The events of Esther take place in Persia (present day Iran) during the reign of King Xerxes from 486 to 465 B.C. It has been over one hundred years since the beginning of the exile, and Babylon has been conquered by Persia. The story is set in the city of Susa, which is where the king has his winter palace.
The remnant Jews have been scattered throughout Mesopotamia by the Persian government. The Jews cling to their religious identity and even their flickering hope of a Messiah who will rescue them. King Cyrus of Persia fulfilled a divine prophecy that allowed the Jews to return to Judah in 536 BC. While thousands made the journey (retold in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah), most, including Mordecai and Esther, simply remained where they were in Persia, rather than risk starting over.
Esther’s story presents the last major threat to, and deliverance of, the Jewish people in the Old Testament period. The Jewish festival of Purim, which is still celebrated today, is established in Esther, which accounts for the book’s great popularity among the Jewish people.
Esther is known for being the only book in which God is not mentioned. This doesn’t mean the book has nothing to teach us. It is a wonderful story of God’s providence and the character of his people told with humour, irony, repetition and contrast. The major theme is that God is working in the circumstances and events of people’s lives to bring about his plans. God is the director, the conductor, the weaver. When we respond in obedience and godliness, God can use us to bring about his purposes.