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ESTHER (Heb. ’estēr, perhaps from Akkad. Ishtar [Venus], Gr. astēr, star). A Jewish orphan maiden in the city of Shushan who became queen of Persia. Her Hebrew name was Hadassah (myrtle). Her cousin Mordecai, who was a minor official of the palace, reared her as his own daughter. Xerxes (kjv Ahasuerus), the Persian king, had divorced his wife. When he sought a new queen from among the maidens of the realm he chose Esther. When the Jews in the empire were faced with destruction she was able to save them. In her honor the book that bears her name is read every year at the Feast of Purim.

ESTHER ĕs’ tər. Esther was a Benjamite girl, whose name is immortalized in the book that bears her name. Her cousin, Mordecai, adopted her on the death of her parents (Esth 2:5-7). Her Heb. name is equated with הֲדַסָּ֗ה, Hadassah, meaning “Myrtle.” It is uncertain from this v. which of the two words is the original name. If Esther was the original, then Myrtle could have been a descriptive title, but since, contrary to our way of speaking of her simply as Esther, the name Hadassah is mentioned first, the probability is that this was the original name. The turning of this into Esther might have been done by her Pers. playmates, who did not understand Heb., but who, in the manner of children down the ages, approximate a strange name to one with which they are familiar. Esther could have been connected with the Pers. stara, with the meaning of Star, or even with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Perhaps American or British children, confronted with a playmate named Hadassah, might rename her as “Dusty.”

The Book of Esther relates how she was chosen to succeed Vashti as queen. Out of a large number of virgins, she was the one to find favor with King Xerxes. At first Mordecai told her to conceal her Jewish ancestry, but later he warned (or blackmailed) her that she would not escape the massacre of the Jews that Haman was planning, and consequently she agreed to do what she could with the king. However, she insisted that the Jews in the city should fast, and presumably pray, for her.

She appeared before the king unbidden, which could have meant death for her, but the king received her kindly. She invited the king and Haman to dinner, where she had evidently planned to disclose Haman’s schemes, and, if the story had been fiction, we should have heard that she now did so. For some unexplained reason she did no more than repeat her invitation for the next night. One may assume that her courage failed her at the first dinner. On the second occasion, she exposed Haman’s plot. The king was angry and went out of the room. When he returned he found Haman leaning over Esther to beg for mercy, and the king thought the worst. Haman was taken out and hanged.

Esther and Mordecai then obtained the king’s permission to avert the massacre. Since the original decree could not be directly reversed, they authorized the Jews to defend themselves on the day of the massacre on the 13th day of Adar. In this way, the edge of the decree was turned, since it was unlikely that the local authorities would now support the massacre, as they would otherwise have done. In Susa, where Esther lived, she asked permission for the Jews to kill their enemies on the following day as well, and it appears that on this day the Jews took the initiative for revenge instead of merely defending themselves (9:15f.).

The Bible shows how God used Esther and Mordecai to deliver His people in an emergency. It is not known how long either of them remained in power, but certainly Esther was not the mother of any subsequent heir to the Pers. throne.

Her name does not occur in secular records. According to Herodotus and Ctesias the name of the chief wife of Xerxes, both before and after his expedition to Greece, was Amestris, who may well be identified with Vashti. Since Esther did not actually become queen for four years after the incident of chapter one (1:3; 2:16)—Xerxes was occupied with arranging and accompanying his disastrous expedition against Greece—it is likely that Xerxes retained Vashti (Amestris) as his wife during this time. He might well have continued to do so if she had not brutally mutilated a woman with whom she suspected her husband was having an affair. Rather than risk the vengeance of Xerxes, she prob. withdrew for the time, leaving him to choose his new wife, and waiting her time to come back into favor and power once more. See Esther, Book of; Vashti; Mordecai.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’ecter, akin to the Zend tstara, the Sanskrit stri, the Greek aster, "a star," Esther):

Esther was a Jewish orphan, who became the queen of Xerxes, in some respects the greatest of the Persian kings. She was brought up at Susa by her cousin Mordecai, who seems to have held a position among the lower officials of the royal palace. Vashti, Xerxes’ former queen, was divorced; and the most beautiful virgins from all the provinces of the empire were brought to the palace of Susa that the king might select her successor. The choice fell upon the Jewish maiden. Soon after her accession a great crisis occurred in the history of the Jews. The entire people was threatened with destruction. The name of Esther is forever bound up with the record of their deliverance. By a course of action which gives her a distinguished place among the women of the Bible, the great enemy of the Jews was destroyed, and her people were delivered. Nothing more is known of her than is recorded in the book which Jewish gratitude has made to bear her name.

Change of Name:

The change in the queen’s name from Hadassah hadacah, "a myrtle," to Esther, "a star," may possibly indicate the style of beauty for which the Persian queen was famous. The narrative displays her as a woman of clear judgment, of magnificent self- control, and capable of the noblest self-sacrifice.

See Esther, Book of.