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Category Archives: Jewish exiles

Introducing Esther

Many people are familiar with the beautiful story of Esther—the brave young Jewess who put her life on the line to save her people. She is the stuff Hollywood is made of. In fact the 2006 movie, One Night with the King, was ninth on the list of highest-grossing motion pictures during the week it was released. This film received a 2007 CAMIE Award.

But who was she really?

A  Jewess

Edith Deen, in her book All the Women of the Bible (1955), introduces her as first “one of the humblest of figures, an orphan Jewess. But four years later she rises to the position of a queen of amazing power, a power which she manages to use wisely” (147).

Herbert Lockyer comments she “was related to a family carried away captive with Jeremiah, about 600 BC and was born of this family preferring to remain in the land of captivity rather than return to Jerusalem” (All the Women of the Bible, page 52).

An exile

Her Hebrew name was “Hadassah,” meaning “myrtle.” “Esther” is a Babylonian name meaning “star.” The Woman’s Study Bible mentions that a common practice during the Diaspora was to give an individual both a Babylonian and a Hebrew name (see note for Mordecai, Esther 2:5). Another example of this practice is found in Daniel 1:6-7.

An orphan

Esther 2:7  says that Hadassah had neither father nor mother.  Her cousin (or uncle, as Josephus puts forth) Mordecai took her as his daughter.

A beautiful virgin

When King Ahasuerus (afterwards referred to as Xerxes throughout) had a potential image problem due to the actions of his wife, Vashti, his counselors urged him to depose her and look for a new wife. An edict followed requiring virgins from all over the empire be brought to the capital city of Susa and the king’s palace so that a replacement could be chosen. Esther found herself among them.

Josephus records there were four hundred girls brought to the palace and Esther “was the most beautiful of all the rest, and that the grace of her countenance drew the eyes of the spectators principally upon her” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, Chapter 6, 199).

A member of the royal harem

Esther 2:2 Let the beautiful young virgins be sought for the king:

“This was the usual way in which the harem or seraglio was furnished: the finest women in the land, whether of high or low birth, were sought out, and brought to the harem. They all became the king’s concubines: but one was raised, as chief wife or sultana, to the throne; and her issue was specially entitled to inherit.” (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1996, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

A queen

Having gone through the preliminary procedures required for entering the harem, Esther was selected as the king’s favorite, and became his queen. An indication as to her royal functions is contained in Esther 1:9, where Queen Vashti “also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.” Queen Esther herself prepared banquets and entertained (Esther 5). Most importantly, she fulfilled the king’s desires.

In summary

The Woman’s Study Bible offers this observation concerning Esther:

“She was courageous and self-sacrificing (4:14, 16).

She was cleaver (5:3, 4; 8:3).

She was used of God to save her people.”

Esther, Queen of Persia

Setting:  Esther’s story occurs during the rule of the Persian Empire (559 BC-330 BC) approximately:

  • 50 years after the decree of Cyrus in 538 BC announcing that exiled Jews could return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1);
  • 40 years after the temple was rebuilt; and
  • 30 years before the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem, which is detailed in the book of Nehemiah.  [See Halley’s Bible Handbook.]
Der Wiederaufbau des Tempels zu Jerusalem unte...

Der Wiederaufbau des Tempels zu Jerusalem unter Esra und Nehemia. Feder in Schwarz über Spuren von Bleistift auf Velin. 14,8 x 14,3 cm. In brauner Feder monogrammiert “JSC” und mit schwarzer Feder datiert “d. 3 Apr. 47”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is helpful to read Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah
as a unit to get the feel for the unfolding of momentous historical events during this period of time.

Timeline (Archaeological Study Bible, Esther, p 714):

586 BC  Fall of Jerusalem

539 BC  Persia’s conquest of Babylon

538 BC  First return of exiles to Jerusalem

486-465 BC  Xerxes’ reign in Persia

479 BC  Esther’s reign in Persia

458 BC  Ezra to Jerusalem

445 BC  Nehemiah to Jerusalem

445 BC  Jerusalem’s wall rebuilt

Map showing extent of Achaemenid Empire 559 - ...

Map showing extent of Achaemenid Empire 559 – 330 (BC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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