Christy

The Book of Esther Explained with Illustrations by The Bible Project

There are only two books of the Bible named after the women whose life story they describe: Ruth and Esther. Women tend to like these biographies of female role models in the Bible. Esther was a Jewish girl who became the Queen of Persia. She demonstrated poise and courage in some difficult situations. This video will help us  we review her biography, as the Bible explains it.

 

 

 

 

Download a Free Digital Copy of the Poster from the Video

These illustrated charts are so helpful, I encourage you to download a copy for personal study. It’s free! Courtesy of The Bible Project.

[button link=”https://thebibleproject.com/product/esther-poster/” color=”purple” newwindow=”yes”] Esther Poster[/button]

 

 

Video Transcript

0:03
The book of Esther. It’s one of the more exciting and curious books in the Bible.
0:07
The story is set over 100 years after the Babylonian exile of the Israelites from their land.
0:13
And while some Jews did return to Jerusalem, remember Ezra and Nehemiah, many did not.
0:19
And so the book of Esther is about a Jewish community living in Susa,
0:22
the capital city of the ancient Persian Empire.
0:25
The main characters in the story are two Jews,
0:28
Mordecai and then his niece Esther.
0:30
And then there’s the king of Persia who’s something of a drunken pushover in this story.
0:35
And then there’s the Persian official Haman, the cunning villain.
0:39
Now this is a curious book in the Bible mainly for the fact that God is never even mentioned, not once,
0:45
which might strike you as kind of odd. I mean isn’t the Bible about God.
0:49
But this is a brilliant technique by the author, who’s anonymous by the way.
0:53
It’s an invitation to read this story looking for God’s activity,
0:58
and there are signs of it everywhere.
1:00
The story is full of very odd quote “coincidences” and ironic reversals,
1:05
and it all forces you to see God’s purpose at work but behind the scenes.
1:10
Let’s just dive into the story.
1:12
The book opens with the king of Persia throwing two elaborate banquet feasts that last a total of 187 days.
1:19
And it’s all for the grandiose purpose of displaying his greatness and splendor.
1:23
On the last day of the banquet feast, he’s really drunk
1:26
and he demands that his wife Queen Vashti appear at the party to show off her beauty.
1:31
She refuses and so in a drunken rage the King deposes Vashti
1:36
and makes the silly decree that all Persian men should now be the masters of their own homes.
1:42
Then he holds a beauty pageant because he wants to to find a new queen. This is like a really bad soap opera.
1:47
But it’s right here that we’re introduced to Esther and Mordecai.
1:50
Esther hides her Jewish identity and enters the beauty pageant – and wins!
1:55
And the king is so obsessed with Esther that he elevates her to become the new queen of Persia.
2:00
Now after this, and even more serendipitous,
2:03
is the fact that Mordecai just happens to overhear two Royal Guards plotting to murder the king.
2:09
And so he informs Esther, who in turn informs the king and Mordecai gets credit for saving the king’s life.
2:16
Now right here, from the beginning, God’s not mentioned anywhere,
2:20
but this all seems providentially ordered.
2:22
What is it that God’s up to? You have to keep reading.
2:25
We’re next introduced to Haman who’s not actually a Persian, he’s called an Agagite.
2:30
He’s a descendant of the ancient Canaanites (remember 1st Samuel chapter 15).
2:36
The king elevates Haman to the highest position in the kingdom
2:39
and he demands that everybody kneel before Haman.
2:42
Well when Mordecai sees Haman, he refuses to kneel,
2:46
which of course fills Haman with rage, and when he finds out that Mordecai’s
2:48
And when he finds out that Mordecai’s Jewish, Haman successfully persuades the king
2:53
to enact this crazy decree to destroy all of the Jewish people.
2:58
And to decide the date of the Jews’ annihilation, Haman rolls the dice.
3:03
A die is called “Pur” in Hebrew. Tuck that away for later.
3:06
Eleven months later, on the thirteenth of Adar, all the Jews will die.
3:11
Haman and the king then have a drinking banquet to celebrate their really horrible decision.
3:17
So the focus now turns to Mordecai and Esther who are the only hope for the Jewish people.
3:22
They make a plan that Esther’s going to reveal her Jewish identity to the king
3:27
and ask him to reverse the decree.
3:29
But approaching the king without a royal request is, according to Persian law, an act worthy of death.
3:37
So in a key statement, Mordecai, he’s confident that even if Esther remains silent
3:42
that deliverance for the Jews will arrive from another place.
3:45
And then Mordecai wonders aloud, he says “who knows “maybe you become queen for this very moment”.
3:52
Esther responds with bravery and she purposes to go to the king with her amazing words
3:57
“If I perish, I perish.”
4:00
Then in what unfolds we watch the ironic reversal of all of Haman’s evil plans.
4:06
So Esther hosts the king and Haman at a first banquet
4:09
and she says she wants to make a special request of both of them
4:13
at an exclusive banquet the following day.
4:15
So Haman leaves the banquet totally drunk and he sees Mordecai in the street.
4:20
He fumes with anger.
4:22
And he orders that a tall stake be built so that Mordecai can be impaled upon it in the morning.
4:28
It seems like things can’t get any worse for the Jews and for Mordecai.
4:32
But all of a sudden the story pivots.
4:35
It just so happens that night the king, he can’t sleep.
4:39
And he has the royal chronicles read to him for good bedtime reading.
4:42
And he just happens to hear about how Mordecai had saved the king’s life.
4:47
He had totally forgotten.
4:48
So in the morning, Haman enters to request Mordecai’s execution
4:53
and the king in that moment orders Haman to honor Mordecai publicly for saving his life.
4:59
So now Haman has to lead Mordecai around the city on a royal horse telling everyone to praise him.
5:04
Now this moment in the story, it’s a pivot for the whole book.
5:09
It’s Haman’s downfall and Mordecai’s rise to power.
5:12
Watch how this works.
5:13
The day after is Esther’s 2nd banquet.
5:16
So the king and Haman arrive.
5:18
And Esther informs the king that first of all she’s Jewish
5:21
And second that Haman has enacted a decree to murder her,
5:25
and to murder Mordecai, who saved his life, and to murder all of the Jews.
5:29
Now the king’s had a lot to drink, so when he hears this news he goes into yet one more drunken rage.
5:35
And he orders that Haman be impaled on the very stake he made for Mordecai.
5:40
It’s ironic and a grizzly way for Haman to go.
5:43
Haman’s execution however, doesn’t solve the problem of the decree to kill all of the Jews.
5:49
So the focus now turns to Esther and Mordecai as they make a plan to reverse the decree.
5:54
They discover that the King can’t revoke a decree that he’s already made.
5:58
So instead the king commissions Mordecai to issue a counter decree.
6:01
On the appointed day that all of the Jews were supposed to be killed, the 13th of Adar,
6:06
now the Jews are ordered to defend themselves and to destroy any who plotted to kill them.
6:12
Then Mordecai, Esther, and Jews everywhere hold banquets and feasts to celebrate this new decree.
6:17
And Mordecai is elevated to a seat beside the king.
6:20
Eventually the decree day comes. And the Jews triumph over their enemies.
6:26
First, they destroy Haman’s family and then any other Persian officials who had joined in Haman’s plot.
6:31
And then on a second day, they get permission to destroy any who plotted against them
6:36
throughout the entire kingdom.
6:37
This results in joy and celebration as the Jews are rescued from annihilation.
6:42
The story then tells about how Esther and Mordecai established by decree
6:46
this annual two-day feast of Purim to commemorate their deliverance from destruction.
6:51
And the name of the feast comes from Haman’s dice, remember “pur-im”.
6:56
The book concludes with a short epilogue as Mordecai is elevated to second in command in the kingdom.
7:01
And we are told now with his royal greatness and splendor, as the Jews thrive in exile.
7:07
Now step back.
7:08
Notice how this whole story has been designed.
7:11
The story was full of moments of ironic reversal.
7:14
But we can now see the whole story is structured as ironic reversal.
7:19
Right down to the details.
7:20
So the King’s splendor and feasts and decrees
7:23
are mirrored by Mordecai’s splendor and feasts and decrees at the end.
7:26
Esther and Mordecai, they first save the king
7:29
but now in the end they save all of the Jews.
7:32
Then you have Haman’s elevation and edicts and banquet
7:35
that gets reversed by Mordecai’s elevation and edict and banquet.
7:40
And then at the center, you have Esther and Mordecai’s planning scenes and then Esther’s two banquets
7:45
that act as a frame around the greatest moment of reversal in the whole story:
7:50
Haman’s humiliation and Mordecai’s exaltation. Beautiful.
7:55
Another fascinating feature of this book, is the moral ambiguity of the characters.
7:58
There’s a lot of drinking and anger and sex and murder, of which Mordecai and Esther are a part.
8:04
Not to mention their violation of many commands in the Torah, like marrying Gentiles or eating impure foods.
8:10
And so the story’s not putting Mordecai and Esther forward as moral example,
8:16
as if it endorses all of their behavior.
8:18
But they are put forward as models of trust and hope when things get really bad.
8:22
And so the book of Esther comes back to that question with which we begin:
8:26
Why God is not mentioned?
8:28
The message of this books seems to be that
8:30
when God seems absent, when His people are in exile, when they’re unfaithful to the Torah
8:36
does this mean that God is done with Israel? Has God abandoned His promises?
8:40
And the book of Esther says, no.
8:42
It invites us to see that God can and does work in the real mess and moral ambiguity of human history.
8:50
and He uses the faithfulness of even morally compromised people to accomplish His purposes.
8:56
And so the book of Esther asks us to be willing
8:58
to trust God’s providence even when we can’t see it working.
9:02
And to hope that no matter how bad things get, God is committed to redeeming His world.
9:08
And that’s what the book of Esther is all about.
Christy

The Book of Ruth Explained with Illustrations by The Bible Project

The Book of Ruth begins with tragedy and death. After losing her husband and both sons in a foreign land during a famine, Naomi changes her name to Mara, meaning “bitterness.” She feels God has taken everything away from her and her life is miserable now. While it looked like God was punishing her, it becomes clear that God is setting up the circumstances by which He could bless her. As her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, cares for her, finds provision, and discovers the love of a benefactor, Naomi comes to realize God has turned her tragedy into joy. Watch this video by The Bible Project to learn more about the biography of Ruth.

 

 

 

 

Download a Free Digital Copy of the Poster from the Video

These illustrated charts are so helpful, I encourage you to download a copy for personal study. It’s free! Courtesy of The Bible Project.

[button link=”https://thebibleproject.com/product/ruth-poster/” color=”purple” newwindow=”yes”] Ruth Poster[/button]

 

 

Video Transcript

0:02
The book of Ruth.
0:03
It’s a brilliant work of theological art and it invites us to reflect on the question of
0:09
how God is involved in the day-to-day joys and hardships of our lives.
0:14
There are three main characters in the book:
0:16
Naomi, the widow, Ruth, the Moabite and Boaz, the Israelite farmer.
0:21
And their story is told in four chapters that are beautifully designed.
0:25
Let’s just dive in and see how this all unfolds. Chapter one opens with this line: “In the days when the judges
0:32
ruled.” And it reminds us of the very dark and difficult days from the book of
0:36
Judges. And here we meet an Israelite family in Bethlehem struggling to
0:41
survive through a famine. And so, in search of food, they move on to the land
0:45
of Moab, Israel’s ancient enemy. And there, the father of the family dies and the
0:51
sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. And then the sons, they die too and so
0:57
they leave only Naomi and these new daughters-in-law. And so Naomi, she has no
1:02
reason to stay anymore. And so she tells her new daughters-in-law that she’s
1:06
moving back home. And Naomi, she knows that the life of an unmarried foreign
1:11
widow in Israel is going to be very hard. So she compels the women to stay behind.
1:16
Orpah agrees but Ruth does not. She shows remarkable loyalty to Naomi and she says,
1:23
“Wherever you go, I’m going to go. Your people will become my people and your God will
1:29
become my God.” And so the two of them return to Israel together and the chapter
1:34
concludes with Naomi changing her name
1:37
to Mara, which means “bitter” in Hebrew, and she laments her tragic fate. Chapter
1:42
two begins with Naomi and Ruth discussing where they’re going to find
1:46
food and it just so happens to be the beginning of the barley harvest. And so
1:51
Ruth goes out to look for food and it just so happens that she ends up
1:54
picking grain in the field of a man named Boaz, who just so happens to be
1:59
Naomi’s relative. We’re told that Boaz is a man of noble character and
2:04
he notices her. So after finding out more about her story, he shows remarkable
2:09
generosity to her. He makes these special provisions so that the immigrant Ruth
2:14
can gather grain in his field. And in doing so
2:17
Boaz is actually obeying an explicit command in the Torah to show generosity
2:21
to the immigrant and the poor. Boaz is so impressed by Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi,
2:27
he prays for her that God will reward her for her boldness. So Ruth comes home
2:32
that day and Naomi finds out that she met Boaz and she is thrilled. She says
2:39
Boaz is their family Redeemer. Now this “family redeemer” thing, this was a
2:44
cultural practice in Israel where if a man in the family died and he left
2:48
behind a wife or children or land, it was the family Redeemer’s responsibility to
2:52
marry that widow, to take up the land and protect that family. So Naomi, she
2:57
begins to hope that perhaps there might still be a future for her family.
3:02
Chapter 3 begins with Naomi and Ruth making a plan to get Boaz to notice
3:07
their situation. So Ruth is going to stop wearing clothes of a grieving
3:11
widow and she’s going to show signs that she is available to be married. And so
3:15
Ruth goes to meet Boaz on the farm that night and as she approaches, Boaz wakes
3:20
up. And he’s totally startled. And Ruth makes her intentions very clear. She asks
3:25
if Boaz will redeem Naomi’s family and marry her.
3:29
Boaz is once again amazed by Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi and her family and he calls
3:34
Ruth a woman of noble character. It’s the same term used to describe the woman in
3:40
Proverbs 31. So Boaz tells Ruth to wait until the next day and he will
3:45
redeem both Ruth and Naomi legally before the town elders. And so the
3:49
chapter ends with Ruth returning to Naomi and they marvel together at all of
3:54
these recent events. In chapter four it all comes together. It turns out, at the
3:58
last minute,
3:59
Boaz discovers there is a family member who’s closer to Naomi than he is and
4:04
he’s actually eligible before him to redeem the family. But at the last second
4:09
this family member finds out that he’s going to have to marry Ruth the Moabite.
4:13
And so he declines. But Boaz, remember, he knows Ruth’s true character, and so he
4:18
acquires the family property of Naomi and he marries Ruth. And so just as at the
4:24
beginning, how Ruth was loyal to Naomi’s family, so now Boaz is loyal to Naomi’s
4:30
family as well.
4:31
The story concludes with a reversal of all of the tragedies from chapter one. So
4:36
the death of the husband and the sons is reversed as Ruth is married again and
4:41
gives birth to a new son, granting joy to Naomi. And this symmetry between the opening and
4:47
the closing, its even more remarkable.
4:49
So, remember the opening tragedy was followed by a great act of loyalty on the
4:53
part of Ruth and that is now matched by Boaz’s act of loyalty that leads to the
4:59
family’s final restoration. And this symmetry, it highlights the design of the
5:04
internal chapters as well.
5:06
Each of the chapters begins with Naomi and Ruth making a plan for the future.
5:10
And that’s followed by a providential meeting between Ruth and Boaz. And each
5:15
chapter concludes with Naomi and Ruth rejoicing at what’s taken place. This
5:21
story is beautifully designed and that design actually connects with the really
5:25
interesting feature of the story and that’s how little God is mentioned. The
5:30
characters talk about God a few times but the narrator actually never once
5:35
mentions God doing anything directly in the story and that its brilliance–
5:41
because God’s providence is at work behind every scene of the story, weaving
5:46
together the circumstances and choices of all these characters. So Naomi, her
5:50
tragedy leads her to think that God is punishing her but actually the whole
5:54
story is about God’s mission to restore her and her family. And he’s doing so
5:59
through Ruth, through her boldness and loyalty, which brings healing to Naomi’s life. But
6:05
not without Boaz, who’s a no-nonsense farmer who’s full of generosity and
6:10
loyalty. And so God uses his integrity combined with Ruth’s boldness to save
6:15
Naomi and
6:16
her family. So this story brilliantly explores the interplay of God’s purposes
6:22
and will with human decision and will. God weaves together the faithful
6:27
obedience of his people to bring about his redemptive purposes in the world. And
6:32
that leads to the real end of the story. The Book of Ruth concludes with the
6:36
genealogy showing how Boaz and Ruth’s son, Obed, was the grandfather of King
6:42
David, from whom came the lineage of the Messiah. And so all of a sudden these
6:48
seemingly mundane, ordinary events in the story are woven into God’s grand story
6:54
of redemption for the whole world. And so the book of Ruth invites us to consider
7:00
how God might be at work in the very ordinary, mundane details of our lives as
7:07
well. And that’s what the book of Ruth is all about.