EDITOR’S NOTE: This groundbreaking series is being offered in celebration of a previously top-secret project and now unprecedented new 3-Volume book series (over 10-years in the making) from best-selling scholar Dr. Thomas Horn and biblical history and theology majors Donna Howell and Allie Anderson: THE MYSTERY OF JESUS FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION—YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The setting for the book of Esther is about a hundred years after the peak of the Babylonian Exile events. As stated at the beginning of our study of Ezra and Nehemiah, not all Jews returned to Jerusalem, as they had lives established elsewhere as a result of numerous generations growing up in captivity. Such is the case for the Jewish community in Susa (pronounced “suza,” or Hebrew, Shushan), which was the capital of the Persian Empire. Not all the books in most versions of the Bible are arranged in chronological order; if they were, the book of Esther would be situated with or between Ezra and Nehemiah. Because this book’s nod to Christ involves understanding the storyline, we’ll begin with a summary of its the plot.
The book opens with a description of the reign of King Ahasuerus. (Some translations refer to him as King Xerxes, the Persian equivalent.) Ahasuerus was what we would call today ridiculously wealthy. Esther 1:1–9 describes a ginormous feast the king gave for the duration of 180 days for “all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces,” followed by a second feast that lasted seven days “unto all the people that were present in Susa the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.” It was quite a spectacle, to be sure; it included the display of grand curtains, marble pillars, couches of silver and gold, all sitting upon a pavement made of marble and precious stones. All of the guests had as much wine as they could drink, and it was served in goblets of gold. On the last day of the second feast, the king called his servants to summon his wife, Queen Vashti, so he could show off her beauty. She refused, prompting one of the king’s men to see her insubordination as a bad example that would be followed by all women in the kingdom. Angered, King Ahasuerus wrote a new law “that every man should bear rule in his own house” (1:22). Ahasuerus then decided that Vashti, because of her defiance, would be replaced.
What happens next resembles a sort of Cinderella story, in which all the single women of the land were called to assemble in the citadel where Ahasuerus could choose a new bride and queen. Mordecai, a Jew living nearby who was a few generations removed from the Babylonian Exile, had raised Esther (also called by the Hebrew name “Hadassah”), his orphaned niece. Before Esther went to the palace, Mordecai had instructed her not to tell anyone she was a Jew. (This may have been due, in part, to the slanderous letters sent from surrounding towns and cities by the enemies of Ezra discussed in the last section. Ahasuerus may have been influenced by these reports thus was less inclined to take a Jewish woman.)
Mordecai told Esther what he had heard, and Esther reported it during a personal visit with Ahasuerus, who launched an investigation and, upon discovering the plot to be true, had the guards hanged (2:21–23). Mordecai was credited for saving the king.
Afterward (and for reasons evidently unrelated to the assassination plot), Haman, the story’s villain, was promoted to Ahasuerus’ right hand (3:1). The king ordered his servants, and those present at his gate, to bow to Haman and pay him homage. Mordecai repeatedly refused to do this because he was Jewish and therefore would not bow to anyone other than Yahweh. This angered Haman, who told King Ahasuerus that the Jews of the kingdom had their own Law and would not respect the laws passed by Ahasuerus. The Jews, therefore, Haman decided, were of no profit to the king to keep around. Without considering the long-term ramifications of his decision, Ahasuerus agreed to Haman’s plan to kill all Jews on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, a date (about the time of March on our Gregorian calendar) that was decided by the casting of lots (similar to rolling dice). King Ahasuerus and Haman then sat down to drinks in celebration of this plan. The city, however, was understandably thrown into a state of mass confusion and panic at this impulsive decree (3:15).
When Esther discovered her new husband’s intent to kill her people, she agreed to plead with the king on their behalf. The law stated she would be put to death if she approached the king without summons, unless he showed her the sign of approval and acceptance by holding out his golden scepter at her approach. So Esther sent word through Mordecai to have all the Jews in Susa fast and pray for three days. One of the most well-known lines in this book is in her message to Mordecai, regarding her own fate should she not receive permission to approach the king: “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
After the fasting period, Queen Esther, no doubt nervously anticipating that the king’s would a death sentence upon her after seeing his response to Vashti’s insolence, arrived at the inner court just as the king was sitting down on his throne. The king surprised her by immediately waving his scepter toward her; she responded by touching its tip (5:1–2). Ahasuerus was so taken with her that, even before she spoke, he promised he would give her anything she wanted—up to half his kingdom. All she asked was for the privilege of the king and Haman’s company for dinner. They attended as she requested, and the king again offered to give her whatever she wished up to half the kingdom (5:3–6). She requested that Ahasuerus and Haman join her for yet another dinner, after which, she said, she would present the king with her humble request (5:7–8).
Between the two meals with Esther, Haman made another one of his trips to the king’s gate, expecting all to bow to him. When Mordecai again refused, Haman left in fury and told his wife and friends about the offense, bragging about his position in the kingdom and noting that he was so powerful that he was the only official invited to the queen’s dinner besides Ahasuerus. Yet none of this meant anything to him as long as he had to continue putting up with Mordecai’s refusal to bow. The idea to hang Mordecai was presented to Haman, and he agreed, placing the orders for Mordecai’s gallows to be erected (5:9–14; 6:9).
That night, King Ahasuerus couldn’t sleep. He ordered the records of his kingdom to be brought and read to him, which, among other things, recalled the event when Mordecai had saved his life by exposing the assassination plot of the palace guards. Ahasuerus asked if any official gesture of gratitude had been bestowed on Mordecai to thank him for his timely intervention, and upon discovering his deed had been overlooked, the king called for Haman and asked what should be done for the man “in whom the king delights” (6:1–6). Haman, believing Ahasuerus was referring to himself with this query, said the man should be dressed in the king’s clothing, placed on the king’s horse, adorned with a royal crown, and paraded throughout the streets of the city while an entourage proclaimed, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:7–9).
Ahasuerus agreed to the plan and, to Haman’s chagrin, instructed Haman to do all he had suggested for the other man: Mordecai, the Jew who sat at the king’s gate. Haman did as he was ordered, but quickly thereafter went home to mourn the event, whining about the ordeal to his friends and wife. Instead of coming up with another plan for murdering Mordecai, Haman’s associates acknowledged that Mordecai was the beginning of Haman’s downfall. Before they were finished speaking, Haman was called to attend Esther’s second dinner, to which he hurried to attend (6:11–13).
Once again, for yet a third time now, Ahasuerus promised Esther she could have anything her heart desired, up to half the kingdom. Without initially offering details, she told her husband of one man’s plan to annihilate both her and her people. Her request, then, had nothing to do with the royal property, riches, cosmetics, or any personal gain. Her heart’s desire was for nothing than to see her own life spared. The king, enraged, asked who would be audacious enough to strategize such an evil against the queen of Persia. “And Esther said, ‘The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman’” (7:1–6).
In an act of unmatched irony, King Ahasuerus had Haman hung on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai; only then did his wrath subside (7:9–10). The king gave Haman’s house and the king’s own signet ring to Mordecai. However, a law in Persia, once decreed by the king and sealed with his ring, cannot be revoked by anyone, royal or otherwise, so the king could not go back on his earlier order to put the Jews to death.
Mordecai wisely thought of a plan, and sent out an edict—sealed with the signet—that the Jews would be allowed to defend themselves by any means necessary on the day of their attack. All the Jews in the kingdom prepared for an extensive battle. When the attack was launched, Mordecai’s fame had spread. The confidence of the Jews had increased while the confidence of the royal army had dwindled. So, on the thirteenth day of Adar, “the officials of the provinces and the satraps and the governors and the royal agents also helped the Jews” in the fight (9:3). The people of God were victorious in their mass self-defense (8:1–9:18).
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The following day, the fourteenth of Adar, became the day of a great feast and gift-exchanging for the Jews in the kingdom of Ahasuerus (9:19). This is the story of how the Feast of Purim got its start. (The term pur means “dice” and refers to the casting of lots—the method by which Haman first settled on the thirteenth of Adar as the day all Jews would die.)
Esther…what a brave soul! A Jewish girl, robbed of her parents through death and raised by another, desperate to simply survive surrounded by people who didn’t know her God or her ways of life, was suddenly whisked into an opulent palace and made part of the royal family. And, once she was placed in a position in which she should have been second in command over the whole kingdom, her life was threatened by cronies of the court. In the end, a mere orphan saved a nation otherwise doomed to genocide. If Haman’s wicked plan had been carried out to the fullest, the political link between Persia and the Jews rebuilding in Jerusalem would have likely fallen as well, leading to an eventual Hitler-like holocaust for Jews who had returned from exile. At that time, such an act of wickedness could have prevented the eventual birth of the Messiah.
Yet, while this was happening in the city of Susa, God was not only watching over and guiding the sweet queen and defender of the Jews, He was hatching a longer-term plan of His own that He would carry out through the bloodline of those He already knew would remain…
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It’s not difficult to see Jesus in this story. Esther was more than willing to die for the sake of her peoples’ salvation. In choosing to be bold and enter the throne room of the king, Esther not only delivered her people by acting as a mediator, she also inspired confidence and faith in the Jews. All of the Old Testament points to a day when another Jew, a Man from Galilee who has access to the throne room of the Father King (Hebrews 1:3, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Acts 7:55-56), would become the savior, mediator, and deliverer of God’s people (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39, 46). He would offer Himself as well, submitting His very life to the cup of poison that would be the crucifixion, saying to the Father, “not my will but yours be done,” echoing the striking dedication of Esther toward God and her people: “If I perish, I perish.” Esther is a type of Christ for many reasons:
- Her willingness to be put to the sword and die for the cause, the very queen of the land, as Christ is King.
- Her life was one of humble origins and she was later crowned royalty; this brings to mind our Lord and Savior, who had a humble upbringing, but who would someday be viewed as the King of all kings.
- Esther was the advocate for the Jews, and Jesus is the advocate for sinners everywhere (1 John 2:1).
- Esther was called “for such a time as this,” the precise time in the history of the Jews’ powerless life in Persia to reap the greatest harvest in their salvation (Esther 4:14); Jesus came at the precise time in Israel’s history to reap the greatest harvest in the salvation of both powerless Jews and Gentiles (Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4).
- While Esther knew it would be impossible to go against her enemies without fasting and prayer (4:16), Jesus relied on His oneness with the Father (John 17), fasting and praying for success in His ministry against the enemy (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:2).
- Esther’s miracle came in three days; Jesus’ Resurrection came in three days.
- Esther kept her true Jewish identity a secret until the timing was right for her grand plan; Jesus kept His true messianic identity a secret until the timing was right for His plan, at the start of His ministry (John 4:3–42).
- When folks followed Esther’s words, it resulted in a feast; when folks follow Jesus’ words, it results in a feast (Revelation 19:6–9).
Mordecai is a type of Christ in some ways, also. He saw an orphan girl without a family and took her in, providing her a father. Jesus, too, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, will take in any wandering soul; in Him a Father is provided to the fatherless (John 14:6). Other ways Mordecai’s life is a type of Christ include:
- Mordecai was Esther’s kinsman redeemer, and, as discussed in our study of Ruth, Jesus is ours (Revelation 5:5–10).
- Mordecai took care of Esther’s debts and cared for her; Jesus took us into the family of God, caring for us spiritual orphans in the same way (Ephesians 1:7).
- Mordecai was hated by worldly authorities whom he wasn’t afraid to oppose; Jesus was hated for the same reason (John 15:18).
- Mordecai rode through town triumphantly as the king’s prized servant; Jesus rode into Jerusalem in His Triumphal Entry as the Father King’s prized Servant (John 12:1, 12).
- Because of his choice to commit to the will of the king, all power and authority of Persia was given to Mordecai, who received the signet seal of the king and could therefore speak on the king’s behalf; because of His choice to commit Himself to the will of the Father King, all power and authority over heaven and earth was given to Jesus, who can speak on the Father’s behalf (Matthew 28:18).
- As Mordecai sent messengers with the good news that the people could be saved through self-defense and faith in God (Esther 9:20–32), Jesus sends messengers with the Good News that people can be saved through faith (Matthew 28:19–20).
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The list of parallels between Esther and Mordecai with Christ is long, but we’ll stop here, and wrap up with these words:
Jesus is “seen” throughout the Old Testament in the obedient characters of God. Unlike so many who have sinned against God and failed in their calling, Jesus is the absolute example of obedience to the Father, in whose Kingdom believers are welcome, regardless of failure. The grace of God and His interest in His people—us—just never, never, never stops. Scripture makes it clear: From the beginning, we’ve always had a Redeemer—timelessly so, though our linear perceptions often place Christ in the “waiting room,” “stuck” in the Old Covenant of Israel’s history.
This brings us to a final thought: The book of Esther is the last of the history books. From the beginning of this study until now, we’ve been reflecting on the narrative of how God’s covenant people were developed, the mistakes they made, the miracles they witnessed, and the typology of Jesus in their passages. Now we’ll turn in another direction to see where we can find Christ in what scholars refer to as the wisdom literature of Scripture.
UP NEXT: Jesus In The Wisdom Literature–Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon
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