Currently, I am preparing my next study guide for the upcoming Summer 2020 teaching series entitled, “The Hidden Hand of God: God’s Providential Protection of His People.” This will be a multi-part study of the Book of Esther and will complement the sermon series. I will make available both print and electronic copies of the study in June 2020. Below, I’ve provided a few excerpts from the draft. Keep in mind that I am in both the writing and editing stages.
[An excerpt from the draft]
As the only book in the Bible that does not mention the divine name,[i] Esther’s place in Scripture has been questioned and scrutinized.[ii] However, the careful reader will quickly discover that although the name of God is not mentioned, the hand of God is evident in the preservation of His people.
Author: The author is likely a Jew who had experienced the Exile first-hand. His understanding and familiarity with both the Persian and Jewish cultures support the theory that he was a Persian-Jew. Furthermore, the author is unapologetically pro-Jewish and surprisingly portrays Persia in a modestly favorable light. He does, however, demonstrate that the Jews have an enemy in the government, Haman an evil politician who is second only to the King, who would stop at nothing to see them annihilated.
The most likely candidates are Mordecai and Nehemiah. Although there are strong arguments that Mordecai was the author (e.g., the conversations with Esther, the behind the scenes accounts, etc.), it is more likely that it was a Persian-Jew of the next generation. First, it is unlikely that Mordecai composed the book because he is referred to in the third person and the narrative ends with his career over. Additionally, when the original audience is considered (see below), a strong case can be made for Nehemiah as the author. He would have been fluent in both the Persian and Jewish cultures. Furthermore, Nehemiah would have had access to the official Persian records as well as Jewish documents. Additionally, he would have had strong reasons to communicate the theological message of Esther (i.e., God’s preservation of His people) to the Jews who were facing opposition in the rebuilding of the city.
Audience: The author’s familiarity with the Persian culture (he uses approximately 55 Persian words), as well as his style of Hebrew, supports the theory that the book was written shortly after the events occurred.[i] If Esther is written between 450-400 B.C., then the Jews who had recently returned from the Exile are the likely audience. Although Geisler believes that Esther was written to the Jews that did not return, the structure and message of the book undermine his theory.[ii] The theological theme of Esther and the institution of a mandatory Jewish festival (Purim) support the theory that the book was written to the mosaic of Jews in Israel following their return from the Exile. First, the Jews who had not been exiled would need a theological and authoritative basis for the establishment and practice of the feast of Purim. Moreover, the Jews who had returned from other parts of the Persian Empire needed a context for understanding the feast, particularly how God had providential sparred them from annihilation. Finally, the Jews collectively needed to be reminded that in the face of overwhelming odds that they would survive as a people. That is, God’s promises were the basis for their past, present, and future preservation. Although they may not either see or be able to measure the work of God in the present, they could confidentially work to rebuild Jerusalem knowing that God is always at work preserving His people.
[i] See, Baldwin, J.G., 49 footnote 1 (quoting H. Striedl).
[ii] See, Geisler, N.L., 172.
[i] Although it has been suggested that Song of Songs does not mention the name of God, a form of the divine name appears in 8:6 (Yah), “the very flame of the LORD” (ESV).
[ii] See, Baldwin, J.G., “Luther, who in his Table Talk said of 2 Maccabees and Esther, ‘I wish that they did not exist at all; for they Judaize too much and have much heathen perverseness’” (quoting Table Talk, xxii.), 52.