THE LESSON BACKGROUND.
After Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the Jews were released from captivity by King Cyrus of Persia in 538 B.C. to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple (see Ezra 1:1-5). However, some of the Jews decided to remain in Persia (see Ezra 1:4) probably because they felt that they were treated well enough to remain there. But since they were Jews living in a pagan country, anything could happen to them including genocide. Among those who decided to stay in Persia were close relatives Mordecai and Esther (see Esther chapters 5-7). By the time these two Jews enter the scene in Persia, Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes I had become king of Persia and he ruled from 486-465 B.C. The circumstances involving Esther and Mordecai occurred in approximately 474 B.C. When Vashti, the previous queen was divorced by King Ahasuerus because she refused to come into his presence (see Esther 1:10-22), he held what we might call a beauty contest among the fairest young virgins in all the provinces so that the king could choose another wife (see Esther 2:1-4). Esther was among those young women, but no one knew that she was a Jew (see Esther 2:8-10). Hegai, the king’s chamberlain (they cared for the king’s harem), was pleased with Esther and she found favor with him (see Esther 2:8-9). When Esther’s turn came to present herself before the king, she found favor with him and he made her his queen (see Esther 2:15-20). At some point in time, because Mordecai saved the king from an assassination plot (see Esther 2:21-23), he also found favor with the king. When Haman, the king’s right hand man so to speak (see Esther 3:1), was promoted by the king, all the king’s princes and those who sat at the gate bowed down to Haman except for Mordecai. This infuriated Haman prompting him to devise a plan to get the king to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom especially Mordecai (see Esther 3:5-15). Unaware of what people Haman wanted to destroy, King Ahasuerus agreed to his request and a date was set for the Jews’ destruction (see Esther 3:7-15). When Mordecai heard about Haman’s scheme, he began to mourn and tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail. Then he stood outside the gate of the palace, because no one was allowed to enter wearing mourning clothes. And throughout all the provinces there was great mourning among the Jews, fasting, weeping, and despair at the king’s decree; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes (see Esther 4:1-3). When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was deeply distressed and sent clothing to him to replace the sackcloth, but he refused it. Then Esther sent for Hatach, one of the king’s eunuchs who had been appointed as her attendant, and told him to go out to Mordecai and find out what was bothering him and why he was acting the way he was (see Esther 4:4-5). Our lesson begins with verse 6.