Ahasuerus rules Persia. He holds feast – it is lavishly described (rather unusually given the narrative minimalism of most of the rest of the OT). Queen Vashti holds a parallel feast for the women. When merry with drink, Ahasuerus demands that Vashti come and show off her beauty to his guests. Queen Vashti refuses, making Xerxes angry. His counsellors express concern that Vashti’s insubordination will set a bad precedent for wives everywhere. They advise that she is replaced so the right message is sent out across the land.
Ahasuerus looks for new queen, with many virgins brought before him. Esther (brought up by Mordecai, her cousin) is prepared, presented, chosen and made queen. Esther conceals her Jewish identity. Mordecai saves Ahasuerus' life by revealing a conspiracy against him by two of his eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh.
Haman is promoted, and gains respect. Mordecai does not bow to Haman. Haman angry, and seeks to kill not only Mordecai, but all Jews. Haman obtains permission from the king to issue a decree to kill all Jews, on the pretext that they separated themselves from the rest of the land and did not observe the king’s laws. The date of the killing is set for the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.
Mordecai and Jews learn about the decree and mourn with sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai informs Esther of law, and advises her to speak with king. Esther resolves to do so, despite the fact that she risks death for approaching the king uninvited. (She has been been called to the king for thirty days.) The Jews fast for three days.
Esther visits king. The king welcomes her, holding out his sceptre to her, to indicate that she will not be killed. Esther invites king and Haman to a feast. At the feast, Esther asks that the king and Haman come to another feast on the following day. Haman is frustrated by Mordecai’s continued refusal to bow before him, so his wife Zeresh advises him to have a gallows built, and to request the king at the banquet to have Mordecai hung.
One restless night when he asks the chronicles to be read to him, the king discovers that Mordecai was never rewarded for saving his life. The king asks Haman to lead the parade of honour for Mordecai. Haman mourns, is warned by his wife of Mordecai’s rising status, and hurries to the banquet.
Esther begs that her life, and the lives of the Jews may be spared. The king is angry. Haman pleads for his life before the queen – when the king enters, Haman trips onto her couch, so the king thinks he is assaulting her. Haman is hung on the very gallows that he made for Mordecai.
Esther is given Haman's property, and Mordecai assumes Haman’s place. Esther begs the king to save the Jews. The decree is irrevocable once ratified by the king, but a counter-decree is issued allowing the Jews to protect themselves on the day they were scheduled for annihilation. When the Jews hear the news, they rejoice. Many in the land become Jews, because fear of the Jews fell on them.
Jews defend themselves, killing 75,000 enemies. Mordecai is a very prominent citizen. At Esther’s request, Haman's ten sons are hung. Jews celebrate victory, and Purim is declared an annual festival for all Jews. ‘Purim’ is derived from ‘pur’ meaning ‘lots’, and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre.
Ahasuerus’ empire is strong. Mordecai is a popular and powerful ruler under Ahasuerus, and his story is recorded in official records.