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Book of Esther

Summary of the Book of Esther

This summary of the book of Esther provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Esther.

Author and Date

Although we do not know who wrote the book of Esther, from internal evidence it is possible to make some inferences about the author and the date of composition. It is clear that the author was a Jew, both from his emphasis on the origin of a Jewish festival and from the Jewish nationalism that permeates the story. The author's knowledge of Persian customs, the setting of the story in the city of Susa and the absence of any reference to conditions or circumstances in the land of Judah suggest that he was a resident of a Persian city. The earliest date for the book would be shortly after the events narrated, i.e., c. 460 b.c. (before Ezra's return to Jerusalem; see note on 8:12). Internal evidence also suggests that the festival of Purim had been observed for some time prior to the actual writing of the book (9:19) and that Xerxes had already died (see 10:2 and note). Several scholars have dated the book later than 330 b.c.; the absence of Greek words and the style of the author's Hebrew dialect, however, suggest that the book must have been written before the Persian empire fell to Greece in 331.

Purpose, Themes and Literary Features

The author's central purpose was to record the institution of the annual festival of Purim and to keep alive for later generations the memory of the great deliverance of the Jewish people during the reign of Xerxes. The book accounts for both the initiation of that observance and the obligation for its perpetual commemoration (see 3:7; 9:26-32; see also chart, pp. 234-235).

Throughout much of the story the author calls to mind the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Amalekites (see notes on 2:5; 3:1-6; 9:5-10), a conflict that began during the exodus (Ex 17:8-16; Dt 25:17-19) and continued through Israel's history (1Sa 15; 1Ch 4:43; and, of course, Esther). As the first to attack Israel after their deliverance from Egypt, the Amalekites were viewed -- and the author of Esther views them -- as the epitome of all the powers of the world arrayed against God's people (see Nu 24:20; 1Sa 15:2-3; 28:18). Now that Israel has been released from captivity, Haman's edict is the final major effort in the OT period to destroy them.

Closely associated with the conflict with the Amalekites is the rest that is promised to the people of God (see Dt 25:19). With Haman's defeat the Jews enjoy rest from their enemies (9:16,22).

The author also draws upon the remnant motif that recurs throughout the Bible (natural disasters, disease, warfare or other calamities threaten God's people; those who survive constitute a remnant). Events in the Persian city of Susa threatened the continuity of God's purposes in redemptive history. The future existence of God's chosen people, and ultimately the appearance of the Redeemer-Messiah, were jeopardized by Haman's edict to destroy the Jews. The author of Esther patterned much of his material on the events of the Joseph story (see notes on 2:3-4,9,21-23; 3:4; 4:14; 6:1,8,14; 8:6), in which the remnant motif is also central to the narrative (see Ge 45:7 and note).

Feasting is another prominent theme in Esther, as shown in the outline below. Banquets provide the setting for important plot developments. There are ten banquets: (1) 1:3-4, (2) 1:5-8, (3) 1:9, (4) 2:18, (5) 3:15, (6) 5:5-6, (7) 7:1-10, (8) 8:17, (9) 9:17, (10) 9:18. The three pairs of banquets that mark the beginning, middle and end of the story are particularly prominent: the two banquets given by Xerxes, the two prepared by Esther and the double celebration of Purim.

Recording duplications appears to be one of the favorite compositional techniques of the writer. In addition to the three groups of banquets that come in pairs there are two lists of the king's servants (1:10,14), two reports that Esther concealed her identity (2:10,20), two gatherings of women (2:8,19), two fasts (4:3,16), two consultations of Haman with his wife and friends (5:14; 6:13), two unscheduled appearances of Esther before the king (5:2; 8:3), two investitures for Mordecai (6:10-11; 8:15), two coverings of Haman's face (6:12; 7:8), two royal edicts (3:12-15; 8:1-14), two references to the subsiding of the king's anger (2:1; 7:10), two references to the irrevocability of the Persian laws (1:19; 8:8), two days for the Jews to take vengeance (9:5-12,13-15) and two letters instituting the commemoration of Purim (9:20-28,29-32).

An outstanding feature of this book -- one that has given rise to considerable discussion -- is the complete absence of any explicit reference to God, worship, prayer, or sacrifice. This "secularity" has produced many detractors who have judged the book to be of little religious value. However, it appears that the author has deliberately refrained from mentioning God or any religious activity as a literary device to heighten the fact that it is God who controls and directs all the seemingly insignificant coincidences (see, e.g., note on 6:1) that make up the plot and issue in deliverance for the Jews. God's sovereign rule is assumed at every point (see note on 4:12-16), an assumption made all the more effective by the total absence of reference to him. It becomes clear to the careful reader that Israel's Great King exercises his providential and sovereign control over all the vicissitudes of his beleagured covenant people.

Outline

  • The Feasts of Xerxes (1:1;2:18)
  • The Feasts of Esther (2:19;7:10)
    • Mordecai Uncovers a Plot (2:19-23)
    • Haman's Plot (ch. 3)
    • Mordecai Persuades Esther to Help (ch. 4)
    • Esther's Request to the King: Her First Banquet (5:1-8)
    • A Sleepless Night (5:9;6:14)
    • Haman Hanged: Esther's Second Banquet (ch. 7)
  • The Feasts of Purim (chs. 8-10)
    • The King's Edict in Behalf of the Jews (ch. 8)
    • The Institution of Purim (ch. 9)
    • The Promotion of Mordecai (ch. 10)

From the NIV Study Bible, Introductions to the Books of the Bible, Esther
Copyright 2002 © Zondervan. All rights reserved. Used with permission.