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Bible Commentaries
Esther 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

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:)

Ahasuerus, [ 'Achashweerowsh (H325) (see Gesenius, sub voce); the Septuagint has Artaxerxees ]. But it is now generally agreed among learned men (Justi, Eichhorn, Rosenmuller, Milman, etc.; see 'Introduction' to this book) that the Ahasuerus mentioned in this episode is the Xerxes who figures in Grecian history. Xerxes is called, in the cuneiform inscriptions on the ruins of Persepolis, Khshershe, according to Grotefend (in 'Heeren Ideen,' 1:, pp, 558, 692); or Khearsha, according to Martin, ('Journal Asiatic,' February, 1823, p. 83). Herodotus says (b.

vi., 98) that Xerxees is equivalent to Areeios, a warrior. Reland ('Dissert. de Vet. Ling. Pesia,' sec. 154) says that it is composed of two Persian words, Shir-Shah - i:e., lion-king (Rosenmuller, 'Biblical Geography,' 1:, pp. 258,

259). This conclusion rests both, on certain chronological data (see 'Introduction' to this book) and on the character of that celebrated monarch-despotic, capricious, fickle, reckless of human lives, and immersed in sensual pleasures. These were exactly the attributes of him who is represented in this book as bearing the dynastic title of Ahasuerus; and on the assumption that this identification is well founded, the deliverance of the Jews, which is the grand subject of interest in this record, took place a few years before Ezra's departure for Jerusalem.

This is Ahasuerus which reigned ... over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces, [ mªdiynaah (H4082)] - a district, under the jurisdiction of a prefect or viceroy. Such a governor in Persia was called a satrap, the etymology of which, according to Sir John Malcolm ('History of Persia') is Chattra-pati, 'lord of the umbrella.' Herodotus (b. 3:, 89-97) divides Persia proper into 20 satrapies. But taking the empire at large, there was, of course, vastly greater numbers. Darius (Hystaspes) appointed a hundred and twenty governors (Daniel 6:1-2), and here Xerxes is described as reigning over 127 provinces (cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 11:, ch. 6: sec.

1); but there is no discrepancy in these statements; because the division was not so much a geographical distribution of the land, as a classification of the different tribes who inhabited the conquered lands, according to the amount of tribute respectively exacted of them. 'Asia Minor alone contained 10 satrapies or provinces' ('Heeren Ideen,' part

i., division 1:, pp. 175-181). The Ethiopians are expressly mentioned by Herodotus (b. 7:, chs. 69:, 70:) in the list of nations who were compelled to furnish a contingent of troops to the expedition of Xerxes against Greece.

Verse 2

That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace,

When the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom - i:e., in the third year of his reign.

In Shushan the palace, [ Shuwshan (H7800), a lily: 'Moroea Sisyrynchium, Ker. Iris Sisyrynchium' (Linn.)].

In Shushan the palace, [ Shuwshan (H7800), a lily: 'Moroea Sisyrynchium, Ker. Iris Sisyrynchium' (Linn.)]. By some persons, it is supposed that the extraordinary abundance of that flower in the neighbourhood gave the name of Shushan, the City, to this locality. Loftus, also Athenoeus and Stephen of Byzantium, as cited by Bochart ('Sacred Geography,' part 2:; Kinneir, 'Memoir on the Persian Empire,' p. 98), says, 'Shus, in the Pehlevi, signifies "pleasant."' Susa, Sus, or Shush, the capital of Susiana, and of all Persia, the favourite winter residence of the Persian kings.

It has been attempted to prove that there were two cities of this name in the province of Susiana-one, the Shushan of Scripture, in the Bakhtigali mountains; the other, the Susa of the Greeks. It was supposed that, the scriptural expression, "Shushan the palace" (cf. Daniel 8:1-2), was indicative of a distinction from some other city of the same name ('Journal of the Geographical Society,' vol. 9:, p. 85), but the reasoning was based on fallacious grounds. That Shushan and Susa are one and the same we learn from the agreement, of Josephus with Scripture (Esther 2:3; Esther 2:8; Esther 3:15; Nehemiah 1:1; Loftus, 'Chaldea and Susiana,' p. 338).

"In Shushan the palace" [ bª-Shuwshan (H871a) habiyraah (H1002)] - in Shushan, the citadel fortress. There was at Susa a remarkable edifice, the erection of which Josephus ascribes to Daniel (Daniel 8:27: cf. 'Antiquities,' b. 10:, ch. 11:, sec. 7), distinguished for its vastness, elaborate architecture, and freshness of appearance-owing, as Reland says, to the hardness of the stone-which was, like the Pyramids of Egypt used as a mausoleum for the Persian and Parthian kings, and the custody of which was committed by the will of the founder to the custody of a Jewish governor. The Jewish historian places this tower, as the present text of his history reads, at Ecbatana in Media; but Jerome, who professes to quote it verbatim from the copies in use in the fourth century, places it ('Commentary' on Daniel 8:2) at Susa in Persia, Josephus calls the tower Baris (cf. 'Antiquities,' b. 15:, ch.

iii.), almost identical with the Hebrew original which we translate, "Shushan the palace" (see further, Loftus, 'Chaldaea and Susiana,' p. 338; Ker Porter's 'Travels,' 2:, pp. 411-414).

Verse 3

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:

Made a feast unto all his princes and his servants. Banquets on so grand a scale, and extending over so great a period, have not been unfrequently provided by the luxurious monarchs of Eastern countries, both in ancient (especially in Assyria and Babylon, Daniel 5:1; 'Herodotus,' 9:, 110; 'Dis. Sic.,' 2:, 20: cf. Botta's 'Monuments,' plates 51 to 67; 107 to 114; 'Nineveh and its Remains,' 2:, p. 244) and modern times. The early portion of this festive season, however, seems to have been dedicated to amusement, particularly an exhibition of the magnificence and treasures of the court, and it was closed by a special feast of seven days' continuance, given to all classes of the inhabitants, within the gardens of the royal palace.

The ancient palace of Susa has been recently disinterred from an incumbent mass of earth and ruins; and in that palace, which is, beyond all doubt, the actual edifice referred to in this passage, there is a great hall of marble pillars. 'The position of the great colonnade corresponds with the account hero given. It stands on an elevation in the center of the mound, the remainder of which we may well imagine to have been, occupied, after the Persian fashion, with a garden and fountains. Thus the colonade would represent the "court of the garden the king's palace," with its pillars of marble." I am even inclined to believe the expression, "Shushan the place," applies especially to this portion of the existing ruins, in contradistinction to the citadel and the city of Shusban' (Loftus, 'Chalrises and Susiana'). Or it might be the quadrangle denominated by Mr. Ferguson the 'temple court,' at Khorsabad.

Verses 4-5

When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

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.

Where were white, green, and blue hangings ... [ chuwr (H2353), fine white linen; Septuagint, bussos (G1040)] "Green" [ karpac (H3768), cotton; Septuagint, karpasos]. "And blue" [ tªkelet (H8504)] - cerulean purples, cloth dyed with a colouring matter obtained from the helix Janthina (Linn.), a species of mussel found in the Mediterranean. [Septuagint, huakinthos (G5192).]

Fastened with cords of fine linen, [ buwts (H948), often used in later Hebrew synonymously with sheesh (H8336), the fine linen of Egypt]. 'The divan, or hall of audience in an Eastern palace, as also the room for receiving guests in private houses, is generally covered with a Persian carpet, round which are placed cushions of different shape and size, in cases of gold and silver work, or of scarlet cloth embroidered; these are occasionally moved into the courts and gardens, and placed finder the Shamyanah for the accommodation of company,' (Forbes' 'Oriental Mem.')

As to 'the beds of gold and silver,' they seem to have been in Persia the exclusive privilege of royalty. Couches of gold and silver are mentioned by Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus as used both among the Persians and the Parthians; and while beds of brass and iron were common, the corpse of Cyrus was found by Alexander deposited on a golden bedstead. It was customary among the Persians to recline at meals on "beds," or sofas, as we should call them. Sometimes temporary erections of this elegant and attractive character were made in gardens or on the flat roofs of the palaces.

Sir John Chardin ('Travels,' 2: p. 116) thus describes the nuptial feast of a Persian prince. 'The feast took place on a terrace of the palace, which was enclosed with fine carved lattice work. It was covered with a pavilion, which rested upon fine pillars. This tent-palace was lined with gold and silver brocade, and fine painted linen; and, when lighted up with a great many torches, presented a very beautiful appearance shading like figured wainscot' (cf. also Della Valle's description of a banquet gives by Shah Abbas I to the nobles of Persia on the news of a national victory over the Turks: 'Travels,' part 2:; see else 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 530). The fashion in the houses of the great, on festive occasions, was to decorate the chambers from the middle of the wall downward with damask or velvet hangings of variegated colours suspended on hooks, or taken down at pleasure.

The beds were of gold and silver - i:e., the couches on which, according to Oriental fashion, the guests reclined, and which were either formed of gold and silver, or inlaid with ornaments of those costly metals, stood on the elevated floor of parti-coloured marble. It must be mentioned as a remarkable confirmation of the truth of this record, which the Providence of God has furnished to the church in this sceptical age, that Susa, like Nineveh has recently been exhumed from the accumulated rubbish of ages, and the very spot where the royal festivities were held has, within the last few years, been actually revealed. There have been discovered the remains of the ancient palace of Shushan, some of the marble columns in the garden, and the small coloured stones or painted tiles which formed the tesselated pavement. That pavement is still in existence; and in the marble pillars in the sculpture, and the other relics of royal grandeur that here been found lying about the place, there has been obtained an unexpected confirmation of the truth of this singular record. The glory of the ancient autocrat of Persia has long ago passed away, and nothing but the relics of the sumptuous hospitality, which in so extensive a scale of even royal magnificence he practiced, are found. The newspapers of 1853 informed us that the commissioners engaged under the mediation of England and Russia, in making the boundary-line between Persia and Turkey, made those discoveries at Shushan (see also Loftus, 'Chaldaea and Susiana,' p. 364).

Verse 7

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.

They gave them drink in vessels of gold. There is reason to believe from this account, as well as from Esther 5:6; Esther 7:2; Esther 7:7-8, where the drinking of wine occupies by far the most prominent place in the description that this was a banquet rather than a feast, From accounts of travelers in modern Persia the same practice prevails. Della Valle gives an account of a royal banquet, which furnishes an exact parallel to the, one that was held at Shushan the palace, 'where,' says that accurate reporter, 'though the wine-cup was always going round, no one was compelled to drink more than be pleased.' Notwithstanding this freedom from bacchanalian revelry and compulsion, 'banquets of wine' are more prominently notices in this history than feasts. What number of guests were entertained at this feast in Shushan we are not informed. But if the rulers of all the 127 provinces, with their principal attendants, and the officers of Ahasuerus' court, were all present, the company must have been immense. And yet every guest drank out of a golden goblet different in design and form from the rest-a prodigal display of art which almost transcends imagination.

Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 9

Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.

Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women. The celebration was double; because, as according to the Oriental fashion the sexes do not intermingle in society, the court ladies were entertained in a separate apartment by the queen. She was in circumstances to provide a sumptuous entertainment on an extensive scale; because the dignified rank of queen was supported by ample revenues, not dependent on the good-will of the king, but fixed by the law and usage of the country (Herodotus, b. 2:, 98; 'Athen. Deipn.,' b. 1:, p. 33). She possessed great power over the women of the court-amounting, according to some authorities, to from 330 to 360 concubines-and frequently exercised it in a very despotic manner in the harem (Quintus, Curtius, 'Exped. Alex.,' b. 3:, p. 28). Although the queen could, to a certain extent, use great freedom, she was as completely at the will of the king as the veriest slave in the country (Herodotus, b. 9:, p. 111).

Verse 10

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,

On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine. As the feast-days advanced, the drinking was more freely indulged in, so that the close was usually marked by great excesses of revelry.

He commanded ... the seven chamberlains. These were the eunuchs who had charge of the royal harem. The refusal of Vashti to obey an order which required her to make an indecent exposure of herself before a company of drunken revellers was becoming both the modesty of her sex and her rank as queen; because, according to Persian customs, the queen, even more than the wives of other men, was secluded from the public gaze: and had not the king's blood been heated with wine, or his reason overpowered by force of offended pride, he would have perceived that his own honour as well as hers was consulted by her dignified conduct.

Verses 11-12

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 13

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:

Then the king said to the wise men. These were probably the magi, without whose advice as to the proper time of doing a thing, the Persian kings never did take any step whatever; and the persons named in the following verse were the "seven counselors" (see the note at Ezra 7:14) who formed the state ministry. The eminence of their station in the Persian court is expressed by 'their seeing the king's face,' (this is metaphorically applied to the angels, Matthew 18:10; Luke 1:9).

The combined wisdom of all, it seems, was enlisted to consult with the king what course should be taken after so unprecedented an occurrence as Vashti's disobedience of the royal summons. It is scarcely possible for us to imagine the astonishment produced by such a refusal in a country and a court where the will of the sovereign was absolute. The assembled grandees were petrified with horror at the daring affront; alarm for the consequences that might ensue to each of them whose authority was absolute and arbitrarily exercised in his own household, next seized on their minds; and the sounds of bacchanalian revelry were hushed into deep and anxious consultation what punishment to inflict on the refractory queen. But a purpose was to be served by the flattery of the king and the enslavement of all women. The counselors were too intoxicated or obsequious to oppose the courtly advice of Memucan. It was unanimously resolved, with a wise regard to the public interests of the nation, that the punishment of Vashti could be nothing short of degradation from her royal dignity. The doom was accordingly pronounced and made known in all parts of the empire.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Esther 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/esther-1.html. 1871-8.
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