Coffman Commentaries on the Bible
by Arend Remmers & James Coffman
- Author and Time of Writing
As with most of the OT writings the author of the book of Esther (Esther meaning “star”) is not mentioned. The Jewish historian Josephus names Mordecai as author of the book. Chapter 10:2-3 however speaks against this, for the author would hardly have written likewise of himself. On the other hand chap. 9:20 explicitly mentions that Mordecai wrote these things. Other sources ascribe the book of Esther to Ezra or Nehemiah.
In any case the author was a Jew whose heart was set on the fate of the people of Israel. Besides he had an excellent knowledge on the situation at the Persian court. This very fact was fully acknowledged by the Greek historian Herodotus and by the excavations of the past hundred years.
The events of the book of Esther occurred during the reign of King Ahasuerus, Xerxes I. (Persian: Khschayarscha).
Ahasuerus reigned from 485 to 464 BC. His predecessor was King Darius (522-485 BC) who is mentioned in Ezra 4:5. His successor was Artaxerxes I. (Ezra 7:1 and Nehemiah 2:1). The events mentioned in Esther therefore happened between Ezra chapter 6 and chapter 7. This is why many presume that the book was written in the second half of the fifth century BC.
- Purpose of Writing
In the Hebrew Bible the book of Esther is placed in the third main part, that is the “writings” (hebr. ketubim). The book belongs to the so-called five “scrolls” (hebr. megilloth), which are still read today at certain feast days in the synagogue. Esther is read during the Purim feast on 14th and 15th Adar (February/March). Hence it belongs to the best-known OT-books with the Jews and it is also the book, which has the oldest copies. The book of Esther has served the Jewish people as support of their national hope and especially so in the days of persecution.
This book particularly teaches us the invisible care of God for those of His people who preferred to stay in the land of exile although they could have returned to Palestine since the days of King Cyrus of Persia (see book of Ezra). Jehovah watched with tender goodness and care over this large part of the Jews, which He could no longer recognize as His people in front of the world. He hid Himself before them as it were. This is why God is not mentioned once in this book. Already in the antiquity the Jews had considered this striking characteristic as fulfilment of the prophecy in Deuteronomy 31:18.
In His providence God brings the young Jewess Hadassah (Esther) to the Persian court. She succeeds in preventing the threatening destruction of all her race by Haman, who was set above all the princes. Haman is hanged and Esther’s cousin Mordecai, the pious Jew and Haman’s opponent, receives his position. After the Jews’ revenge upon their enemies the days of Purim (pur = Persian: lot) are established in remembrance of these events.
Queen Vashti typifies the wife out of the nations (heathen) who is rejected because she does not behave according to her position. After that Esther becomes the Jewish wife and queen who comes to honour (compare Romans 11). In Mordecai we see a picture of Christ who is despised and hated to start with but later becomes head over his people Israel and head of the whole world.
a) The Three Feasts in the Book of Esther
- Feast of Ahasuerus during which Vashti is rejected (chapter 1)
- Feast of Esther during which Haman is rejected (chapter 7)
- Purim-Feast of the Jews, which is a reminder to the salvation of the Jewish people (chapter 9)
b) Haman, the Agagite
According to Numbers 24:7 and 1 Samuel 15 , Agag seems to have been the title of the kings of the Amalekites. – Saul, the son of Kish, spared Agag, King of the Amalekites, and was rejected by God for his disobedience (1 Samuel 15). Mordecai who was a son of Kish as well (Esther 2:5) arranged the execution of Haman, the Agagite (Esther 3:1). By this he fulfilled the judgment of God and attained great honour.
- Overview of Contents
I. Esther 1-3 : The Jews in Danger
Ahasuerus rejects Vashti
Ahasuerus makes Esther Queen
Haman’s Honour and his Plan to destroy the Jews
II. Esther 4-10 : The Salvation of the Jews
Mordecai calls in Esther
Esther’s Invitation to the Banquet
Haman is obliged to honour Mordecai
Haman’s Fall and Execution
The Jews’ Vengeance