and the Neo-Babylonian Laws.1 The Neo-Babylonian Law dates to about 600 BC;the others range from 2100-1100 BC. All originated in the area of modern Iraq (Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria) except theHittite Laws of the ancient Hittite Kingdom, which was located in modern Turkey. The Code of Hammurabi is themost extensive and famous of the codes. Hammurabi’s 282 laws were written on a black stone over seven feet inheight, which is now in the Louvre in Paris, France. All seven codes make provision for capital punishment. 2 Althoughscholars question how faithfully they were enforced, these law codes certainly are instructive concerning attitudes to-ward crime and punishment in the respective kingdoms. No law codes comparable to the Code of Hammurabi have been discovered in either Egypt or Persia, but ancientwritings strongly document the practice of capital punishment in these countries. For example, Diodorus Siculus ( afirst-century BC Greek historian) claimed that the Egyptians executed persons for perjury, failure to aid one being as-saulted, and murder.3 Herodotus (fifth-century BC Greek historian) recounted that the Persian kind Darius I (522-486BC) executed his wise men, nearly annihilating the group.4 The following is a comparative summary of Israel’s capital punishment laws and the laws and practices of otherancient Near Eastern nations.A N A CCEPTED P UNISHMENT FOR C RIMECapital punishment seems to have had universal acceptance in the ancient Near East. About 30 laws deal with thesubject in the Code of Hammurabi. In the Mosaic Law at least 32 crimes call for the death penalty.D ISTINCTIONS B ETWEEN A RISTOCRACY AND C OMMONERSIn the prologues of the Lipit-Ishtar Lawcode and the Code of Hammurabi, the gods decreed the king’s position andcommissioned him to establish justice (law) in the land. Egypt’s pharaoh needed no such sanction from the gods forhe, himself, was venerated as divine. Biblical law derived its authority from Yahweh, the true God. The earliest refer-ence to capital punishment in the Bible is a direct command from God (Gen. 9:6). Later, at Sinai, capital punishmentbecame part of Israel’s law code.S IMILARITIES B ETWEEN S PECIFIC C APITAL O FFENSES IN THE A NCIENT N EAR E AST AND M OSAIC L AW29 | P a g e