Recently I’ve listened to a Bible Study series through the book of Esther, one done by Mark Hitchcock two years ago. This was done as a ten-part Wednesday night series, a straightforward book study series of this interesting narrative account. As I listened to this series, I often recalled some of the content of the biblical fiction book “One Night with the King,” which I read several years ago (and was later made into a movie) — a very fictional account that portrayed Esther in a much more positive light than the reality indicates.
Like any good Bible study series, this one provides a great deal of background information, concerning the time period, the culture and the characters. The story took place, I learned, during a ten year period from 483 to 473 B.C. In Bible chronology the story comes after Ezra chapter 6, but before Ezra 7. Esther 3 – 10 take place during 11 months, from 474 to 473 B.C., about 5 years after chapter 2. In between chapters 1 and 2, King Ahaseurus left to a great battle against the Greeks — and suffered great defeat. Mordecai likely refused to bow to Haman out of his own personal pride, reflecting the age-old enmity between the Amelekites / Agagites, and the Jews. The book of Esther continually refers to the two characters as “Haman the Agagite” and “Mordecai the Jew” to bring out the contrast. The Persians were one group of rulers, interestingly enough, who did not claim divinity for themselves. Haman’s decree (chapter 3) was issued by the scribes on the day before Passover. Chapter 4 takes place shortly afterwards, and so Esther’s request for all the Jews of Susa to fast actually meant that they would have to skip Passover and fast when they should have been feasting. Yet Esther and the other Jews in Susa seem unaware even of the fact of Passover on their calendar.
Among some of the interesting points made early in this series: Hitchcock believes that Mordecai and Esther were unregenerate Jews — certainly good citizens, patriotic type Jews, but nevertheless unbelievers. He suggests this as one of the reasons why God’s name is never mentioned in the book, and points to the obvious contrasts of Mordecai and Esther, with the behavior of other well-known Jews such as Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah. Unlike Daniel, Esther ate ceremonially unclean food; she also willingly joined a pagan king’s harem, had unlawful relations with a man not her husband, and later married this non-Israelite. Not only does the book of Esther never mention God, the book also never mentions prayer or repentance.
When I looked up the book of Esther in an online commentary — Thomas Constable — I noted great similarity in content. It’s possible that this particular commentary was among Hitchcock’s source material. The MacArthur Bible Commentary (MBC) gives a somewhat different stance, leaving some of the story details to the benefit of the doubt. For instance, the note for Esther 2:8 simply says that it is impossible to tell if Esther was forced or joined the harem voluntarily. From my reading of Esther 2:8, “was taken,” and subsequent verses that describe Mordecai coming near to check on her as much as possible, it seems at least possible that she was taken by force — a story version developed to great extent in the fictional tale, “One Night With the King.” Regardless of how it happened, of course, Esther and Mordecai certainly continued a very secular life afterwards — and yet the events were a part of God’s great providence in bringing about deliverance for the Jews at that time. In the overall summary, MacArthur notes the differences in Esther’s conduct as compared to Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, yet allows the possibility that we may not have the complete story concerning their lives afterward. The MBC also gives more explanation concerning why Mordecai wanted Esther to hide her identity, due to a letter against the Jews, from the time of Ezra.
The book of Esther nevertheless stands as a great example of God’s providence and His determination to save His people, even using unregenerate people to play their part in preserving the Jewish nation. This series from Mark Hitchcock is also valuable as one that makes the connection between what God did for His people Israel at that time, and the great future plans that God yet has for national Israel. Haman is a type of the antiChrist, to be compared both with Hitler and the future antiChrist. Hitchcock even mentions Barry Horner’s Future Israel and its basic message concerning God’s (future) election of Israel, and relates the story of Esther to great texts including Jeremiah 31 and Romans 11.