600BC? Born 0 yrs
597BC Taken captive to Babylon in Jehoiachin’s captivity 3
539BC Decree of Cyrus

First return under Zerubbabel

61
533BC? Birth of Esther

Death of Daniel

67
522BC Ahasuerus (Darius the Great) becomes king 78
519BC Ahasuerus’ great feast  
516BC Mordecai saves Ahasuerus’ life

Esther marries the king

Second return under Ezra

84
511BC Decree of Haman

Mordecai honoured

Esther and Mordecai save the Jews

Mordecai promoted to vice-regency

89
510BC? Death 90

Determining dates for this period in Israel’s history is not without difficulty. In particular, the births and deaths of some of the people shown here are not recorded and are estimates only. This timeline is based on the assumption that Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes were titles of Darius I, for which there is some evidence. But it is also acknowledged there are other equally valid views.

Great events in history sometimes turn on apparently trivial moments.

On 28 June 1914, a chauffeur in Sarajevo took a wrong turn and as a result, the events that followed quickly escalated into what would become the First World War. Sometime during 511BC, a king couldn’t get to sleep one night and as a result, the events that followed meant the Jewish race was saved from extermination.

Trivial moments with historic impact.

Mordecai the Jew was probably born during the dying days of the kingdom of Judah but almost nothing is known of the first 80 years of his life. He was from far off royal stock, being a Benjamite descended from Kish the father of Saul, Israel’s first king. Royal perhaps, but not the greatest pedigree. The Benjamites were almost wiped out at one stage; and lost the royal sceptre to Judah after just one king, but they could be feisty all the same. And brave.

Like so many other Jews, Mordecai had been taken as a child from Judah and carried away to Babylon around 597BC for a lifetime of servitude. About 10 years older than Ezra, he may well have known the famous scribe as they spent their lives as exiles in the region of Babylonia, where Mordecai came to reside in the Persian palace city of Shushan, 350 kilometres east of Babylon. He also knew of Daniel, who was around 20 years older and who for much of his life had been a powerful figure in Babylon. All three men lived long and faithful lives in exile. Daniel and Ezra were high ranking officials, known and trusted by the kings of their day. Mordecai was employed at the palace in Shushan as a doorman or porter at the palace gate, also a position of some trust. And the fact that he could pass freely by the court of the women each day almost certainly meant he had suffered that cruel fate shared by many young male captives. He was most likely a eunuch. Ancient Persian dictators took no chances when it came to infidelity in the harem.

But for Mordecai, though life at times must have been dark, there was a ray of sunshine. His beautiful cousin, Hadasseh, known also as Esther. She was many years younger than him and had been left an orphan, probably at an early age. Her older cousin had shown great love and care and had raised her as his own, extra precious to him because he knew he could have no children of his own. It was a pointer to what sort of person Mordecai must have been. An older man, presumably with little wealth, he had been presented with what was a very awkward situation. Many, if not most, would simply smile and turn away. Too inconvenient, too expensive, too hard. But instead, Mordecai looked on a sad little girl, his cousin, and had compassion on her. He would love her as if she was his own daughter. She gave meaning to his life too and, as she grew, she developed some of his characteristics. Her beautiful looks came from her mother and father, but her faithful character came from her adopted father.

But just at the point where her adult life began to blossom, where perhaps the prospect of an extended family began to form in the ageing Mordecai’s mind—a partner in the truth for Esther, and grandchildren—she was taken. In a moment all his plans and dreams for his beloved young cousin were taken away. A knock on the door. A decree from the king. Esther was taken. And Mordecai knew she would never return. Either she would become one of the king’s favoured wives, or she would be banished to the outer harem for the rest of her life. Once associated in any way with the king, family life elsewhere in the kingdom for any of these beautiful young women was simply out of the question.

How he fretted for her. In the brief time they had before she was taken, Mordecai tried to reinforce in his adopted daughter’s mind the faith he’d taught her from childhood. But he was careful too, maybe too careful, but who can say? And who can say they’d do any differently. Or any better. The Jews had been captives in Babylon for many decades, but in recent times Cyrus, and then Darius, had allowed them to return to Jerusalem. Not everyone in Jerusalem, or in Babylon for that matter, was happy about that. Daniel and others had gathered some powerful friends simply by being honest and faithful; but they’d gathered some powerful enemies too. Honesty and faith mostly do. In Shushan itself evil anti-Semitism was alive and growing. Better not to take risks. Better not to mention that you’re a Jew. Plenty of time for that later. For the moment, survival was paramount. So, Mordecai instructed his young cousin not to reveal her family background, and she obeyed him—as she had done all her life. She trusted him totally and this dear, faithful old man had never given her any reason not too.

When the king first laid eyes on Esther, he was smitten immediately! She was exquisitely beautiful in every way. She had a natural beauty that stood out above the carefully coiffed and coutured coquettishness of her competitors. He saw straight through them all to the delightful young maiden who stole his heart. For an autocratic king, external beauty was one thing. A commodity he could have at a whim. The queen she was replacing, Vashti by name, was beautiful to look at too but she had embarrassed him in the worst possible way. She had disobeyed his request in front of many of the most powerful people in his empire. She was uppity! She had dangerously compromised his authority and he had been forced, and forcefully advised, to deal with her accordingly. In selecting Esther as her replacement, he had chosen someone at the very least equal in beauty, but completely opposite in nature. Mordecai had raised a young lady with godly values. A girl who would willingly obey the requests of her mentor. Her role models were faithful women of old like Sarah, who loved and respected her husband, Abraham. Esther was no doormat, but she would be a loyal, faithful and dutiful wife the king knew he could trust. What a refreshing contrast to Vashti! He had no hesitation in crowning her queen and he loved her dearly.

The king, one of whose titles was Ahasuerus, had a mixed record as a judge of character. In Esther’s case, good choice. In others not so good, but he generally buried his mistakes, usually via the hangman’s noose. He also appeared to suffer from a surprising lack of curiosity about his court. Once it nearly cost him his life. In the case of his new queen, he was blissfully unaware of her background.

Great celebrations throughout the Persian empire followed the coronation of the new young queen. A special holiday was proclaimed, and many officials received gifts from the king himself. Like many royal weddings since, it was a time of great joy for many, and it did no harm at all to the king’s popularity.

But not with everyone. Kings who rule with absolute power often produce enemies with absolute hatred. So it was with Ahasuerus. Two of his most trusted bodyguards had become angry with their boss. An anger that festered into murderous hatred. They hatched a plot to assassinate the king and were well down the path of carrying it out, but they hadn’t reckoned on an ageing doorman who worked alongside them in the gate of the palace. Bigthan and Teresh, the king’s would-be assassins, under-estimated their colleague badly. An extremely old man was easy to overlook, a mistake that cost them their lives. Mordecai overheard the plot, and sensing danger to Esther as the queen, immediately told her about their plan. She passed it on to the king without delay, making sure he knew where the information came from. It was imperative that Mordecai wasn’t considered a part of the conspiracy. The careless assassins were tried, found guilty and subsequently hung, and details of the event recorded in the royal chronicles.

The king responded with a show of strength to actively discourage anyone else with similar ideas. He appointed a brutal henchman as his second in charge. Haman, the Agagite, an Amalekite; a coldblooded, violent, big-headed would-be tyrant whom it was most unwise to cross. To ensure nobody missed the point, Ahasuerus commanded total reverence to be shown to Haman, even to the point of people bowing when he passed by. It was a foolish mistake by a king whose poor attention to detail had again left him vulnerable, though he no doubt thought he was now impregnable. He didn’t realise it, but his future now lay in the hands of an ageing Jewish captive and the new, modest young queen. He couldn’t have been in better hands.

Haman hated Jews. So much so that they were his weakness. He must have been a skilled and ruthless politician to ascend to the position he had, but his giant ego was uncontrollable, even for him. And a disrespectful Jew was enough to make him totally lose control. Haman had a long memory, like so many middle-eastern rulers do, still. In his case, 500 years long! He remembered Israel’s first king, Saul, the son of Kish. Near the beginning of his reign he had the opportunity, and the command, to totally destroy the Amalekites—Israel’s oldest enemy. Greatness stared him in the face, but Saul snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and chose instead to spare Agag their king (though Samuel quickly rectified his mistake). Now, around 500 years later, the tables were turned and Haman, one of Agag’s descendants, was determined not to make the same mistake.