Esther, Lesson 1: Introduction and Mordecai’s Dream

Two DragonsIntroduction

The story of Esther comes to us in two different versions: The Septuagint (LXX) and the Masoretic Text (MT).  Protestant translations use the Masoretic Text for its source, while the Septuagint is the source used for Roman Catholic, Eastern-Orthodox, and Coptic Bibles.  The Septuagint version has later additions added to Esther.

The Lutheran Church is supposed to include those additions from the Septuagint since our Bibles included those writings in a section called “Apocrypha.”  Until we transitioned to English and adopted the Protestant Bible, which by then had the Apocrypha removed, our Bibles included those writings for study and preaching (see Luther’s Die Bibel).

Hebrew is the original language of the Masoretic-Text version of Esther.  Esther in the Septuagint comes to us only in Greek.

Since the Septuagint was also the Old Testament for Jesus and His Apostles, in our study of Esther, we will include these added sections from the Septuagint as part of our study.  These “additions” include:

  1. Verses 1-11: The dream of Mordecai, which foreshadows the events of the story. This precedes the story of Esther, providing helpful background information.
  2. The royal edict dictated by Haman summarized in the Masoretic Text (Esther 3:13). So, we will look at the edict following Esther 3:13.
  3. The prayers of Mordecai (verses 1-11) and Esther (verses 12-30) before Esther goes to the king unsummoned. We will look at the prayers after Esther 4:17.
  4. An expanded account of Esther and the King’s court described in Esther 5:1-2 of the Masoretic Text. Following Esther 5:1-2, we will study this addition.
  5. The royal edict dictated by Mordecai summarized in the Masoretic Text (Esther 8:11-12). Following the summary, we will look at the edict in full through this addition.
  6. A detailed explanation of Mordecai’s dream described in Addition A, vs. 1-11. This adds a postscript in the Septuagint, which we will study following the ending of the Masoretic Text.

 

Author and Date

Author: Unknown.  It could be Mordecai (Esther 9:20), Mordecai and Esther (Esther 9:29), or someone else (Esther 10:2-3).  The strongest tradition is that Mordecai was the author of the Hebrew text of Esther.

Date of composition: After the fall of Babylon, perhaps around 450 BC.  Some think Esther was written as late as the time of the Maccabees: around 165-168 BC.

The Septuagint version of Esther has a postscript (colophon), informing the reader of the received lineage for its version of Esther.  The Septuagint translation and version then dates to three possible time periods, when both a Ptolemy and Cleopatra ruled in Egypt: 114 BC, 77 BC, or 48 BC.

 

“Problems” with Esther

The Masoretic-Text version of Esther contains no references to God, no prayers, sacrifices, or any other religious observances.  The only important part of faith-life for God’s people that it does mention is fasting.  Because it lacked the expected religiosity, Esther had a checkered past on how others viewed it.  For example, Luther said this about the book of Esther: “I am so hostile to this book that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much, and has too much heathen naughtiness.”

 

Lesson 1, Luthers Circular Logic

 

To his credit, however, despite his personal opinions, Luther removed no books of Scripture from the Bible, including Esther or those we call “Apocrypha.”

 

Historicity of EstherLesson 1, History of Persian Empire

The King of Persia in Esther, Xerxes (Ahasuerus in Hebrew) was Xerxes I, the son of Darius, who ruled Persia from 485-465 BC.  Given those dates, the events in Esther took place in the middle of his reign, roughly between 483 and 474 BC.

Even more, what Esther describes reflects what we know of Persian government from non-biblical, historical sources:

  • The king relied on royal advisors (1:13-15),
  • honored those who helped him (chapter 6),
  • feasted while lounging on couches (7:8),
  • and had a well-organized and efficient postal system (3:13-15; 8:10-14; 9:20, 30).

Although Esther is not written in Persian, the text is influenced by a Persian vocabulary and a prevalence of Persian terms: nobles (1:3), palace (1:5), decree (1:20), treasuries (3:9), satraps (3:12, 8:9), and royal stud (horse) (8:10).

The king’s eunuchs and advisors (1:10, 14) are all Persian names.  Haman’s sons (9:6-9) have Persian names.  Even the portrayal of King Xerxes as insecure, impulsive, and prone to fits of rage matches the historical descriptions we have of him from other sources.

 

The Literary Nature of Esther

The historicity of Esther is solid.  That does not mean, however, that we should read Esther as only a history; it is primarily a religious text.  Even more, it is also a work of literature, using historical events to convey what it does, using literary conventions and forms within in.

To honor the text of Esther requires recognizing its literary qualities.  Otherwise, we will simply read Esther as a history book and miss what the literary arrangement and forms were meant to convey.

For example: In Esther, we find a series of reversals.  The writer(s) wrote Esther to bring out the point of God being able to reverse one’s fortunes.  He (they) used the historical events, arranging them for its religious purpose so we would not miss this emphasis—that God can even work through bad events for our good (Romans 8:28).

 

Lesson 1, Reversals in Esther

 

Esther was written in such a way so we would learn to see God working through events for our eternal good.  Historical accuracy, although not unimportant, becomes secondary, serving its religious purpose.  The text is “inerrant” in that it conveys what God wants to convey through the literary forms employed within the text, not that the text meets some external expectation we place on it.  The text itself is to shape how we read it!

 

Lesson 1, Typical Approaches to Scripture

 

Outline of Esther

When we look at Esther, we find the entire story to be one large chiasm, with the additions within the Septuagint providing supplemental, helpful information.  So for these lessons, this is how we outline the book of Esther.

 

Lesson 1, Esther as a Chiasm

 

Addition A: Mordecai’s Dream

Mordecai has a dream, which takes place one year before the opening scene of the MT (1:3), five years before Esther became queen (2:16 and 19).  In these lessons, the Septuagint additions are from The Orthodox Study Bible.

1aIn the second year of the reign of the great King Artaxerxes, on the first day of Nisan, Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, had a dream.  1bHe was a Jewish man living in the city of Susa, a great man who served in the court of the king.  1cHe was from the captives Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had deported from Jerusalem with Jechoniah the king of Judah.  1dAnd this was his dream:

Behold, there was noise and tumult, thunder and earthquake—confusion on the earth.  1eTwo great dragons came forth, both ready for combat.  A great roar came forth from them, 1fand at the sound of them, every nation prepared to wage war against the nation of the just.  1gAnd indeed, it was a day of gloom and of darkness, tribulation and anguish, oppression and great confusion upon the earth.  1hThe entire upright nation was troubled, fearing the evils against them; they were prepared to perish, and they cried out to God.  1iAnd at their cry there came forth, as it were from a small spring, a great river having abundant water.  1jThere was light, and the sun rose, and the lowly were exalted, and they devoured the esteemed.

1kMordecai, who had seen this vision and what God was planning to do, awoke.  1lHe kept it in his heart and wished to ponder it until night.

  • What does Mordecai’s dream prepare us for?

 

Dragon: Greek, drakon.  Within the Septuagint, drakon often describes terrifying beasts.

  • A dangerous land animal like a jackal (Jeremiah 9:11[10]; Micah 1:8),
  • a snake (Deuteronomy 32:33; Psalm 90[91]:13),
  • large land reptiles (Job 40:20[25]),
  • sea creatures (Ps 103[104]:26),
  • powerful serpents (Exodus 7:9),
  • a great dragon (“Bel and the Snake,” vs. 23),
  • and other creatures: Rahab (Job 26:13), Leviathan (Ps 74:13; Isa 27:1), and Yam (Job 7:12).

A dragon is sometimes the symbol for a pagan ruler (Ezekiel 29:1, 32:1-16).  Here, the dragons represent two nations (Persia and Israel) lived out in the lives of Haman and Mordecai.

  • Who is the “upright nation” and what do they do?

 

  • How does God answer their prayer?

 

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