The book of is curious. It’s the only book in the Bible that never overtly mentions God. It contains no references to the Mosaic law or to sacrifices. You don’t see priests making offerings here, or saints singing psalms, or prophets pointing the people back to God’s promise.
Instead, Esther reads like the sort of novel people take on a beach vacation. It’s full of harems, schemes, plot twist, intrigue, and suspense.
The story goes like this: Esther’s Jewish name was actually Hadassah, but nobody much called her that, probably because she was born near the end of Old Testament history, during the period of the Babylonian exile. When Esther’s parents died, she was adopted by her older cousin Mordecai. Later, when the Persians defeated the Babylonians, the victorious King Cyrus told all the Jews in Susa they could return at last to their homeland. Mordecai and Esther-along with many of their fellow Jews-chose to stay in Susa.
In Easter 2:7, we learn that Esther “had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking.” Translation: she was beauty-pageant material. This was extremely fortunate, because it just so happened that Persia’s new king, Ahasuerus (aka Xerxes), was having a national “beauty contest” to find a new queen. (He had recently dumped his old queen, Vashti, for embarrassing him in front of all his dignitary friends at a fancy feast.)
Gorgeous, young Esther was chosen to become part of the king’s harem. When her turn came to came to spend the night with the king, she wowed Ahasuerus, who “loved Esther more than all other women. She won more favor and approval form him than did any of the other young women. He placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti” (Esth 2:17).
The plot thickens: Mordecai overheard some men planning to assassinate the king. He sent word to Esther, the plot was foiled, the assassins were hung, and the events were recorded in the royal record.
Enter Haman, the villain of this piece. An insufferable suck-up to the king, Haman had managed to secure a royal decree requiring people to bow whenever he was present. Mordecai stubbornly refused. This disrespect enraged Haman. When he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, Haman decided to kill Mordecai and all his people, the Jews, throughout the Persian kingdom (Esth 3:6).
Clueless King Ahasuerus, oblivious to his queen’s Jewish heritage, went along with Haman’s plan. The date of the genocide was set and announced.
Devastated, Mordecai appealed to Esther “to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people” (Esth 4:8). Esther, initially reluctant, reminded her cousin that Persian law explicitly stated that anyone initiating an audience with the king was subject to the death penalty.
Mordecai replied, “if you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esth 4:14). With great courage, Esther agreed to stick her neck out, saying, famously, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16).
She didn’t perish. In fact, her story ends with a wonderful divine twist. While Esther planned a banquet in order to appeal for her fellow Jews-and while Haman was having gallows built so he could hang his nemesis, Mordecai-King Ahasuerus learned that Mordecai was the one who saved him from assassination!
In the end, the king made Haman honor Mordecai. Then, when Esther revealed her Jewish ancestry to his highness-and that Haman’s plan would have meant her death-the king had Haman hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai!
Because of Esther’s beauty, bravery, and wisdom, the Jews were spared. They were able to defend themselves against their enemies. The Jewish holiday of Purim is still practiced today as a celebration of this victory (Esth 9:16-32).