After deposing Queen Vashti, King Ahasuerus of Persia chose a Jewish girl named Esther to be his new queen. Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, offended Haman, a leader in the Persian kingdom, by not bowing to him. Haman received permission from the king to destroy all of the Jews in the kingdom. After fasting along with the Jews, Esther risked her life by approaching the king to intervene in the Jews’ behalf. She exposed Haman’s treachery and saved the Jews from their enemies.
Before class, write the following questions on the board: If you could have lived during any other time period in history, when would it have been and why? If you could have been born in any other place in the present, where would it have been and why?
Divide students into pairs. Invite one student in each partnership to respond to the first question on the board and the other student in each partnership to respond to the second question. Invite a few students to share their responses with the class. Then write the following question on the board: Why has the Lord sent me to the earth at this time and placed me in my circumstances?
Explain that the book of Esther relates the story of a young woman who was placed in a situation in which she had an opportunity to perform a great act of service for the Lord’s people.
To help students visualize when and where the events in the book of Esther took place, invite them to open to Bible Maps, no. 7, “The Persian Empire,” in the Bible appendix. Explain that Esther was born when the Jews were in captivity and exile. In Esther’s day, the Persian Empire controlled a large portion of the Middle East. Esther lived in Shushan, which was the capital of the Persian Empire.
Summarize Esther 1 by explaining that Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, became displeased with his queen, Vashti, and decided to replace her. In Esther 2 we read that the king sought a new queen from among the fair young women of the kingdom.
Assign students to work in pairs and read together the story of how Esther became queen of Persia from the following verses: Esther 2:5–11, 16–17. Invite a pair of students to summarize what they read and then ask:
According to verse 10, why didn’t the king know that Esther was a Jew? (Esther kept her identity as a Jew secret. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and the man who had raised her, had instructed Esther not to reveal that she was a Jew.)
Summarize Esther 2:21–23 by explaining that after Esther was made queen, Mordecai discovered a plot to assassinate the king and told Esther about it. As a result, the would-be assassins were caught and killed.
Invite several students to take turns reading aloud from Esther 3:1–2, 5–6, 8–13. Invite students to follow along and look for the problem that Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews faced.
What did Haman convince King Ahasuerus to approve?
If you had been a Jew living at this time and had received this news, what do you think you would have done in response?
Ask a student to read Esther 4:1–3 aloud. Invite students to follow along and look for the Jews’ reaction to this decree.
How did the Jews respond to the decree?
What do you think could be a possible solution to this problem?
Explain that Esther sent a messenger to Mordecai to find out what his concern was. Through this representative, Mordecai sent a message back to Esther. Invite students to read Esther 4:8 silently and look for what Mordecai asked Esther to do.
What did Mordecai ask Esther to do?
Explain that while Mordecai’s suggestion might sound easy for Esther to follow, it caused a problem for her. Invite a student to read Esther 4:11 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for Esther’s concern.
Why did Mordecai’s suggestion for Esther to go to the king concern her?
Explain that during this time kings were frequently in danger of assassination, so they surrounded themselves with guards and had harsh penalties for anyone who came uninvited into any room they were in. Esther would be risking her life if she went in to the king without having been called. Her life would be spared only if he held out his golden scepter to her.
If you had been Esther, what might you have concluded from the fact that the king had not asked to see you for 30 days?
Explain that when Mordecai received Esther’s response describing her concern, he sent her another message. Invite a student to read Esther 4:13–14 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what Mordecai told her. (You may need to explain that the phrase “holdest thy peace” means to not speak, and the word enlargement in verse 14 means relief [see footnote a].)
What do you think Mordecai meant when he told Esther that she might have come to the kingdom “for such a time as this” (verse 14)?
What truths can we learn from Mordecai’s suggestion about why Esther might have become queen? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but make sure it is clear that the Lord can place us in particular circumstances so we can help others.)
Invite students to briefly ponder the third question written on the board at the beginning of class.
Explain that like Esther, we have a responsibility to help other people in the various circumstances and situations we are in, even when we may feel hesitant to do so.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Ask students to listen for what the Lord expects of us:
“The Lord gave you your responsibilities for a reason. There may be people and hearts only you can reach and touch. Perhaps no one else could do it in quite the same way” (“Lift Where You Stand,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 56).
According to President Uchtdorf’s statement, what can each of us do in a unique way?
Write the following questions on the board, and invite students to respond to them in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:
Invite a few students to share their thoughts with the class.
Ask students to ponder whether they have ever worried that they may not be strong enough to do something that God wants them to do.
Explain that Esther sent another response to Mordecai through the palace messengers. Invite a student to read Esther 4:15–17 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for her decision.
What was courageous about Esther’s decision?
Why do you think Esther asked that all of the Jews in the city fast for three days before she went in to see the king?
What principle can we learn from Esther about preparing to do difficult things? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: If we fast and pray for the Lord’s help, He can bless us with spiritual strength to do difficult things.)
Encourage students to fast and pray for greater spiritual strength and courage to do difficult things in their lives. You may want to suggest that students also consider asking loved ones to join them in their fasting and prayers.
Ask students to read Esther 5:1 silently and try to imagine how Esther might have been feeling as she entered the king’s inner court. Invite students to share their thoughts with the class.
Why do you think Esther was willing to risk her life?
Invite a student to read Esther 5:2–3 aloud. Ask students to follow along, looking for what happened when the king saw Esther. Invite students to report what they find.
Explain that for the remaining chapters of Esther, students will read the account of Esther aloud in a way that resembles how it is read on the Jewish holiday of Purim (see Bible Dictionary, “Feasts”). As part of this celebration, the story of Esther is read aloud to children. When the name Mordecai is read, they all cheer. In contrast, when the name Haman is read, they all boo or show disapproval.
Write the following scripture passages on the board: Esther 5:9, 12–14 and Esther 7:1–6, 9–10. Invite two students to read these passages aloud at the appropriate times in the following script. Invite the class to follow along as the students read aloud. You can read the part of the narrator.
After this activity, ask:
What were the consequences of Esther acting courageously to save the Jews? What principles can we learn from the example of Queen Esther? (Students may identify a variety of principles, but be sure to emphasize that if we act courageously to do what is right, then our efforts can bless the lives of many people.)
When have you or someone you know acted courageously to do the right thing? How were others blessed because of this courageous action?
Conclude the lesson by inviting students to testify of truths they have learned from the account of Esther. Invite students to follow the example of Esther by acting courageously to choose the right in difficult situations and finding ways to serve others.