Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of Esther
THE plan simply cannot fail. The massacre of the Jews will be thorough and efficient. On a single predetermined day, all the Jews living in the empire, which stretches from India to Ethiopia, will be annihilated. That is what the planner of the scheme thinks. One vital detail, though, has escaped his attention. The God of the heavens can deliver his chosen people out of any desperate situation. The deliverance is recorded in the Bible book of Esther.
Written by an elderly Jewish man named Mordecai, the book of Esther covers a period of some 18 years during the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus, or Xerxes I. This dramatic narrative shows how Jehovah saves his people from the evil designs of their enemies, even though his servants are widely dispersed throughout a vast empire. Today, that knowledge is indeed faith-strengthening to Jehovah’s people, who are rendering sacred service to him in 235 lands. Moreover, the characters portrayed in the book of Esther provide examples for us to imitate and others that we want to avoid. Indeed, “the word of God is alive and exerts power.”—Hebrews 4:12.
THE QUEEN MUST INTERCEDE
In his third regnal year (493 B.C.E.), King Ahasuerus holds a royal banquet. Queen Vashti, renowned for her loveliness, incurs the king’s great displeasure and is deprived of her rank. The Jewess Hadassah is selected from all the beautiful virgins of the land to take her place. At her cousin Mordecai’s direction, she conceals her Jewish identity and uses her Persian name, Esther.
In time, a haughty man named Haman is exalted to the position of prime minister. Haman is enraged at Mordecai’s refusal to ‘bow low or prostrate himself to Haman,’ so he schemes to annihilate all the Jews in the Persian Empire. (Esther 3:2) Haman persuades Ahasuerus to agree with him and succeeds in getting the king to issue a decree to accomplish this massacre. Mordecai is in “sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:1) Esther must now intervene. She invites the king and his prime minister to a private banquet. When they gladly attend, Esther petitions them to come for another banquet the next day. Haman is joyful. However, he is infuriated by Mordecai’s refusal to honor him. Haman lays out a plan to kill Mordecai before the banquet the next day.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
1:3-5—Did the banquet last for 180 days? The text does not state that the banquet lasted that long but that the king showed the officials the riches and the beauty of his glorious kingdom for 180 days. Perhaps the king used this lengthy event to show off the glory of his kingdom in order to impress the nobles and convince them of his ability to carry out his plans. In that case, verses 3 and 5 could refer to the 7-day banquet that took place at the end of the 180-day gathering.
1:8—In what way was there ‘no one compelling as regards the time of drinking according to the law’? On this occasion, King Ahasuerus made an exception to what appears to have been a Persian custom of urging one another to drink a certain amount at such gatherings. “They could drink as much or as little as they desired,” says one reference work.
1:10-12—Why did Queen Vashti keep refusing to come to the king? Some scholars suggest that the queen refused to obey because she chose not to degrade herself before the king’s drunken guests. Or perhaps this outwardly beautiful queen really was not submissive. While the Bible does not state her motive, the wise men of the day thought that obedience to the husband was definitely an issue and that Vashti’s bad example would influence all the wives in the provinces of Persia.
2:14-17—Did Esther have immoral sexual relations with the king? The answer is no. The account says that in the morning the other women brought to the king were returned to the second house under the charge of the king’s eunuch, “the guardian of the concubines.” The women who spent the night with the king thus became his concubines, or secondary wives. However, Esther was not taken to the house of concubines after seeing the king. When Esther was brought before Ahasuerus, “the king came to love Esther more than all the other women, so that she gained more favor and loving-kindness before him than all the other virgins.” (Esther 2:17) How did she gain Ahasuerus’ “favor and loving-kindness”? The same way she had won the favor of others. “The young woman was pleasing in [Hegai’s] eyes, so that she gained loving-kindness before him.” (Esther 2:8, 9) Hegai favored her strictly on the basis of what he observed—her appearance and good qualities. In fact, “Esther was continually gaining favor in the eyes of everyone seeing her.” (Esther 2:15) Similarly, the king was impressed with what he saw in Esther and therefore came to love her.
3:2; 5:9—Why did Mordecai refuse to bow down to Haman? It was not wrong for the Israelites to acknowledge the superior position of an exalted personage by prostrating themselves. However, in the case of Haman, more was involved. Haman was an Agagite, probably an Amalekite, and Jehovah had marked Amalek for extermination. (Deuteronomy 25:19) For Mordecai, bowing down to Haman was an issue of integrity to Jehovah. He flatly refused, stating that he was a Jew.—Esther 3:3, 4.
Lessons for Us:
2:10, 20; 4:12-16. Esther accepted direction and counsel from a mature worshipper of Jehovah. We are wise to “be obedient to those who are taking the lead among [us] and be submissive.”—Hebrews 13:17.
2:15. Esther showed modesty and self-control by not requesting additional jewelry or finer clothing than what was provided by Hegai. It was “the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of the quiet and mild spirit” that won Esther the king’s favor.—1 Peter 3:4.
3:4. In some situations, it may be prudent to remain silent about our identity, as Esther was about hers. However, when it comes to taking a stand on important issues, such as Jehovah’s sovereignty and our integrity, we must not be afraid to make known that we are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
4:3. When faced with trials, we should prayerfully turn to Jehovah for strength and wisdom.
4:14. Mordecai’s confidence in Jehovah was exemplary.
4:16. With full reliance on Jehovah, Esther faithfully and courageously faced a situation that could have resulted in her death. It is vital that we learn to rely on Jehovah and not on ourselves.
ONE REVERSAL AFTER ANOTHER
As the events unfold, the tables turn. Haman is hanged on the stake that he has made for Mordecai, and the intended victim becomes the prime minister! What about the planned massacre of the Jews? That too must undergo a dramatic reversal.
Faithful Esther speaks up again. Risking her life, she appears before the king with a plea in order to find some way to undo the scheme of Haman. Ahasuerus knows what needs to be done. So when the day of their massacre finally arrives, not the Jews, but those seeking to harm them are killed. Mordecai decrees that the Festival of Purim be held each year to commemorate this great deliverance. As second only to King Ahasuerus, Mordecai ‘works for the good of his people and speaks peace to all their offspring.’—Esther 10:3.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
7:4—How would an annihilation of the Jews bring “damage to the king”? By tactfully pointing out the possibility of selling the Jews as slaves, Esther brought to the fore the matter of damage to the king by their destruction. The 10,000 silver pieces that Haman had promised were far less profitable to the king’s treasury than the wealth that could have been generated if Haman had schemed to sell the Jews as slaves. The execution of the plot would also have meant the loss of the queen.
7:8—Why did court officials cover Haman’s face? This was likely to suggest shamefulness or impending doom. According to one reference work, “the ancients sometimes covered the heads of those about to be executed.”
8:17—In what way were ‘many of the peoples of the land declaring themselves Jews’? Many of the Persians evidently became Jewish proselytes, thinking that the counterdecree was an indication of God’s favor upon the Jews. The same principle is in operation in the fulfillment of a prophecy found in the book of Zechariah. It states: “Ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will actually take hold of the skirt of a man who is a Jew, saying: ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.’”—Zechariah 8:23.
9:10, 15, 16—Even though the decree authorized plundering of the spoil, why did the Jews refrain from doing so? Their refusal left no doubt that their purpose was self-preservation, not self-enrichment.
Lessons for Us:
7:3, 4. Do we courageously identify ourselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, even though doing so may mean persecution?
8:3-6. We can and should appeal to governmental authorities and judicial courts for protection from enemies.
8:5. Esther tactfully did not mention the king’s responsibility in the decree designed to annihilate her people. Similarly, we need to be tactful when giving a witness to high officials.
Jehovah Will Provide “Relief and Deliverance”
Mordecai alludes to God’s purpose in Esther’s attaining royal dignity. When threatened, the Jews fast and pray for help. The queen appears before the king uninvited and is favorably received each time. The king cannot fall asleep precisely on the critical night. Indeed, the book of Esther is about Jehovah’s maneuvering of events for the benefit of his people.
The exciting account of Esther is of particular encouragement to us living in “the time of the end.” (Daniel 12:4) “In the final part of the days,” or in the final part of the time of the end, Gog of Magog—Satan the Devil—will make an all-out attack on Jehovah’s people. His aim will be nothing less than extermination of true worshippers. But as in Esther’s day, Jehovah will provide “relief and deliverance” for his worshippers.—Ezekiel 38:16-23; Esther 4:14.
[Picture on page 10]
Esther and Mordecai before Ahasuerus