The Book of Esther
W.G. Barr, Glasgow
The narrative would seem to divide easily into four main sections, the first dealing with the question of a suitable queen, then the hatred of Haman for Mordecai and his people, the consequent direct and providential movements, and the result of blessing for God's people. This would suggest the following analysis:
Analysis of the Book
The Suitable Choice of a Queen, chs. 1, 2.
1.1 -9, The Royal feasts of the king.
1.2 1.10-12, The Refusal of queen Vashti.
1.13-22, The Reasoning at the palace.
2.1-4, The Request for a queen.
2.5-11, The Relationships between Esther and Mordecai.
2.12-14, The Retinue of the maidens.
2.15-18, The Royal choice for Esther.
2.19-23, The Record of the plot. The Startling Conspiracy of Haman, ch. 3.
3.1-6, His Decision against the Jews.
3.7-11, His Demand before the king.
3.12-15, His Decree to all the nation. The Sudden Change of Events, chs. 4-7.
Ch. 4, The Wise Counsel of Mordecai.
5.1-8, The Wonderful Courage of Esther.
5.9-14, The Wicked Conclusions of Haman.
Ch. 6, The Welcome Commandment of the king.
Ch. 7, The Wrathful Condemnation of Haman. The Subsequent Circumstances of the Jews, chs. 8-10.
8.1-8, The Reversal of the decree.
8.9-14, The Readiness for the revenge.
8.15-17, The Regard for the Jews.
9.1-19, The Revenge on their enemies.
9.20-22, The Rejoicing of the Jews.
9.23-32, The Remembrance of Purim.
10.1-3, The Renown of Mordecai.
The foregoing analysis assists in outlining the story and in giving some idea of the structure of the book as an introduction to its study, but further study is required to appreciate the underlying meaning and significance of this portion of Scripture.
Aspects of the Teaching.
The Position of the Jews. The Jews mentioned here had not returned to the beloved city and consequently had severed their outward relationship with God as part of the nation. This is the reason for God's name not appearing in the text and yet in spite of this failure, He still cared for His people.
The Providence of God. This faithful protection and care is seen throughout the book, and is the means of producing the final blessing. Outstanding points of providence are seen in 2.9, 21-23; 5.1,2; 6.1,2.
The Power of Evil. As in redemption, evil forces are at work in taking advantage, especially in this instance, of the low state of God's people. The character of the antichrist can easily be seen in Haman the adversary.
The Principle of Suffering and Glory. This is very clearly portrayed in this lovely story, especially with respect to Mordecai who so willingly (like the Lord) identified himself with his people.
The Presentation of Christ. This would lead us to consider, as in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself. Mordecai surely speaks of Christ, 2.5, 6. (It is almost unbelievable that a Benjamite should fail to return to Jerusalem!) However, although the type is weak, he undoubtedly, in a measure, functions as a true Benjamite and speaks of Him whom Benjamin represented, The son of my right hand. This is the climax of the book, prophetically presenting Christ in His glory and historically setting the stage for His coming as Saviour.
The Period of Captivity. This, like Ezekiel and Daniel, is a captivity book. All reveal the movements and dealings of God in dark days. In Ezekiel it is with respect to priesthood and worship, in Daniel, politics and world affairs. But here it is providence and the welfare of His people.
The Place Given to the Book. It closes the historical section of the Old Testament and in keeping with Malachi's prophecy, shows the low state of all sections of Israel prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus as Saviour.
The Poverty of Kings. Ahasuerus (Xerxes) the king, with Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar in the zenith of their power and dominion, were but vessels used by God at His will to fulfil His plan and purpose.
Application of the Figures, and connections with the book of Ruth.
The Principle of the Female Character. Ruth and Esther are the only two women in the Old Testament whose names are used as titles for the books dealing with their respective histories. These books, along with the Song of Solomon, are largely female in character and contain beautiful types and figures of unswerving devotion to the Lord. Men in the Old Testament, if they are types, convey the objective side of things, and present the person of Christ in His work for us, whereas the female character presents the subjective aspect, namely, the desire for Christ to be formed in us. Satan, however, would oppose this, and it is most interesting to note that women are also seen as representing evil, especially in the religious sphere as a substitute for it. (See Jezebel, 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 9, Matthew 13. 33 and Babylon, Rev. 17-18.)
The Principle of the Remnant. Again it would seem that these books are placed at the close of the two main groups of historical writings and produce a kind of epilogue for each, in which we are introduced to a remnant still faithful to the Lord against a background of moral and national decline. There is always something for God in dark days. This idea of the remnant is developed more clearly elsewhere in Scripture.
The Principle of Development of Evil. It can be clearly seen that the picture of this little company in Esther is not so bright and full as that portrayed in Ruth. There is the evident result of a further decline among the people of God's choice. (See: iniquity of the Amorites, Gen. 15.16, mystery of iniquity, 2 Thess. 2.7, etc.)
The Principle of Christ's Lordship. Both the books of Ruth and Esther commence with the emphasis on the women involved, but as each narrative continues, the emphasis is placed on the men in question, and reveals their greatness: Boaz as the kinsman redeemer and Mordecai associated with the throne. This reveals the great principle of Christian living. (2 Cor. 4.5; Gal. 2.20; Phil. 3.7-10.)
The Principle of Prophetic Foreshadowing. In the book of Ruth we have a figure of the relationship between Christ and the Church whereas in Esther the idea is more that of Israel in association with the coming Messiah. The former presents a heavenly scene; the latter a kingdom scene with a hint of the Lord's millennial reign. Thus Christ, the Church and Israel are brought before us in these lovely stories.
Associations with the Book of Ruth. Having made reference to the book of Ruth with respect to this book of Esther it will be helpful to conclude with some points of contrast between them.
They had no king, Jud. 21.25, but were in their own land.
Ruth was a stranger married to an Israelite.
A movement in the country that affected the throne (Obed).
Ruth's walk and works influenced Boaz.
Quiet family life at home.
The events are concluded by the record of a birth.
Ruth's love and devotion were spontaneous requiring little influence.
Many references to the Lord.
No great adverse movement.
They had a king but were not in their own land.
Esther was an Israelite married to a foreign king.
A movement at the throne which affected the whole country.
Mordecai's counsel and advice influenced Esther.
Public life in the palace.
No birth is mentioned in the book of Esther.
Strong worded advice was required before Esther eventually decided to venture for God and His people.
No mention of God at all.
The plot and hatred of Haman was at once fierce and far reaching.
Many secondary lessons and thoughts can be gleaned from the context of this book itself but great profit will be derived if these general ideas and principles are appreciated beforehand.