Esther is one of two books of the Bible named for women. (The other, also found in the Old Testament, is Ruth.) Scholars believe that Esther was written in the fourth century B.C.E. for the purpose of demonstrating “to Jews living in the exile that it is possible to achieve success in the country of one’s exile without giving up one’s identity as a Jew.” (Women in Scripture by Carol Meyers, p. 76.)
The story is historical fiction, and it is set in Shushan (Susa), capital city of the Persian Empire. Although the book of Esther is not commonly taught to Christian children, it has value for several reasons. First, it has a young woman as the heroine. Most of the Bible features men in the key roles as kings, priests, and prophets, so the book of Esther provides some balance. Next, the plot exposes the workings of evil. It provides a vehicle for exploring vanity, evil intent, and vengeance. Finally, the narrative sheds light on the hatred and intolerance Hebrew people faced as a minority population in large empires.
The account features four main characters:
- King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I), king of Persia from 485 – 465 B.C.E.;
- the beautiful young Esther;
- Mordecai, the cousin and foster father of Esther;
- and the villain, Haman.
Esther was a Jewish virgin brought to the king’s palace to become part of his harem. After twelve months in the “women’s house,” Esther “obtained grace and favour” in the king’s sight and became queen. During this period, Mordecai advised Esther to be discreet about the fact that she was Jewish. (Esther 2:10) Esther was obedient, and suspense builds as Haman secretly plots “to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.” (Esther 3:6)
Esther’s courage and Mordecai’s faithfulness are rewarded in the end when the king has Haman, the vain and hateful enemy, put to death. One of the book’s messages is that the end result of doing evil (such as seeking revenge) is death.
Below are questions related to the Bible book of Esther which you can use to test your own understanding of the story or use with children when you teach them.
The setting for the story of Esther is the city of Shushan. Did this story take place during:
- the time of the Assyrian empire;
- the time of the Babylonian empire;
- the time of the Persian empire?
The story of Esther took place during the Persian Empire. Please name the city where it occurred. Esther 1:2
King Ahasuerus promoted Haman and “set his seat above all the princes that were with him.” Although the king commanded that people should bow and reverence Haman, Mordecai refused. Why do you think Mordecai refused to bow to Haman? Esther 3:2-4
How did Haman feel when he saw that Mordecai “bowed not, nor did him reverence”? Esther 3:5, 6
Since the time of the Exodus from Egypt, Jews followed the Ten Commandments given to them by God. Please recite the first and second Commandments found in Exodus 20.
Haman essentially bribed King Ahasuerus with ten thousand talents of silver to get his way. What did Haman want? Esther 3:9
Esther was loving and brave. Mordecai was wise and obedient to the Ten Commandments. Please name the individual in the Esther story who hated the Jews. Esther 9:1
The Jewish calendar had 12 months, just like our calendar today. However, their calendar was based on the lunar cycle. What was the name of the twelfth month? Esther 3:13
Purim, a Jewish holiday, is celebrated during Adar, the twelfth month of the Jewish calendar. Other Jewish holidays include Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Did Christ Jesus observe Jewish holidays? (Please see, for example: John 2:13; John 6:4; John 13:1) For more on “the feasts of the Lord,” please see chapter 23 of Leviticus and a Bible dictionary.
Why did Mordecai “put on sackcloth with ashes” and cry “with a loud and bitter cry”? Esther 4:1, 2
Many individuals during Bible times wore sackcloth to express sorrow. Jacob, King Hezekiah, Mordecai, the people of Nineveh, and various Hebrew prophets put on sackcloth. What is sackcloth?
[Answer: Sackcloth is “a coarse cloth, of a dark color, usually made of goat’s hair” according to The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible.]
Esther determined that she would approach the king, even though she knew it was against the law to do that without being called or invited. She bravely said: “if I perish, I perish.” What was Esther’s plan? Esther 5:1-8
Esther invited only two people to her banquets. Who were they? Esther 5:4-14
One night King Ahasuerus could not sleep. What did the king learn about Mordecai that night when the “book of records” was read to him? Esther 6:1, 2
Haman thought the king wanted to honor him instead of Mordecai. This revealed Haman’s self-centeredness and vanity. What eventually happens to Haman? Esther 7:10
In English Bibles, the book of Esther is among the twelve books categorized as books of history. The section begins with Joshua and ends with Esther. Please name these twelve books.
The shepherd David faced danger with confidence and resolution. Please cite some other people from Bible times who expressed moral courage.
Esther by Lisl Weil is a well-written Bible picture book. Published by Atheneum in 1980, the book straightforwardly presents the tale. The illustrations, also by Weil, remind me of some that I have seen in fairy tales.
I recommend this book to children aged 6 to 12. Reading the story with illustrations makes the story more understandable and more memorable. Although this book is out of print, it is available from used book sources such as www.amazon.com and www.abebooks.com .