From a series of Esther mosaics by Lilian Broca.
The Book of Daniel has been one of my favorite biblical books for a while now, and I’ve always enjoyed the Book of Esther as well, but it wasn’t until hearing a lesson on Esther last weekend that I was struck by the degree of similarity between the two:
-Faithful Living of God’s People in a Hostile Environment: Many of the following similarities can be traced to the overriding similarity in the setting of both books. Daniel follows the lives of Daniel and his three friends as they live godly lives during a time of captivity in Babylon, working in conjunction with powerful kings (first Nebuchadnezzar, then Belshazzar, then Darius). The Book of Esther focuses on the lives of Esther and Mordecai as they live in Susa under the reign of Ahasuerus/Xerxes.
-The Emphasis of the Physical Beauty of Young People: Daniel 1.3-6 mentions that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were chosen for the king’s service because they were, among other things, “without blemish, of good appearance.” They were taken aside and were to be given special training and a special diet to prepare them to assist the king. Similarly, Esther was chosen as part of the harem of Ahasuerus based on her great beauty (Esther 2.3, 8) and was similarly treated with a special diet and also given cosmetic treatment (vv. 9-12).
-The Changing of Names: Daniel 1.7 is clear that Daniel and his friends are given new names in Babylon (Daniel becomes Belteshazzar, Hananiah is called Shadrach, Mishael is now Meshach, and Azariah is called Abednego) which seems to be an attempt to change the identity and allegiances of the young men. The Book of Esther is not as explicit, but Esther 2.7 mentions that Mordecai was “bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther….” Hadassah is a Hebrew name, which indicates that her name must have been changed to Esther at some point while she was under Persian influence and authority.
-Accusations Against God’s People: In both Daniel and Esther, we have the theme of wicked men bringing accusations against God’s people. In Daniel, political officials who are jealous of the level of authority that Daniel has achieved under Darius realize that the only way they can get him in trouble is to outlaw his devotion to Jehovah, and they then inform Darius that he has violated the law by continuing to pray to his God (Daniel 6.1-14). In Esther 3, Haman’s rage over Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him leads him to propose a scheme to Ahasueras to eradicate the Hebrew people (Also, this incident could be compared to the refusal of Shadrach, Mishael, and Azariah to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image in Daniel 3).
-Faith in God’s Ability to Save in Difficult Situations: In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Mishael, and Azariah are confident that God has the ability to rescue them from the fiery furnace. In Daniel 6, Daniel seems to be unfazed by his punishment of being thrown in the lion’s den. When Mordecai learns of Haman’s plan to wipe out the Jewish people, he reflects a similar attitude, telling Esther that the Jews will be delivered one way or another (Esther 4.13-14).*
-Stubborn, Determined Faith: One awesome theme of both books is the portrayal of determined, defiant faith from the characters. Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, and Esther all realize the possibility of dying for their actions, but are determined to remain faithful regardless. Their declarations of stubborn faith in Daniel 3.16-18 and Esther 4.16 are among my favorite passages in Scripture.
-Promotion of God’s People to Places of High Authority: A final related theme of both Daniel and Esther is the way that God leads his faithful followers to places of high authority in their respective foreign lands. Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego (Daniel 1.20, 2.46-49, 3.30, 5.29, 6.1-4, 6.25) Esther, and Mordecai (Esther 2.1-18, 5.1-8, 6.10-11, 10.2-3) all find favor in the sight of their superiors and are elevated to positions of high authority.
These are just some of the similarities that struck me between the two books; I’m sure there are more that could be listed. As I mentioned above, I think a lot of the similarities stem from the overall similarity in setting, as we have the stories of people trying to be faithful to God in a surrounding culture which doesn’t always support that lifestyle. In that sense, I think the books of Daniel and Esther are incredibly relevant to Christians today as we strive to live as “sojourners and exiles” in our world (1 Peter 2.11).
*Much has been made of the fact that Esther is the only biblical book which does not explicitly mention God. While this is interesting, I don’t think it is particularly significant, as the idea of God providentially caring for His people is as central to the Book of Esther as it is to the Book of Daniel.