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Book of Esther

Chapter 1 Part 1

March 18, 2012

The Book of Esther has been called an historical novelette, a short novel, fiction. That is, some people believe it was just an action-packed story people told through the generations but was not totally based in fact. Archaeological digs that have unearthed the great colonnade of the palace spoken of in verse 2, and many artifacts from the palace, proves that Esther is, in fact, historically accurate.  

In his book, Willmington’s Guide to the Bible, H. L. Willmington said, “The description of the ornate palace with its bright curtains is quite in the manner of the gaudy palaces of the Persians. Excavations at Susa (biblical Shushan) have yielded abundant evidence of the rich ornamentation of the walls of the palace and of the richly colored glaze bricks used there.”

In his Bible study in Esther, Thomas Klock points out an interesting fact. He said, “The only books of the Old Testament that do not mention the name of God are Esther and the Song of Solomon, and neither of these books is mentioned in the New Testament.” As I said in the introduction to this great Book, “Although God’s name does not appear in its variants within the pages of Esther, it is definitely implied throughout.” Are you excited to begin? I sure am.

“Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:)” (Esther 1:1) Ahasuerus was a title that was used of kings as they used Pharaoh in Jesus’ day. Ahasuerus was Xerxes 1. His “days” as king of Persia were from 486 to 465 B.C. The events spoken of in Esther are thought to have occurred during his third year as king, 483 B.C, sometime between chapter 6 and 7 of the Book of Ezra. This is why it’s widely believed the Book was written by either Ezra or Mordecai himself as an historical account for Israel’s records. Ahasuerus ruled over at least 127 Provinces from India to Ethiopia.  

“That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace,” (verse 2) Esther is the Book that took place in the capital city of Shushan, or Susa, within the walls of a fortified palace. It chronicles one of satan’s attempts to destroy the nation of Israel. Shushan is called “the royal city of the kings of Persia.”

“In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him: When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days” (verse 3, 4). Ahasuerus made a 180 day feast for his governors who travelled from all the 127 provinces under his rule, his officers above the army, and the nobles of the kingdom. The primary reason for the party was to show off the riches of the kingdom that the four kings in Daniel’s prophecy had amassed. (Daniel 11:2) It is believed that this was when Ahasuerus listened to advice about how to go forward in war against Greece.  

“And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace; Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble” (verses 5, 6). After the diplomatic feast, Ahasuerus invited the locals, the commoners, to join the party and eat and drink all they could hold. This party lasted 7 days and was given out in the garden. We can see by the descriptions in verse 6 that even the garden of the palace had nothing but the best money can buy. The curtains were made of the finest linen. John Gill said, “These pillars are said, in the Targum, to be of divers colours, red, green, and shining yellow and white, on which the silver rings were fixed, and into them were put linen strings of purple colour, which fastened the hangings to them, and so made an enclosure, within which the guests sat at the feast.” The frames of the couches they laid on to eat were made of gold and silver, two precious elements. They were covered in the finest, softest lamb’s wool available. The floors were paved with precious stones.

Oh, sisters, listen to me. There is coming a time in our not so distant future when we will reside in a mansion of far more luxurious ornamentation where the streets will be paved in gold. This mansion of many, many rooms will be lovelier than anything man can build. Revelation 21:18-25 describes it for us. “And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.The King on the throne of that kingdom will rule in love and peace. He will never ask us to do anything unfavorable. We will eat of the best foods and drink from the river of life that flows beneath the throne of God.”

“And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king” (verse 7). Some people say that among these cups mentioned are the ones taken out of the temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This is not possible as those vessels had already been returned to Jerusalem when Cyrus gave them to Zerubbabel. “Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; Even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah” (Ezra 1:7, 8).  

“And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure” (verse 8). “…according to the law…” is that Ahasuerus gave a word to his servants who were in charge of the banquet to make sure the servers knew that no one at the banquet should be compelled to drink, and certainly not to excess as was the usual for the Persians. Each man at the banquet was to be allowed to judge how much wine he wanted to ingest. (I wonder if Ahasuerus appointed a “barf brigade” for clean-up duty.)

“Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus” (verse 9). Now a new character enters the scene. Vashti, Queen Persia. No matter how far I dug into the name Vashti, I could find no agreement about who she was. She was queen in Persia when Ahasuerus was on the throne. There are several speculations, but what the commentators come to agree on is that Vashti was a distinct historical figure. It was her refusal to obey her husband that God used to insert Esther into the picture in the Persian palace. In an article I read about her, it says Vashti was cruel to her maidens and even tortured some of them. The Jewish sage, R. Jose b. Ḥanina, said that Vashti was not modest as many assume because of her refusal to appear nude before the men of the kingdom, but that she had become a leper. He supposes she was afflicted with leprosy for making the Jewish young girls and women work naked on Sabbath.  

At that time in history when Ahasuerus had his 7 days drinking bash, feasts we segregated events. Women were not allowed to party with the men, so, Vashti made her own feast for women in a closed area of the palace where they could remove their veils and just have a good time.  

“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on” (verses 10, 11). On the seventh, and final day, of the feast, when he was drunk and not in his right mind after half a year of celebrating, Ahasuerus sent seven eunuchs to fetch Vashti and bring her before the king. He wanted her naked and unveiled so that the men could see her beauty. They were not sent to deliver a command to Vashti, but a request that she come at the king’s pleasure.  

“But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him” (verse 12). Vashti was to appear before the king and the men wearing ONLY “the crown royal”, that is, the royal diadem, her formal queenly headdress. When she refused, the king was upset. I don’t know about you all, but my response to such a request would be a good chuckle followed by a resounding, “NO!”

Book of Esther

Chapter 1 Part 2

March 25, 2012

“But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him” (Esther 1:12). Last week I just touched on this verse. Today I would like to expand my thoughts. As I read many articles written by Jews and non-Jews about the holiday of Purim and Queen Vashti, I was amazed to see how feminists have twisted this story to make Vashti the heroine. Please know that I understand that not all feminists think men are dogs and women rule, but it’s the general consensus. What they are trying to tell us is that Vashti, in her refusal to appear naked before the king and the leering men at the party, set herself up as the powerful queen. Seems to me if she had all that power, she would not have been tossed from her throne to make way for a new queen.

Of Esther, they comment that she was a silly “Miss Beauty Queen” with no power of her own and had to use her feminine wiles to approach the king. Did Esther’s beauty help her in her cause? Absolutely! Men are very visual beings and like anything beautiful that pleases the eyes, their sense, and Ahasuerus was no different. But tell me this. How was what Esther did any different than anything we would do, or a business man would do when trying to get our way? It’s no different. We use whatever we have available, hopefully within legal and moral bounds, of course. Esther had beauty and charm. She was smart to use it. However, we will see soon that her beauty was overshadowed by her bravery. Let’s not lose sight of what this message is about. The devil wanted to use Haman to annihilate the Jews, and through fasting and prayer, God used Esther to cancel that plot.

“Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king's manner toward all that knew law and judgment: And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king's face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;)” (Verses 13, 14) The wise men questioned would include noblemen, governors, astrologers and historians. It was Ahasuerus’ habit to ask the opinion of these men before making any decisions. Whether their advice was sound or not, he took it.

“What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?” (Verse 15) Remember, in verse 12 we are told Ahasuerus is angry with Vashti. She disobeyed a direct command that was carried to her from the king, and now the king was checking with his legal advisers to see what the law allowed as a good solid punishment for her. Even though he was the king, he was still restrained by the law. He couldn’t just shout, “Off with her head!” He had to follow protocol. His governors had several examples to fall back on. The Book of Proverbs has several verses that speak to rebellious wives. Here is one from the Amplified version. “It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop than to share a house with a disagreeing, quarrelsome, and scolding woman” (Proverbs 25:24). What we can’t forget is that Vashti’s refusal to appear not only sent an “in your face” message to the king. It cooled down the festivities. Everyone stopped to see what the king would do.

“And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king's princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath” (verse 16-18). Mamucan (called Harbona in 7:9) was one of the king’s governors so knew the law. He stated a fact that highlighted the extent of Vashti’s disobedience when he said, “Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only…” Her rebellion also had the potential to cause discord in the families in the kingdom which would affect the authority of the men in their homes. There is no way word of this would not leave the palace. One thing I know for sure: Nothing grows bigger or moves faster than gossip.  

All nations look to their first couple in office, no matter what they are called, president, king, queen, tsar, to set the precedent for acceptable behavior. That’s why first ladies are taught how to behave in public. You never hear a first lady, or the woman whose husband is running for any office, put him down in public or talk crossly to him. They must maintain decorum, no matter how upset they might be. Vashti’s refusal to come before the king was taking things in the wrong direction and had to be dealt with. If her disobedience was allowed to go unpunished, all the women of the kingdom would treat their husbands with contempt. Just giving Vashti a talking to would not be a strong enough punishment to ward off rebellion in the home. It had to be something women would want to avoid.  

Memucan is thought to have been the youngest least experienced of the governors in such matters, and so was allowed to speak first. His wisdom was sound and required no further discussion. “If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she” (verse 19). “let there go a royal commandment…” means it was not just an announcement of what would happen to Vashti, but an order of what must happen. “let it be written among the laws…” which, once it had been recorded and issued as law, could not be reversed. “Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be altered” (Daniel 6:8). The new law decreed was, “That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus…”  

I like what John Gill said about why Memucan insisted this become law. He said, “This precaution Memucan took for his own safety; for had the king acted upon his advice, without passing it into a law in such form, he might change his mind, and recall Vashti, who would not fail of venting her wrath upon the counsellor, and so he be in danger of losing his life for it.” It was all about self-preservation.  

Ahasuerus was to divorce Vashti and make it a law that she would never again receive any of the benefits that come from holding the title of queen. Vashti would lose her kingdom crown, the royal robes and garments of her position and the throne. The people were no longer required to treat Vashti with dignity and deference. 

“And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small” (verse 20). To publish the decree meant that it would be written out and circulated throughout the 127 provinces of the kingdom. Everyone would know what Vashti did and what her chastisement was and “all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.” Once they knew what the law was, the women would treat their husbands with honor so as not to suffer what Vashti did.

“And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan: For he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people” (verses 21, 22). Memucan gave the king advice that made him happy. I can just hear him now, “Yes! I like that! Send the letters out now.” The letter would have been written and the king’s signature added to it. Each scroll would have been sealed with wax and impressed with the king’s signet ring. Did you notice how important this decree was? So the people would have no excuse, the letter was sent in all the languages of the provinces of the kingdom. All the letters went quickly and were in the tongues of the land. Once the law had been registered in the books of law of the kingdom, the law could not be revoked. 

Vashti’s disobedience cleared the way for Esther. It opened the door for the Lord to use Esther in a fabulous way. In the remaining 9 chapters of Esther, we will see manipulation, envy, jealousy, strife, hatred, attempted murder and so on. It does read like a novelette, but I believe these things happened. We have enough information in history that speaks to the hatred of the nations toward Israel. What Hitler did shows that the desire of many is to rid the world of the Jews. They’ll never succeed, but they sure do cause the Jews much sadness and pain trying.