Esther (Hebrew: אֶסְתֵּר), or Hadassah (Hebrew: הֲדַסָּה), was a queen consort of King Ahasuerus of Persia. She saved the Jewish people from the schemes of Haman and helped to establish the lasting holiday of Purim.
Abihail was Esther's father. Esther's parents died when she was young, and her father's nephew Mordecai became her guardian. Mordecai was an officer of Ahasuerus' court.
After Ahasuerus repudiated Vashti, Ahasuerus sought a beautiful maiden to replace Vashti as his queen consort. He had his officers find and gather beautiful maidens, including the beautiful Esther. Mordecai instructed Esther to conceal her Jewish heritage.
Esther was taken into the custody of the eunuch Hegai, who looked after the king's harem. Hegai approved of Esther, allowed her into the king's harem, and assigned maids, food, and beauty preparations to her.
Esther's cousin and former guardian Mordecai kept watch over Esther and her well-being.
Esther sent twelve months in the harem preparing her beauty as prescribed:
six months with oil of myrrh and six months with [sweet] spices and perfumes and the beauty preparations (Esther 2:12 (AMP)).
Esther met with Ahasuerus, won his approval, and became Ahasuerus' new queen consort. Ahasuerus then had a banquet and festival conducted in Esther's honor.
Foiling Bigthan's and Teresh's plot
Two of Ahasuerus' eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, became angry and sought to assassinate the king. They were posted at the king's gate, which was also where Mordecai was posted. Mordecai learned about the plot and informed Esther. Esther then relayed his information to Ahasuerus on Mordecai's behalf.
The alleged plot was investigated, and Bigthan and Teresh were found to be guilty, and the pair were executed.
Haman's planned genocide
One day, Ahasuerus promoted Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, to a prominent position within his court. Haman became Mordecai's commanding officer, but Mordecai refused to bow or paid homage to Haman. Haman was enraged and sought to exterminate all Jews in the kingdom.
Haman persuaded Ahasuerus to permit Haman to slaughter the Jews. Ahasuerus gave Haman his signet ring, and Haman used it to issue orders to kill all Jews in the king's name.
Mordecai learned of Haman's orders, tore his clothes, dressed in a sackcloth, placed ashes onto himself, and wept in fear of the king's gate.
Esther's maids told Esther about Mordecai, and she became deeply alerted. Esther tried sending clothes to Mordecai, but Mordecai did not accept them. She then had her attendant and eunuch Hathach go to Mordecai in order to learn what was going on.
Mordecai told Hathach of the Haman's orders so that Esther could plead with Ahasuerus to spare the Jewish people. Hathach told Esther, but Esther could not speak to Ahasuerus, since only those summoned by Ahasuerus may speak with him, and Ahasuerus had not summoned her for the last thirty days. Esther had Hathach convey this information to Mordecai.
Mordecai then told Esther, via Hathach, that she would be punished for not acting to save the Jewish people and that perhaps it was her destiny (i.e. the reason she became Ahasuerus' queen consort) to speak with Ahasuerus and save the Jews.
Gaining the king's favor
Esther then told Mordecai, via Hathach, to have the Jews of Susa fast for three days and nights, that she was going to fast with them, and that after fasting, she was going to see Ahasuerus without being summoned, even if that means being executed.
Go, gather all the Jews that are present in Susa, and observe a fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids also will fast in the same way. Then I will go in to [see] the king [without being summoned], which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.— Esther 4:16 (AMP)
Mordecai did as Esther instructed and had the Jews of Susa fast for three days and nights.
On the third day of fasting, Esther put on his royal rob and met with Ahasuerus. Esther found favor in the king, and the king allowed her to speak. Esther invited the king to a banquet that she had prepared and asked him to have Haman attend it as well. Ahasuerus agreed to Esther's request and had Haman attend Esther's banquet.
After eating and drinking at the banquet, Ahasuerus asked Esther about what she wanted. Esther then asked the king to attend another banquet and to have Haman attend it as well.
Haman and the king
Haman went home. As he passed Mordecai at the king's gate, Mordecai still refused to bow before him, and Haman was enraged again. He told his wife Zeresh about this, and Zeresh advised him to construct gallows and to have the king hang Mordecai from them. Haman took this advice and had the gallows built.
Meanwhile, King Ahasuerus could not sleep and ordered court chronicles be read to him. The king's servants recounted how Mordecai foiled Bigthana's and Teresh's plot against the king. Ahasuerus then asked if he had honored Mordecai for his deeds yet, and the servants told the king that he had not.
Ahasuerus considered what was to be done to honor Mordecai when Haman walked in. Ahasuerus asked for Haman opinion:
What is to be done for the man whom the king desires to honor? (Esther 6:6 (AMP)). Haman mistakenly and narcissistically thought was he was the person who the king sought to honor, so he recommended adorning the person in the king's robe, placing the person on the king's horse, and honoring the person in the city square.
Ahasuerus then ordered Haman to have Mordecai honored as Haman himself prescribed.
Haman did as commanded and then rushed home with his face covered and told his wife and friends about what had happened. They then predicted Haman's downfall.
The king's men then arrived at Haman's house and escorted Haman to Esther's second banquet.
At the banquet, Ahasuerus again asked about what Esther wanted, and Esther asked the king to spare her and her people from genocide.
If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be spared as my petition, and my people [be spared] as my request; for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, killed and wiped out of existence. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for our hardship would not be sufficient to burden the king [by even mentioning it].— Esther 7:3–7:4 (AMP)
Ahasuerus then asked Esther to name the person who ordered the destruction of the Jewish people, and Esther told Ahasuerus about Haman.
Haman became terrified, and a furious Ahasuerus stepped out and went into the garden. Haman then pleaded with Esther to have his life spared. Ahasuerus returned, saw Haman with Esther, and assumed that Haman was attacking Esther. The king's servants apprehended Haman and informed the king that there were gallows at Haman's house. The king then ordered Haman to be hanged from them.
Haman was executed, and Ahasuerus granted Esther possession of Haman's house and gave Mordecai Ahasuerus' signet ring. Esther then gave Mordecai custody of Haman's house.
Saving the Jews
Esther then wept and asked Ahasuerus to spare the Jewish people from destruction.
If it pleases the king and if I have found favor before him and the matter is proper in the king’s view and I am pleasing in his sight, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, which he wrote [in order] to destroy the Jews who are in all the king’s provinces. For how can I endure to see the tragedy that will happen to my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?— Esther 8:5–8:6 (AMP)
The king agreed and allowed Mordecai to use his signet ring to send an edict allowing the Jews to gather and defend themselves and vanquish those who seek to have them destroyed.
The Jews were pleased and celebrated, and Judaism even earned new converts. When the enemies of the Jews sought to slaughter the Jews, the Jews defended themselves and vanquished their enemies. Haman's ten sons perished.
After learning of the deaths of Haman's sons, Ahasuerus asked Esther about what should be done, and Esther asked the king to permit the Jews to continue for another day and to hang the corpses of Haman's sons.
If it pleases the king, let it be granted to the Jews who are in Susa to act tomorrow also in accordance with the decree of today; and let [the dead bodies of] Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.— Esther 9:13 (AMP)
The king granted Esther's requests, the corpses of Haman's sons were hanged, and the Jews continued to avenge themselves on their enemies.
Afterwards, on the fourteenth day of Adar, the Jews rested and celebrated. Mordecai then established a holiday on the fourteenth and fifteenth day of Adar to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from the plot to destroy them. This was Purim, and it was to be celebrated with feasting, rejoicing, the sharing of choice portions of food, and giving gifts to the poor. Esther also signed this order. Purim continues celebrated today, keeping the memories of Esther, Mordecai, and their actions alive.
In Apocrypha / Deuterocanon
In an apocryphal (in the view of Protestants and Jews) or deuterocanonical (in the view of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches) additions to Esther (chapters A and F in the NABRE), Mordecai received a message about future events in dream.
This was his dream. There was noise and tumult, thunder and earthquake—confusion upon the earth. Two great dragons advanced, both poised for combat. They uttered a mighty cry, and at their cry every nation prepared for war, to fight against the nation of the just. It was a dark and gloomy day. Tribulation and distress, evil and great confusion, lay upon the earth. The whole nation of the just was shaken with fear at the evils to come upon them, and they expected to perish. Then they cried out to God, and from their crying there arose, as though from a tiny spring, a mighty river, a flood of water. The light of the sun broke forth; the lowly were exalted and they devoured the boastful.— Esther A:4–A:10 (NABRE)
This is the work of God. I recall the dream I had about these very things, and not a single detail has been left unfulfilled—the tiny spring that grew into a river, and there was light, and sun, and many waters. The river is Esther, whom the king married and made queen. The two dragons are myself and Haman. The nations are those who assembled to destroy the name of the Jews, but my people is Israel, who cried to God and was saved.— F:1–F:6 (NABRE)
According to another addition to Esther (chapter C in the NABRE), Esther humbled herself and prayed to God, telling God about the distress of her people and asking God to aid to her plan and to save her people.
My Lord, you alone are our King. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. From birth, I have heard among my people that you, Lord, chose Israel from among all nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, as a lasting inheritance, and that you fulfilled all your promises to them. But now we have sinned in your sight, and you have delivered us into the hands of our enemies, because we worshiped their gods. You are just, O Lord. But now they are not satisfied with our bitter servitude, but have sworn an oath to their idols to do away with the decree you have pronounced, to destroy your inheritance, to close the mouths of those who praise you, to extinguish the glory of your house and your altar, to open the mouths of the nations to acclaim their worthless gods, and to extol a mortal king forever.
Lord, do not relinquish your scepter to those who are nothing. Do not let our foes gloat over our ruin, but turn their own counsel against them and make an example of the one who began this against us. Be mindful of us, Lord. Make yourself known in the time of our distress and give me courage, King of gods and Ruler of every power. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion, and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and his co-conspirators may perish. Save us by your power, and help me, who am alone and have no one but you, Lord.— Esther C:14–C:25 (NABRE)
In this addition, she also told God how she detested being queen consort of a pagan empire.
You know all things. You know that I hate the pomp of the lawless, and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised or of any foreigner. You know that I am under constraint, that I abhor the sign of grandeur that rests on my head when I appear in public. I abhor it like a polluted rag, and do not wear it in private. I, your servant, have never eaten at the table of Haman, nor have I graced the banquet of the king or drunk the wine of libations. From the day I was brought here till now, your servant has had no joy except in you, Lord, God of Abraham. O God, whose power is over all, hear the voice of those in despair. Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.— Esther C:26–C:30 (NABRE)
According to another addition (chapter D in the NABRE): When Esther went to set Ahasuerus, she saw the king's anger and fainted. God made Ahasuerus care, and Ahasuerus tried to comfort her. It is then that Ahasuerus asked Esther want she wanted, and she invited Ahasuerus to the banquet and asked Ahasuerus to have Haman attend the banquet as well.