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BibleProject - Old Testament - Lesson 17

Esther - BibleProject

Esther is a book in the Hebrew Bible, part of the Writings or Ketuvim. The story takes place during the Persian Empire when the Jews were in exile. The book is a narrative, but it is also a comedy, with a happy ending. The story is set in the Persian court, and the characters are Esther, a Jewish woman who becomes queen, Mordecai, her cousin, and the villain, Haman. The book of Esther is unique because it never mentions God by name, but his providential care is evident throughout the story. God uses Esther and Mordecai to save the Jews from genocide, and the feast of Purim celebrates their victory.
Taught by a Team
Taught by a Team
BibleProject - Old Testament
Lesson 17
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Esther - BibleProject

I. Introduction

A. Overview and Summary of Esther

B. Literary Style and Genre

C. Authorship and Date

II. The Story of Esther

A. Plot Summary

B. Characters and Themes

C. Historical and Cultural Context

III. Theological Themes and Significance

A. God's Sovereignty and Providence

B. Faithfulness and Obedience to God

C. Justice and Mercy


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  • By watching this video, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the Old Testament, including its literary design and flow of thought. You will learn about the different sections of the Old Testament, including the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Literature, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. You will also gain insights into the stories, themes, and messages of each of these sections and how they contribute to the overall narrative of God's relationship with humanity.
  • By studying Genesis, you will gain a deeper understanding of the Old Testament and its key themes and characters, as well as the literary features of the book, such as its structure, style, and genre. The creation story is a key part of the book, as are the stories of Abraham and the patriarchs, the fall and sin, the flood and Noah, and God's covenant with Israel. Additionally, Genesis introduces readers to the Old Testament and sets the stage for the Pentateuch and Books of Moses, while also introducing many themes and motifs that continue throughout the Bible.
  • Discover the captivating stories of the patriarchs in Genesis Part 2, exploring themes of covenant, God's sovereignty, human responsibility, faith, and obedience.
  • Explore the Bible's book of Exodus to gain insight into God's rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the significance of the covenant and law, and its connection to the New Testament.
  • Gain insight into the book of Exodus and its themes of salvation and redemption, revealing God's character through his interactions with Israel, with significant influence on Jewish and Christian traditions and connections to the New Testament through its foreshadowing of Jesus Christ.
  • By studying Leviticus with The Bible Project, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the historical and literary context, themes, and structure of this important book in the Old Testament. You will also learn about the significance of Leviticus for understanding the Torah and its relevance for Christians today.
  • By studying The Bible Project's lesson on Numbers, you'll comprehensively understand its structure, themes, and significance, gaining insight into the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness, God's guidance, rebellion, priesthood, and offerings, as well as its historical, theological, and contemporary relevance.
  • Explore Numbers' authorship, context, structure, and theology to gain a comprehensive understanding of its significance to the Pentateuch and the Old Testament, as well as its relevance to the Christian faith today.
  • You will gain knowledge and insight into the book of Joshua, including its historical context, literary genre, and summary. You will learn about the book's themes, such as God's faithfulness, obedience, and judgment, and its significance in foreshadowing Christ's work and providing historical and theological implications.
  • Explore the historical and cultural context, literary design, and theological significance of the book of Judges in the Old Testament, and learn how it fits into the broader biblical storyline, including its relevance for today.
  • Explore the Book of Ruth to understand its historical context, literary features, themes of loyalty and faithfulness, redemption, the kinsman-redeemer's role, and its Old Testament significance.
  • Studying the Book of Samuel provides insight into the rise of the Israelite monarchy, the lives of Saul and David, and the importance of obedience to God, covering themes of leadership and kingship with the presence of the Ark of the Covenant.
  • By exploring the story of Absalom in 2 Samuel and the broader context of the Old Testament Historical Books, you will gain insight into the themes and messages of these books, as well as their historical and modern-day significance.
  • Through the study of 1 Kings and 2 Kings, you will gain a deeper understanding of the history of Israel and Judah, as well as valuable spiritual lessons from these Old Testament books.
  • By studying this lesson, you understand the historical and literary aspects of 1 and 2 Chronicles, emphasizing God's sovereignty, covenant faithfulness, worship, and obedience.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the historical context, key themes, and modern applications of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, enriching your understanding of faith, community, and commitment to God's Word.
  • You will gain an understanding of the book of Esther, a narrative in the Hebrew Bible that tells the story of a Jewish woman named Esther who becomes queen in the Persian court and, with the help of her cousin Mordecai, saves the Jews from genocide orchestrated by the villain Haman. The story highlights God's sovereignty and providential care, and the feast of Purim celebrates the Jews' victory.
  • By studying the Book of Job, you will explore the complexities of human suffering, the search for divine wisdom, and the tension between God's sovereignty and human limitations within a unique literary structure.
  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the book of Psalms, including its background, structure, authorship, and theology. You will also learn about the various themes and motifs present in the Psalms, which will help you better understand and appreciate this important book in the Old Testament.
  • By studying Proverbs, you will understand the definition and purpose of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and the personification of wisdom in the book. You will also gain insights into the literary structure of Proverbs and the themes of the book, including the importance of listening to wisdom, the power of words, and the value of hard work.
  • In the Ecclesiastes lesson, you gain insights into the book's structure, themes, and significance, while exploring the search for meaning, vanity, and the importance of fearing God and enjoying life.
  • You will gain an understanding of the literary features, interpretation, theology, and application of the book Song of Songs, including its authorship, historical and cultural context, allegorical and literal interpretation, and its teachings on God and human love, sexuality, and relationships.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Isaiah's historical context, literary features, major themes, and its significance in the Old Testament.
  • Discover how Isaiah's prophetic message of judgment and hope for Jerusalem evolves, as it predicts the fall of Israel's kingdom and envisions a new, purified Jerusalem where God's kingdom will be restored through a future messianic king, uniting all nations in peace.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain understanding of the book of Jeremiah, including its historical and cultural context, literary features, major themes and message, and significance in the Old Testament.
  • In this lesson, you learn about the Book of Lamentations, its structure, themes, and the role of God in the midst of suffering and divine judgment, while ultimately highlighting His faithfulness and mercy.
  • In the book of Ezekiel, you follow the story of a priest named Ezekiel who has a vision of God's glory riding on a royal throne chariot, and is commissioned by God to accuse Israel of rebellion and warn them of their impending destruction due to their covenant violations and rampant social injustice, while also providing a small glimmer of hope for the future.
  • By viewing this lesson on Daniel, you will gain understanding of its structure, themes, and significance in the Old Testament, gaining knowledge about living as faithful exiles in a hostile culture, God's sovereignty and faithfulness in times of trial, and remaining faithful to God even in difficult circumstances.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the complexities of Hosea, discovering the book's themes, messages, and its role in the Old Testament, emphasizing the relationship between Israel's unfaithfulness and God's unwavering love.
  • By studying the book of Joel, you will gain insight into the historical and cultural context of Judah, the literary features of prophetic literature, and the themes of repentance, restoration, and the Day of the Lord. Joel's prophecy also has significance in the New Testament as it is quoted by Peter at Pentecost, emphasizing the fulfillment of Joel's vision through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
  • In the Amos lesson, you explore its historical context, literary features, and themes, enhancing your understanding of justice, the Day of the Lord, and God's sovereignty within the Old Testament.
  • By studying Obadiah, you will gain insight into the historical context and literary features of this prophetic oracle. You will learn about the pride of Edom, their judgment, and the hope for Israel. Through understanding the significance of Obadiah in the Old Testament, you will have a deeper appreciation for the themes and message of this book.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jonah's themes, including God's mercy, human rebellion, repentance, and the significance of mission, while also understanding its connections to other biblical narratives.
  • Studying the book of Micah will give you an understanding of its historical context, literary genre, prophetic message of judgment and restoration, and insights into God's character and how He interacts with His people.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the historical context, structure, and themes of the book of Nahum, learning about God's sovereignty, justice, and the relevance of these concepts in today's world.
  • Studying Habakkuk will deepen your understanding of how to wrestle with difficult questions about God's character and the problem of evil and respond with faith and trust in God's sovereignty.
  • In this lesson, you explore the book of Zephaniah, gaining insights into its background, context, literary features, themes, and significance in the Old Testament, including the central message of the Day of the Lord and the promise of future hope.
  • You will gain an in-depth understanding of the Book of Haggai, including its historical and cultural context, literary structure, purpose and themes, individual sections, and theological significance in relation to the Exile, Restoration, and Messiah.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into Zechariah's historical context, structure, themes of restoration, the coming Messiah, God's sovereignty, and its significance in the Old Testament.
  • Discover the last book of the Old Testament and its themes, such as God's love for Israel, the importance of worship, and the coming of the messenger and the day of the Lord, as well as its connection to the New Testament, which prophesies the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus and calls for a return to God.
BP100-17 Esther The book of Esther. It's one of the more exciting and curious books in the Bible. The story is set over 100 years after the Babylonian exile of the Israelites from their land. And while some Jews did return to Jerusalem, remember Ezra and Nehemiah, many did not. And so the book of Esther is about a Jewish community living in Susa, the capital city of the ancient Persian Empire. The main characters in the story are two Jews, Mordecai and then his niece Esther. And then there's the king of Persia who's something of a drunken pushover in this story. And then there's the Persian official Haman, the cunning villain. Now this is a curious book in the Bible mainly for the fact that God is never even mentioned, not once, which might strike you as kind of odd. I mean isn't the Bible about God. But this is a brilliant technique by the author, who's anonymous by the way. It's an invitation to read this story looking for God's activity, and there are signs of it everywhere. The story is full of very odd quote "coincidences" and ironic reversals, and it all forces you to see God's purpose at work but behind the scenes. Let's just dive into the story. The book opens with the king of Persia throwing two elaborate banquet feasts that last a total of 187 days. And it's all for the grandiose purpose of displaying his greatness and splendor. On the last day of the banquet feast, he's really drunk and he demands that his wife Queen Vashti appear at the party to show off her beauty. She refuses and so in a drunken rage the King deposes Vashti and makes the silly decree that all Persian men should now be the masters of their own homes. Then he holds a beauty pageant because he wants to to find a new queen. This is like a really bad soap opera. But it's right here that we're introduced to Esther and Mordecai. Esther hides her Jewish identity and enters the beauty pageant - and wins! And the king is so obsessed with Esther that he elevates her to become the new queen of Persia. Now after this, and even more serendipitous, is the fact that Mordecai just happens to overhear two Royal Guards plotting to murder the king. And so he informs Esther, who in turn informs the king and Mordecai gets credit for saving the king's life. Now right here, from the beginning, God's not mentioned anywhere, but this all seems providentially ordered. What is it that God's up to? You have to keep reading. We're next introduced to Haman who's not actually a Persian, he's called an Agagite. He's a descendant of the ancient Canaanites (remember 1st Samuel chapter 15). The king elevates Haman to the highest position in the kingdom and he demands that everybody kneel before Haman. Well when Mordecai sees Haman, he refuses to kneel, which of course fills Haman with rage, and when he finds out that Mordecai's And when he finds out that Mordecai's Jewish, Haman successfully persuades the king to enact this crazy decree to destroy all of the Jewish people. And to decide the date of the Jews' annihilation, Haman rolls the dice. A die is called "Pur" in Hebrew. Tuck that away for later. Eleven months later, on the thirteenth of Adar, all the Jews will die. Haman and the king then have a drinking banquet to celebrate their really horrible decision. So the focus now turns to Mordecai and Esther who are the only hope for the Jewish people. They make a plan that Esther's going to reveal her Jewish identity to the king and ask him to reverse the decree. But approaching the king without a royal request is, according to Persian law, an act worthy of death. So in a key statement, Mordecai, he's confident that even if Esther remains silent that deliverance for the Jews will arrive from another place. And then Mordecai wonders aloud, he says "who knows "maybe you become queen for this very moment". Esther responds with bravery and she purposes to go to the king with her amazing words "If I perish, I perish." Then in what unfolds we watch the ironic reversal of all of Haman's evil plans. So Esther hosts the king and Haman at a first banquet and she says she wants to make a special request of both of them at an exclusive banquet the following day. So Haman leaves the banquet totally drunk and he sees Mordecai in the street. He fumes with anger. And he orders that a tall stake be built so that Mordecai can be impaled upon it in the morning. It seems like things can't get any worse for the Jews and for Mordecai. But all of a sudden the story pivots. It just so happens that night the king, he can't sleep. And he has the royal chronicles read to him for good bedtime reading. And he just happens to hear about how Mordecai had saved the king's life. He had totally forgotten. So in the morning, Haman enters to request Mordecai's execution and the king in that moment orders Haman to honor Mordecai publicly for saving his life. So now Haman has to lead Mordecai around the city on a royal horse telling everyone to praise him. Now this moment in the story, it's a pivot for the whole book. It's Haman's downfall and Mordecai's rise to power. Watch how this works. The day after is Esther's 2nd banquet. So the king and Haman arrive. And Esther informs the king that first of all she's Jewish And second that Haman has enacted a decree to murder her, and to murder Mordecai, who saved his life, and to murder all of the Jews. Now the king's had a lot to drink, so when he hears this news he goes into yet one more drunken rage. And he orders that Haman be impaled on the very stake he made for Mordecai. It's ironic and a grizzly way for Haman to go. Haman's execution however, doesn't solve the problem of the decree to kill all of the Jews. So the focus now turns to Esther and Mordecai as they make a plan to reverse the decree. They discover that the King can't revoke a decree that he's already made. So instead the king commissions Mordecai to issue a counter decree. On the appointed day that all of the Jews were supposed to be killed, the 13th of Adar, now the Jews are ordered to defend themselves and to destroy any who plotted to kill them. Then Mordecai, Esther, and Jews everywhere hold banquets and feasts to celebrate this new decree. And Mordecai is elevated to a seat beside the king. Eventually the decree day comes. And the Jews triumph over their enemies. First, they destroy Haman's family and then any other Persian officials who had joined in Haman's plot. And then on a second day, they get permission to destroy any who plotted against them throughout the entire kingdom. This results in joy and celebration as the Jews are rescued from annihilation. The story then tells about how Esther and Mordecai established by decree this annual two-day feast of Purim to commemorate their deliverance from destruction. And the name of the feast comes from Haman's dice, remember "pur-im". The book concludes with a short epilogue as Mordecai is elevated to second in command in the kingdom. And we are told now with his royal greatness and splendor, as the Jews thrive in exile. Now step back. Notice how this whole story has been designed. The story was full of moments of ironic reversal. But we can now see the whole story is structured as ironic reversal. Right down to the details. So the King's splendor and feasts and decrees are mirrored by Mordecai's splendor and feasts and decrees at the end. Esther and Mordecai, they first save the king but now in the end they save all of the Jews. Then you have Haman's elevation and edicts and banquet that gets reversed by Mordecai's elevation and edict and banquet. And then at the center, you have Esther and Mordecai's planning scenes and then Esther's two banquets that act as a frame around the greatest moment of reversal in the whole story: Haman's humiliation and Mordecai's exaltation. Beautiful. Another fascinating feature of this book, is the moral ambiguity of the characters. There's a lot of drinking and anger and sex and murder, of which Mordecai and Esther are a part. Not to mention their violation of many commands in the Torah, like marrying Gentiles or eating impure foods. And so the story's not putting Mordecai and Esther forward as moral example, as if it endorses all of their behavior. But they are put forward as models of trust and hope when things get really bad. And so the book of Esther comes back to that question with which we begin: Why God is not mentioned? The message of this books seems to be that when God seems absent, when His people are in exile, when they're unfaithful to the Torah does this mean that God is done with Israel? Has God abandoned His promises? And the book of Esther says, no. It invites us to see that God can and does work in the real mess and moral ambiguity of human history. and He uses the faithfulness of even morally compromised people to accomplish His purposes. And so the book of Esther asks us to be willing to trust God's providence even when we can't see it working. And to hope that no matter how bad things get, God is committed to redeeming His world. And that's what the book of Esther is all about.