Read the Bible in 2011 ◊ Week 51: Tuesday
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther,
“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
Tuesday’s Bible reading is Esther 1–5. Ruth and Esther are well-known books of the Bible. While Ruth is a record of quiet faithfulness and kindness, Esther is a book of vivid drama with its story of peril, courage and miraculous deliverance, but both, however, teach us about the providential care of God. Gleason Archer has this introduction:
“The name ’estēr is apparently derived from the Persian word for star, stara. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, meaning myrtle. The theme of this short book is an illustration of the overruling providence of the sovereign God who delivers and preserves His people from the malice of the heathen who would plot their destruction. Although there is no explicit mention of the name of God, nothing could be clearer than the irresistible power of His omnipotent decree, watching over His covenant people, preserving them from the malignity of Satan in his vain attempt to work through Haman and accomplish the annihilation of the Jews.”1
Archer and J. G. Baldwin both identify King Ahasuerus as Xerxes.2 Baldwin comments:
“Ahasuerus represents the Hebrew transliteration of the Persian name Khshayarsha, better known to us in the Greek form Xerxes. He succeeded his father Darius and reigned 486–465/4 BC. His correct identity is assured by the author’s note [1:1] on the extent of his empire, from India, i.e. the area drained by the Indus river, a territory added to Persia’s domain by Darius, to Ethiopia or Cush, now the North Sudan, conquered by Cambyses, king of Persia 530–522.”3
Now Xerxes was not the stuff of dreams, but an absolute ruler “capricious, sensual, cruel and despotic.”4 Living as they did in the citadel of Susa, Baldwin conjectures there is little Mordecai could have done to hide Esther from the king.5 As you read notice Mordecai’s concern for her, and in turn, Esther’s obedience and respect for his wisdom.
At the end of chapter two Esther is queen, and through her the king learns of Mordecai’s report of a plot to kill him. The culprits are investigated, hung and the details recorded in the king’s chronicles. In chapter three, the final details of the coming conflict unfold with the introduction of Haman who seeks the death of all the Jews because of Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to him or do homage. By lying about the Jews to the king, he persuades Ahasuerus to issue a decree for their annihilation.
The distress of Mordecai and the Jews and Esther’s anguish are described in chapter four, and Esther is faced with deciding whether or not to remain silent and perhaps save her own life or go to the king without any guarantee of saving herself or her people.
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.
In chapter five we begin to see the wisdom of Esther and the folly of Haman.
We know the outcome of Esther’s decision. But at the time she went to the king, she did not. In the face of possible—even probable—death, she chose to go forward in selfless courage.
There are times in our lives when as Christians we are faced with doing what is right at personal cost. Sometimes like Esther, we do what is right, and the result is far better than we would have predicted. Sometimes we choose to do what is right and the cost is dear. When we choose to keep a baby someone counsels us to abort, we do not know what will happen. When we confront someone about unethical practices, we do not know what will happen. When we witness to our Lord in the face of pressure to deny Him, we do not know what will happen.
We are called to be faithful and trust in God’s care for us.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
“For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1, 2Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Postexilic Historical Books: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 417.
3, 4, 5J. G. Baldwin, “Esther,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., pp. 415, 413, 416.
Ester, Illustrierter Katalog der Münchener Jahresausstellung von Kunstwerken Aller Nationen im königl. Glaspalaste 1890, Ausgabe vom Anfang September, München 1890:
The garments and crown of a Persian queen worn by Esther are juxtaposed with the myrtle branches and blossoms in her arms. To me they depict God’s providential placement of a young Jewish woman in the king’s palace.
This work is in the public in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter
Below is a chart of the sequence of some major events in the exile of Judah into Babylon and their return to Jerusalem.
I’ve added Esther to this chart that I used for the posts on Nehemiah. These dates are from Dr. Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, a standard and respected work. Within each chapter he discusses his reasoning as well as that of other scholars.6
|The Exiles Return to Israel|
||Burning of Jerusalem and destruction of Temple
|538 B.C.||Cyrus: Rebuild Temple (2 Chronicles 36:22–23)|
||Exiles return under Zerubbabel (Ezra 2–3)|
||Foundation of Second Temple laid (Ezra 3:8)|
||Building stopped by enemy discouragement (Ezra 4)
|520 B.C.||Haggai & Zechariah prophesy (Ezra 5:1–2)
|Building of Temple resumes
||Temple Finished: 70 years after 586 B.C. destruction
||Esther made queen by Ahasuerus (Esther 2:16)
||Artaxerxes I: Rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 7)
|445 B.C.||Artaxerxes I: Rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2)|
“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’”
6Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Postexilic Historical Books: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 404–421; “Postexilic Prophets: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 422–432.