In the book of Esther we learn how Esther, a Jewess, became
the wife of the Persian king, Ahasuerus (known to the Greeks
as Xerxes) and how she prevented a wholesale massacre of the
Jewish people. The events happened about 483BC in Ahasuerus'
capital city of Susa, also known as Shushan, when Persia ruled
most of the then-known world. There were many Jews in Susa,
and throughout Persia, who had not returned to Israel with
Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah.
There are three main sections:
King Ahasuerus rejected Queen Vashti and chose a new queen
whom he named Esther. Her cousin Mordecai who was also Jewish
had brought up Esther. On his instructions Esther did not
reveal her nationality to the King at that time. Haman was
a wicked Amalekite, of a tribe that had long opposed God and
His people Israel. He was jealous of Mordecai and made plans
to destroy him and all other Jews on a date decided by casting
'lots' (Purim). Haman did this by deceiving the King into
making a decree to that effect.
Mordecai persuaded Esther to plead with the King for her
people which she set about doing by first inviting the King
and Haman to a banquet. At a second banquet, Esther tells
the King of Haman's plot to massacre her people, the Jews.
The King orders Haman to be hanged on the gallows that he
had prepared for Mordecai.
The decrees of the Persian Kings could not be altered so
Ahasuerus sent a second decree throughout the land permitting
the Jews to defend themselves on the appointed day. The Jews
commemorate this deliverance each year in the Feast of Purim.
Esther's Hebrew name was Hadassah, which means 'myrtle'.
The myrtle is an evergreen produced only in rich, fertile
soil. Its berries contain oil that was used as a medicine.
The branches of the myrtle were used at the Feast of Booths
in Nehemiah's time (Nehemiah 8:15).