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Esther 1

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ch. 1:1-22


My Commentary On The Book Of Esther




This commentary is based on the 1978 edition of the New International Bible.  Chapter tiles in my commentary correspond to the chapter titles in the NIV Bible that make for easy study.


The author of the book of Esther is unknown.  Some people suggest that the author is Mordecai, one of the main characters in the book's narrative, but this cannot be confirmed.


The date of the Book of Esther is probably between 486 and 465 B. C..   The time period would correspond between Ezra chapter 6 and chapter 7. 


The setting takes place in Persia , after the Medes and Persians joined forces to defeat and conquer the Babylonian Empire.  When Israel was permitted to return to their home land after being exiled in Babylon for 70 years, only about 50,000 people actually made the trip home.  Most Israelis didn't want to leave Babylon for various reasons.  Esther was one of these people.  


The religion of the Persians for the most part of was Zoroastrianism, which is the closes religion back then that might be considered monotheistic.  Their one god was good, but, evil seemed to be almost on the same par as good, making some to think this was not a true monotheism.    


What takes place in the book of Esther permits Israel to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, something they were not permitted to do when the 50,000 made the trip back to Judah. 


The book of Esther has been somewhat controversial over the years.  One reason is that God is not even mentioned in the book.  Martin Luther felt that the book of Ruth should not be in the canon of Scripture. That being said, the events that take place in the book of Esther are important to Israel, and if anything is important to Israeli history, I believe, it's important to both the church and individual Christians. 


The name "Esther" is derived from the Persian name "Ishtar", which was the goddess of fertility and war, otherwise known as "the mistress of heaven".  We actually get our English word "Easter" from the word "Ishtar", which some suggest has paganized the meaning to our Christian Easter.  Her Jewish name was Hadassah, which means "myrtle", as in the "myrtle tree'.  Some suggest that the name Esther means "hidden", but I suggest that is to obscure to really know for sure.      


The Feast of Purim that Jews celebrate today, which is by the way, not one of the 7 feasts of the Law of Moses that must be celebrated, came into existence because of the things that happened in the book of Esther.  This feast celebrates the deliverance of the Israelis from the king of Persia's decree to kill all the Israelis.           


I would suggest that the underlying meaning to the book of Esther is that God, behind the scenes, looks after His people, and in this case, His people are the Jews.  I believe that the meaning to this book of the Bible is important for us today.  As God looked after the Jews back in Esther's day, so He will look after them today.  I do not believe in Replacement Theology that says that the church has replaced the Jews in the eyes of God.     



Queen Vashti Deposed  (ch.  1:1 - 22)


In verse 1 we see a bit of Biblical history that is supported by non-Biblical history, which gives a bit more credence to the authenticity of the book of Ruth as well as the Bible as a whole, that is, if you need any such authenticity.  Xerxes was a real king of Persia and this rule was over a very large area.  He ruled over 127 provinces, and as the NIV says, from India to Cush. Cush is also known today as Ethiopia. 


The KJV does not use the name Xerxes.  Instead, it uses the name "Ahasuerus", the Hebrew equivalent for Xerxes.


The nation of Iran today was renamed in 1935 from Persia.  There are two different cultures of Muslims.  There are Persian Muslims and there are Arab Muslims, both having sub categories.  The Persians we see in the book of Esther were located in present day Iran.  The same is true with the Medes that we see in the book of Esther.  Both groups were Persian.  The Medes were a confederation of smaller states that the Persians eventually took over.


Verse 2 states that Xerxes ruled from Susa , which was, 200 miles east of Babylon.


From Verses 3 to 7 we see that Xerxes gathered all the important people in his kingdom, including military leaders.  They were gathered for a celebration.  The text doesn't say it but we know from history, from the non-Biblical account, that Xerxes was planning a huge battle in order to conquer Greece.  At the end of the 180 days Xerxes had a huge 7 day feast where anyone could attend.  This feast is what the rest of the first chapter is all about.  These verses show how prosperous and wealthy the king and the Persian Empire was.  The Persian Empire is one of the great empires of world history, along with the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greece, and Roman Empire.


Note in verse 3 the name "Media". "Media" was one of the smaller empires that the Persians conquered.  The Persian Empire is often called the Medo-Persian Empire, and was the largest empire up to that point in human history.


In verse 8 we see what was probably one very drunken party.  Everyone could drink in whatever fashion he wished.  The custom of the day was that if the king drank, then everyone had to drink.  They had no choice, and from what we know of Persians back then, they were heavy drinkers.


The party the Xerxes gave was just for the men.  Queen Vashti, Xerxes wife, held her own party for all the women as we see in verse 9.  It's interesting to note that the name "Vashti" means, "the once desired", and that is exactly what happens to the queen after the events of this chapter.  She falls out of favour with the king.     


Verse 10 takes place on the seventh day of the party and as the text states, King Xerxes "was in high spirits from the wine".  In other words, he was drunk.   Xerxes, along with all the other men had been drinking now for 7 days.  I can't imagine anyone would actually be left standing after such a party, but parties like this, including weddings, often lasted 7 days back then in all cultures, including Jewish culture. 


While Xerxes was drunk he demanded 7 of his attendants to bring his wife, Queen Vashti to the party.  The reason for this was to display, show off, her beauty to all the men at the party because she was very good looking.  Xerxes wanted Vashti to ware her crown, and there are some, especially some Jewish rabbis, who say that is all he wanted her to ware.  Now this is speculation.  The text does not say this, but knowing the times and the excess drinking by the seventh day of the party, that could well be the case.


You will note in verse 10 "seven eunuchs" mentioned.  It is widely understood that these men were "wise men", astrologers, magi, and such people.  The three wise men that you see mentioned in the events surrounding the birth of Jesus are the same type of eastern wise men as you see here.       


In verse 12 we see that Queen Vashti refused to come to the party to be shown off in front of all the drunk men.  Maybe she was having her own drunken party with the women.  Maybe this gave her the courage to say no to Xerxes.  Or, maybe she was a strong willed woman and refused to be seen as a sex symbol.  The text doesn't tell us why she refused.  We can only guess.  What we do know is the Xerxes "burned with anger".  The queen's refusal and the king's anger thus leads us to the rest of the story that favors Israel.


In verses 13 through 18 we see that the king consulted with seven of his top officials who knew all the matters of the law of Persia.  Clearly, Persian society had laws that were to be obeyed.  It wasn't merely a nation of a dictatorial king, although it was far from a democracy as well.  What the king wanted, he pretty well got and the law of the land pretty well stated that. 


The top officials told Xerxes that the queen not only rebelled against him but she rebelled against all who lived in Persia.  Something had to be done with her. 


The rationale that was present to the king was simple.  If the queen can get away with disobeying the king, all the women in the land would follow in her footsteps. They'd have a nation of runaway independent women, and that could never be.  Such thinking wouldn't go too far today, but we need to remember, back then, it was a man's world, and men ruled.  Women were second class citizens.  This is clearly seen in the fact that Xerxes wanted to display his wife to a bunch of drunken men.   She was meant to be paraded out as a sex symbol.


In verses 19 and 20 we learn more about Persian law and how it came about.  It was the king who made the law.  When the king decreed something it became law and that law could never be repealed.  So, in one sense of the word, this was pretty much a nation of rule of law, but the law came only from a dictatorial king.  This was not a democracy.


The law of the land became to be that Vashti could no longer be in the presence of the king.  The only thing left to do was to get rid of her and replace her with someone better, meaning, some woman who will obey the wishes and whim of the king.


The actual decree, as seen in verses 21 and 22, stated that the man of the house in all parts of the kingdom, that is the husband, was to be king of his home.  Women must obey her husband.  This was now the law of the land.  By this, the men would have no more fear of their women not obeying their every wish and whim.  Thus is the way with pagan men back then, and I dare say, with pagan men today.  Such family structure still exists in parts of the world, as seen in Islam.


Note in these last two verses of chapter one the different languages in different parts of the Persian kingdom.  We need to remember that Persia conquered many ethnic peoples, all of which had varying dialects and languages that they still spoke. Therefore the decree that became the law of the land had to be written in every dialect and language that existed across the vast kingdom of Persia, which extended from India through northern Africa .



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