Before we get into our five full weeks of looking into the Book of Esther, we should take a couple of days to review where this story fits within both world history (today) and Jewish history (tomorrow). Now don’t just go turning this off with plans to come back on Wednesday when it gets interesting again!
The reason you should stick with us and understand these contexts is related to the overall purpose of the book of Esther being written and included in the inspired Word of God. It is to serve as an encouragement to the Jewish people about God’s sovereign care of the nation in preserving them in the midst of powerful world empires that threatened to eliminate them. In fact, later in this devotional series will be a day dedicated to how Satan and the kingdom of darkness worked to eliminate the Jews, and thereby also eliminate a redeemer to come.
The story of Esther is late in the Old Testament account, less than a century before the so-called 400 silent years leading from Malachi to the coming of Christ. But let’s review the world empires leading up to the time of Esther.
When you think of Old Testament history, you can get a big jump on understanding it if you recall these three numbers (roughly): 2000 BC = Abraham, 1500 BC = Moses, 1000 BC = David.
After David’s son Solomon, the Jewish United Kingdom divided into 10 northern tribes called “Israel” and 2 southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) called “Judah.” This division happened in 931 BC.
The northern kingdom lasted until 721 BC when they were taken captive and conquered by the Assyrian Empire. The southern kingdom remained intact for an addition 100+ years before being defeated and taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire, beginning in 605 BC.
The Babylonian Empire was taken over by the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 BC — this is the account of Daniel and the hand that wrote on the wall.
So the story of Esther happens during this Persian Empire, during the reign of a king named Xerxes — who ruled from 485-465 BC. As we will see later this week, during this time the next empire is rising up and giving a series of battles with the Persians, and that is the Greek Empire. And of course, following the Greeks is the Roman Empire which takes us to the time of Christ and the early centuries of the Christian Church.
Through all of this there remained a distinct Jewish people, often a remnant who were faithful to God and returned to Him to re-establish life under the promises of The Covenant. And that is amazing. Think of all of the other peoples of antiquity … all of the “-ites and -mites.” What happened to them; where are they? They’re gone — wiped out or absorbed into the conglomerate masses of humanity over the centuries. But God has preserved His original covenant people. That’s impressive.
It is also a point of application for us as the bride of Christ — that God will be faithful to His people of the New Covenant and will keep his promises and his word, even though (like in Esther’s day) the times often look grim.