Throughout history, Esther has been regarded as a woman of piety, faith, courage and heroism because of her role in literally saving her people, the Jews, from execution.
Esther was an orphan who grew up in the house of her cousin Mordecai, a Jewish exile who was a high officer in the Persian government in Susa (or Sushan), where the king's winter palace was located. (Esth. 2:7.)Some 120 years before the story of Esther took place, during the reign of Jehoiachin, Mordecai's great-grandfather was carried away into Babylonian captivity with the prophet Ezekiel. (Esth. 2:6.) The Babylonians later were overrun by the Persians.
Ahsauerus, the Persian king many scholars believe was also known as Xerxes, chose Esther to be his queen after Queen Vashti was banned from his presence for refusing to make an appearance at a royal feast. (Esth. 2:1-7.) Persian kings usually chose their wives from among the noblest Persian families. Ahasuerus did not know of Esther's Jewish lineage, and Esther, upon Mordecai's advice, did not reveal it. (Esth. 2:10.)
Haman, one of the king's chief men, hated Mordecai, and obtained a decree to put all Jews to death by a certain date. (Esth. 3:5-15.)
One of the most important moments in Jewish history came when, after Mordecai reminded Esther of her opportunity to use her favored position as queen, she appealed to the king to revoke the decree. (Esth. 4:13-14; 5:1-14.)
A king's decree, however, was irrevocable even by the king himself. (Esth. 8:89.) Through Esther's influence Ahsauerus issued a second decree, which greatly weakened the first: the Jews were notified of the impending day of the extermination and were authorized to attack and destroy all enemies who should assault them on that day. Prepared for battle and able to defend themselves, the Jews in Persia were spared.
The Jews "smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword." (Esth. 9:5.) Haman was hanged "on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai" and his 10 sons were hanged. (Esth. 7:10 and 9:14.)
The Feast of Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews in Persia from the destruction devised by Haman. It fell on the 14th and 15th of Adar, or March. The word "Purim" signifies "lots" because Haman had cast lots to determine the day on which to execute all Jews in the Persian empire.
The Feast of Purim has been observed by many to the present time. Lighting candles, holding synagogue services and reading the book of Esther are among observances of Purim.