The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Esther 1

Est 1:1

See Lesson, Post-exile period, dates.

See Lesson, Est, providence in.

XERXES: Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name of the Persian king, Khshayarsha, whom we know better in ancient history by his Greek name, Xerxes. He reigned over the Persian Empire from 486 to 464 BC and was the son of Darius I (521-486 BC). His vizier, Artabanus, assassinated him.

Xerxes is famous in secular history for two things: his defeat at the hands of the Greeks, and his building of the royal Persian palace at Persepolis. In 481 BC he took about 200,000 soldiers and hundreds of ships to Greece to avenge his father Darius' defeat at the battle of Marathon (490 BC). However, he suffered defeat in a three-fold manner. His soldiers lost the battle of Thermopylae to the Spartans, his army also lost at the battle of Plataea, and the Greeks destroyed his navy in the battle of Salamis.

Knowles suggests Xerxes/Ahasuerus was Darius Hystaspes -- who reigned much earlier (521-486) -- although he concedes that in this he is out of step with most commentators. In support of this, he cites the historian Charles Rollin.

127 PROVINCES: The 127 "provinces" (Heb "medina") were governmental units of the empire. These were political subdivisions of the satrapies (cp Est 3:12).

STRETCHING FROM INDIA TO CUSH: The writer mentioned the vast area Xerxes controlled (cp Est 8:9; 10:1). Perhaps he did this to avoid confusion with another Ahasuerus (Dan 9:1) whose son, Darius the Mede, governed the Babylonian provinces under Cyrus the Great from 539 to about 525 BC. "India" refers to the territory that is now West Pakistan. "Cush" was the upper (southern) Nile region including southern Egypt, the Sudan, and northern Ethiopia.

Est 1:2

CITADEL: Heb "habirah" -- "capital" (NASB) or "citadel" (NIV) -- refers to an acropolis or fortified area that stood 72 feet above the rest of the city. A wall 2 1/2 miles long surrounded it (Breneman).

SUSA: The Greek name for the Hebrew "Shushan" -- which sig "lily" or "white". It was a winter capital and had formerly been the capital of the kingdom of Elam. Susa was the name of both the capital city and the royal fortress that occupied a separate part of the city. Other Persian capitals were Ecbatana (200 miles north of Susa), Babylon (200 miles west), and Persepolis (300 miles se). Persepolis was Xerxes' main residence. A generation after the events the writer described in the Book of Esther Nehemiah served as cupbearer to Artaxerxes, Xerxes' son (cp Neh 1:1 -- 2:1).See Lesson, Persia, royal cities of.

Est 1:3

IN THE THIRD YEAR OF HIS REIGN HE GAVE A BANQUET FOR ALL HIS NOBLES AND OFFICIALS: The third year of Ahasuerus' (Xerxes') reign was evidently 482 BC. For 180 days (six months) he entertained his guests (v 4). This was evidently the military planning session that Ahasuerus conducted to prepare for his campaign against the Greeks. The Greek historian Herodotus referred to this meeting and said it took Ahasuerus four years (484-481 BC) to prepare for his Greek campaign.

"It is indeed a derisive eye that our narrator has cast upon the royal court he describes: A king who rules the whole known world spends his time giving lavish banquets!...

"From the satirical depiction of the grandiose and lavishly excessive lifestyle of the Persian court, our narrator turns to undisguised farce: the king who rules the whole world cannot bend his own wife to his will!...

"But its [the first chapter's] mockery has also a sinister side. It reveals a society fraught with danger, for it is ruled by the pride and pomposity of buffoons whose tender egos can marshal the state's legislative and administrative machinery for the furtherance of selfish and childish causes. Indeed, in such a setting, it will not seem incongruous to find this same machinery of state mobilized to effect the slaughter of one of its own minorities, or to find that this is an end that the king can both blissfully contemplate and cavalierly condone" (FW Bush, "Ruth, Esther" 354, 355).

Four banquets in Esther: Vashti's deposing (Est 1:3); Esther's coronation (Est 2:18); Esther's petition (Est 5:4,8); and the Jews' celebration (Est 9:17).

Est 1:6

WHITE LINEN AND PURPLE MATERIAL: White and violet blue were the royal colors of Persia (Whitcomb).

COUCHES: The Persians reclined at their meals, and the setting at the feasts was one of splendor and glory.

Est 1:8

EACH GUEST WAS ALLOWED TO DRINK IN HIS OWN WAY, FOR THE KING INSTRUCTED ALL THE WINE STEWARDS TO SERVE EACH MAN WHAT HE WISHED: There was, apparently, a custom among the Greeks at the time that if you could not drink the round you should leave the company. No one was allowed to stay but not drink. This rule was graciously overlooked on this occasion -- hence "none did compel" (AV).

Est 1:9

VASHTI: Sig "beautiful woman". Evidently the Persian name of the queen whom Herodotus referred to as Amestris (her Greek name) (Wright).

Est 1:10

EUNUCHS: The Persian kings castrated many of the men who served the king and his family, so they could not have sexual relations with the female members of the royal court and start dynasties of their own.

Est 1:11

Was this a proper command, or an unwarranted one? It is impossible to say. "The Rabbis added midrashic embellishments to the story of Vashti, holding that her refusal was the king's order that she appear naked before his guests" (Yamauchi). Knowles, however, feels that the king had every right "to display his bride in her regal glory" -- this is in keeping with his seeing this ch as a parable of God and His "bride" Israel.

Est 1:12

QUEEN VASHTI REFUSED TO COME: Even if the reasons are not given (and are therefore not that important), the point of the writer is clear: providentially, God was seeing to it that Vashti was deposed -- to be replaced by a queen of His own choosing!

Est 1:13

Vv 13,14: The counsel of seven continued in existence for at least 25 years after this event (cp Ezra 7:14). These men were cabinet-level officials in the government.

Est 1:17

Vv 17,18: The king's advisers feared that Vashti's rebellion would lead to a popular women's liberation movement and to a revolution among the aristocratic wives particularly.

Est 1:19

WHICH CANNOT BE REPEALED: There is extra-biblical evidence that no one could revoke Persian laws once they were official (cp Est 8:8; Dan 6:8) (Wright).

Est 1:22

HE SENT DISPATCHES TO ALL PARTS OF THE KINGDOM, TO EACH PROVINCE IN ITS OWN SCRIPT AND TO EACH PEOPLE IN ITS OWN LANGUAGE: Cp Est 8:10. Herodotus (c 484-426 BC) traveled in western Persia shortly after Ahasuerus' reign. He wrote concerning the Persian postal service: "Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers. The entire plan is a Persian invention; and this is the method of it. Along the whole line of road there are men (they say) stationed with horses, in number equal to the number of days which the journey takes, allowing a man and horse to each day; and these men will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they have to go, either by snow or rain, or heat, or by the darkness of night. The first rider delivers his dispatch to the second, and the second passes it to the third; and so it is born from hand to hand along the whole line' (8.98).

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