The story of the book of Esther takes place during the second great world empire, that of the Medes and Persians. Under Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, a remnant of Israel returned to the land (Ezra 1:1-5). The events of the book of Esther can be placed between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7, i.e. between the year 483 BC – the third year of Xerxes (Est 1:3) and 473 BC – the end of the twelfth year of Xerxes (Est 3:7).
In Daniel 11 there is talk of “three more kings … in Persia” and “a fourth” king (Dan 11:2). The fourth king is Xerxes I, which is Ahasuerus (Est 1:1). He succeeds Darius I and reigns from 485-465 BC. He is mentioned in Daniel 9 and Ezra 4 (Dan 9:1; Ezra 4:6).
The subject of this book is God’s providence, which means that we see God at work in this book, but in a hidden way. The name of the Jews is often mentioned, while God’s Name is not mentioned in this book. The latter has led critics to comment that this book does not belong in the Bible. However, anyone who reads this book with a believing heart will gradually be impressed by what this book has to say and will be strengthened in his conviction that it belongs to the inspired Word of God.
There is a reason why the Name of God does not appear in it. The book is about the fates of the people of God, here called the people of ‘the Jews’. The leading role is played by two members of it: Mordecai and Esther. There is a murderous enemy who wants to exterminate the Jews completely. When the Jews hear of this great threat, we do not read that there is even one prayer to God. Nowhere does it appear that the Jews are aware of being God’s people. There is nothing to indicate that they take into account certain laws or statutes that God has given to His people.
No, these people are separate from God, do not confess Him, do not think of Him. And because these people do not confess God, God cannot openly take sides with them. He cannot associate His Name with them. He hides Himself from His people. That is why the Name of God does not appear in it.
However, the absence of God’s Name does not mean that He stops caring for His people. His Name may not appear in this book, but we do see His hand at work. Behind the events of this book, God is at work as the great Director. He controls the circumstances and also the deeds of the persons of this book, so that His intention is carried out. We will see that the outcome is fully consistent with the purpose He has set Himself. God cannot cease to be God. He is sovereign. He rules. For us it is important to remember that the throne is not on earth, but in heaven (Rev 4:3; Psa 11:4). God rules, not people on earth.
In His providence, God protects His people through Ahasuerus, for God wants His Messiah to come forth from this people. Therefore, the attack of Haman does not succeed. God saves His people from extinction, as He did in Egypt. The decisive time period of this book is eleven months. Then, humanly speaking, the history of God’s people hangs by a thread.
God makes sure that the enemies of His people are ashamed (Psa 37:12-13) and that His people are preserved, even exalted. He will save His earthly people through all the genocides that have marked their history. Across all suffering, the people of God will keep their identity. God also shows here what He is doing with the world. He cannot stop being this God. God controls the fate of the world for the sake of His people.
For God’s people today, the church of the living God, this book has great practical significance. This book contains an enormous consolation for all of the church who believe that God is hiding from them. Certainly, Christians do live in a known relationship to God as children to their Father. They know of a God Who loves and cares for them. But aren’t there even times when they ask themselves: ‘Where is God?
We can apply this to personal life as well as to the life of a local church. Well, the people of the Jews ended up in that position through their own fault. We’ll see about that. In the same way Christians can alienate themselves from God through their own failures. That does not take away the message of this book. That message is that God is fulfilling His plan in the background. This plan is to ultimately bless everyone who belongs to Him through repentance and belief in the truth. He will bless each of His children, not because of their own merits, but because of what His Son Jesus Christ did on the cross of Calvary.
There is another aspect that makes this book so valuable. That is its prophetic meaning. God’s people come in great distress, are saved from it and are exalted to great heights in Mordecai. This is how it will be in the end times. God’s people will go through the great tribulation, will be saved from it by the Lord Jesus and will be made head of the nations.
This is at the same time an example of another aspect of this book. We can see pictures of spiritual realities in the various persons it contains. This is called a typological approach. In that approach we see in Mordecai a picture of the Lord Jesus, in Ahasuerus a picture of God, in Haman a picture of the devil and in Esther, originally called Hadassa (Est 2:7), a picture of the faithful remnant of Israel. We will have to be careful with this approach, but in general we will certainly recognize certain similarities in this history.
We will pay attention to all the aspects mentioned. It is clear that the message of this book is multifaceted. All in all, there are plenty of reasons to listen to it carefully with the desire to let it teach us.
In summary, this book can be viewed in four ways: historical, practical, prophetic and typological:
1. Historical means that we look at history as it has evolved. We then discover how God controls history behind the scenes.
2. This automatically leads to the practical application. Just as God governed the history of His people then, so He also controls the history of His people now and that of each of His people individually. Here are many encouraging lessons for the life of faith.
3. The prophetic view of this book of the Bible is also obvious. Just as God in this book of the Bible cares for His people and frees them from their enemies, so in the end time He will care for His people and free them from their enemies.
4. Although the typological view is not so obvious, it is present in this book of the Bible. A typological view means that we try to discover the spiritual meaning of this history, but without letting our imagination run wild. With this viewpoint we recognize, as already mentioned, for example in Ahasuerus a picture of God and in Mordecai a picture of the Lord Jesus.
Another peculiarity of this book is that it is named after a woman, just like the book of Ruth. We also see that these two women marry a man who does not belong to their own people. Esther connects with a pagan who remains an idolater. This is due to the fact that she does not reveal her true identity until she is forced to do so. That is why God also remains hidden. He does not make His relationship to the people known until the people are forced to do so (cf. Deu 32:20).
The books of Ruth and of Song of Songs as well as the book of Esther place a woman in the center. Esther, like the women in the other two books, is a picture of the faithful remnant going through deep trials. In all three books there is also an image of the Lord Jesus: in Ruth it’s Boaz, in Song of Songs it’s Solomon and in Esther it’s Mordecai.
The book can be divided into two parts:
1. the first part describes the threat to the Jews (Esther 1-4);
2. the second part describes the triumph of the Jews (Esther 5-10).
In the first part everything is written down that is necessary to come to the deliverance in the second part. In distress God lays down the seed of salvation. During the distress God already makes preparations for the deliverance. God is never embarrassed, because He determines the outcome long before it is seen by man.
Introduction to Esther 1
Verses 1-8 are the introduction to the book. Historically and practically, these verses show the world in its generosity and attractiveness, causing God’s people to forget their true King. With all that glory, their land of Israel falls into oblivion. So it can also happen to us as Christians.
In prophetic and typological respect we see in Ahasuerus a picture of God as the sovereign Ruler Who rules the whole world. As Ruler over the world, God still blesses all people with earthly blessings, without forcing them to make use of them (Acts 14:16-17).
It is about the essential question of authority. Authority comes from God. He grants authority to man in various fields. Subjugation to it means the acknowledgment of God’s authority. Behind the authority of the ruler of a country, the head of state, the husband, father, mother, employer, teacher at school is the authority of God, for He has established these authority relationships.
The rest of Esther 1 is dedicated to the actions of Ahasuerus with Vashti. From a historical and practical point of view we see that God uses the king’s counselors to erect a dam against evil through legislation, so that evil is curbed. This is what the government serves for today (Rom 13:1-5).
Prophetically and typologically, the casting out of Vashti represents the setting aside by God of Israel as His wife. Israel has failed to bear the testimony of Who God is, just as Vashti refuses to show her beauty which she has thanks to her connection with Ahasuerus. For the same reason, Christianity will be cast out just as any Christian who lives in contradiction to His confession. The deposing of Vashti paves the way for the introduction of Esther. It is a picture of the faithful remnant of Israel with which God resumes the history of His people in the future.