Study Guide

Book of Esther Themes

  • Family

    In Esther, families need to stick together. Esther and Mordecai are a good example of this—they aid one another and their kin. Haman's family, on the other hand, is less cohesive. His wife gives him stupid advice like "Build a super-huge gallows" and then tells him to give up for dead when things don't really go his way. In the end, all of Haman's family ends up getting killed too. But the good family bond between Esther and Mordecai helps sustain things.

    Also, there's King Ahasuerus—a pretty bad example of a family man until Esther arrives on the scene. He tries to show Queen Vashti off to his subjects like a shiny new car. That's pretty tacky stuff, right there. But after he picks Esther as his queen, we can assume he's on his way to being less of a doofus.

    Questions About Family

    1. What kind of family bond do Esther and Mordecai have? What's the nature of the love between them?
    2. How do Haman's family members relate to him? Even though Haman's the bad guy, is there evidence of any love there?
    3. What kind of dad do you think King Ahasuerus would make?
    4. What about Mordecai—what kind of dad would he be?
  • Hate

    The biggest hater in the story is Haman. He's like the honorary president of Haterz R Us (ooo, cold burn). He hates Mordecai for not bowing down to him and, consequently, ends up hating and trying to kill all the Jews. Where's the love, Haman? The answer seems to be "Nowhere."

    King Ahasuerus might be infected with hate too, or he might just be indifferent to hatred. Whatever the case, he doesn't do anything to prevent Haman's wicked plan at first. In fact, he totally signs off on it and thinks it's pretty great. He and Haman sit down to have a drink after sealing the deal on their genocidal scheme. But at the end of the day, the Book of Esther shows that hatred and the gigantic killing devices it builds (like Haman's gallows) will be defeated, reversed in fact.

    Questions About Hate

    1. Is King Ahasuerus a hater? Why does he go along with this evil genocidal plan? Is he just not very bright or is it something more sinister? What gets him to be less of a hater? Does he really become less of a hater?
    2. What are the roots of Haman's hatred? Is he just naturally full of hate or does it all start somewhere?
    3. How do Ahasuerus and Haman compare with present day haters like the Ku Klux Klan or Neo-Nazis? Are there similarities? Differences?
    4. Do Esther and Mordecai hate anyone? Or are they bigger than that? How do you know?
  • Marriage

    The Book of Esther begins with a bunk marriage—the marriage between King Ahasuerus and Queen Vashti—and later involves a different one, when Esther becomes the new queen. That second marriage is a tough one to riddle out. What, after, all is the nature of the union between Esther and Ahasuerus? They don't necessarily seem to spend much time together, aside from their first night and a couple of banquets…

    And then there's the question of Haman's marriage. That's a bag of worms we won't attempt to sort out at length, but it's interesting. Haman and his wife might be either a pair of monsters who are perfect for each other, or they might be two self-interested people who really don't care about each other, but are working towards the same power-play.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. What went wrong with Ahasuerus's first marriage? Can you speculate what the problems would've been (including but beyond trying to show his wife off in public)?
    2. Do Esther and King Ahasuerus have a loving marriage? How is their marriage different from your typical marriage today?
    3. What about Haman's marriage? Do we get any sense of what the bond is between him and his wife? How do they get along? What holds them together?
    4. How do you think Esther and King Ahasuerus got along after she foiled Haman's plan? (Feel free to speculate wildly.)
  • Manipulation

    There's plenty of manipulation afoot in Esther. In a negative way, Haman manipulates the king into approving genocide (though, that sort of stretches the definition of manipulation since he essentially just asks the king point-blank if he can do it). And in a positive way, Esther manipulates the king and gets him to throw two banquets, which she uses to convince him to end the plot to kill Mordecai. So, there's a little manipulation here, a little there—and it all comes out well in the end.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. To what extent does Haman manipulate King Ahasuerus, and to what extent is Ahasuerus just a bad guy who jumps on the opportunity for genocide like it's nothing?
    2. Conversely, to what extent does Esther manipulate the king? Is she pretty sincere in her dealings overall?
    3. Why doesn't Esther request King Ahasuerus to kill Haman at the first banquet? What's the point of waiting through two banquets?
    4. Is King Ahasuerus unusually easy to manipulate? What does this say about his character?
  • Revenge

    Initially, Haman wants to take revenge on Mordecai (for not bowing to him). Haman's plan is to kill Mordecai and his entire people. When this falls flat, the new act of revenge that takes center stage is the one perpetuated by Esther and her people against the opposing party, the people who Haman had (evidently) ordered to kill the Jews. This apparently includes a vast number of people—according to Esther, about 75,000 plus hundreds more.

    For most readers, this is the troubling part about Esther. In Genesis, Esau forgives Jacob for stealing his birthright and Abraham urges God not to visit unjust slaughter on the people of Sodom. Here, Esther pursues revenge that on its face—and given the huge number of people involved—seems pretty gratuitous. Of course, there are similar instances of "Take No Prisoners" style tactics in the Bible, but it's still disturbing when compared with some of the more merciful examples from other books.

    Questions About Revenge

    1. Is revenge ever justified? What about in Esther's case?
    2. Who are the people Esther and Mordecai and the Jews seek revenge against? Are they all supposed to be the supporters or Haman?
    3. Is it possible that this was just self-defense? Or is the revenge motive clearly stated?
    4. What does Ahasuerus think about all this revenge? Does he think anything?
  • Women and Femininity

    Vashti… Esther… need we say more? Well, since there's space, we will: the Book of Esther depicts a pair of powerful and capable women. Vashti sort of dissolves off-stage into an uncertain future, while Esther continues her unstoppable rise right up to the end. At the same time, they both act in ways that we're sure you'll agree is admirable.

    They also act in very different ways, too. Vashti flat-out disobeys a (dumb) order from the king, so she gets booted from her job as queen. That may or may not have been a positive outcome for her. Esther, on the other hand, uses her position as queen to secure an advantage for herself and her people. She's in the same situation that Vashti was in, but she turns it around to her benefit.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Who is a more modern-seeming character? Esther or Vashti? Why do you think so?
    2. What do you think Vashti did after she was fired from her job as queen? (Again, feel free to speculate wildly.)
    3. Do you think Esther made any compromises on her way up? Or was she always exactly who she wanted to be?
    4. What is King Ahasuerus' attitude towards women? Does it change over the course of the story?