The Persian Empire plays a prominent role in a few Old Testament books. The ruler called Ahasuerus (Strong's Concordance #H325), which many Bible commentaries believe is referring to King Xerxes I of Persia, is mentioned thirty times. Although found only once in the books of Daniel and Ezra, Ahasuerus appears twenty-eight times in the book of Esther.
The focus of Esther's book (one of only two named after a woman) revolves around the story of how the Jews in Persia escape total extermination. The main characters are Esther, a young Jewess who marries the Persian king, Haman, the prime minister who convinces the king to exterminate the Jews, and Mordecai, a low-level Jewish official who solicits Esther's help in saving the people. The events in the book and the ultimate saving of the Jewish race, which occurred around 483 B.C., are celebrated every year in the festival known as Purim.
Prophecied a World Power
The Persians were the second world empire represented in several dreams God gave to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. These dreams so troubled the king that it kept him awake all night. He sought their interpretation amongst his magicians, astrologers and sorcerers - his wise men. There was, however, one catch. These 'wise men' had to first state what the king dreamed BEFORE they gave its meaning! The king was so serious about the matter that he declared if his counselors could not tell him his dream they, and their entire households, would receive the death penalty (Daniel 2:1-5, 10, 12)!
Four of the king's wise men were the prophet Daniel and his three friends. Just before they were also to be killed, Daniel told the king that he could tell him what he wanted. After Daniel and his friends prayed to God the secret of the dream - that God was foretelling all the Gentile kingdoms to rule the earth from Babylon to the Beast - was revealed (Daniel 2:27-31, 36-39).
In 539 B.C., more than sixty years after Nebuchadnezzar's prophetic dream, the Persian King Cyrus invaded Babylonia and defeated the Babylonians at Opis. They quickly surrendered to the empire and Cyrus' soldiers entered the capital city of Babylon without a fight.