Chances are you were taught very little or almost nothing about Esther, the woman who is one of only two (the other is Ruth) females who have a book of the Bible named after them. The purpose of this short study is to offer information regarding this fascinating part of Scripture.
Who are the primary characters?
Hadassah, a Jewess, is the main character of the book (Esther 2:7). Her name means 'a myrtle.' After her parents died when she was young, her cousin Mordecai adopted and raised her (2:7, 15). Her name changed to Esther, which means 'a star,' when she entered the Persian royal harem. It is likely she was around 14 years old when the events involving her begin to unfold.
Mordecai is a Jewish official in the royal court of Persia at Shushan (2:5 - 6). Although no meaning is attached to his name in Strong's Concordance due to its non-Hebrew origin, Willmington's Complete Guide to Bible Knowledge states it means 'dedicated to Mars.' Mordecai, from the tribe of Benjamin (2:5-6), was taken captive from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. He came under the control of Persia when the Persian Empire defeated the Babylonians in 539 B.C.
Mordecai gained the favor of the king when he discovered a plot to murder him by two royal officers. He told his discovery to Esther, who relayed it to Ahasuerus. The two people conspiring to kill the ruler received death (2:21 - 23).
Ahasuerus, translated into the Greek language, is Xerxes. Many Bible commentaries agree that the Ahasuerus in the book is King Xerxes I (Xerxes I the Great), who ruled the Persian Empire while it was still powerful (485 to 465 B.C.).
Haman, an Amalekite, became the prime minister of Persia under the king (Esther 3:1).
The story in the book of Esther begins when the Jews are captives in Persia under the powerful King Ahasuerus. The king, angry that Queen Vashti did not follow one of his commands (Esther 1:10 - 12), has her removed as Queen. When his anger subsides, the King's wise men bring to him the most beautiful young virgins in the Kingdom from which he can choose a new Queen. A Jewish captive named Hadassah is among the maidens brought to the palace. She soon wins the King's favor and becomes Queen.
After Haman's promotion to prime minister, his large but fragile ego receives a great blow when Mordecai refuses to bow before him as if he were a god (Esther 3:1 - 2). Haman soon begins to seek ways to destroy ALL the Jews in Persia. He ultimately tricks the king, through lies, to declare a death sentence on all Jews (3:10 - 11). His zeal to destroy Mordecai reaches a zenith when he builds gallows just to hang him (5:10 - 14).
Mordecai learns about the plot against the Jews and mourns the evil that is planned (4:1 - 4). Esther learns of the plot as well and, at great personal risk, decides to accept the role of confronting the King about the plot and begging for his mercy. She is ultimately successful in her efforts. Haman is shown before the King to be the villain that he really is. In the end, Haman hangs on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.
The story told in the book of Esther and how she helped save a nation are remembered each year in the Jewish holiday of Purim. For those interested in further study, Purim lasts a single day and falls on the Hebrew calendar date of Adar 14. In 2015, this corresponds to the feast beginning on March 4 at sunset and ending the next day at sunset. In 2016, the Jewish holiday begins March 23, and in 2017, it starts on March 9.