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Esther, book of

Contains the history that led to the institution of the Jewish Feast of Purim. The story belongs to the time of the Captivity. Ahasuerus, king of Persia (most probably Xerxes), had decided to divorce his queen Vashti because she refused to show her beauty to the people and the princes. Esther, adopted daughter of Mordecai the Jew, was chosen as her successor on account of her beauty. Haman, chief man at the king’s court, hated Mordecai and, having cast lots to find a suitable day, obtained a decree to put all Jews to death. Esther, at great personal risk, revealed her own nationality and obtained a reversal of the decree. It was decided that two days of feasting should be annually observed in honor of this deliverance. They were called Purim because of the lot (Pur) that Haman had cast for the destruction of the Jews.

The book contains no direct reference to God, but He is everywhere taken for granted, as the book infers a providential destiny (Esth. 4:13–16) and speaks of fasting for deliverance. There have been doubts at times as to whether it should be admitted to the canon of scripture. But the book has a religious value as containing a most striking illustration of God’s overruling providence in history and as exhibiting a very high type of courage, loyalty, and patriotism.