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Bible Commentaries
Esther 1

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-9

Introduction to Esther

Esther is the last of those books of the Old Testament commonly referred to as the Historical Books. Its setting is in the the Persian court, about 485-465 B. C. The king is Ahasuerus, which is the Hebrew form of Xerxes, after its. Anglicization. Xerxes I was one of the most prominent of the Persian kings, the son of Darius the Great, who allowed the Jews to resume the building of the temple. In secular history he is the Persian king who made an all-out attempt to defeat the Greek city states and annex Greece to his kingdom. His father’s forces had been decidedly bested in his campaigns against them. The Book of Esther opens with the account of the great festival by which Xerxes sought to raise funds and support for his own campaign against Greece. Four years later he also returned from the Greek campaigns decisively beaten, and the course of history was changed.

Skeptics have denied the historicity of Esther because major characters, such as Vashti, Mordecai, and Esther are unmentioned in the secular account. They cite a person named Amestris as the only "queen" of Xerxes mentioned in secular history. Conservative scholars find no problem with this, however, it being noted that rich kings such as Xerxes had many wives, Solomon himself being a notable example. It would not be unlikely that a much admired wife, as Vashti, first, then Esther, should be honored by the king and exalted in the country, though another may have retained the actual position of the queen.

Several attempts have been made to explain the absence of the mention of God in the Book of Esther. The idea has been advanced that it was prohibited by the Persian law to acknowledge some other God in court circles than the Persian national gods. This does not seem to be a tenable position. It appears more likely that it is purposely left out to show how the Lord took care of His people, even when they were outside His will, by not having returned to Jerusalem

The author of. Esther is unknown. The internal evidence suggests that the author was a Jew familiar with Persian life and practices. For this reason many have suggested that Mordecai himself authored the book. Since the events fall in the time frame between Zerubbabel and Ezra it is also possible that the account may be the work of the scribe Ezra.

Esther - Chapter 1

A Royal Party, Verse 1-9

The Persian name of this king transliterates in English as Khshayarsha. The Greek Xerxes, also Anglicized, comes from the Persian form. The Hebrew in turn came out Ahasuerus in its present English form. Xerxes inherited at the death of his father, Darius Hystaspes, a mighty empire which reached from India in the east to Ethiopia in the far southwest, in Africa. This vast area had been orderly divided into a hundred twenty provinces, each with its overlord subject to the Persian monarch. Advance of the Persian kings across the peninsula of Asia Minor had brought them into conflict with the Greek city states, and Ahasuerus was at that time making plans to subjugate these troublesome people and add them to his empire.

Shushan the palace was in the ancient land of Elam, about a hundred fifty miles north of the Persian Gulf, on one of the chief tributaries of the Tigris River. The name means "lily" in Hebrew, and the place is said to have been so called because it lay in a plain where this flower grew profusely. The time was the third year of Ahasuerus, or about 483 B. C. According to the Greek historian, Herodotus, the king threw this great banquet for the purpose of planning his military campaign against the Greeks. Those attendant at the great conclave included all the king’s princes, attendants, military officers of Persia and Media, and the nobles and princes of the hundred twenty provinces. He would need their financial backing and military personnel in his venture. To impress them he made a display of all his riches and glory over the extensive period of a hundred eighty days.

At the end of this lengthy time of festival and planning Ahasuerus threw a wild party lasting for a week. To this were invited all those in Shushan, from the great to the least. It was staged in the royal garden of the palace, which was lavishly and royally decorated. Beautiful white and violet linen draperies hung from marble columns, where they were attached by cords of fine purple linen in rings of gold. The couches on which the guests reclined were of gold and silver and sat upon a pavement of mosaic colors. Later language scholars identify the words translated as colors to indicate stones of porphyry, marble, mother-of-­pearl, and more precious stones. The wine was served in golden cups, each one decorated differently.

An interesting law of the Persians appears in connection with the wine drinking. No one was compelled to drink, for teetotalers were welcome at the party also. Each person was left to his own discretion in the matter.

As a kind of postscript it is noted that the women had their own private party inside the palace while the men reveled in their debauchery. They were hosted by Vashti the queen.

Verses 10-22

Queen Deposed, Verses 10-22

On the last day of his banquet King Ahasuerus was well intoxicated. His debauched mind conceived of a plan to parade his beautiful queen before his dissipated courtiers, something he might not have done in his sober moments. This goes to illustrate the power of intoxication over the mind of those who indulge in it (Ephesians 5:18). The king intended to bring in the queen with great fanfare and show, sending all seven of his chamberlains to conduct her. She was to wear the royal crown and perhaps to dress in her finery that he might display her beauty before the lustful eyes of his drunken cronies.

To her credit Vashti refused to join in this shocking demand of the king. although she might have known what it might cost her in the king’s favor. He was well know, as secular history confirms, for his foolish deeds. The whole affair of Vashti and the following beauty contest borders on the idiotic. He is said to have had the sea beaten with chains because the waves destroyed his pontoons when he was trying to cross the Hellaspont to Greece during his Greek campaign.

Vashti’s refusal humiliated the king, and he seethed with anger because she had defied his command. To save face there had to be some kind of punishment of her on his part. He called in seven of his counselors, who were trained in the law of Media and Persia and who were his closest advisers, and put the problem to them. What would the law allow him to do to Queen Vashti for her disobedience to the king’s command? One of the counselors, Memucan, had an answer. He reasoned that Vashti’s disobedience was not harmful to the king only,

but to all the men of the empire as well. The refusal of the queen to obey the king would become known widely over the empire, and all the wives of the realm would conclude that they could disobey their husbands also. Such a thing, Memucan concluded, would cause great contention throughout the realm, for there would be trouble in every house where the conduct of Vashti should become known.

Memucan advised the king to issue an edict, unalterable accord­ing to the custom of the Medes and Persians, that Vashti should be put away by the king and never allowed to come into his presence. Another queen more amenable to the king’s demands should be selected to fill her place. This new law should be published throughout the empire so that when it was known in every house the wives would be obedient and respectful of their husbands. The proposal was pleasing to Ahasuerus, and he had it issued as law and sent out in every language of his empire. It made it legal that every man should be master of his house and the spokesman of it. While the law of Ahasuerus was provoked by the refusal of a sinful demand, it was, nevertheless, according to God’s intent as set forth in the beginning (Genesis 3:16) and in keeping with New Testament instruction (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Note these lessons: 1) worldly rulers go to great lengths to bring about their own selfish desires; 2) drunkenness causes otherwise sensible people to do foolish things; 3) an honorable woman will not so behave to arouse the lusts of men; 4) God’s wise law has decreed that the wife should be subject to her husband.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Esther 1". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/esther-1.html. 1985.
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