The story of Esther takes place in the period between the first return after the exile under Zerubbabel and the time of Ezra. It tells of Jews who chose to remain in Persia rather than return to Jerusalem.
The chief character of the book is Esther, whose Hebrew name, “Hadassah,” means “myrtle.” This holds our interest for four reasons:
The myrtle tree became a symbol of Israel in exile (ISA 41:19-20, Isa 55:11-13). It was central to Zechariah’s first vision (ZEC 1:7-11).
The myrtle tree was not native to Israel, but was most likely brought back from Babylon, and planted in Israel (G. Campbell Morgan, Exposition of the Whole Bible).
The myrtle tree had a blossom with a star-shaped appearance. “Esther” is the Persian name for “star.”
She may have been given the name “myrtle,” or Hadassah, as a symbol of the hopes of her parents for the survival of the nation.
The book is unique among the books of Scripture:
It is one of only two named for women—the other being Ruth.
It is one of only two that never mentions the name of God—the other is the Song of Solomon.
The theme is easily understood as that of the providence of God. Esther is a story that illustrates the truth of this priceless doctrine. Providence has been called “the hand of God in the glove of history.” It is the heavenly Father watching over and caring for His people. The idea of “God standing in the shadows” is well illustrated by James Russell Lowell (1919-1891) in the following poem:
Once to Every Man and Nation
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ‘tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
It is impossible to study the providence of God without also delving into the essence of God. His acts are based on His nature. This book, which does not mention the name of God, is a study in the character and personality of God. In the course of this study, three Psalms dealing with God’s providence will be viewed (Psalms 11, 27, and 139).
Finally, the book of Esther is a story within a story, within a story. It tells the story of Mordecai and Esther, whose lives echo the story of the Jewish nation, which is part of the greater story of the redemption of mankind through the cross of Jesus Christ.
It is my earnest prayer that those who remain without faith in Christ may be challenged to hear the Gospel themes of this book, and that those who are children of God might find hope and strength, courage and assurance of the watch-care of our heavenly Father.