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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Esther 1

Verse 1

(1) Ahasuerus.—Three persons are called by this name in the Old Testament—(1) the Ahasuerus of Daniel 9:1, the father of “Darius the Mede;” if, as is probable, this latter is the same with Astyages, Ahasuerus must be identified with Cyaxares: (2) the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6, who is doubtless the same with Cambyses, the son of Cyrus; and (3) the one now before us, whom we have shown in the Introduction to be almost certainly Xerxes. For the history and character of this sovereign reference must be especially made to the contemporaneous writers, Herodotus (vii., viii. 1-90), and Æschylus in his play of The Persians. The spirited lines of Juvenal should also be read (Sat. x. 173-187). We find that Xerxes succeeded his father, Darius Hystaspes, in the year 485 B.C. , five years after the momentous battle of Marathon. Undeterred by his father’s failure, he resolves upon a fresh attack on Greece, and sets out in 481 B.C. from Susa for the West. He winters at Sardis, leaving it in the spring of the following year. The summer sees the fight of the pass of Thermopylæ, which has covered the name of Leonidas and his three hundred, though vanquished and slain, with undying glory; in the autumn Themistocles, by his victory over the Persians at Salamis, changes the history of the world, and the beginning thus made is carried on by the victories at Platæa and Mycale in 479 B.C. From the rout at Salamis, Xerxes had fled to Sardis, which he did not leave till the spring of 478 B.C. All that we know of the further course of the reign of Xerxes is but one unbroken tale of debauchery and bloodshed, which came to an end in 464 B.C, when he was murdered by two of his officers, Mithridates and Artabanus, and Artaxerxes Longimanus, his son (see Ezra 7:0; Nehemiah 2:0), reigned in his stead.

This is Ahasuerus.—This is added to make clear which particular sovereign we are here dealing with. We have seen that three of the name are mentioned in the Old Testament.

Ethiopia.—Herodotus tells us that Ethiopia paid tribute to Xerxes (iii. 97).

An hundred and seven and twenty.—In Daniel 6:1. we find that Darius the Mede appointed a hundred and twenty satraps, but probably the similarity in numbers is quite accidental. There seem to have been a gradually increasing number of satrapies in the kingdom of Darius—20, 21, 23, 29 (Herod, iii. 89-94), and the nations in the empire of Xerxes are said to be sixty (ib. vii. 61-95). Thus the provinces here mentioned must include subdivisions of these.

Verse 2

(2) Shushan.—Susa. Mentioned also in Nehemiah 1:1. It was the general abode of the Persian kings. (See Herod. vii. 6.)

Verse 3

(3) In the third year of his reign.—Assuming, as we do, the identity of Ahasuerus and Xerxes, this will be 483 B.C., when Xerxes held a meeting at Susa of his princes to make arrangements for invading Greece. At so important a gathering, the feasting was a very obvious adjunct; and besides the coming campaign, a successful war had just been concluded in Egypt, and rejoicings for the past might have mingled with high hopes for the future, when the whole strength of the empire should be put forth to crush the presumptuous foe who had dared to measure swords with the “king of kings.”

Nobles.—The word in the Hebrew, partemim, occurring here, in Esther 6:9. and Daniel 1:3. is a Persian word, literally meaning “first.” The Greek protos and Latin primus are evidently akin to it.

Verse 4

(4) An hundred and fourscore days.—As a period of mere feasting, this long time (half a year) is simply incredible, but we must understand it as a time during which troops were collected, and the plan of invasion settled.

Verse 5

(5) All the people.—So we find Cyrus feasting “all the Persians” (Herod. i. 126).

Verse 6

(6) Where were white. . . .—This should be [hangings of] “white cotton and blue.” The word translated “cotton” (Heb., carpas) occurs only here. Canon Rawlinson remarks that “white and blue (or violet) were the royal colours of Persia.”

Linen.—White linen; so the word is used, e.g., in 2 Chronicles 5:12.

Marble.—White marble, as in the last clause of the verse.

Beds.—That is, the couches. The gold is not to be referred simply to the gold- mbroidered coverings, but to the framework of the couch.

Red and blue . . .—These words are not names of colours, but of actual stones, although the meaning of most is doubtful enough. The first (bahat) is rendered by the LXX. as a stone of emerald colour, and may perhaps be malachite. The second (shesh) is white marble, the third (dar) is pearly, and the last (sokhereth) black.

Verse 7

(7) In vessels of gold.—This shows the immense treasures in the hand of the Persian king, when the whole population of Susa could be thus accommodated.

Royal wine.—Perhaps wine of Helbon (Ezekiel 27:18); the original seems to imply more than merely wine from the royal cellars: as the king was feasting his people, it could hardly have been otherwise.

State.—Literally, hand.

Verse 8

(8) Law.—Rather ordinance or decree, that is, specially put forth for this occasion. What this means is shown by what follows, namely, that the king had issued special orders to allow all to do as they pleased in the matter of drinking, instead of as usual compelling them to drink. This degrading habit is the more noticeable because the Persians were at first a nation of exceptionally temperate habits.

Verse 9

(9) Vashti.—According to Gesenius, the name Vashti means beautiful. Among the Persians it was customary that one wife of the sovereign should be supreme over the rest, and her we sometimes find exercising an authority which contrasts strangely with the degraded position of women generally. Such a one was Atossa, the mother of Xerxes. Vashti, too, before her deposition, was evidently the queen par excel. lence. We find, however, that the name given by the Greek writers to the queen of Xerxes was Amestris, of whose cruelty and dissolute life numerous details are given us by Herodotus and others. There seem good grounds for believing that she was the wife of Xerxes before he became king, which if established would of itself be sufficient to disprove the theory of some who would identify Esther and Amestris. Moreover, Herodotus tells us (7:61. 82) that Amestris was the cousin of Xerxes, the daughter of his father’s brother; and although we cannot view Esther as of a specially high type of womanhood, still it would be most unjust to identify her with one whose character is presented to us in most unlovely guise. Bishop Wordsworth suggests that Amestris was a wife who had great influence with Xerxes between the fall of Vashti and the rise of Esther. If, however, Amestris was really the chief wife before Xerxes came to the throne, this could hardly be, and the time allowed seems much too scanty, seeing that in it falls the invasion of Greece. Or, lastly, we may with Canon Rawlinson say that Vashti is Amestris (the two names being different reproductions of the Persian, or Vashti being a sort of title) and that the deposition was a temporary one.

The women.—There should be no article.

Verse 10

(10) Was merry with wine.—The habit of the Persians to indulge in wine to excess may be inferred from Esther 1:8.

Chamberlains.—Literally, eunuchs. The names of the men, whatever they may be, are apparently not Persian. The enumeration of all the seven names is suggestive of personal knowledge on the part of the writer.

Verse 11

(11) To bring Vashti.—It is evident from the way in which the incident is introduced that had Ahasuerus been sober he would not have asked such a thing. Vashti naturally sends a refusal.

Crown royal.—If this were like that worn by a king, it would be a tall cap decked with gems, and with a linen fillet of blue and white; this last was the diadem. (See Trench, New Testament Synonyms, § 23.)

Verse 13

(13) Which knew the times.—That is, who were skilled in precedents, and could advise accordingly.

For so. . . .—Translate, for so was the king’s business laid, before . . .

Verse 14

(14) Marsena.—It has been suggested that we may possibly recognise here Mardonius, the commander at Marathon; and in Admatha, Artabanus, the uncle of Xerxes.

The seven princes.—There were seven leading families in Persia, the heads of which were the king’s chief advisers, the “seven counsellors” of Ezra 7:14. Herodotus (iii. 84) speaks of the seven nobles who rose against the Pseudo-Smerdis as chief in the nation.

Verse 16

(16) Answered before the king.—Memuean, like a true courtier, gives palatable advice to his master, by counsel which is the true echo of the king’s angry question.

Done wrong.—Literally, dealt unfairly.

Verse 18

(18) Translate, and this day shall the princesses of Persia and Media, which heard the affair of the queen, say . . .

Contempt and wrath.—Presumably, contemptuous defiance on the part of the wives, and anger on the part of the husbands.

Verse 19

(19) That it be not altered.—Literally, that it pass not away. The order having been committed to writing was, in theory at any rate, immutable. The best illustration is the well-known case of Daniel; see also below (Esther 8:8). Probably a strong-willed monarch would interpret this inviolability rather freely.

Verse 22

(22) He sent letters.—The Persian Empire was the first to possess a postal system (see esp. Herod. vii. 98). The Greek word for “compel,” in Matthew 5:41; Matthew 27:32, is simply a corruption of the Persian word for the impressment of men and horses for the royal service.

That every man should . . .—The following words are, literally, be ruling in his own house, and speaking according to the language of his own people. The former clause may probably be taken as a proof of the existence of an undue amount of female influence generally in Persia; the second clause is more doubtful. The English Version does distinct violence to the Hebrew, perhaps because the literal rendering yielded a somewhat peculiar sense. Taking the words exactly as they stand, they can only mean that in a house where two or more languages are used, from the presence of foreign wives, the husband is to take care that his own language is not supplanted by any of theirs. This is intelligible enough, but is perhaps rather irrelevant to what goes before.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Esther 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.