The story of Esther is set in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire. Verse 1 tells us that the Persian Empire extended from India to Cush (Ethiopia), over 127 provinces. That made it the largest and most powerful empire in the world and King Xerxes, who ruled over the empire, the most powerful man in the world at that time.
Many years before Esther’s story begins, the Jews experienced civil war, and the Jewish nation was divided into two kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Most of the kings of Israel and Judah didn’t walk with God consistently, so God judged them because of their unfaithfulness. First, Israel was attacked by Assyria and captured. Then, over 100 years later, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah, deported the King to Babylon, and removed the temple treasures – we read about this in 2 Kings 24. Eleven years later Nebuchadnezzar returned, destroying Jerusalem and taking most of the Jews into captivity.
It could have seemed to the Jews, and to the surrounding nations, that God had finally deserted them. But although invisible, He was active, ordering the events of history in such a way as to preserve His people and keep them from being completely destroyed by the Babylonians.
In 539 BC, Babylon fell into the hands of the Medo-Persians, and around 486 BC, 100 years after the fall of Jerusalem, Xerxes became king of the vast Persian Empire.
The book of Esther records a small piece of history, spanning ten years, of the life of the Jews living in exile in Persia. It may have seemed to the exiled Jews that God had completely turned His back on them and was no longer working to deliver and save them from their enemies. But as the story of Esther unfolds, we will see that God is always working for His people’s good; He is never inactive.
Maybe you’ve experienced devastating blows in the past that you’ve not yet recovered from. Maybe fears about the future overwhelm you. Perhaps you’re currently experiencing trials that threaten to pull you under a rising tide of despair and doubt. In the midst of such desperation, God is there. The book of Esther shows us that He doesn’t stand by passively, watching His people suffer, but He is actively working to bring about their deliverance.
What issues and cultural trends do we face in contemporary society that might cause us to doubt God’s concern for His people? What truths about God’s character can we call to mind in times of doubt or uncertainty?