How to Read Esther

The Book of Esther

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Esther tells the story of God sovereignly working to elevate a Jewish girl to be queen, and delivering His people from harm through her obedience. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Esther, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video.  

Now that you have an overview of the book in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Esther. Read about Esther’s decision to act on behalf of her people in Esther 4:13–17. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Esther 4:13–17. 

Esther 4:13-17 (ESV)

13Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.14For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”15Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,16“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”17Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Mordecai reminds Esther that perhaps she has been made queen for the purpose of saving her people.  

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Esther 4:13–17? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Mordecai reminds Esther that perhaps she has been made queen for the purpose of saving her people. (Interpretation) God, who knows all things, sovereignly works behind the scenes to accomplish His plans.  

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Esther 4:13–17? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Esther? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Even before mankind falls into sin and brokenness, God puts a plan into motion to redeem and restore His creation. In the book of Esther, God providentially works through mundane circumstances and seemingly normal events to move his plan forward. God keeps covenant and works through many generations to continue enacting His plan throughout history. God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. God’s plan is brought to fulfillment in Christ.    

Contextualize: What themes does Esther 4:13–17 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Esther? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since God is always sovereignly working out His perfect plan, I should not fall victim to the lie that what happens to me is merely coincidence, or that I am at the mercy of a fallen world. If God is in control of every detail and circumstance of my life, I can trust that He is working all things for good, and that my ultimate hope is in the full redemption and restoration that will someday be my reality. This week, I need not worry about circumstances or life events, but can rest in the fact that God is always sovereignly in the details of my day, working out His plans. 

Apply: How does the truth from Esther 4:13–17 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Esther to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Esther, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Esther this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.