Esther is the last historical book in the Old Testament and it, like Ruth, does not propel the main story line any further. In fact, the book of Nehemiah is the last book in the chronological flow of Israel’s history. Esther is a story that takes place between chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Ezra. Refer to the chart from last week and you will notice that the story of Esther takes place during the reign of Xerxes in the land of Persia in between the return of Zerubabbel and Ezra.
Enjoy this overview from the Bible Project
From a purely literary perspective, Esther’s story is a wonderful drama full of twists and turns, suspense, heroes and villains, and a real good-guy-wins-in -the-end finale that brings the crowd to its feet. Ironically, Esther is the only book in the Bible where the name of God is never mentioned. While His name is not mentioned, His hand of protection is definitely visible. Esther is the story of God’s protection over the vast majority of Jews who chose to stay in Persia after the permission was granted to return to Jerusalem.
In many ways the story of Esther is similar to the story of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. In the US the African-American population had been residents on American soil for centuries. In many cases African-American blood had been on this soil far longer than European immigrants of the 19th century. Yet, they were not allowed the rights of citizenship. They were no longer Africans. The notion of Africa was a vague, abstract concept. They had never been there, didn’t speak the language, and had no connection to the culture. However, they were not fully American, either. They were a people caught between cultures and without a place to truly call home. Because of the courageous efforts of key leaders, the African-American population stood its ground and demanded equal rights in the land that was as much their home as anyone else who lived here. In the same way, the Jews had been taken captive and brought to the land of Persia against their will (it was actually Babylon when they were taken). The exile lasted for 70 years, allowing an entire generation to be born and raised on Persian soil. This generation of Jews was no longer Jerusalemites. The idea of Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple was nothing more than an abstract notion and the painful memory of their parents. This generation of Jews was Persians who did not own the freedom to be Persians. All they had known their whole life was to be viewed as second-class citizens and kept at bay by the majority of Persians.
When Haman allowed his pride to spark hatred toward Mordecai, he became vengeful toward Mordecai’s people, the Jews. The fact that king Xerxes didn’t even bat an eye at the thought of eradicating the entire Jewish population is evidence that the Jews carried a very low social standing in the empire. The story of Esther is a story of one woman’s courage to stand up to the king and fight for her people’s rights to defend themselves against ruthless genocidal attacks. The victory that Esther won for her people was extremely significant; so much so that it was memorialized by an annual feast called Purim. Purim is still celebrated today by the Jewish community as a celebration of freedom, liberty, and God’s sovereign protection for his people, even when they are in a foreign land.