To my dear sister
faithful and beloved missionary
the great Southwest
IRAN, universally known among English-speaking people as Persia before March, 1935, and often referred to as such by a good many, is the country in which Esther was born and brought up. The Persians themselves never call their country anything but Iran. It is located in the heart of that part of the world to which we refer as the Middle East. For many years it had little or no political importance, but in recent years its affairs have occupied the headlines of our newspapers again and again.
Many people think of the country only as the source of Persian rugs, so well known both for their quality and their beauty. But it produces other things as well. It is with real sadness of heart that we refer to it as one of the world’s largest producers of opium. Its chief source of wealth is its oil. According to reliable geologists “the country fairly floats on oil.” But this, as we know, has also been the source of much of its trouble.
Biblically, Persia is also a very important country. In the second chapter of Daniel, often referred to as “the primer of prophecy,” we find this country, in association with Medea, taking its place as the second great world empire.
The Babylonian, of course, was first. Nebuchadnezzar was told by the prophet Daniel that he was “that head of gold.” But the capture of the city of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian in the days of Belshazzar marked the end of that empire. It was succeeded by the Medo-Persian Empire, represented in the image or colossus of the second chapter of Daniel, as the breast and arms of silver. In his interpretation of this, Daniel speaks of it as an inferior kingdom (Daniel 2:39). It was inferior in that it was not an absolute monarchy like the Babylonian Empire. It is said of Nebuchadnezzar that “whom he would he slew . . . and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down” (Daniel 5:19). Such was evidently not the case with the Persian monarch. Before deposing Vashti, for example, we find that he consults with the nobles (Esther 1:13 ff.).
In Daniel 7:5 this same kingdom is said to be “like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.” From this we may gather that this empire was both powerful and rapacious. We find this same kingdom mentioned again in Daniel 8:3 where it is described as “a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.” To this the prophet adds, “I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great.”
Such was the state of the Persian Empire in the days of Esther. We shall see as we proceed with our study that it was enjoying a period of great prosperity. At least there was a show of great prosperity. And doubtless there were many who thought that this would go on indefinitely, little realizing how soon all might be taken from them. From our “primer of prophecy” we know that it was to be overcome by the Greeks just as the Babylonian had been overthrown by the Medes and the Persians. How true it is that “the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18)!
It has been noticed by all who have made a study of the Book of Esther that the name of God is never mentioned in it. Nevertheless, as we read we are persuaded that “behind the dim unknown, standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.” It has been well said that “no disbeliever in God could have written it; and no believer in God can read it without finding his faith strengthened thereby” (Pulpit Commentary). We are not told who actually wrote the book. But the fact that it is anonymous does not make it less authoritative and canonical than those books of the Bible which were autographed. For example, we do not know absolutely, who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, but it is accepted as a part of the inspired Word of God. And the same is true of other books in the Bible.
The Book of Esther gives us a segment of the history of the Jews which is not supplied elsewhere in the Bible. For instance, it is here that we learn about the origin of the Feast of Purim which, as we all know, is celebrated by the Jewish people to this very day. But what concerns the Christian reader even more than these things are the great moral lessons which may be learned from this book. We may be sure that “all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (I Corinthians 10:11). “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:14). With such words of encouragement before us let us proceed with our study, ever counting upon the blessed Spirit of God to guide us into all truth (John 16:13).