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ESTHER BECOMES QUEEN INSTEAD OF VASHTI
This chapter takes us into the seraglio of Xerxes, an ancient Persian ruler, most certainly one of the vilest cesspools of immorality, selfishness, greed, hatred, wickedness, lust and shame that existed in the ancient pagan world.
In order to protect and preserve the chosen people, God worked His will in the lives of the evil men who controlled and directed the affairs related in this chapter. It is somewhat distressing to this writer that there is almost no word of condemnation in the commentaries we have consulted regarding this festering Satanic ulcer on the body of the human race, called Shushan the palace. Yes, we know that Solomon did it also, but it was still sinful, a rebellion against God that cried to high heaven for vengeance.
Esther 2:16 tells us that Esther became queen in Xerxes' seventh year; and, as the great feast mentioned in the previous chapter was in his third year (Esther 1:3), we must understand a time lapse of some four years in between Esther 1 and Esther 2. During this period, Xerxes fought the Grecian war.
Although the military expedition against Greece was principally concluded in the years 481-479 B.C., the greater portion of the entire four-year gap between the punishment of Vashti and the coronation of Esther were consumed by Xerxes' preparations for the campaign, and by his efforts to cover some of his losses afterward.
That Grecian campaign was an unqualified disaster for Xerxes: (1) At Thermopylae, a handful of Spartans under Leonidas checked and delayed his mighty army; and (2) later that same year Xerxes' navy of 1,400 ships was unable to overcome 380 ships of the Greeks in the Battle of Salamis. (3) In 479 B.C., at Plataea, "The bulk of the Persian army was destroyed. Meanwhile, the Greek fleet commanded by the king of Sparta drove the Persian fleet to the Asian mainland at Mycale. Leotychidas, the Spartan king, landed his sailors and marines farther up the coast, destroyed the Persian fleet and inflicted heavy casualties on a supporting army. The Ionians and the Aeolians at once rose in revolt, thus ending the Persian invasion of Greece in the final disaster for Persia."
After Xerxes' return to Shushan, Herodotus tells us that he consoled himself over his shameful defeats by sensual indulgences with his harem.
THE SEARCH FOR A REPLACEMENT FOR VASHTI
"After these things, when the wrath of king Ahashuerus was pacified, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her. Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king: and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, unto the house of the women, unto the custody of Hegai the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them; and let the maiden that pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti."
"After these things ... he remembered Vashti." This means after the Grecian campaign, and after Xerxes had begun to seek a more normal pattern of living. Anderson viewed the last clause here as, "A subtle suggestion that the king desired to reinstate Vashti, but he had signed an irrevocable decree against her." This is probably true, because his son, and heir, Artaxerxes I, born during the Grecian campaign, or just prior to it, was now, no doubt a charming child of three or four years of age. The king found himself a victim of his own drunken and extravagant decree against Vashti; but there was nothing he could do about it.
Of course, he might have tried to reinstate Vashti, but the king's advisors, in such a development, might easily have fallen under the severe wrath and punishment inflicted upon them by a restored Vashti; therefore, they proposed this shameful rape of all the pretty girls in Persia as a prerequisite for the choice of Vashti's successor. Evil beast that he was, Xerxes liked the idea, "and the king did so"!
"And the king did so" (Esther 2:4). This means that they searched throughout the vast domain of the Persian empire, and brought "all the fair young virgins to Shushan" (Esther 2:3). "What unspeakable horror this must have caused among all the beautiful young women of Persia! They were forcibly taken from their homes, turned over to a eunuch in the house of the women, and secluded for life among the wretched company of the king's concubines." The king would gratify his lust upon these girls, one each night, as they came to his bed. And then what happened? They were returned to the harem, henceforth and forever mere chattels, his property, having no more rights than one of the king's dogs.
Anderson wrote that, "Here the author ignored the Persian custom that stipulated that the king could marry only a Persian," insinuating that this account is founded, not on fact, but upon legend and folklore, but such opinions are in error, reflecting only anti-Biblical bias. Yes, Herodotus states that there was such a custom, but it was not the sacred author of Esther who ignored it - it was the wicked Xerxes and his evil advisers. Xerxes' own father had married a foreigner; and any notion that Xerxes would have honored such a custom is ridiculous.
Before leaving this paragraph, it should be noted that the young women thus conscripted as subjects of the king's lust had no choice whatever in the matter. They were ordered into the king's harem, from which they would never be able to escape.
THE INTRODUCTION OF MORDECAI AND ESTHER
"There was a certain Jew in Shushan the palace whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives that had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had neither father nor mother, and the maiden was fair and beautiful; and when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter."
"Mordecai" (Esther 2:5). This name is said to be derived from the pagan god Marduk, meaning "dedicated to Mars."
"Carried away from Jerusalem (by) Nebuchadnezzar" (Esther 2:6). That deportation of Jews was more than a century prior to the events of this chapter; and the meaning appears to be that Mordecai's parents or grandparents were the ones carried away. Mordecai's name suggests that he was born in Babylon, although the Babylonians generally changed the names of people whom they employed, as in the case of Daniel and others.
These three verses serve the purpose of introducing the persons around whom the rest of the narrative is woven.
ESTHER TAKEN INTO THE HOUSE OF THE KING'S WOMEN
"So it came to pass when the king's commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken into the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women. And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her the things for her purification, with her portions, and the seven maidens who were meet to be given her out of the king's house: and he removed her and her maidens to the best place of the house of the women. And Esther had not made known her people nor her kindred; for Mordecai and charged her that she should not make it known. And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what would become of her."
The key development here was Hegai's partiality to Esther. The words speedily and the best place (Esther 2:9) show that Hegai probably shortened the one year stay in the house of women for Esther and that he moved her as quickly as possible into the rotation for the king's bed.
ESTHER'S TURN TO GO IN TO THE KING
"Now when the turn of every maiden was come to go into king Ashuerus, after it had been done to her according to the law for the women twelve months (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors and with the things for the purifying of women), then in this wise came the maiden unto the king. Whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king's house. In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's chamberlain who kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and she were called by name. Now when the turn of Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hagai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her."
"In the evening she went; and on the morrow she returned" (Esther 2:14). Where are there any sadder words than these? One frightful night in the bed with Ahashuerus, and the next morning relegated to the status of a concubine, never more to see him, unless called by name; and the odds are that he did not even remember the names of half of them. The text states that there were many of these women.
ESTHER BECOMES QUEEN OF PERSIA
"So Esther was taken unto king Ahashuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained favor and kindness in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave girls, according to the bounty of the king."
Only Almighty God could have brought to pass such a thing as this. "This humble Jewish maiden, an orphan, dependent for her living upon the charity of her cousin Mordecai - this girl became the first woman in all Persia, the wife of the most powerful living monarch on earth, the queen of an empire comprised of more than half the world of that time."
It was always thus when God in his infinite wisdom laid his plans to preserve the chosen people from destruction. He sent Joseph to be seated next to the throne of Egypt; he brought up Moses in the palace of Pharaoh and made him an heir to the throne; in the land of their captivity, he made Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom; and now, when Satan would again make a move to destroy Israel, God placed Esther in a strategic position to prevent it; and it happened again with both Ezra and Nehemiah who had earned and received the respect of Artaxerxes; nor can we rule out the very great probability that it was the influence of Esther that, in part at least, had resulted in the honors that came to them.
"He made a release to the provinces" (Esther 2:18). It is not known exactly what this was, but it may have been merely a holiday.
MORDECAI SAVES THE KING FROM ASSASSINATION
"And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai was sitting in the king's gate. Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him. In those days, while Mordecai was sitting in the king's gate, two of the kinifs chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those that kept the threshold, were wroth, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahashuerus. And the thing became known to Mordecai, who showed it unto Esther the queen; and Esther told the king thereof in Mordecai's name. And when inquisition was made of the matter, and it was found to be so, they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king."
"And when the virgins were gathered together the second time" (Esther 2:19). This indicates the time when Mordecai discovered that plot against Ahashuerus. There were two gatherings of virgins for the king, the one mentioned in Esther 2:8, and a second one after that. "It was at that second collection of virgins that Mordecai had the good fortune to save the king's life."
It is incorrect to view any of these amazing events as mere coincidences. The hand of God is evident in every one of them. Esther's obedience of Mordecai reflects the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue; and Mordecai's saving the life of the king reflected the Sixth Commandment. It would have been quite easy to agree with Bigthan and Teresh, for Ahashuerus certainly deserved to be murdered, a fate that he indeed suffered about thirteen years later. Who would have wanted to kill him? Any one of the fathers of those countless women the king had forced to leave their families might have killed the king if they had a chance.
Esther's continuing to conceal her identity as a Jewess was vital to what happened. If Haman had known she was Jewish, he could never have decided to kill all the Jews. Her making the plot known in Mordecai,s name enrolled Mordecai's name in the chronicles of the king; and then the king forgot all about it - all of these things were absolutely vital for God's saving his people from the wrath of Haman; and not one of them was a mere coincidence. God was at work in history.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Esther 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany