Fausset's Bible Dictionary


A Jewess of Benjamin, descendant of the captivity carried to Babylon with Jeconiah, 599 or 597 B.C.; born abroad, of a family which chose to remain instead of returning to Jerusalem. Kish, the ancestor of Mordecai (Est_2:5-7; Est_2:15), had been carried away with Jeconiah; thus Mordecai was contemporary with Xerxes, which harmonizes with the view that (See AHASUERUS is Xerxes. Mordecai and his uncle Abihail's daughter (his own adopted ward) lived at Shushan, the Persian royal city. Mordecai probably held some office in "the palace" (Est_2:5; Est_2:21-23). Her original name Hadassah means "myrtle." Her Persian name Esther means and is akin to "star," implying like Venus good fortune.

Vashti the queen having been divorced for refusing to show the people and the princes her beauty, Esther was chosen out of the fairest virgins collected out of all the provinces, as her successor. Ahasuerus, unaware of her race, granted leave to Haman his favorite, who was offended with Mordecai for not doing him reverence, to destroy the whole people to which Mordecai belonged. Esther, at the risk of her own life, uninvited entered the king's presence, and obtained a virtual reversal of the decree against the Jews. Haman was hung on the gallows designed by him for Mordecai (Psa_7:16). The Jews defended themselves so effectually on the day appointed by Haman for their slaughter that in Shushan the palace alone they slew 500 and Haman's ten sons on one day, and, by Esther's request granted by the king, slew 300 at Shushan; and the Jews in the provinces, "standing for their lives," slew 75,000, "but on the spoil laid they not their hand."

So thenceforward the feast Purlin (lots) on the 14th and 15th of the month Adar (February and March) was kept by the Jews as "a day of gladness and of sending portions to one another, and gifts to the poor." "Esther the queen wrote with all authority to confirm this second letter of Purim" (Est_8:7-14; Est_9:20; Est_9:29-32); "her decree confirmed these matters of Purlin." The continuance of this feast by the Jews to our day confirms the history. It is also confirmed by the casual way in which 2Ma_15:36 alludes to the feast ("Mardochaeus' day") as kept by the Jews in Nicanor's time. In the 3rd year of Xerxes (Est_1:3-4) the disastrous expedition against Greece (foretold in Dan_11:2, "by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia") was determined on in an assembly at Susa (Herodotus vii. 8).

The Book of Esther describes in the same year, the 3rd, the lavish feasting during which Vashti was deposed, 488 B.C. In his 7th year the battles of Plataea and Mycale, according to secular history, drove Xerxes in fright from Sardis to Susa. So, in Scripture, it was not until the tenth month of this 7th year that Esther was made queen. The long delay between Vashti's deposal and Esther's accession is satisfactorily accounted for by the Greek expedition which intervened. On returning from it Xerxes tried to bury his disgrace in the pleasures of the seraglio (Herodotus vii. 35,114); as indeed he had begun it and, according to Herodotus, at intervals continued it with feastings. Possibly Vashti answers to the Amestris of secular history, who was queen consort from the beginning to the end of his reign, and was queen mother under his son and successor Artaxerxes.

Esther cannot be Amestris, since the latter was daughter of a Persian noble, Otanes; if Vashti be Amestris, then her disgrace was only temporary. Or else Vashti and Esther were both only "secondary wives" with the title "queen." A young "secondary wife" might for a time eclipse the queen consort in the favor of the king; but the latter would ultimately maintain her due position. Esther's influence lasted at least from Ahasuerus: 7th to the 12th year and beyond, but how far beyond we know not (Est_3:7; Est_3:10). His marriage to a Jewess was in contravention of the law that he must marry a wife belonging to one of the seven great Persian families. But Xerxes herein, as previously in requiring the Queen Vashti to appear unveiled before revelers (such an outrage on oriental decorum that she refused to come), set at nought Persian law and prejudice.

The massacre of 75,000 by Jews (Est_9:16) would be unlikely, if they were Persians; but they were not, they were the Jews' enemies in the provinces, idolaters, naturally hating the spiritual monotheism of the Jews, whereas the Persians sympathized with it. The Persians in the provinces would be only the officials, whose orders from court were not to take part against the Jews. The persons slain were subject races, whose lives as such Xerxes made little account of. The Book of Esther supplies the gap between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7. Xerxes, or the Ahasuerus of Esther, intervenes between Darius and Artaxerxes. The "feast unto all his princes," etc., for "an hundred and fourscore days" (Est_1:3-4) was protracted thus long in order that. all the princes in their turn might partake of it; for all could not, consistently with their duties in the provinces, have been present all that time.

The Book of Esther describes the stare of the exiled people of God in Persia, and thus complements the narratives by Ezra and Nehemiah of what took place in the Holy Land. Possibly Mordecai was the author; for the minute details of the banquet, of the names of the chamberlains and eunuchs, of Haman's wife and sons, and of the usages of the palace, imply such an intimate acquaintance with all that concerned Esther as best fits Mordecai himself. Similarly, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, who held official posts in the Persian court, wrote under inspiration the books which bear their names, and which describe the relations of the Jews to the pagan world power. This view accords with Est_9:20; Est_9:23; Est_9:32; Est_9:10. Ezra and the men of the great synagogue at Jerusalem probably edited and added it to the canon, having previously received it, and the book of Daniel, while at the Persian court.

The last of the great synagogue was Simon the Just, high priest 310-291 B.C. The canon contained it at latest by that time, and how long earlier is unknown. "The chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia" (Est_10:2) were at the time of the writer accessible, and the very order whereby Media is put before Persia implies it cannot have been much later than the time of the events recorded, the former and middle part of Xerxes' reign, before Artabanus became Xerxes' favorite, and Mordecai's (perhaps = Matacas the eunuch) influence waned. The Book of Esther was placed by the Jews among the Kethubim (hagiographa), in the portion called the five volumes, Megilloth. Maimonides says that in Messiah's days the prophets and hagiographa shall pass away, except "Esther," which will remain with the Pentateuch. It is read through in the synagogues during Purim.

The scribes wrote the names of Haman's ten sons in three perpendicular columns of three, three, four, hanging upon three parallel cords, three upon each, one above another, representing the hanging of Haman's sons. The absence of the name of GOD is unique to this book; the Song of Solomon similarly has no express mention of GOD. The design apparently was, in the absence of the visible theocracy while God's people were under the pagan world power, that the historic facts should speak for themselves with expressive silence (just as the book of nature does: Psalm 19; Rom_1:20), attesting God's providence even when God hid His name and verbal manifestation. When God is invisible He is not the less active. The very absence of the name sets believers about inquiring why? and then they discover that God works no less by His providence in the world where He is veiled than by His grace in the church wherein He is revealed.

The hand of Providence is to be traced palpably in the overruling of the king's reckless feastings and wanton deposing of Vashti because she shrank from violating her own self respect, to laying the train for His appointed instrument, Esther's elevation; in Mordecai's saving the king's life from the two would-be assassins, and the recording of the fact in the royal chronicles, preparing the way for his receiving the royal honors which his enemy designed for himself; in Haman's casting Pur, the lot, for an auspicious day for destroying the Jews, and the result being, by God's providence which counterworked his appeal to chance, that the feast of Purlin is perpetually kept to commemorate the Jews' preservation and his destruction; in Esther's patriotic venture before the king after previous fasting three days, and God's interposing to incline the king's heart to hold out to her the golden scepter, ensuring to her at once life and her request (Pro_21:1); in Haman's pride at being invited to the queen's banquet and his preparing the gallows for Haman, and Providence, the very night before it, withdrawing sleep from the king so that the chronicles were read for his pleasure, and Mordecai's service was thus brought to his remembrance, so that when Haman came to solicit that Mordecai should be hanged the king met him with the question, "What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor?"

Then, in Haman supposing himself to be the object of honor, and suggesting the highest royal honors (such as Joseph had from the Egyptian king, Gen_41:43), and thus unwittingly being constrained with his own voice and hand to glorify him whom he had meant to destroy; then in the denouement at the queen's banquet, and Haman's execution on the very gallows he erected for Haman (Psa_7:14-16); and the consequent preservation from extinction of the holy race of whom Messiah must spring according to prophecy, and of whom Isaiah (Isa_54:17) writes, "no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee thou shalt condemn." Compare Isa_6:13; Isa_65:8; Jer_30:10-11; Zec_2:8-9. The Septuagint, at, a much later date, interpolated copiously the name of GOD and other apocryphal additions.

The purity of the Hebrew canon stands out in striking contrast with the laxity of the Alexandrian Greek version. The style of the Hebrew in Esther is like that of the contemporary Ezra and Chronicles, with just such a mixture of Persian and Chaldee words as we should expect in a work of the age and country to which Esther professes to belong. Jerome (Proleg. Gal.) mentions the book by name. So Augustine, De Civit. Dei; and Origen (in Eusebius, Hist. Ecclesiastes, 6:25). Haman the Agagite (Est_3:1; Num_24:7; Num_24:20), as being of the blood royal of Amalek, was doomed to destruction with that accursed nation (Exo_17:14-16). His wife and all his friends shared his guilt (Est_5:14), and therefore by a retributive providence shared his punishment (Esther 9).

Esther's own character is in the main attractive: dutiful to her adoptive father, and regardful of his counsels though a queen; having faith in the high destiny of her nation, and believing with Mordecai that even "if she held her peace at the crisis deliverance would arise to the Jews from another place," and that providentially she had "come to the kingdom for such a time as this" (Est_4:14); brave, yet not foolhardy, but fully conscious of her peril, not having received the king's call for 30 days, with pious preparation seeking aid from above in her patriotic venture; "obtaining favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her "(Est_2:15). At the same time Scripture does not hide from us the fact of her not being above the vindictiveness of the age and the country, in her requesting that Haman's ten sons should be hanged, and a second day given the Jews to take vengeance on the enemies who had sought to kill them.


Taken from: Fausset's Bible Dictionary by Andrew Robert Fausset (1821-1910)