The Persian emperor Cyrus respected God and provided for any Jews who wanted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the ruined temple. He sent back all the gold and silver temple bowls and utensils. So they arrived, started regular worship and started to build the temple and, despite opposition, completed it. Some years later, emperor Artaxerxes sent the theologian Ezra to inspect it and make offerings there. He discovered many of the men had taken heathen wives and were following their ways. He made them divorce these wives and send them away with their children.
Quotes from Ezra
|10:3||Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away (divorce) all the (foreign) wives, and such as are born of them, according to the counsel of my lord.|
The emperor Artaxerxes sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem as governor with help to rebuild and fortify it. While he was there, he corrected the people for oppressing each other with extortion. Poverty was so bad he fed 150 people every day. In addition there were threats of invasion from neighbouring cities. However, it was all eventually completed. Nehemiah and Ezra had to correct the people: they must provide for temple worship and keep the Sabbath. They also had to stop taking heathen wives.
Quotes from Nehemiah
|8:9-10||"This day is holy to the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy to our Lord: neither be sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”|
Set during the exile of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire.
The party and the insult
The emperor Artaxerxes gave a party lasting six months for all the important people in his empire, from India to Sudan. Then he invited the whole city for a week long party. He summoned Queen Vashti to show off her beauty to everyone, but she refused and was deposed. A new queen had to be found.
The new queen
Thousands of young women were brought from all over the empire. They were given beauty treatments for a year before spending their first night with the king. When Esther's turn came, the king took a liking to her and crowned her as his queen. Esther kept quiet about being Jewish. Just after this, her relative Mordecai saved the king from an assassination plot.
The decree against the Jews
Some time later, Haman became prime minister. He developed a hatred for Mordecai because he wouldn't bow to him, and schemed to kill every Jew in the empire. He told the king that they disregarded his laws and were dangerous: they should be killed and their money put into the treasury. He obtained a decree that on a certain day all Jews must be killed and their goods seized.
Queen Esther's invitation
Esther heard of this but was afraid: anyone approaching the king without being summoned was executed unless he held out the sceptre to them, and she had not been summoned for a month. She prayed and abstained from food and drink for three days before going to the throne room1. The king received her and she invited him and Haman to a banquet that evening. At the banquet, she extended a similar invitation for the following evening.
1It was against the law to appear before the king fasting or with a sad face.
Later that night, Haman set up a high gallows ready for Mordecai, then went to the palace to get a death warrant.
Artaxerxes gets Haman's advice
In the night, the king remembered Mordecai saving his life. He asked Haman, who had just arrived, what to do for someone he wished to honour. Haman, thinking the king meant him, invented all sorts of fancy things. Then the king made Haman perform these honours publicly for Mordecai. Haman's family told him it was a bad sign.
The second banquet
While Haman was still embarrassed, he went to Esther's second banquet with the king. Esther told the king that her people were about to be exterminated and that Haman was responsible. Furious, the king went for a walk. Haman had just thrown himself on Esther's couch to beg for mercy when the king returned and thought he was trying to rape her. The attendants told the king about Haman's gallows and he ordered Haman to be hanged on them.
A new decree
Artaxerxes made Mordecai prime minister. He couldn't revoke the previous decree but made another commanding the Jews to fight back and annihilate anyone who attacked them. This they did, and were helped by many powerful people, and in fact many people became Jews. However, they did not loot, although they were allowed to. A second day was decreed also: thus the Jews' enemies were shamed and destroyed.
The Festival of Purim
To mark the prevention of the genocide, Mordecai instituted Purim, an annual two-day festival of parties and food gifts to each other and the poor. Jewish people everywhere still celebrate Purim in Esther's honour.
Quotes from Esther
|4:13-14||Mordecai said, "Think not with yourself that you shall escape in the king's house more than all the Jews. For if you altogether hold your peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house shall be destroyed: and who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”|
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