Esther – Lesson One
A Look at Choices
In Webster’s 1828 dictionary the definition for choose is “to pick out; to select; to take by way of preference from two or more things offered; to make choice of; to take in preference; to choose for imitation or to follow.”
Some choices are unthinkable.
I remember watching years ago a movie that has never left my mind and heart. The central character is a Jewish woman who has to make a choice between two men who love her. The woman seems completely different when she is with the handsome, outgoing actor than when she is with the sweet, mild writer. Little, by little, we see flashbacks and discover clues as to why she is so like a chameleon and unable to make a commitment to either one. A number tattooed on her forearm. A scene of her being forced to work as a maid in the house of a Nazi official because she happens to look Aryan. Later, she is huddled in the bedroom of the officer’s young daughter, appealing to the girl for help. Other references to a life lived in captivity and fear. Finally, we see an earlier time as the woman stands at a train station with her two young children, a pre-school girl and a kindergarten-aged boy. A Nazi soldier stands before her and demands she choose only one child to keep. He will take them both if she doesn’t choose – somehow prefer one over the other. She sobbingly chooses the boy and watches her screaming daughter being carried away. There is never any indication of what happened to the girl. Ultimately, the crux is that the woman was forced to make a horrific choice and she couldn’t live with the weight of it.
Rarely does the Lord require any of us to make such an appalling choice. Our choices may include such important things as to marry or not to marry; homeschooling or boarding school; or which churches to visit during limited time stateside. Usually the choices the Lord requires of us are of lesser consequence. Yet, all choices we face – great or small are purposed by God to grow us into His image.
This morning I chose to get up at 4 a.m. to pack my husband’s lunch. He needs to have ice water put into his cooler for the 100-plus degree weather he’ll be facing on his current construction inspection job. He needs to have less to worry about in the morning so that he can have some prayer and Bible study time before he begins his 45 minute commute for a 5:30 a.m. start time. Now, I could have been more organized and made my husband’s lunch the night before. But there’s one other thing he needs. We both thrive on starting the day out together, talking about schedules, laughing over something from the evening before, touching base. Simply speaking, he needs me. And I choose to “take in preference” getting up early with him – even if it means a groggy afternoon later in the day.
Over the next few weeks we will be studying the book of Esther. There have been movies made, short stories written, novels crafted, verses quoted, and tales woven out of this wonderful slice of history. For our study, I want to take you deeper into the story of Esther. We’re going to be looking at choices, some hard or even grand and some seemingly insignificant. This small book is overflowing with characters, circumstances, calamities, celebrations, color and choices. God wants us to choose Him at any cost. Choosing Him could mean discomfort, even pain. It could mean being misunderstood. Choosing Him often means the ripping apart of the everyday. I pray that this look at Esther will provide the catalyst to consistently make godly choices that will honor Christ.
Background of Esther
The book of Esther is unique. It’s the only book to never once mention the name of God. It alludes to prayer, though never names it as such. In the story, the Jewish people are hated, which is normal in history. There is obvious awe of them at the end of the book when many people become Jews, but it’s never stated how that happens or what makes Jews unique. On the surface, it simply seems an amazing story where a great wrong is righted and becomes the basis for a Jewish national commemorative holiday.
The unique character of Esther has caused some scholars in times past to suggest dismissal of the book from the official canon, or compilation, of Scripture. Martin Luther believed Esther was filled with “too many heathen unaturalities.”1
Other people are concerned with the fact that Esther was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Whether the book was lost or rejected is unsure. But it should be noted that the Essenes had copies of many writings, both scripture and otherwise, with no indication of their beliefs about any of the books.2 We do know that God was ultimately the One who decided which books were in the Bible – and He included Esther.
The book’s author is unknown, although he was most likely Jewish with intimate knowledge of the Persian monarchy and protocol. Historically, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact timing of the events, though many commentators will say that it was written about 465 years prior to the birth of Christ, setting it somewhere between the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra.
Let’s back up a little. Under King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian Empire conquered Judah. It was comprised of the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, plus most of the priestly tribe of Levi. The Babylonians laid waste to Jerusalem and took the people into captivity. Later, the Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon, including the captive Jews. For 70 years, the Jews were exiled from the Promised Land. In II Chronicles and in II Kings we discover that years of disobedience and idolatry by these chosen people of God caused the invasion. The 70 years was for every seventh year the Jews didn’t keep as a Sabbath year, letting the land rest, which the Lord had commanded them to do. At the end of seven decades, during the time of Daniel, King Cyrus wrote a decree declaring that the Jews should be allowed to return and begin reconstructing the temple in Jerusalem. Later, King Darius found the decree and again put forth the offer. Both times, not all the Jews returned to the land which God had determined to give them. At this point, Esther’s story could begin. But exactly how long after these events is up for debate.
The placement of Esther in history hinges on who was the ruler of Persia at the time. “Ahasuerus,” the only name given for the king in Esther, is actually a title meaning “prince” or “head chief.”3 Competent scholars over the years have debated whether Ahasuerus is Xerxes, Artaxerxes Longimanus or even Darius.4 Persia had conquered most of the known world at the time, and these three Persian kings all had aspects of their rule that fit the Esther story.
Whatever the exact timing, commentators agree that Esther is a book of Providence. It is a picture of God’s hand behind the scenes even when we can’t see his face. And seeing His hand at work in the circumstances of our lives is a choice.
A Familiar Story
As mentioned above, Esther is a beautiful “princess” story that many have used as an outline for their own creative works. Sometimes the adaptations have been done well. Other times, the elaborate, inventive additions used to flesh out the story make it more fiction than history, although entertaining. And, of course, the original alone is a great read. But it can feel very predictable to those familiar with the Bible.
Isn’t it amazing how God can take something so familiar and make it new? He can take a verse, a passage, a parable from His word and make it suddenly pop with spectacular insights into your current situation in a way you never saw before. Even things we think can’t have one more bit of information squeezed out of them will out of the blue give revelation and new meaning.
As part of this introductory lesson, we will be spending time preparing our hearts for the new and the fresh. God never wants us to approach His word with a passé attitude. The most disappointing times I’ve had in quiet times or in Bible studies were when I was comfortable with what I already knew about the passage or topic and partially closed my heart and mind to what God had for me. He is faithful. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22, 23). Esther is an amazing book and I pray that together we will choose to discover what God is saying – for such a time as this.
A. Prayerfully read through the book of Esther to get a good overview. When you are done, write down just one or two things that stood out to you. This may be something that you hadn’t seen before or that you’d like to think more about later.
B. Read Job 42:2-6. Here we see Job repenting of his pride and questioning spirit regarding God’s plan. In much the same way, we can be guilty of a prideful spirit when we read “familiar” passages of Scripture with an indifferent attitude. Ask God to show you any elements of pride that may be in your approach to His Word and repent of them. Ask God to give you humility and wisdom to receive fresh insights and lessons from the book of Esther.
A. Read I Chronicles 16:8-36. This Psalm, sung in thanks for God’s return of the Ark of the Covenant to His people, is a beautiful example of how we should approach the Word on a daily basis. From this passage, what are some things God has done or is capable of doing?
B. Verse 34 says, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (NASB) How have you seen God’s goodness in your life?
C. Read Deuteronomy 10:12-14. In God’s incredible goodness and wisdom He puts things in our lives for our good. List the things from these verses that God requires from you.
A. Because of God’s goodness and wisdom, He has designed His requirements to be a delight to us. I recently went to a homeschooling seminar where the speaker said people tend to doubt God’s goodness when it comes to education. He said, “God didn’t give us a love of understanding and learning and then have the process to be awful drudgery. God didn’t command Adam to name animals. He wanted to see what Adam would call them. Using his God-given mind, created for organization and discovery, he named them in delight.”5 Read Psalm 37:4; Psalm 111:2; Psalm 119:35,103; Mark 12:37b; Romans 7:22. How does the idea of delight, especially regarding our study of God’s Word, come through in these verses?
B. Read Proverbs 4:20-27. What are some of the results as we choose with delight to study and follow God’s Word?
A. Read Jeremiah 33:3. What does God promise to do for us? When does He promise to do it?
B. Read Psalm 16:7-11. What does God do for those who listen? What are some of the results?
C. I remember reading a story about soldiers who didn’t have enough Bibles to go around but who were anxious to read one. During a particularly desperate time the men divided up the book of John, which was all the Bible they had, so that each man could have a single page. Read Psalm 16 in its entirety. Look at the other passages that are on that page. Write down new insights about God’s good and wise plans you find reading as if this was all you had of your Bible?
A. According to Psalm 111:10, what does God give to those who do His commandments with a humble heart?
B. Read Deuteronomy 6:5. Write out this most foundational of commandments. Is this a reality in your life? What does it look like in your daily routine?
I’ve heard it said that when it comes to the Bible, everything means something. Isn’t it comforting to know that in the parts of our lives that seem the most frustrating, confusing, dark or despairing, there is meaning for those of us who have been adopted by the Father through Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:4-7)? As we prepare to look at choices through Esther, we are reminded that there are valuable lessons to be learned and lived. Romans 15:4 tells us that, “…whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
Even in pagan, secular history, God is sovereign and moves to make His ultimate will come through. Throughout history – recorded and as yet unrecorded – choices are made by those who believe as well as those who don’t believe in God. As you look back over this week’s study, in what way will you choose to make His Word top priority in your life?
1. The Table Talk of Martin Luther, translated by William Hazlitt, World Publishing, Co.
2. Don Stewart the Bible Explorer, as quoted by blueletterbible.org.
3. Hitchcock’s Dictionary.
4. Noted ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, leans toward Artaxerxes Longimanus. Rev. Archbishop James Ussher, author of Annals of the World (1658), combined the Bible and the known historical records of his day, concluded the king was Darius. Matthew Henry quotes Dr. Lightfoot and leans toward Artaxerxes. Most modern commentators (such as J. Vernon McGee) interpret the secular data to mean Xerxes.
5. “Delight Directed Studies,” Gregg Harris, CHEA of California convention, Long Beach, July 2008.
About the author
Dee Dawson is a journalist by training, a former newspaper feature writer by trade, and a home school mom of nearly two decades by choice – a job which recently came to an end due to the successful graduation of her second and last child. She attends Calvary Bible Church where she’s been involved in the music department as pianist for more than 25 years. As part of her involvement in her church’s women’s ministries, she developed and taught a 9-week class on writing called “Inscribe.” She’s written Bible study guides for children on Daniel and Acts to accompany adult studies taught at Calvary Bible. She’s also written two other Bible studies for Thrive’s Weekly Word: one on Esther, and one on James and Jude. Her engineer husband, Mark, has been her main editor and biggest fan for 25 years. They live in Bakersfield, Calif. USA.View all articles by: Dee Dawson
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