Esther 1-2 Background and Beginning
Like Ezra and Nehemiah, the book of Esther has its setting during the time of the Jewish “captivity” in Babylon/Persia; dating to about 475 BC. The name Esther means “star,” and so she is. Her given name was “Hadassah” (2:7), which means “myrtle tree,” but was changed to Esther (which, in addition to “Star,” can also mean “hidden” or “secret”), because she needed a non-Hebrew name.
The story of Esther is well-known and beloved, but Bible students have pointed out that in the book of Esther, there is technically no direct reference God. However, His power and influence are acknowledged in the story through the practice of fasting and other behaviors and events. This can be taken as a reminder for us to look for and acknowledge God’s blessings and influence in our lives.
The story begins:
- Esther was an orphan living in the refugee Jewish community in Persia, and is adopted by her older cousin, Mordecai (2:6-7; some interpret his name to mean “bitter oppression”).
- The king of Persia is Ahasuerus (1:1; also known in history as “Xerxes”). Ahasuerus sponsored a six-month feast, intended to highlight his riches and majesty. This was followed by a seven-day feast for those in his royal court (1:2-9).
- During the feast, king Ahasuerus, being “merry with wine,” called for his wife, Vashti, to parade before the guests to show off her beauty, but she refused, making the king “very wroth” (1:10-12).
- The king’s advisers—concerned over Vashti’s “bad” example—recommended that Vashti be removed and replaced. Ahasuerus made a decree to this end, with a command that all women were to allow their husbands to “bear rule” (1:13-22).
Find the following:
- What did Ahasuerus decide to do, in 2:1-4?
- What did Mordecai bring about in 2:5-11, 17? (Admittedly, the “beauty contest” element can feel jarring to us, but it’s part of the story.)
- What wise counsel did Mordecai give to Esther, in 2:20?
- What discovery did Mordecai make, and how did he and Queen Esther handle it, in 2:21-23? (This becomes even more important in chapter 6.)
Esther 3-4 “For Such a Time as This”
Now the antagonist appears:
- Haman becomes head of all the princes in the kingdom and all the king’s servants are required to bow to him, but Mordecai refuses (3:1-2; Mordecai’s conduct was likely because he reverenced only the God of Israel).
- How did Haman respond to Mordecai’s conduct? (3:4-6). In 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote from Missouri’s Liberty Jail: “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39). This was surely true in Haman’s case.
- In verse 3:7, a date is chosen for the destruction of the Jews, following the practice of “casting lots,” or “Pur.” Providentially, the date ends up being almost a year later—however it would also be the time the Jews would be celebrating their next Passover, commemorating their ancestors’ deliverance from Egypt.
- What further actions did Haman and the king take, in 3:8-13?
- Read the interchange between Mordecai and Esther, in 4:1-8.
- What was Esther’s reply to Mordecai, in 4:10-11? How did Mordecai respond, in verses 13-14?
- Queen Esther rises to the occasion, directing Mordecai and others to fast three days for her, in anticipation of her confrontation with the king (4:15-16). Do you have a testimony of the law of the fast? In what ways have fasting and paying fast offerings blessed you?
- Esther acknowledged that her plan could result in her death, yet her attitude was “if I perish, I perish” (verse 16). In a sense, Esther follows a pattern we have seen throughout the Old Testament, wherein she becomes a type of Jesus Christ, willing to die to save her people.
- Mordecai had written these inspired words to Esther: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). It may be said that Esther’s beauty was a gift, which she chose to use in God’s service.
We learn in the restored gospel that each of us is sent to earth to fulfill God’s purposes, which begins by coming unto His Son, Jesus Christ, in faith and repentance. We make and keep sacred covenants, and we devote our time, talents, and treasures to Him and His cause. Inevitably, troubles arise, yet God’s promises are sure, as expressed by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, who said:
“We might sometimes want to run away from where we are, but we certainly should never run away from who we are—children of the living God … who will never, ever forsake us…. He has given prophets and promises, spiritual gifts and revelations, miracles and messages, and angels on both sides of the veil…. These are a few of the reasons we give for ‘the hope that is in [us]’ (1 Peter 3:15). Of course, in our present day, tremendously difficult issues face any disciple of Jesus Christ [however,] help is available, from others and especially from God” (Liahona, May 2022, p. 35).
Esther 5-7 Evil May Persist but Will Not Prevail
- Read Esther 5:1-14 and 6:1-14, and note the daring determination of Queen Esther and Mordecai, and the hatefulness and pride of Haman.
- Note also what appears to be the Lord’s intervention, in 6:1-2.
- Read Esther 7:1-10 and note the end of those who seek to enlarge themselves by crushing others. In 1 Nephi 14:3 we read, “that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it” (see also 1 Nephi 22:14; Alma 30:60; D&C 109:25).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “Those who bear false witness against us do seem to have a great triumph over us for the present. But we want you to remember Haman and Mordecai. You know that Haman could not be satisfied so long as he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate, and he sought the life of Mordecai and the people of the Jews. But the Lord so ordered that Haman was hanged upon his own gallows. So shall it come to pass with poor Haman in the last days.… I say unto you that those who have thus vilely treated us like Haman shall be hanged upon their own gallows, or in other words, shall fall into their own gin and trap and ditch which they have prepared for us and shall go backward and stumble and fall” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, p. 375).
Esther 8-10 Fasting Can Bring Powerful Results
Haman is now out of the picture, however, the king’s edict to destroy the Jews is still out there, having been distributed throughout the kingdom. In these chapters we learn:
- Esther and Mordecai are given great honor by king Ahasuerus (8:1-2, 15; 10:2-3).
- The king reverses the order to kill the Jewish people, and gives authority to the Jews to defend themselves against any who attempt to harm them, even to the point of taking their lives; the Jews were also authorized to take the property of their enemies (8:3-14).
- As a result, Esther 8:16 states, “The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.”
- Also, we see in 8:17 that “many of the people of the land became Jews.”
- In chapter 9 the Jews successfully defended themselves against their attackers, and they instituted a day of celebration that continues among Jewish people today, which is called Purim.
- “Purim” is the Hebrew plural for “pur” (Esther 3:7), which were the “lots” that were cast in order to determine the day of the destruction of the Jews. Today it is celebrated in March or April each year, with food and drink, exchanging of gifts, and giving to the poor (as outlined in Esther 9:19). They also celebrate by reciting the story of Esther, often wearing masks and costumes and putting on parades or carnivals. It is a time of “joy and gladness” (Esther 8:17).
Esther was willing to give up her own life, if needed, to save her people (see Esther 4:16). In the October 1882 general conference, Apostle Lorenzo Snow taught, “It may become necessary in the future … for some of the Saints to act the part of Esther, the queen, and be willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is required of their hands for the purpose of working out the deliverance of the Latter-day Saints” (Journal of Discourses, 23:290).
Has there been a time in your life when you had to courageously stand up for what was right? Are you prepared to do so in the future?