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The Story of Esther

by Norman Tew

The story of Esther - How God works despite what we do

Those who know their Bibles are familiar with the story of Esther.

If you do not know it then it is well worth reading.  The book of Esther is a little book after the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Old Testament.  It is only nine chapters in length, but it is an interesting book.

God is not mentioned in the book, though his hand is obviously behind what Mordecai and Esther did in the story.

The problem started when a good Jew refused to bow down and worship a over proud Persian official.  Eventually through the bravery of Queen Esther the people were delivered.  But I have often wondered whether the whole thing was not in God's plan from the start.

Mordecai's refusal to worship was correct, but what was Mordecai doing at the Persian court?

Let us look at a little history, I will first give a chart.  The first column has dates before the time of Jesus, the middle column lists events and the final column lists years after the captivity of Daniel to Babylon.

Dates (B.C.)    EventsYears after Daniel
605 Daniel and a few of the royal line taken to Babylon 0
597 King Jehoiachin and Ezekiel taken to Babylon 8
586 Jerusalem completely destroyed & almost every one else taken captive 19
539 Fall of Babylon 66
538 Decree of Cyrus to return 67
536 Zerrubabel (Sheshbazzar) with 50,000 people return 69
515 Temple completed (71 years after it had been destroyed)90
479 Esther becomes queen (57 years after Zerubabel's return)126
473 Jews delivered from Haman's plotting (63 years after Zerubabel's return)132
457 Ezra to Jerusalem with 1700 men plus others (79 years after the first return)148
444 Nehemiah to Jerusalem (a full 92 years after the first return, 30 years after Esther's deliverance)    161

Now let us fill in some of the historical data behind this table.  Almost immediately after Daniel had been taken captive Jeremiah came out with a prophecy that the captivity would last seventy years.  (Jer 25:11-12)

Three or Four years later Daniel (ch 2) gave the meaning of the vision of the multi-metal man.  A couple of years after that Azariah, Mishael and Hannaniah were seen walking in the fiery furnace

After King Jehoiachin and Ezekiel taken to Babylon Jeremiah comes out with the same prophecy, but expanded this time.  He sends it as a letter by the hand of two messengers to those who have been taken captive (Jer 29:4-15 NRSV).  Before repeating the prophecy of the seventy years captivity he gives a practical application.  He says settle down, build houses, plant food gardens, produce children and grandchildren!  Pray for the people of Babylon for their economy is your economy.

Did the Jews heed Jeremiah's instructions?  Daniel and his friends were already in positions of prominence.  From later events it is obvious others heeded the word of Jeremiah.

By the time Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed we are 20 years into the 70 years of captivity.  Almost the whole Jewish nation is now in Babylon (at least what remained after the ten tribes had been taken away over a hundred years before Daniel's captivity).

We do not know how many people went into Captivity.  My suspicion is that the 50,000 who returned with Zerrubabel was only a small part of the Jews who were living in the Persian empire.   In my opinion this is where the rot set in.

I have often wondered how a good Jewish girl (Hadassah was her Jewish name)  managed to keep her beliefs secret and live in the Royal Harem, but that was what her uncle told her to do.  (See Esther 2:10 & 20) The story plainly says that she passed herself off as a local girl and hid her people and beliefs.

Why did Mordecai allow her to go in for this "beauty contest"?  Of course this verse suggested that she could have been picked for this Royal beauty contest even if she had been living in Israel, or Turkey or northern India.  But she had been living near the palace.

Mordecai was an official in the palace.  I guess we cannot blame him for not returning with Zerubabel 57 years before because when that happened he would have been under the control of his father, if he had even been born.  However it was his presence as a practising Jew that aroused Haman's ire and precipitated the danger to all of God's people.

Mordecai wisely called on Esther for help and after three days of prayer and fasting, she approached the king and as the story continued to unfold the Jews were saved.

What I had not realised until I was preparing this article (originally as a sermon)  was the rest of my time line.  Maybe the order of the books of the Bible Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther - had given me the wrong idea.  But there were more returns from Persia to the land of Israel even after the days of Esther.  Even 30 years from the salvation from the schemes of Haman there are still devout Jews working in the Persian royal palace.

We know that in the days of Christ there were Jews all over the Roman empire.   Today devout Jews are still pleading with their people to do Aliyah and return to the promised land. 

But that is not our business.

Just as God wanted his people to re-establish a holy nation after their time of captivity so he has a mission for us to fulfil -  to tell the world of his soon return.

Have we failed to do what God wants, just as the people in the time of Esther failed?  Are the troubles we have today partly our fault just as the troubles Haman brought were partly their fault for being in the wrong place?

Perhaps the most well known quote from the book of Esther is this one - "For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." (Est 4:14 NRSV)

There are two important truths here:  1. If we fail God can use someone else and 2. God uses us where we are for his service.

But I still ask 1. Were Esther and Mordecai in the wrong place?  And 2. Did this whole problem arise because their ancestors had failed to follow God's leading?   Maybe it was not their individual fault, but it was the failure of the people of God.

Maybe I have the picture wrong, but maybe I am right.  However there is one thing we can take from this story.  God still saves, even when we fail.   We may have caused our own problems, but God is still willing to step in and help us with his mighty arm.  Surely though it is a pity God has to work despite us, not when we are fully in harmony with his wishes.

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