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I. GOD’S PREPARATIONS 1:1-2:20
Joyce Baldwin believed that the writer composed the book in a chiastic structure that focuses on the providence of God in the king’s sleepless night. [Note: Baldwin., p. 30.]
A Opening and background (ch. 1)
B The king’s first decree (chs. 2-3)
C The clash between Haman and Mordecai (chs. 4-5)
D "On the night the king could not sleep" (Esther 6:1)
C’ Mordecai’s triumph over Haman (chs. 6-7)
B’ The king’s second decree (chs. 8-9)
A’ Epilogue (ch. 10)
This first major part of the book explains how God placed a simple Jewish young woman in position to deliver her people from possible extinction.
1. The plan to replace Vashti 2:1-4
"Nearly four years have passed since Vashti was deposed. During that time, Ahasuerus directed his ill-fated Greek campaign and came home in humiliation instead of honor." [Note: Ibid., p. 711.]
Ahasuerus had second thoughts about having deposed Vashti (Esther 2:1), but he concluded that the action he had taken against her needed to stand. The attendants’ plan doubtless appealed to the king’s ego (Esther 2:2-4). The writer called these men "attendants" rather than "princes" (Esther 1:14). They were evidently not the same individuals who had recommended Vashti’s dismissal.
B. Esther Elevated 2:1-20
The fact that God placed Esther in a position so she could deliver her people-even before they were in danger-shows His far-reaching providence at work for His chosen people. This revelation would have been a great encouragement to the Jews of the postexilic period, as it has been to all believers since then.
2. Esther’s selection 2:5-11
Apparently it was Kish, Mordecai’s great-grandfather, who went into captivity with Jehoiachin (Esther 2:5-6). [Note: Wright, p. 38.] This means Mordecai and Esther were probably descendants of the leading citizens of Jerusalem who went into exile in 597 B.C., perhaps nobility (cf. 2 Kings 24:12).
Mordecai’s name is Persian, as is Esther’s, and it has connections with the god Marduk. [Note: Horn, p. 16.] All the same, it was common for the Jews in captivity to receive and to use pagan names (cf. Daniel 1:7; Ezra 1:8). This does not necessarily indicate that they were apostate Jews (cf. Daniel 1:7). The Marduk tablet, an extra-biblical cuneiform document, may contain a reference to Mordecai. [Note: See Whitcomb, pp. 47-48; and Horn, pp. 20-22.] The writer mentioned Mordecai 58 times in this book, and seven times identified him as a Jew (Esther 2:5; Esther 5:13; Esther 6:10; Esther 8:7; Esther 9:29; Esther 9:31; Esther 10:3). Obviously, this is a story in which ethnicity is important.
"Hadasseh" (Esther 2:7) is a Jewish name that means myrtle, a beautiful fragrant tree. The Jews still sometimes carry myrtle branches, which signify peace and thanksgiving, in procession during the Feast of Tabernacles. [Note: Baldwin, p. 66.] The name "Esther" is Persian and means "star." It derives from the same root as "Ishtar," the Babylonian goddess of love. As will become clear, Esther cooperated in practices contrary to the Mosaic Law. These included having sex with a man not her husband (Exodus 20:14), marrying a pagan (Deuteronomy 7:1-4), and eating unclean food (Leviticus 11:46-47). This sets Esther in contrast to Daniel, who purposed not to defile himself-even with unclean food (Daniel 1:5; Daniel 1:8). God used Esther as Israel’s deliverer, even though she disregarded His will, at least partially (cf. Samson). Mordecai encouraged her to cooperate with the king (Esther 2:10-11). It is impossible to determine if Esther was forced to participate in the king’s "beauty contest," or if she did so willingly. In view of Ahasuerus’ great power, I tend to think that she had no choice.
"The Persian name would enable Esther to keep secret her foreign identity." [Note: Ibid., p. 21.]
". . . if Mordecai and Esther were passing themselves off as Persians, they certainly weren’t keeping a kosher home and obeying the laws of Moses. Had they been following even the dietary laws, let alone the rules for separation and worship, their true nationality would have quickly been discovered. Had Esther practiced her Jewish faith during her year of preparation (Esther 2:12), or during the four years she had been queen (Esther 2:16 with Esther 3:7), the disguise would have come off." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 712.]
"When you consider the backslidden state of the Jewish nation at that time, the disobedience of the Jewish remnant in the Persian Empire, and the unspiritual lifestyle of Mordecai and Esther, is it any wonder that the name of God is absent from this book?" [Note: Ibid., p. 713.]
Esther charmed Hegai, who was in charge of the king’s women, and he proceeded to grant her favor (Esther 2:9; cf. Daniel 1:9). Her ability to keep information confidential and her submissiveness to Mordecai (Esther 2:10) mark her as a wise woman (cf. Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 13:3).
There are several parallels between the story of Esther and the story of the Exodus. These have led a few scholars to conclude that the writer patterned this story after the story of Moses and the Exodus. [Note: Gillis Gerleman, Esther, has been the main advocate of this view, and others have followed.] Similarities include the plot and central theme, the adopted child with the concealed identity, reluctance to appeal to the king at first, the execution of many enemies, the Amalekite foe, and others. [Note: Forrest S. Weiland, "Plot Structure in the Book of Esther," Bibliotheca Sacra 159:635 (July-September 2002):277-87.] Though some similarities do exist, most scholars have not agreed that the writer deliberately constructed the Book of Esther after Exodus 1-12. [Note: See Carey A. Moore, "Eight Questions Most Frequently Asked About the Book of Esther," Bible Review 3:1 (Spring 1987):30-31.]
Similarly, there are several parallels with the story of Joseph in Genesis. [Note: See S. B. Berg, "The Book of Esther: Motifs, Themes, and Structure," Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series 44, pp. 123-42.]
3. The choice of Esther as queen 2:12-20
The king evidently had sexual relations with a different virgin every night whenever he pleased. The harem officials watched these girls closely to make sure they did not have some disease that they would pass on to him. The women in the harem used their time to become as attractive as possible.
"Like the semi-nomadic Arab women of the eastern Sudan in the last century, women like Esther long, long ago fumigated themselves, saturating their hair, skin, and pores with fumes from cosmetic burners." [Note: Idem, "Archaeology and the Book of Esther," Biblical Archaeologist 38:3-4 (September, December 1975):78.]
After their night with the king, these young women resided in a facility with other concubines where they might live for the rest of their lives. The king might call for them again or he might not. Historians have documented Ahasuerus’ amorous affairs in Persia, Greece, and elsewhere. [Note: See Whitcomb, pp. 56-59.] Esther had such natural beauty and charm that she required no special adornments to make her more attractive (Esther 2:15).
"Both Josephus and the Jewish Rabbis exaggerated the beauty of Esther and elaborated on her virtues and piety. The Rabbis held that Esther was one of the four most beautiful women in history along with Sarah, Rahab, and Abigail (Megillah 15a). Josephus maintained that Esther ’surpassed all women in beauty’ in the entire habitable world." [Note: Yamauchi, "The Archaeological . . .," p. 106. See Josephus, 11:7, for his account of the story of Esther.]
Esther became queen in the winter of 479-478 B.C., four years after Vashti’s deposition (Esther 2:16). During that four-year period the Greeks defeated Ahasuerus in battle.
The Hebrew word translated "banquet" (Esther 2:18, hanaha) means "a coming to rest." This could mean that Ahasuerus released his subjects from some tax burdens, or from military service, or both, temporarily.
"Perhaps it is relevant that when the False Smerdis ascended the throne [of Persia in 522 B.C.], he granted his subjects freedom from taxation and military service for a period of three years (Herodotus III, 67)." [Note: Moore, Esther, p. 25.]
Evidently the reassembling of the virgins (Esther 2:19) was part of a procession the king designed to show off Esther’s beauty compared with the other contestants in his beauty contest. [Note: Gordis, p. 47.]
Evidently Mordecai received an appointment to a governmental position as a magistrate or judge because of Esther’s influence (Esther 2:19). The "king’s gate" was where people settled legal matters in the capital. His position probably enabled Mordecai to overhear the plot to assassinate the king (Esther 2:21-23).
". . . the impression remains that Esther’s Jewishness was more a fact of birth than of religious conviction." [Note: Moore, Esther, p. liv. Cf. Esther 2:20.]
II. HAMAN’S PLOT 2:21-4:3
The writer next described a plot that one of the leading men of Persia devised to do away with the Jews.
A. Background Considerations 2:21-3:6
At this point in the narrative the writer introduced us to the villain, and we learn the reasons he hated the Jews.
1. Mordecai’s loyalty 2:21-23
We know no details concerning the identities of the assassins who tried to kill Ahasuerus or what motivated them. Extra-biblical sources have not yet clarified these matters, though the commentators love to speculate. We do know that 14 years later Ahasuerus did die at the hand of an assassin. [Note: Wiersbe, p. 715.] Mordecai’s position in the government is another evidence of God’s providential preparation to deliver His people. "Gallows" (Esther 2:23; cf. Esther 5:14; Esther 7:10) is literally "tree."
"Rather than being hanged by the neck on a modern-type gallows, the men were probably impaled on a stake or post (cf. Ezra 6:11). This was not an unusual method of execution in the Persian Empire. Darius, Xerxes’ father, was known to have once impaled 3,000 men." [Note: John A. Martin, "Esther," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 704-5.]
Ahasuerus was careful to record the name, father, and town of anyone who demonstrated particular loyalty to his throne and to reward him quickly and generously. [Note: Herodotus, 8:90.]
"Xerxes is consumed with power yet powerless as sovereign events unfold." [Note: Breneman, p. 323.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Esther 2". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24