You are on page 1of 11

2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Old Testament
Week 27: After the Exile
Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther
1) Introduction.
a) [SLIDE 2] After existing for only 73 years, the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian
king Cyrus in 539 B.C. The Jews had been in captivity in Babylon since 586 (with some
being taken earlier, in 597).
b) In an attempt to curry favor with people captured by the Babylonians, Cyrus decreed
that captive peoples could return to their homelands. Some Jews quickly left for
Jerusalem; the majority remained in Persia.
c) The books in this lesson tell the stories of what happened to these two groups.
2) Ezra and Nehemiah.
a) [SLIDE 3] Background.
i) Ezra and Nehemiah form a single book in the Hebrew Bible.
1
These books continue
the history of the people of Israel that ended with the book of 2 Chronicles.
(1) 2 Chronicles ended with the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.
and a postscript (2 Chronicles 36:2223) describes the release of the Jews
under Persian king Cyrus in 538.
(a) Cyrus issued a proclamation known as The Kurash Prism, in which he
permitted people in exile in Babylonia to return to their homelands.
2

(2) The book of Ezra picks up right where 2 Chronicles left off. In fact, Ezra 1:12 is
almost exactly the same as 2 Chronicles 36:2223.
b) Date.
i) The books of Ezra and Nehemiah cover a period of roughly 100 years, from 539 to
432 B.C.
3

c) Theme and purpose of the books.
i) The books record the re-establishment of the exiles as the Lords people in Jerusalem
and Judea and their gradual development as they returned from Babylon.

1
There are several apocryphal additions to Ezra, the best-known of which is the Greek book known as 1 Esdras (Esdras is
the Greek translation of the Hebrew Ezra). 1 Esdras is virtually identical to Ezra, except for a passage in the middle of the book
that explains how Zerubbabel came to be chosen to lead his people back to Jerusalem. See 1 Esdras 3:15:3
(http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Esdras+3&version=NRSV).
2
The proclamation doesnt specifically mention the people of Judah, but it does mention several other groups who were in
exile in Babylon. The text of the Kurash Prism can be found at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/539cyrus1.html
3
There are some serious chronological problems in the text of Ezra. For example, chapter 4:5 and 4:24 describe the reign
of Darius I Hystaspes, who ruled Persia c. 522486 B.C. and in whose time the rebuilt temple was finished. The material in
between is from later times (4:16 describes the rebuilding of the walls, not the temple), and so appears to be a digression. Even
recognizing this, there are still questions, such as why Cambyses II (530522 B.C.) is not mentioned at all, and why events from
the time of Xerxes I (486465 B.C.) and Artaxerxes I (464424 B.C.) are included here if the author was discussing opposition
to the building of the temple, which was finished in 515 B.C. There are various theories to explain these difficulties, but they are
inconsequential to the point of the text: The Jews attempted to rebuild the temple, and the local non-Jewish inhabitants
attempted to get the Persian rulers to stop them.
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 2
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
ii) As the people repented, purified themselves and the Temple, and began again to live
the Law, the Lord made provision for them through the Persian rulers and enabled
them to rebuild Jerusalem.
iii) They also emphasize the historical and theological continuity between pre-exilic and
post-exilic Israel through covenant renewal,
4
the restoration of the Temple, the
installation of priesthood officers, and a renewed emphasis on living Gods Law.
(1) These same practices also created continuity between the Jewish and Christian
practices and the restored gospel in the latter days. No other major religion
outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has emphasized the
restoration of the Biblical concepts of revelation, the priesthood offices,
covenants, and the Temple.
(2) The Jews in Ezra and Nehemiahs time were attempting to restore the revealed
patterns of worship and organizationsomething we Latter-day Saints can
appreciate!
(3) [SLIDE 4 & 5] Compare Jerusalems size and layout between the time of Isaiah
(701 B.C.) and Nehemiah, after the walls had been rebuilt (432 B.C.).
d) [SLIDE 6] Outline.
i) Ezra 14 (538520 B.C.). These chapters document the return of the first group of
exiles, under the leadership of Zerubbabel
5
and Jeshua. They began rebuilding the
Temple, but were hindered through the oppression of the Samaritans. Cyrus the
Great was the King of Persia, and authorized the return and reconstruction project.
ii) Ezra 5 (520 B.C.). The prophets Zechariah and Haggai prophesied and encouraged
the completion of the Temple project. Darius I was king of Persia.
iii) Ezra 6 (515 B.C.). After 23 years of effort, the Jews ultimately succeeded in
rebuilding and dedicating the Temple, despite fierce opposition and delays. They
celebrated their first Passover in the new Temple during the sixth year of Darius
reign.
6

iv) There is a long chronological break in text at this point. During this time, the events
of the book of Esther took place, during the reign of King Xerxes I of Persia (486
465 B.C.).
v) Ezra 710 (458457 B.C.). The return of the second group of exiles, under the
leadership of the scribe and priest Ezra,
7
and with the permission of King
Artaxerxes I of Persia. After their arrival in the Jerusalem, they worshiped the Lord
and Ezra taught the people the law of God. He forbade foreign marriages, and the
people responded by repenting and divorcing their foreign wives.

4
This is especially clear in Nehemiah 810.
5
Zerubbabel was a descendant of David (1 Chronicles 3:1, 19). His name means the same in Hebrew and in Assyro-
Babylonian: offspring of Babylon. He was the secular leader of Judah, while Jeshua the high priest was the spiritual leader.
There is a great deal of debate over whether Zerubbabel was identical with Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah and leader of the
first great band of exiles returning to Jerusalem from Babylon (Ezra 1:8); see Emil G. Hirsch and J. F. McLaughlin,
Zerubbabel, The Jewish Encyclopedia, 66263 (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15251-zerubbabel).
6
Although no major changes were made to Solomons design, the rebuilt temple is sometimes called Zerubbabels Temple.
7
The Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 15a) identifies Ezra the Scribe as the chronicler of 1 and 2 Chronicles and Ezra-
Nehemiah (http://www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra/bababathra_15.html). Note the use of the first person in Ezra 7:27
9:15.
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 3
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
(1) Malachi prophesied shortly after this.
8

vi) Nehemiah 1:17:4 (445432 B.C.). Almost 100 years after Cyrus declared an end
to the captivity, a third group of exiles returned under Nehemiah. When Nehemiah
learned about the distress of the Jews in Jerusalem, he prayed to the Lord, obtained
permission from King Artaxerxes I to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and spurred on
the people in Jerusalem to accomplish the task in spite of opposition outside the city
and problems within the city. He succeeded in rebuilding Jerusalems city walls in
only 52 days.
vii) Nehemiah 7:513:31 (432 B.C.). With the walls of the capital city established,
Nehemiah restored the people to obedience to the Lord. He reestablished the city
guard, read and implemented the Law, and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles.
9
The
people repented and committed to obey the Law. Ten percent of the people moved
into Jerusalem, and the remainder lived in communities outside the wall.
e) [SLIDE 7] Ezra and Nehemiah and modern-day opposition to the work of God.
i) One way to read these two books is as a guide to dealing with opposition to building
the kingdom of God.
(1) The Jews were attempting to restore the Temple and the covenants and practices
they lost during the Exile. We are restoring the covenants and practices
(including the temple ordinances) that were lost during the great apostasy.
(2) After the initial success the Jews had in restoring the altar and sacrifices, they
encountered fierce opposition from the Samaritans.
10
After the initial successes in
bringing forth the Book of Mormon, restoring the priesthood, and organizing the
Church, we have experiencedand continue to experienceopposition from
those who do not believe as we do.
ii) Modern opposition.
(1) It used to be that exposure to anti-Mormon literature was infrequent because
typically you had to know someone who was critical of the Church: a family
member, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker.
(2) The Internet has radically changed this. People rely on online searches to find
information, and these search sites rank their results by popularity: The more
traffic a site receives, the higher it appears in the search listing.
(a) Google Mormon and several of the top search results will be to anti-
Mormon web sites.

8
Malachi did not date his prophecy, but it seems to reflect the period of the 5th century B.C., since it presumes a
functioning Temple and shares many of the concerns of Ezra and Nehemiah, including tithing (Nehemiah 10:3739; 13:1014;
Malachi 3:812) and mixed marriages (Ezra 910; Nehemiah 11:2327; Malachi 2:1012).
9
Sukkot, or the Feast of Booths, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei (between late
September and late October). The feast lasted seven days, during which observant Jews made a pilgrimage to the Temple
where they dwelled in booths or huts (Hebrew: sukkah). See Leviticus 23:3343. The theophany on the Mount of
Transfiguration took place during the Feast of Tabernacles, which explains Peters comment let us make here three
tabernacles; one for [Jesus], and one for Moses, and one for [Elijah] (Matthew 17:4). It seems likely that King Benjamins
sermon in the Book of Mormon was given during Tabernacles, for his people gathered to the temple and dwelt in tents (Mosiah
2:56), and the event concluded with a communal affirmation to live Gods law (Mosiah 5:25).
10
The Samaritans were the descendants of a mixture of Israelites and Assyrians. The Assyrians conquered the northern
kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and deported most of her people. The Assyrian policy had been to resettle the region (known as
Samaria) with peoples from other areas (see 2 Kings 17:2434). These immigrants acknowledged Jehovah as well as other
deities in some cases. The Jews who returned from the Exile regarded them with suspicion and were not hospitable to their
offer of help in rebuilding the Temple.
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 4
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
(b) Any member with access to the Internet, including youth and children, can
easily stumble onto web sites critical of the Church just by running an
innocent web search for ideas for a talk or a lesson.
(c) The attacks are increasingly coming from secular atheists who wish to tear
down all religions and religious beliefs.
(3) Since there is virtually nothing we can do to shut down these sites or prevent
youth, new members, and all the rest of us from running into this information,
its imperative that we arm ourselves intellectually and spiritually.
iii) Lets look at the opposition the Jews faced; are there things we can learn from their
experience that will help us deal with opposition in our day?
(1) Ezra 4:1116. When the Samaritans saw that the returning Jews were planning
to rebuild the temple and restore the walls around Jerusalem, they wrote letters
to the king of Persia, asking him to order the work to stop. The letters were full of
falsehoods that the Jews were planning to rebel. They managed to persuade the
king to decree that the Jews must stop the reconstruction effort. This put a halt to
the project for 15 years.
(a) What should we do when false things are published about us, our beliefs, or
our practices?
(i) Joseph Smith wrote under inspiration that we have an imperative duty
to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat; And all that are in
the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the libelous histories that
are published, and are writing, and by whom. Why should we do this?
12
For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and
denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the
truth because they know not where to find it
13
Therefore, that we
should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden
things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest
from heaven
14
These should then be attended to with great
earnestness.
15
Let no man count them as small things; for there is much
which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon
these things. (D&C 123:415.)
(ii) In other words, it is our duty to respond when we have been falsely
accused, so that we may protect members of the Church and potential
converts.
11

(2) Nehemiah 4:13. When the Samaritan leaders saw Nehemiah and his brethren
attempting to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, they mocked their efforts.
(a) Are we the objects of mocking today? How? And how should we respond?
(b) Back at the end of 2006, an opinion piece was published by the editor of a
major online news magazine. The writer was critical that Massachusetts
governor Mitt Romney was considering a run for the U.S. Presidency in 2008.
The author wrote, in part:

11
Elder Neal A. Maxwell referred to this as no more uncontested slam dunks
(http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1328&index=7).
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 5
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
I wouldnt vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of
Mormonism. The LDS church holds that Joseph Smith, directed by the angel
Moroni, unearthed a book of golden plates buried in a hillside in Western
New York in 1827. Smith was able to dictate his translation of the Book
of Mormon first by looking through diamond-encrusted decoder glasses and
then by burying his face in a hat with a brown rock at the bottom of it. He
was an obvious con man.
One may object that all religious beliefs are irrationalwhats the
difference between Smiths seer stone and the virgin birth or the parting
of the Red Sea? But Mormonism is different because it is based on such a
transparent and recent fraud.
12

(i) Notice that the writer didnt go after Romneys political policies and acts in
officethings that are fair game and should be examined. Instead, he
attacked Romneys intelligence by pointing out that hes a Mormon, and
certainly no smart person would fall for something as stupid as
Mormonism.
(c) When our cherished beliefs are distorted and ridiculed in this way, we have a
duty to respond, correct fallacies, and affirm our beliefs.
(3) Nehemiah 6:13. The Samaritans asked Nehemiah to come down from
working on the wall and talk to them. They wanted to do harm to himor at the
very least waste his time arguing with them rather than building.
(a) What should we do when were invited to debate or argue about our beliefs?
(b) [SLIDE 8] Elder Boyd K. Packer:
What should we do in the face of the opposition that now confronts us?
There is an answer in the Old Testament.
.
When [Nehemiahs] enemies saw that the [Jerusalem] wall was nearly up
and that it was strong, they became worried. Sanballat and Geshem invited
Nehemiah to meet with them in one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But
Nehemiah said, They thought to do me mischief. And I sent messengers
unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down:
why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? (6:2
3.) Their defense was simple and effective: We made our prayer unto our
God, and set a watch against them (4:9) and then went about the work.
And that is what we should dogo about our work, strengthen the wards
and the stakes, the quorums and the families and the individual members.
We have a work to do. Why should it cease while we do battle with our
enemies? Set a watch and make a prayer and go about the work of the
Lord.
13

(c) We should make our beliefs known, and respond when we are
misrepresented, but we shouldnt allow ourselves to be drawn into debates or
other distractions that waste our time and efforts.

12
Jacob Weisberg, Romneys Religion: A Mormon President? No Way, Slate, 20 December 2006
(http://www.slate.com/id/2155902).
13
Boyd K. Packer, Come, All Ye Sons of God, Ensign, August 1983, 6871 (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/08/come-
all-ye-sons-of-god).
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 6
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
(4) [SLIDE 9] A contemporary event not recorded in scripture: The
Samaritans built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, arguing that this was the real
location of the Israelite temple that had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.
(a) There are many groups, both formal and informal, who are made of up
disaffected or former Latter-day Saints. They believe that Mormonism is
something from which one must recover, just like a physically abused
spouse or sexually abused child must emotionally recover from abuse theyve
suffered.
14

(b) [SLIDE 10] Many of these groups use the Internet to support their cause and
attack the beliefs and practices of Latter-day Saints. Most of these web sites
have a number of characteristics in common:
(i) Writers go by nicknames and do not give out their real names.
(ii) They adopt an attitude of mocking and satire instead of thoughtful,
reasoned discourse. Particular focus is given to mocking temple
ordinances and other sacred things; these are easy targets that they know
will cause the most offense to the Saints. (See 1 Nephi 8:27; Ether 12:26.)
(iii) A collection of exit stories serve as sort of anti-testimonies. Many of
these experiences are eerily similar: I was shocked when I found out the
Church had lied to me about/hidden its history about X; When I asked a
question about X, I was told to just pray about it; disdain for friends and
relatives who wont also abandon their faith; stories of intolerance and
hatred by said friends and relatives; etc.
(iv) A sophomoric approach to Church history. Many anti-Mormon critics
claim to know more about difficult issues in Church history than most
Mormons themselves do, but the critics are not interested in the context,
depth, and complexity of history that real scholars rely on.
(v) A hyper-fundamentalist approach to Church doctrine. Mormon beliefs
are often explained in their most extreme variations, which makes it easier
to refute and/or mock them.
15

(vi) Almost always a rejection of God and organized religion. In my
experience, most people dont convert from Mormonism to another
religion; they embrace atheism and secular humanism.
(vii) Comparisons of the Church to other groups that are harmful or
unpopular. Mormons are lumped in with dangerous, subversive, and
violent religious organizations.
(viii) Accusations of brainwashing or programming that keep the
faithful from thinking for themselves. According to the narrative, all
Mormons think alike and unquestioningly obey their leaders.
16


14
In fact, the most popular ex-Mormon web site calls itself Recovery from Mormonism. Even a cursory glance at the
material on this site shows that there is precious little recovery taking place; instead, there is a great deal of anger, derision,
and contempt spewed toward the Church, its leaders, and its faithful members.
15
For example, an ex-Mormon critic may have been taught as a youth that the earth is only 6,000 years old. As an adult
critic of the Church, he then claimed that all Mormons believe this to be true, and those that dont are a tiny minority who
dont take the scriptures at face value. His singular experience therefore became what he thought was the norm for Mormon
belief.
16
Of course, any visit to a meeting of high priests or Relief Society sisters would dispel this myth!
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 7
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
(ix) Enthusiasticand anonymouscomments from readers of the blog
that encourage the behavior above. Internet anonymity has become a
shield behind which mockers can hide so they are not responsible for the
comments they make.
(5) How can we deal with these attacks when were exposed to them? And how can
we help others who are struggling to maintain their testimonies? Church leaders
have spoken out about this:
(a) [SLIDE 11] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
When facing the challenge of faith[or] in moments of fear or doubt or
troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground
is limited. When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution
of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already
know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. Jesus said, If
ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain,
Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be
impossible unto you (Matthew 17:20). The size of your faith or the degree
of your knowledge is not the issueit is the integrity you demonstrate
toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.
[SLIDE 12] When problems come and questions arise, do not start your
quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with
your unbelief. That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak! Let
me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do
not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. Sometimes
we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of
moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not! Be as
candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one
subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, dont let
those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.
.
[SLIDE 13] Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the
manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please
dont hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be
examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church,
what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in
this world, everyone is to walk by faith.
.
[SLIDE 14] Last observation: when doubt or difficulty come, do not be
afraid to ask for help. If we want it [humbly and honestly], we can get it.
The scriptures phrase such earnest desire as being of real intent, pursued
with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before
God (2 Nephi 31:13). I testify that in response to that kind of importuning,
God will send help from both sides of the veil to strengthen our belief.
17


17
Jeffrey R. Holland, Lord, I Believe, General Conference, April 2013 (https://www.lds.org/general-
conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe); emphasis in the original.
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 8
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
(b) [SLIDE 15] President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done
or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of
Church historyalong with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and
divine eventsthere have been some things said and done that could cause
people to question.
Sometimes questions arise because we simply dont have all the
information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is
eventually known, things that didnt make sense to us before will be
resolved to our satisfaction.
[SLIDE 16] Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the
facts really mean. A question that creates doubt in some can, after
careful investigation, build faith in others.
And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders
in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said
or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings.
God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through usHis
imperfect childrenand imperfect people make mistakes.
.
[SLIDE 17] To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I
say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become
better as a result.
Some might ask, But what about my doubts?
[SLIDE 18] Its natural to have questionsthe acorn of honest inquiry has
often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are
few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled
with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to
nurture and cultivate the seed of faitheven in the sometimes sandy soil of
doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but
which are true.
[SLIDE 19] Therefore, my dear brothers and sistersmy dear friends
please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never
allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace,
and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
18

iv) Because the Jews persevered, kept the commandments, and purified themselves,
they were successful in completing the reconstruction of the Temple and the city
walls. If we do likewise, we will be successful in building the kingdom of God.

18
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Come, Join with Us, General Conference, October 2013 (https://www.lds.org/general-
conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us); emphasis in the original.
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 9
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
3) Esther.
a) Introduction.
i) [SLIDE 20] Esther is the last of five books gathered together as a collection and
called Hamesh Megillot (The Five Scrolls). These booksThe Song of Songs
(Solomon), Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Estherare a sub-collection
within that part of the Old Testament called the Kethuvim (The Writings).
(1) These are books read at each of the Jewish religious feasts:
(a) The Song of Songs at Passover (a celebration of the angel of death passing
over the children of Israel in Egypt; approximately the same time as Easter
19
).
(b) Ruth at Pentecost (an agricultural festival held fifty days after Passover; in
May or June).
(c) Lamentations on the Ninth of Ab (commemorating the destruction of the
temple by Nebuchadnezzar; July or August).
(d) Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles (commemorating the Exodus by
building huts of branches and living in them for five days; usually in October).
(e) Esther at Purim (a celebration of Esther saving Israel from annihilation in
Babylon; in March or April).
(2) It seems significant that four of the five Jewish religious feasts have something to
do with destruction or exile. It says a lot about Jewish self-understanding that
they would put those events at the heart of their worship. Its possibly why they,
as a people, have managed to survive thousands of years of persecution.
ii) One of the most striking things about the book of Esther is that not once does it refer
to God, either by name or title, though it is clearly about how God saves his people.
20

Likewise, apart from fasting (4:16; 9:31), there is no mention of such basic themes as
prayer, the Law, the Temple, sacrifice, or covenants.
21

b) [SLIDE 21] Date, location, and characters.
i) Esther takes place in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire,
22
after the Babylonians
have been overthrown and some Jews have returned to Jerusalem.
ii) There are five main characters in this story
(1) King Ahasuerus, usually identified as Xerxes I (reigned 486465 B.C.).
23
Esther
begins in 484 B.C., during the third year of his reign (Esther 1:3).
(2) Queen Vashti, Ahasuerus wife.

19
The Jewish calendar follows a lunar cycle, so the dates of these holidays vary from year to year on the solar-based
Gregorian calendar.
20
In fact, in places the author seems to go out of his way not to mention God (e.g., Esther 4:14).
21
The possible reasons for these omissions have been discussed by scholars for 2,000 years without any consensus being
reached. The absence of these themes almost led to Esther being left out of the Jewish and Christian canon. Protestant
Reformer Martin Luther lamented that he wished the book did not exist at all. See Carey A. Moore, Esther, Book of, Anchor
Bible Dictionary, 2:63539.
The version of Esther in the Greek Septuagint contains six additional chapters, interspersed within the traditional text.
The extra chapters include several prayers to God, perhaps indicating that an ancient author it was felt that the lack of mention
of God was inappropriate in a holy book. Jerome recognized them as additions not present in the Hebrew Text and placed
them at the end of his Latin translation as chapters 10:416:24. Protestant Bibles include them separately in the Apocrypha.
22
The Persian capital moved from Pasargadae to Susa during the reign of Cambyses II (530522 B.C.).
23
For an explanation of the name of the king of Persia in Esther, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahasuerus
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 10
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
(3) Esther, a young Jewish woman.
24

(4) Mordecai, Esthers uncle and adopted father.
25
He appears to be a man of some
importance within the Jewish community at Susa.
26

(5) Haman, the highest official in the kings administration (something akin to his
prime minister).
c) Summary of the story.
i) Chapter 1. As a lavish display of his power, King Ahasuerus decided to display his
abundant wealth. He called Queen Vashti in order to show off her beauty to the
people. She refused to come and, on the counsel of his advisors, the king had her
stripped of her rank and banished from the kings presence. A new queen was
sought.
ii) Chapter 2. After sleeping his way through virtually every young woman in the
kingdom,
27
the king chose Esther to be his queen. Esther was a Jew, the niece and
adopted daughter of Mordecai, a fact she kept hidden from the king. When Mordecai
learned of an assassination plot against the king, he conveyed the information to
Esther, who warned the king. The plot was foiled, although Mordecai went
unrewarded.
iii) Chapter 3. Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman, the kings new chief official.
Haman was incensed and plotted to annihilate all the Jews in the kingdom.
iv) Chapter 4. Mordecai called on Esther to intercede with the king. The problem was
that the king did not know that Esther was a Jew. Esther had no idea of how the king
would respond to her request. Mordecai counseled her:
13b
Think not with thyself that thou shalt
escape in the king's house, more than all
the Jews.
14
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace
at this time, then shall there enlargement
and deliverance arise to the Jews from
another place; but thou and thy father's
house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth
whether thou art come to the kingdom for
such a time as this?
(KJV Esther 4:13b14.)
13b
Do not think that in the kings palace
you will escape any more than all the other
Jews.
14
For if you keep silence at such a
time as this, relief and deliverance will rise
for the Jews from another quarter, but you
and your fathers family will perish. Who
knows? Perhaps you have come to royal
dignity for just such a time as this.
(NRSV Esther 4:13b14.)
(1) This is the major point of the book of Esther: God sometimes places us in
situations where we can use our power to aid others. This isnt fate or destiny, but
rather an opportunity to prove if we will be true when it really matters.
(2) Esther eventually agreed to appeal to the king. Prior to this she asked Mordecai to
call a fast in the Jewish community on her behalf. She went to her task prepared
to accept the consequences. She declared, If I perish, I perish (4:16b).

24
Esthers name possibly derives from the Persian goddess Ishtar. Her Hebrew name, Hadassah (2:7), means myrtle;
the Median word astra also means myrtle, so that could be another source.
25
Mordecai is a pagan name based on the name of the Babylonian deity Marduk. Probably many Jews of the period had
two names, one for secular use and the other for use especially within the Jewish community (cf. Daniel 1:67). Mordecais
Jewish name is not found in the biblical text.
26
This is based on the fact that he sat at the gate of the palace (2:21). This was the typical location for elders of the city who
served as judges of civil suits and criminal complaints (Deuteronomy 21:19; 22:15, 24; 25:7).
27
Its really, really hard being king. The strains of royal leadership are sometimes almost overwhelming.
Hurricane Utah Adult Religion Class Old Testament: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther Week 27, Page 11
2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
v) Chapter 5. Esther approached the King and invited him and Haman to a banquet.
Meanwhile Hamans hatred for Mordecai was growing and on the advice of his
friends and wife he had a special execution platform prepared outside his house on
which he intended to impale Mordecai.
28

vi) Chapter 6. That night the king could not sleep,
29
so he asked for the record books to
be read aloud to him.
30
He learned that Mordecai was responsible for thwarting the
assassination plot, but never received any reward or recognition for his actions. The
king asked Haman what should be done to a man whom the king wants to honor.
Haman, in his arrogance, thought the king was referring to him and advised a lavish
display of wealth and honor to be bestowed on the man publicly. The king then
ordered Haman to do this for Mordecai.
(1) The story doesnt mention Hamans response to this, but he must have been
mortified. However, it does mention the ominous prophecy by Hamans wife that
thou shalt not prevail against [Mordecai], but shalt surely fall before him
(6:13b).
vii) Chapter 7. At another private banquet the following day, Esther revealed to the
king that she was a Jew and that Haman had plotted to kill her people. Haman threw
himself onto Esthers couch to plead for mercy. The king came into the room and
thought Haman is trying to rape her, so he had Haman executed on his own gallows.
viii) Chapters 810. All the Jews were saved, Mordecai was elevated to
Hamans position, Hamans estate was given to Esther, and Hamans children were
killed. The Jews avenged themselves of their enemies, and they memorialized their
salvation by celebrating the Feast of Purim from that day forward.
d) There are precious few stories in the scriptures about women. Esther stands out because
she was a woman not only of great beauty, but also of great moral courage. She used her
wisdom and insight to protect her people from destruction at the hands of a wicked
man.
i) At the same time, there are difficulties in the story. Hamans sons were executed for
his evil, and their corpses were left on display within the city. The Jews slaughtered
over 75,000 gentiles, not because they had done anything, but simply because they
hated the Jews (9:5).
31

(1) However, these points need to be considered in the context of their times, when
families were held guilty for the sins of the head of household,
32
and the right of
preemptive self-defense was accepted as normal and unquestionable.
4) [SLIDE 22] Next week:
a) Prophets of the return: Haggai; Zechariah; Malachi.

28
The words gallows, hanged, and tree used in the KJV (2:23; 5:14; 6:4; 7:910; 8:7; 9:1314, 25) communicate the
wrong idea. Offenders were not strangled by being hung from the neck by a rope; they were impaled on a stake driven into a
tree. In this sense they were hanged, in that their bodies hung from the spike imbedded in the tree.
29
This is the only part of the story where the hand of God is implied. The text doesnt come out and say it, but the
unspoken assumption is that God kept Ahasuerus from sleeping so that he would encounter the truth about Mordecai.
30
I suspect the king was operating under the belief that nothing will put you to sleep faster than having government
records read to you aloud.
31
LDS blogger Kaimi Wenger questioned the central message of the book, which he described as use sex to get power.
Wengers conclusion is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but he does point out the difficulty of using Esther as a role model for
modern LDS young women. Lessons on Sex and Morality, from the Book of Esther, Times and Seasons, 16 June 2004
(http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2004/06/lessons-on-sex-and-morality-from-the-book-of-esther).
32
This idea was rejected by the Lord in Ezekiel 18:20.