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Esther Lesson #1

RETURN TO SYLLABUS
ESTHER

 


LESSON #1
INTRODUCTION
TO THE BOOK

v     THE BOOK OF ESTHER IS A VERY INTERESTING BOOK FROM MANY DIFFERENT STANDPOINTS. FOR EXAMPLE:  GODIS NEVER MENTIONED IN THE BOOK. THIS FACT BRINGS UP THE QUESTION OF WHY THE BOOK IS EVENINCLUDED IN SCRIPTURE. THEN THERE IS THE GREAT HISTORICAL DEBATE OF THE IDENTITY OF KINGAHASUERUS. THIS PROBLEM PRESENTS A MYRIAD OF DIFFICULTIES WITH SETTING DATES FOR THEEVENTS IN THE BOOK. NEVERTHELESS, THERE ARE SOME VERY IMPORTANT CONCEPTS THE CHRISTIAN CANLEARN FROM THIS BOOK.

Ø      THE PROBLEM OF CANONICITY FOR THE BOOK OF ESTHER:

§         HOW DID EARLY CHURCH FATHERS DECIDE WHICH BOOKS TO INCLUDE INTO SCRIPTURE AND WHICH ONES TO LEAVE OUT?

·        1.  ONE OF THE MAJOR CRITERIA FOR INCLUDING OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS WAS WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE QUOTED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT BY JESUS, BY PAUL, OR BY THE DISCIPLES.

¨      THE BOOK OF ESTHER IS NEVER QUOTED IN THE NEWTESTAMENT BY ANYONE.

·        2.  ANOTHER CRITERIA FOR INCLUSION WAS WHETHER OR NOT THE HISTORICAL DATES AND EVENTS COULD BE VERIFIED AS ACCURATE.

¨      THEOLOGIANS STILL DEBATE THIS POINT AND THERE IS A WIDE RANGE OF OPINION AS TO THE PERSONALITIES AND THE DATES IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER. WE WILL ENCOUNTER SOME OF THEM IN OUR STUDY.

·        3.  A MORE RECENT CRITERION HAS BEEN WHETHER OR NOT THE BOOK WAS PART OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLL COLLECTION.

¨      THE BOOK OF ESTHER WAS NOT FOUND IN THE CAVES AROUND THE DEAD SEA ALONG WITH SUCH OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS AS ISAIAH.

·        4.  A FOURTH CRITERIA FOR INCLUSION WAS THE NATURE OF THE SPIRITUAL VALUE OF THE BOOK AS TO WHETHER IT SUSTAINED OR CONFLICTED WITH THE REST OF SCRIPTURE, OR WHETHER WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH WAS POLLUTED WITH PAGAN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

¨      THE BOOK OF ESTHER PASSES THIS TEST WITH FLYING COLORS EVEN THOUGH IT NEVER MENTIONS GOD, NEVER MENTIONS THE PERFORMANCE OF ANIMAL SACRIFICE, NEVER MENTIONS THE LAW OF MOSES, AND NEVER MENTIONS PRAYER. (FASTING, HOWEVER,IS MENTIONED.)

§         IT WAS JUDAISM THAT FIRST INCLUDED THE BOOK OF ESTHER IN THE BODY OF OLD TESTAMENT SCRIPTURE. PERHAPS THE PRIMARY REASON IS BECAUSE IT VALIDATES THE JEWISH CELEBRATION OF THE FEAST OF PURIM.

v     WRITTEN BY:

Ø      THE AUTHOR OF THE BOOK IS UNKNOWN. IT MOST LIKELY WAS MORDECAI, OR MAYBE EZRA, OR EVEN NEHEMIAH. THESE ARE THE NAMES THAT ARE OFTEN SUGGESTED.

§         WHILE WE DO NOT KNOW HIS NAME, THE AUTHOR OBVIOUSLY KNEW THE PERSIAN CULTURE WELL.

v     WRITTEN TO:

Ø      THE BOOK IS WRITTEN TO FELLOW JEWS EVERY WHERETO HISTORICALLY AUTHENTICATE THE PRACTICE OF CELEBRATING THE FEAST OF PURIM.

Ø      THE BOOK IS WRITTEN TO ENCOURAGE A DISPERSED REMNANT OF JEWS.

v     LOCATION:

Ø      THE LOCATION OF THE STORY IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER IS PERSIA (IRAN). WHEN THE MEDES AND PERSIANS CONQUERED THE BABYLONIAN EMPIRE, THEY MOVED THE CAPITAL OF THE KINGDOM FROM THE CITY OF BABYLON TO THE PERSIAN CITY OF“SUSA”, ALSO CALLED, “SHUSHAN”.

v     DATE:

Ø      THE DATE FOR THE AUTHORSHIP OF THE BOOK IS DIFFICULT TO PINPOINT. PROBABLY IT WAS WRITTEN SOME TIME AFTER THE REIGN OF QUEEN ESTHER BUT IN THE PERSIAN PERIOD (538-331 BC).

v     FREQUENT WORDS OR PHRASES:

Ø      “IF IT PLEASE THE KING” IS USED 7TIMES IN THIS BOOK AND ONLY 2 OTHER TIMES IN REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.

§         THIS PHRASE SETS THE TONEOF THE BOOK, AND REVEALS THE POWER AND AUTHORITY UNDER WHICH ESTHER LIVED.

v     HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:

 

Ø      THE NORTHERN TRIBES OF ISRAEL WERE TAKEN AS CAPTIVES TO BABYLON BY THE ASSYRIANS IN 721 BC.

 

Ø      THE SOUTHERN TRIBES OF ISRAEL WERE TAKEN CAPTIVE TO BABYLON BY THE BABYLONIANS IN THREE PHASES:

 

§         606 BC  DANIEL

 

§         596 BC  EZEKIEL

 

§         586 BC  JERUSALEM DESTROYED AND THE TEMPLE BURNED

 

Ø      THE PROPHETS PREDICTED THAT THIS CAPTIVITY IN BABYLON WOULD LAST FOR 70 YEARS (THE 70 YEARS ISMEASURED FROM DANIEL’S CAPTIVITY IN 606 BC. TO CYRUS’ DECREE IN 536 BC.)

 

Ø      AFTER THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY ENDED, THE JEWS WERE SUPPOSED TO RETURN TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL AND REBUILD THEIR NATION. HOWEVER, A MAJORITY OF JEWS REMAINED IN BABYLON AND DID NOT Return WITH ZERUBBABLE. INSTEAD THEY LIVED IN A WORLDLY ATMOSPHERE DISASSOCIATED FROM GOD.GRADUALLY THE LOCAL PEOPLE HATED THE JEWISH REMNANT IN THEIR MIDST.

 

§         THE PERSIAN PERIOD — 538 -331 BC

·        IN 538 BC THE BABYLONIAN EMPIRE FELL TO THE MEDO-PERSIAN EMPIRE.

·        THE BOOK OF ESTHER COVERS 10-11YEARS OF THE PERSIAN PERIOD. AFTER THE FALL OF THE BABYLONIAN EMPIRE BUT BEFORE A MAJORITY OF THE JEWS RETURN ED TO ISRAEL.

v     SPIRITUAL CLIMATE:

Ø      THE RELIGION OF THAT PERIOD AND LOCATION WAS ZOROASTRIANISM.

§         THE PERSIANS BELIEVED IN ONE GOD, AND THAT ALL PEOPLE ARE EVENTUALLY SAVED. PURE THOUGHTS, GOOD WORKS, ANDRIGHTEOUS DEEDS ARE THE GREATEST VIRTUES. A GROUP OF ZOROASTRIANISTS STILL EXISTS TODAY INIDEA. THEY ARE CALLED “PARSI”.

·        THERE ARE TRACES OF ZOROASTRIANISM IN THE MASONIC ORDER.

Ø      THE JEWS HAD BEEN IN CAPTIVITY FOR 70 YEARS,MORE THAN A GENERATION. MANY OF THEM HAD FORGOTTEN GOD. MANY HAD BECOME ACCUSTOMED TO LIVING IN A FOREIGN LAND. ELEMENTS OF THEIR RELIGION AND CULTURE WERE FORGOTTEN. THERE WAS NO TEMPLE, NO FORMAL WORSHIP, NO PRIESTS, AND NO JEWISH CELEBRATIONS ACCORDING TO THE LAW OF MOSES.

§         HOWEVER, THERE WAS A SMALL FAITHFUL REMNANT WHO BELIEVED IN GOD.

v     THEME FOR OUR STUDY:

Ø      THE THEME OF OUR STUDY IS GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND PROVIDENTIAL CARE.

§         WE WILL DISCUSS THE GOOD THINGS GOD EFFICIENTLY WILLS AS WELL AS THE EVIL THINGS GOD PERMITS.

§         WE WILL DISCUSS THE WORKINGS OF GOD’S PLAN FOR HIS PEOPLE.

·        REMEMBER THAT IN THIS BOOK THERE WILL BE NO MENTION OF GOD’S NAME, RELIGION, OR RELIGIOUS PRACTICES SUCH AS PRAYER,SACRIFICE, OR WORSHIP, EXCEPT FOR A FAST IN 4:16.

¨      HOWEVER, IN THE ORIGINAL HEBREW THERE ARE SEVERAL ACROSTICS SPELLING OUT GOD’S NAME. SOME BELIEVE THIS WAS MYSTERIOUSLY USED TO HIDE GOD’S NAME IN THE BOOK.

v     MAJOR CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Ø      ESTHER:

§         AN ORPHANED JEWESS, OF THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN, REARED BY HER OLDER COUSIN, MORDECAI. SHE WAS PROBABLY BORN IN PERSIA DURING THE CAPTIVITY AND THEREFORE NEVER SAW JERUSALEM. SHE WAS MORE A JEW BY BIRTH THAN BY RELIGION. SHE HID HER JEWISHNESS FOR AT LEAST 5 YEARS (2:16 3:7). FOR THE MASQUERADE TO LAST THAT LONG SHE MUST HAVE EATEN NON-KOSHER FOODS, DRESSED AND ACTED LIKE A PERSIAN, AND MIGHT HAVE EVEN WORSHIPED AS A PERSIAN.

Ø      MORDECAI:

§         A JEW FROM THE TRIBE OF BENJAMIN. HE WAS TAKEN TO BABYLON IN 597 BC.WITH EZEKIEL AND JECONIAH. HE WAS RAISED UP BY GOD, BUT HE WAS NOT NECESSARILY A GODLY MAN. AT THE END OF THE BOOK HE IS ELEVATED TO SECOND IN POSITION NEXT TO THE KING.

Ø      HAMAN:

§         THE PRIME MINISTER, SECONDIN COMMAND UNDER THE KING. AN EVIL MAN WHO IS THE VILLAIN IN OUR STORY.

Ø      AHASUERUS (THIS WORD IS A TITLE LIKE“PHARAOH” OR “CAESAR” AND NOT A NAME):

§         THE IDENTITY OF THIS KING IS HOTLY DEBATED IN THEOLOGICAL CIRCLES.

·        THE PROBLEM:

¨      THE PROBLEM OF HIS IDENTITY LIES IN THE FACT THAT THE BIBLE USES A TITLE FOR HIS NAME WHICH WAS COMMON IN THE PERSIAN EMPIRE.

¨      THE PROBLEM OF HIS IDENTITY LIES IN THE FACT THAT HISTORICAL RECORDS FROM THE PERSIAN EMPIRE DO NOT MENTION EITHER QUEEN ESTHER OR PRIME MINISTER MORDECAI.

·        THE MOST COMMON IDENTIFICATION:

¨      MOST REFERENCE BOOKS IDENTIFY HIM WITH XERXESI (486 – 465 BC).

Ø      THE MAJOR PROBLEM WITH THIS IDENTIFICATION:

§         IF MORDECAI WAS TAKEN CAPTIVE TO BABYLON IN 597 BC AS A NEWBORN BABY, HE WOULD BE 113 YEARS OLD AT THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER AND THE DATE WOULD BE 484 BC.

§         AT THE END OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER (ABOUT 12 YEARS LATER), MOREDECAI WOULD BE PRIME MINISTER AT THE AGE OF 125.

§         THESE ADVANCED AGES FOR MORDECAI WOULD MAKE ESTHER, HIS FIRST COUSIN, MUCH TOO OLD TO BE AN ATTRACTIVE CHOICE TOBE QUEEN.

§         WHILE THESE AGES ARE NOT IMPOSSIBLE, THE AVERAGE LIFE SPAN FOR THIS TIME PERIOD IS FAR LESS.

Ø      ANOTHER PROBLEM WITH THIS IDENTIFICATION IS THAT EZR 2:2 AND NEH 7:7 MENTION MORDECAI. THOSE TWO BOOKS COVER 103 YEARS OF TIME. THIS MEANS THERE WOULD BE TOO MUCH TIME (OVER A HUNDRED YEARS) BY PLACING MORDECAI BOTH IN THE BOOKS OF EZRA AND NEHEMIAH AND ALSO IN THE BOOK OF ESTHER.

·        ANOTHER MENTIONED POSSIBILITY OF IDENTIFICATION:

¨      ARTAXERXES (LONGIMANUS) (465-424 BC)

Ø      THE SAME PROBLEMS WITH AGE EXIST WITH THIS POSSIBILE IDENTIFICATION AS WITH XERXES I ONLY COMPOUNDED.

·        SCRIPTURALLY AND CHRONOLOGICALLY,THE MOST ACCEPTABLE IDENTIFICATION:

¨      DARIUS I (HYSTASPSIS) (521 – 486 BC)

Ø      THIS PERSIAN KING WAS WELL LOVED BY HIS PEOPLE. HE WAS A RUTHLESS WARRIOR, BUT FAMOUS FOR HIS FAIRNESS, FOR HIS STRICTNESS TO LAW,AND FOR HIS BRILLIANT ADMINISTRATION OF A VERY LARGE KINGDOM FROM INDIA TO EGYPT. ONE OF HIS MORE NOTEWORTHY PROJECTS WAS THE CONSTRUCTION OF A VAST ROADWAY SYSTEM TO UNIFY THE KINGDOM. HE PROMOTED TRADE AND COMMERCE ELEVATING THE STANDARD OF LIVING THROUGHOUT THE KINGDOM.

v     OUTLINE OF THE BOOK OF ESTHER:

Ø      ESTHER PLACED IN A PROMINENT POSITION (1– 2:20)

§         VASHTI DEPOSED (1)

§         ESTHER CROWNED (2:1-20)

Ø      THE PLAN TO EXTERMINATE THE JEWS(2:21-4:3)

§         HAMAN’S HATRED(2:21-3:6)

§         THE KING IS PERSUADED(3:7-15)

§         MORDECAI MOURNED (4:1-3)

Ø      ESTHER’S INTERVENTION (4:4-9:19)

§         COMMUNICATION WITHMORDECAI (4:4-17)

§         ESTHER EXPOSES THE PLOT(5-7)

§         DELIVERANCE AND REVENGE(8:1-9:19)

Ø      THE FEAST OF PURIM IS ESTABLISHED(9:20-32)

Ø      MORDECAI’S GREATNESS (10)

v     SOURCE MATERIAL FOR THIS STUDY:

 

Ø      THE BIBLE KNOWLEDGE COMMENTARY; JOHNF. WALVOORD AND ROY B. ZUCK, EDITORS

Ø      EZRA, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER BY IRVING L.JENSEN

Ø      ESTHER: TRIUMPH OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY BY JOHN C. WHITCOMB

Ø      ESTHER: A WOMAN OF COURAGE BY JOYCEMARIE SMITH

Ø      RUTH AND ESTHER: COURAGE AND SUBMISSION BY STANLEY COLLINS

Ø      IF I PERISH, I PERISH BY W. IAN THOMAS

Ø      IF IT PLEASE THE KING BY IVERNATOMPKINS

Ø      CHRONOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT BYFLOYD NOLEN JONES (THE SOURCE OF ALL DATES AND NAMES OF RULERS)

 

 

HOMEWORK
ESTHER 1

THIS IS A SELF-STUDY. PLEASE DO NOT SEND HOMEWORK ANSWERSTO THE TEACHER FOR CORRECTION.

v     PREPARATION FOR EST 1

Ø      READ EST 1:1-22

§         HOW DO YOU THINK OUR SOCIETY CHOOSES MODELS FOR EXAMPLES OF EXEMPLARY BEHAVIOR?

§         HOW DO YOU THINK A SOCIETY SHOULD CHOOSE THEIR MODELS?

§         DID VASHTI DO THE RIGHT THING REFUSING TO APPEAR AT THE PARTY? EXPLAIN YOUR ANSWER.

v     MEMORY VERSE:  PSALMS 40:4

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About Joyce

Joyce
I came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in 1963 giving my heart to Jesus in a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles, CA. I have been teaching the Word of God since 1964, Usually two to three adult classes a week.

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