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Bailey Sadler Class

SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Spring, 2018

 

Study Theme:  Stand Up: How To Fight InJustice

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

This week’s study starts an in-depth look over the next six weeks at the example of a godly woman, named Esther, to learn when and how to “Stand Up and fight injustice.”

 

 

 

X

Apr. 22

Be Ready To Stand (Esther 2:5-10,15-17)

 

Apr. 29

Stand With Connviction (Esther 2:21—3:6)

 

May 06

Stand Down (Esther 4:1-3,10-16)

 

May 13

Stand With Humility (Esther 5:1-14)

 

May 20

Stand Up and Speak (Esther 7:1-10)

 

May 27

Keep Standing (Esther 8:1-8; 9:20-22)

 

LIFE IMPACT:

God is always at work behind the scenes.

FOCAL PASSAGE:

Esther 2:5-10,15-17

STUDY OUTLINE:

I.    

II.

III.

Even In Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize That God Is At Work (Esth. 2:5-7)

Take Advantage of New Opportunities (Esth. 2:8-10)

Step Into New Roles & Look For Opportunities To Further God’s Kingdom (Esth. 2:15-17)

THE SETTING:  

The Book of Esther begins in the reign of King Ahasuerus (1:1), also known as Xerxes (486-465 B.C.). In the third year of his reign, Ahasuerus held a feast for all his important officials, including leading nobles and members of the army of Persia and Media. During this feast, he displayed the wealth of his kingdom so all could see his greatness. The celebratory events lasted 180 days (1:3-4). Following this period, the king held another week-long banquet for all the people in Susa, his fortress city (1:5). Persia’s riches were also on display at this banquet, and wine flowed freely by the king’s decree (1:6-8).

On the seventh day of the feast, King Ahasuerus commanded his officials to bring Queen Vashti so he might display her beauty to everyone (1:10-11). However, Queen Vashti refused to come—a fact that greatly angered Ahasuerus (1:12). In response, the king conferred with his counselors; what should be done to Vashti according to the law (1:15)?

One official named Memucan recommended Ahasuerus issue an edict deposing Vashti; she would no longer be allowed to enter the king’s presence. The edict also should include a charge for all the women of Persia to respect their husbands (1:13-20). The king and his counselors approved the idea, and copies of the edict went out to all the provinces (1:21-22).

Sometime later, the king again consulted with his attendants to determine a strategy to select the next queen. They suggested that throughout the realm, a search be conducted to find all the beautiful young virgins (2:2). These women would be brought to Susa, where they would receive extensive beauty treatments (2:3). Ahasuerus would then spend time with each woman until he determined which one would take Vashti’s place as queen (2:4). The king decided to adopt this strategy.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

INTRODUCTION:

 Serving God has some parallels with good photography; we need to be in the right place at the right time! God is sovereign over our lives, and many times life seems confusing. We might tend toward the logical option when facing a difficult choice, but sometimes God takes us on a route we don’t expect to demonstrate His glory. He is more than able to place us in the right place at the right time for His purposes.

In today’s session, we focus on Esther, a young Jewish girl who found herself Queen of Persia through circumstances God ordained. As Esther yielded her life to God’s purpose, God blessed her beyond her dreams.

As you study today’s session, consider how God is leading you. Is He leading you into something new and exciting? Ask Him to help you be willing to take a stand for Him when He puts you in that perfect place of service.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

I.

Even In Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize That God Is At Work (Esth. 2:5-7)

5 In the fortress of Susa, there was a Jewish man named Mordecai son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite. 6 He had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the other captives when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took King Jeconiah of Judah into exile. 7 Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah (that is, Esther), because she had no father or mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking. When her father and mother died, Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1.   How would you set the historical context and background fpr the story of Esther? (See “The Setting” above.)

  2.   Who is the key figure introduced in these verses?

  3.   What do we know about him and the events that caused him to be living in the fortress in Susa? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “Verse 6 provides . . . “ and “Digging Deeper”)

  4.   Who was Esther and what do we know about her? (See “Digging Deeper” & articles in “Additional Background Reading” )

  5.   Who was Mordecai and what do we know about him? (See “Digging Deeper”)

  6.   What was the relationship between Mordecai and Esther (v. 7)? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “Over a century . . . “ )

  7.   Who was Ahasuerus and Vashti and what do we know about them? (See “Digging Deeper”)

  8.   How would you describe Ahasuerus’s search for a new queen? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “News of Vashti’s removal . . . “ )

  9.   Why do you think the biblical writer mentioned Esther’s beauty & her bodily appearance? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 4, “Verse 7 also mentions . . . “ )

10.   What part of Esther’s background gets your attention?

11.   How can we be sure that even in tumultuous circumstances God is at actively at work?

12.   What two things make the Book of Esther the most unique Book of the Bible?

13.   When have you been able to recognize God at work in your own background?

 

Lasting Lessons in Esther 2:5-7:

1. God’s faithfulness to His people continues across generations.

2. God is actively at work in human history whether we see it immediately or not.

3. God is able to use ordinary people and circumstances to produce extraordinary results.

 

II.

Take Advantage of New Opportunities (Esth. 2:8-10)

8 When the king’s command and edict became public knowledge and when many young women were gathered at the fortress of Susa under Hegai’s supervision, Esther was taken to the palace, into the supervision of Hegai, keeper of the women. 9 The young woman pleased him and gained his favor so that he accelerated the process of the beauty treatments and the special diet that she received. He assigned seven hand-picked female servants to her from the palace and transferred her and her servants to the harem’s best quarters. 10 Esther did not reveal her ethnicity or her family background, because Mordecai had ordered her not to make them known.

  1.   What brought about Vashti’s downfall as Queen? (See Esther 1:10-12)

  2.   How did King Ahasuerus deal with the situation? (See Esther 1:13-14)

  3.   What were the king’s wise men afraid of? (See Esther 1:16-18)

  4.   What does Esther 1:19-22 tell us about the final outcome of the kings decree?

  5.   What did the king’s decree finally lead to according to Esther 2:1-4?

  6.   Who was Hegai and what was his role in the story of Esther? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “The women who . . . “ )

  7.   What happened to the women who were not selected as queen? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “Many young women . . . “ )

  8.   How would you describe the treatment Esther received because she found the favor of Hegai (v. 9)? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “Verse 9 suggests that . . . “ )

  9.   What do you think was going through Esther’s mind because of this special treatment?

10.   What had Mordecai instructed Esther not to reveal about herself (v. 10)?

11.   What are some possible reasons Mordecai ordered Esther to hide her Jewish ancestry? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “Esther did not reveal . . . “ )

12.   What do you think was important to the king, Esther’s beauty or her background? Explain your answer!

 

Lasting Lessons in Esther 2:8-10:

1. God can bring His people favor in ordinary circumstances.

2. God’s favor often provides us an opportunity to serve others.

3. God’s favor provides a sign He is actively working in our lives.

 

III.

Step Into New Roles & Look For Opportunities To Further God’s Kingdom (Esth. 2:15-17)

15 Esther was the daughter of Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai who had adopted her as his own daughter. When her turn came to go to the king, she did not ask for anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch, keeper of the women, suggested. Esther gained favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Ahasuerus in the palace in the tenth month, the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women. She won more favor and approval from him than did any of the other virgins. He placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti.

  1.   What do verses 11 through 14 add to the discussion?

  2.   How did Esther approach her turn to have an audience with the king? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “At last Esther’s turn came . . . ´ )

  3.   What impression did she make on others who saw her (v. 15c)?

  4.   Why do you think the date was given when it was Esther’s time for an audience with the king? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “Esther’s visit with . . . ” )

  5.   What impression did she make on the king (v. 17)?

  6.   If you were looking to fill an important leadership position, what qualities would you look for in a candidate?

  7.   Based on the information you know about her, would you consider Esther for a key leadership position? Explain your answer!

  8.   What was the result of all of Esther’s preparation (v. 17c)? (See Adv. Comm., pg. 5, “King Ahasuerus made his . . . “ )

  9.   King Ahasuerus made his decision, but what part do you think God played in Esther being chosen Queen? (See Prov. 21:1)

10.   How can Esther’s example help you respond to what God is doing (behind the scenes) in your life?

11.   Has there been a time in your life when God used you in an unexpected way? If so, how did it turn out?

12.   How do you know if and when God is working behind the scenes in your life?

13.   What are some things you can do to ensure that God is working behind the scenes in your life?

14.   Why must we remain diligent and faithful in all things, waiting on God to lead and guide us?

 

Lasting Lessons in Esther 2:15-17:

1. We often can learn much from the counsel of others.

2. God is never in a hurry, but He is always right on time.

3. God is able to provide us the favor we need with others to accomplish His purpose.

 

CONCLUSION:

  In summary, it is all about God. Being in the right place at the right time is evidence of God’s hand at work in your life. It is also evidence of your own willingness to be used for God’s purposes. Your willingness is also evidence of God’s presence in your life. It may happen almost automatically as God reveals His desire to use you in His work or it may require a little more “persuasion.” Proverbs 19:21 states, “Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail.”  Even though you may need an attitude adjustment, God can use you to accomplish His purpose once you are willing. Are you willing? Is God leading you into something new and exciting that will glorify Him through your efforts? Ask Him to help you be willing to take a stand for Him when He puts you in that perfect place of service. 

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.

 

Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

 

FOCAL PASSAGE: 

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

 

King James Version 

Esther 2:5-10 (KJV)

5 Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; 6 Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter. 8 So it came to pass, when the king's commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women. 9 And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king's house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women. 10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it. 


 Esther 2:15-17 (KJV)

15 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 Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her. 16 So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour 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. 

 


 

New King James Version 

Esther 2:5-10 (NKJV)

5 In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite. 6 Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 7 And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. 8 So it was, when the king's command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king's palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women. 9 Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance. Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king's palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women. 10 Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it. 


 Esther 2:15-17 (NKJV)

15 Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king's eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her. 16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

 

New Living Translation  

Esther 2:5-10 (NLT)

5 At that time there was a Jewish man in the fortress of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair. He was from the tribe of Benjamin and was a descendant of Kish and Shimei. 6 His family had been among those who, with King Jehoiachin of Judah, had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. 7 This man had a very beautiful and lovely young cousin, Hadassah, who was also called Esther. When her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her into his family and raised her as his own daughter. 8 As a result of the king’s decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought to the king’s harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai’s care. 9 Hegai was very impressed with Esther and treated her kindly. He quickly ordered a special menu for her and provided her with beauty treatments. He also assigned her seven maids specially chosen from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem. 10 Esther had not told anyone of her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had directed her not to do so.  


 Esther 2:15-17 (NLT)

15 Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her. 16 Esther was taken to King Xerxes at the royal palace in early winter of the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther more than any of the other young women. He was so delighted with her that he set the royal crown on her head and declared her queen instead of Vashti.  

 

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from four sources: “Advanced Bible Study Commentary,” Bible Studies For Life Commentary,and The Pulpit Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

 

Lesson Outline — “Be Ready To Stand” — Esther 2:5-10, 15-17

I.

II.

III.

Even In Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize That God Is At Work (Esth. 2:5-7)

Take Advantage of New Opportunities (Esth. 2:8-10)

Step Into New Roles & Look For Opportunities To Further God’s Kingdom (Esth. 2:15-17)

COMMENTARY:

Advanced Bible Study Commentary:  Esther 2:5-10, 15-17

I. Even in Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize That God Is Actively at Work (Esther 2:5-7):

 News of Vashti’s removal as queen no doubt brought concern across the empire. During the reign of Ahasuerus, the kingdoms of Persia and Greece were often at war, and Persian citizens may have wondered whether the king’s seeking a new queen would prove a distraction at a time when national security was at stake. The search for a new queen also meant many lives faced upheaval, as young women were taken from their families to become “contestants” for the next queen of Persia. Nonetheless, none of these tumultuous circumstances took God by surprise. God’s purposes, however, lay far beyond the mere selection of a new queen of Persia. God ultimately was working in the circumstances to save His people from annihilation.

Susa was one of the capital cities of the Persian Empire at this time, along with Ecbatana and Persepolis. Though the search for a new queen reached to the ends of the Persian Empire, God’s response to the situation took place virtually in the shadow of the royal palace. A Jewish man named Mordecai lived in Susa, and God would use him for His purpose. Mordecai was a Benjaminite—that is, he hailed from the tribe of Benjamin, which was the tribe of King Saul, Israel’s first king (1 Sam. 9:1-2).

Verse 6 provides important detail regarding Mordecai’s family history. Kish, Mordecai’s great grandfather, had been taken into exile from Jerusalem in 597 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon reigned at that time, and took King Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin) of Judah into exile. About ten years later, Nebuchadnezzar would return to Jerusalem, destroy the city and the temple, and exile the people. It was perhaps the darkest hour in Old Testament history.

Over a century had passed since Jerusalem’s destruction, and now Mordecai, a descendant of Kish, lived in Susa. Verse 7 reveals that Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah, whose name means “myrtle tree.” Her name would later become Esther, the Persian word for “star.” Perhaps the writer inserted her Jewish name to remind readers of her Jewish heritage and to make sure they made the connection. Hadassah didn’t have a father or mother, so Mordecai cared for her.

Verse 7 also mentions that Hadassah/Esther had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking. By stating this fact about her, the text anticipates her possible selection as queen according to the terms of the king’s edict (2:2). The narrative gives no indication as to how her father and mother died. At any rate, Esther was left an orphan. In God’s providence, Mordecai—probably one of the nearest remaining relatives—had adopted her as his own daughter. As he brought her up, perhaps Mordecai himself wondered how long it would take for someone to notice Esther’s beauty and select her as a candidate for queen.

Notice how verses 5-7 describe seemingly ordinary events. At the same time, readers of the Book of Esther soon will discover that through these ordinary events, God was actively at work, and was about to use ordinary people for extraordinary purposes, just as He continues to do today.

II. Take Advantage of New Opportunities (Esther 2:8-10):

We are not told when the king’s command and edict became public knowledge. We must remember that in the fifth century B.C., modern communication conveniences such as email and the Internet were not in effect. Edicts and decrees needed to be hand copied by scribes and taken by mounted couriers throughout the empire. Esther 1:3 places Vashti’s rebellion in the third year of Ahasuerus’ reign, about 484-483 B.C. Esther first went to King Ahasuerus in the seventh year of his reign (2:16). Certainly communication of the king’s command did not take anywhere near four years, but the precise nature of the time period is unknown. In any case, the dates given reveal that time continued to pass in the story God was writing.

Many young women were gathered at the fortress of Susa. In fact, the king’s decree would disrupt the lives of many young women and their families and towns. Only one woman of all these women would become queen. However, the rest would live a life of relative seclusion in the king’s harem. Furthermore, the removal of all these young women from towns and villages quite possibly would have impacted many young men’s ability to marry if the availability of eligible young women was reduced. Many interpreters have noted the king’s flagrant abuse of his power.  He essentially turned the search for Vashti’s successor into a realm-wide beauty contest.

The women who came to Susa were put under Hegai’s supervision. Hegai was the king’s eunuch who kept charge of the women of the king’s harem (2:3). Verse 9 suggests that Hegai had a certain authority beyond his responsibility of keeping charge over the king’s women. When Esther pleased him and gained his favor, Hegai moved her ahead of some of the other women. Hegai accelerated the process of the beauty treatments Esther would receive according to the king’s edict (2:3). He also gave special attention to the special diet that she received to ensure her good health when she went to the king. Hegai also assigned seven hand-picked female servants to help prepare Esther. These women no doubt were familiar with palace protocol and assisted Esther as she prepared to visit Ahasuerus. Finally, Hegai transferred her and her servants to the harem’s best quarters. He recognized something special in Esther, so he took steps to prepare her more quickly for an audience with the king. In ancient times, a king’s harem consisted of women from many different walks of life. Sometimes foreign rulers would give a daughter to another king to form a marriage alliance; such an arrangement was established between King Solomon and the king of Egypt (1 Kings 3:1). Others might come from cities conquered in battle. Whatever the situation, the women of the king’s harem were kept secluded so they would not interact with any other man. If any of these women became pregnant, it was important to be able to ensure the king had fathered the children so as to preserve the royal lineage.

Perhaps Esther found her new way of life somewhat surprising. Certainly she had not anticipated such a life as she grew up in her Jewish community. In God’s plan, she soon would take advantage of the new opportunity He presented her.

Many times life sends us situations we never thought we would face. A successful businessman finds the company is eliminating his position. A woman preparing for the mission field finds she cannot go because she must remain behind to raise the children of her dying sister. A couple that desperately longs for children finds themselves unable to conceive. A businesswoman faces an unexpected transfer to a new state where she has never lived.

Sometimes in such circumstances, fear takes over. If change comes that we did not expect, we may not know how to respond. God has not forsaken us in such moments. Rather, as we see such new challenges as opportunities, He will help us take advantage of those new opportunities. The Lord can use the loss of a job to guide us to a new one. God may use the missionary candidate who never makes it to the mission field to encourage others to go in her place. God is beyond one or two steps ahead of us. He is already at the finish line! As we yield each situation to God’s sovereign will, He will help us take advantage of these opportunities for His glory.

Esther now likely enjoyed the best possible scenario she could have considering the circumstances. While she remained in the palace and was not free to come and go as she pleased, she had the helpful assistance of her personal servants and accelerated beauty treatments according to the king’s command (2:3,12). Her beauty and grace had gotten her in the door, but later in the book, Esther’s wisdom would prove the decisive factor as God used her to save His people.

Esther did not reveal her ethnicity (literally, “her people”) to anyone. She likewise kept her family background a private matter. Apparently such things were not an issue to those who had gathered the women for this contest; only the women’s beauty mattered! Verse 10 also explains the reason for Esther’s secrecy—Mordecai had ordered her not to make them known. The text does not reveal why Mordecai instructed Esther in this way. Presumably, he suspected that if others knew Esther’s ethnic background, it might not go well for her. The Jewish people were a conquered people, a subject people, even though the Persians had not directly conquered them. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 B.C., and taken the third wave of exiles into captivity. Many Jewish people remained in the Persian Empire, but they clearly were a minority and a conquered minority. Whatever the reason for Mordecai’s instruction, his counsel to Esther and her obedience to his command would prove wise later in the story.

III. Step Into New Roles and Look for Opportunities to Further God’s Kingdom (Esther 2:15-17):

Verses 11-14 provide additional background to verses 15-17. Mordecai visited as near as he could to the harem’s courtyard to check on Esther’s welfare from day to day (2:11). Each woman’s preparation to see King Ahasuerus included a year of beauty treatments (2:12). Once a young woman went to the king, she would return to a second harem and not return to the king again unless he summoned her (2:13-14).

Esther 2:7 had mentioned Esther’s orphan status but did not give her parents’ names. Verse 15 mentioned that Esther was the daughter of Abihail. His name means “father of might” or “father of character.” Abihail is mentioned again in Esther 9:29, though we know nothing else about him except that he was the uncle of Mordecai. It is likely Abihail had no surviving brothers or sons who could have cared for Esther, since Mordecai was the one who had adopted her as his own daughter.

At last Esther’s turn came to go to the king. Although she could have received whatever she requested to take with her to the palace (2:13), Esther did not ask for anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch, keeper of the women, suggested (2:15). Again, the text provides no detail as to what Esther did request. Some interpreters have suggested women might have requested jewels to adorn themselves. Meanwhile, Esther’s influence and reputation continued to expand. She earlier had impressed Hegai when she came to the harem (2:9), but now Esther gained favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. Perhaps many who saw her imagined she might be the one to win Ahasuerus’ heart and become Persia’s next queen.

Esther’s visit with King Ahasuerus (v. 16) took place in the palace. The reference to the tenth month, the month Tebeth puts the event around December-January in our calendars. The seventh year of Ahasuerus was 480-479 B.C. This reference also indicates some time had passed since Vashti’s initial active disobedience in the third year of Ahasuerus (1:3). We might suppose that as time passed, many in Persia might have wondered what was going to happen in the royal palace. When would Ahasuerus finish his search for a queen so he could be free to move on to other matters such as his wars with the Greek Empire? Perhaps Esther and other women in her situation also wondered if and when they would be free to go home, or whether they would visit the king and then become part of his harem for the rest of their lives.

The passage of time in this story again demonstrates that God is not necessarily in a hurry or obligated to fit our preferred timetables. In the Book of Esther, He was orchestrating the events to accomplish His sovereign purpose. Our sovereign God conceived the end from the beginning and one day is like a thousand years to Him (2 Pet. 3:8).

The king loved Esther more than all the other women. We do not know how many others had met with the king prior to Esther’s visit, but the text likely implies a good number. The word translated favor is the same word so translated in verse 15. The king shared the same view of Esther that all others who saw her had held. The word translated approval is the same word translated “favor” in verse 9. Esther thus gained favor and approval from King Ahasuerus beyond anything any of the other virgins who had met with the king had secured. Clearly, she stood out in the king’s mind. King Ahasuerus made his decision. He placed the royal crown (literally, “crown of the kingdom”) on Esther’s head. This act ratified a decision he had made—to make Esther queen in place of Vashti. Listeners might have originally thought the story was over, and Ahasuerus and Esther lived happily ever after! However, the story was far from over, and God’s purpose for Esther was far from finished. Esther received the royal crown that represented sovereignty over the Kingdom of Persia. However, in her heart, Esther might have at least wondered if she would have a role to play in furthering God’s kingdom. Why had God chosen to put her of all people in this role? Esther did not know at this point, but as the story progressed, God’s purposes would become clear. King Ahasuerus made his choice, but God was guiding his decision (Prov. 21:1). Verse 18 mentions how the king threw a great banquet in Esther’s honor. The time had come for celebration, but the time for Esther to take her stand would come sooner than she might have expected.

Someone has said, “God is never in a hurry, but He’s always right on time.” He guides and directs our lives so that we can serve Him effectively where He places us to further His kingdom purpose. Sometimes our circumstances seem quite confusing and even tumultuous, but this does not mean God has abandoned us. Rather, He is actively at work whether we see Him or not, and that biblical truth can bring comfort when it seems He is silent or absent.

Knowing that God places us in the right place at the right time for His purposes will change our perspective. Doubt will give way to trust and fear will give way to confidence as we look to Him to further His kingdom work in us and through us.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Bible Studies For Life Commentary:    Esther 2:5-10, 15-17

I. Even In Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize That God Is At Work (Esth. 2:5-7)

Verse 5. Even when we don’t recognize it, God is actively at work. Verse 5 introduces a Jew named Mordecai into the drama. The designation Mordecai means “little man.” Ironically, this “little man” would play a significant role in God’s deliverance of His people. Mordecai’s name reminds us that whether others perceive us as great or insignificant doesn’t matter: the key point is God works through us to accomplish His purposes in whatever way He chooses.

The name Mordecai has been identified as a Hebrew form of Marduk, a Babylonian idol, but Mordecai was a devout Jew. Mordecai resided in the fortress of Susa. The Persian King Cyrus had previously established Susa as a capital city after he came to power in the mid-sixth century B.C.

Mordecai is further identified as a Jewish man. In general this designation was applied to Israelites beginning with the Babylonian exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.Mordecai descended from Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite. These names probably refer to Mordecai’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather respectively. The Hebrew term rendered son of can be used in the more general sense of “descendant of.” Some link the individual Kish with the father of King Saul (1 Sam. 9:1), also identified as from the tribe of Benjamin. A common practice in the Old Testament was to list only selected individuals in in an individual’s genealogy, . If this approach was used, then the name Kish could refer to King Saul’s father.

Verse 6. To whom does the pronoun he refer? Does it designate Mordecai or does it indicate Kish? He is further described as having been taken into exile at the same time Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar exiled Judah’s King Jeconiah. King Jeconiah, also known as King Jehoiachin, was taken captive in 597 BC. If the pronoun refers to Mordecai, then Mordecai, if exiled as a child, would be around 120 years old at the beginning of Ahasuerus’s reign. However, if the antecedent of the pronoun is Kish, then it was Mordecai’s great-grandfather who was taken captive at the time King Jeconiah was taken. This interpretation would eliminate the possibility that this Kish was Saul’s father.

Verse 7. At this point the heroine Esther enters the story. She was an orphan who had been adopted by her cousin Mordecai. The name Esther means “star.” Some biblical scholars have linked this name to Ishtar, a goddess of fertility. From a Persian perspective, a name associated with a fertility goddess would appropriately depict an important aspect of a queen’s role.

The Hebrew term translated cousin can more literally be rendered “uncle’s daughter.” Esther was the daughter of Mordecai’s uncle. Thus Esther and Mordecai were cousins. The biblical writer supplied the additional information that Esther was initially known as Hadassah. Some Bible scholars believe that Hadassah was Esther’s Hebrew name; if so, it means “myrtle.” Others view the designation as a title applied to Esther. According to this view, the term means “bride.”

Mordecai had adopted Esther. The Hebrew word literally means “took.” While we know that the Israelites or Jews practiced adoption, we have few examples of it. It apparently generally occurred within the extended family as was the case with Mordecai and Esther.

The biblical writer depicted Esther’s appearance in a favorable light. This young woman had a beautiful figure and was extremely good-looking. Esther’s form and features were lovely and appealing. She had received this beauty as a gift from God, and He would use it in accomplishing His good purposes for His people.

II. Take Advantage of New Opportunities (Esth. 2:8-10)

Verse 8. Esther’s story encourages us to take advantage of new opportunities. Following the proclamation of the king’s edict, young women from all over the Persian Empire were brought to Susa. A new opportunity arose for Esther when she was taken to the king’s palace and placed under Hegai’s supervision. Was taken raises the question of whether the girls had a choice in the matter. The context of the verb often determines whether or not the taking was by force. Bible scholars hold differing views regarding this verb’s implication in the context of verse 8. Some interpret the verb to mean that Esther was forcibly taken. One Targum, an ancient Aramaic translation of the Scripture, suggests this viewpoint. Others hold that nothing in the text indicates that Esther was coerced. In any case, under an autocratic type of government such as that of the Persian Empire, an individual’s consent or willingness played little or no role in the government’s decisions. These young women were brought to the fortress of Susa regardless of how they or their families felt about the government’s actions.

Hegai, keeper of the women, supervised those placed in the king’s harem. This eunuch had charge of the women. Because ancient Near Eastern kings regarded eunuchs as especially trustworthy, they often employed them in royal service. Apparently Hegai had charge of the virgins, while another eunuch named Shaashgaz had charge of the concubines (Esth. 2:14). How many women were brought to Susa and placed under Hegai’s care? The Jewish historian Josephus identified the number as four hundred. In any case, the gathering consisted of a large number of young women.

Verse 9. How did Esther fare among the large number of selected women? Evidently she soon pleased Hegai and gained his favor. The Hebrew phrase rendered pleased more literally means “was good in his eyes.” Apparently not only Esther’s physical beauty but also her actions and attitudes appealed to Hegai.

The noun translated favor is the Hebrew term often written in English as chesed. The word depicts such qualities as “kindness,” “mercy,” and “loyalty.” It often appears in the Old Testament in the context of God’s covenant with His people. Although God is not mentioned by name in the Book of Esther, the use of the term chesed directs attention to the religious emphasis in the story of Esther. God was providentially at work behind the scenes to accomplish His purposes.

Esther received a specialized regimen as a result of gaining the harem keeper’s favor. Hegai increased the pace of Esther’s beauty treatments and supplied her with a special diet. Each selected young woman experienced a 12-month beautification process before she appeared before the king (v. 12). Hegai apparently accelerated the process in Esther’s case in order that she might appear before the king as soon as possible. The Hebrew term rendered beauty treatments literally means “rubbings” or “scrapings.” Thus it designates soaps or perfumes used in bathing. The Hebrew term translated special diet literally means “part” or “portion.” It often conveys delicacies that Jewish dietary laws forbade. Hegai gave Esther a specialized diet, accelerated her beauty regimen, and personally selected servants to accompany her. Furthermore, Hegai placed Esther and the servants in the harem’s finest accommodations. Esther may have received more servants than did the other women. Additionally, her maids may have possessed superior abilities.

Verse 10. Esther did not reveal her ethnicity or her family background. In obedience to Mordecai, Esther kept her ethnicity and her family background a secret after she entered the king’s harem. Why did Mordecai order Esther to be silent? We do not know. Perhaps he wanted to protect her from anti-Jewish sentiments and persecution. Knowledge of her Jewish identity could have put her in a dangerous position. Furthermore, Esther might have stood little chance of being chosen as queen if her nationality had been revealed. When Esther eventually disclosed her ethnicity to King Ahasuerus, he apparently did not find that revelation troubling (7:3-5). Nevertheless some people of that time, despised the Jews.

In Esther 2:11-14 the inspired biblical writer informed us of Mordecai’s faithfulness to his cousin after her entrance into the king’s harem. Esther demonstrated loyalty to his instructions, and Mordecai’s actions reflected his fidelity to her. Daily he walked by the harem’s courtyard to find out how Esther was faring in her new surroundings. These verses also describe the beauty treatment each young woman received. When the time came for a young woman to enter the king’s presence, royal policy allowed her to request whatever adornments she desired to prepare herself for her evening with the king. These items likely would have included jewels, perfumes, and clothing. The woman appeared before the king in the evening. In the morning she returned to a second harem designed for concubines. That woman never entered the king’s presence again unless he specifically summoned her.

III. Step Into New Roles & Look For Opportunities To Further God’s Kingdom (Esth. 2:15-17)

Verse 15. The biblical writer reminded the reader of facts already stated in verse 7, but added that Esther’s father was Abihail, a personal name meaning “my father is powerful.” When the time came for Esther to appear before the king, she wisely sought Hegai’s advice. She requested no adornments except what Hegai counseled.

The biblical writer further commented that Esther gained favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. This statement can very literally be translated from the original language as follows: “Esther was lifting up grace in the eyes of everyone seeing her.” The Hebrew term rendered favor differs from the Hebrew word in verse 9 that is also translated “favor.” In verse 9 the Hebrew term is the familiar chesed, while the word appearing in verse 15 can be written in English as chen. The noun in verse 15 comes from a root word meaning “to be gracious” or “to show favor.” Inherent in the word is the concept of experiencing acceptance. The expression of finding favor in the eyes of often occurs in biblical contexts dealing with the relationship of a superior to one regarded as inferior, such as the relationship of a king to his subject. However, the focus is typically on the receiver rather than on the giver. Clearly Esther’s attitudes and actions impressed those around her.

What characteristics of Esther drew others’ attention? The text suggests she demonstrated modesty and propriety by refusing to copy the habits of those around her. She also showed wisdom and humility in following Hegai’s suggestions about preparing herself for her meeting with the king. Finally, the biblical writer implied that Esther approached Ahasuerus in simplicity, allowing her gentle manner and natural beauty and poise to speak for themselves. The biblical writer did not specify what Esther took with her when she appeared before the king.

Verse 16. This verse places Esther’s appearance before the king in its historical context. The meeting occurred in the tenth month, the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of Ahasuerus’s reign. The tenth month in the Hebrew calendar overlaps with our months of December and January. It was a rainy, winter month. The time is further delineated with the notation that Ahasuerus had been on the throne for seven years. King Ahasuerus ruled the Persian Empire from 486-465 BC. During the third year of his reign, he had held a royal banquet at Susa, his winter capital. When Queen Vashti refused to appear at the banquet, Ahasuerus had issued a royal decree that her position should be given to another woman (see Esth. 1:10-22). Some time later he began his search for a new queen (2:1-4). Ahasuerus’s third year would have been 483 BC. The king’s seventh year would have been 479 BC. Thus the position of queen had been vacant a long time. During that time Ahasuerus had fought unsuccessfully against Greece. This factor helps explain the lengthy lapse of time before his selection of a new queen.

We can only speculate about the thoughts that must have passed through Esther’s mind during her wait. She must have questioned what might ultimately happen to her. Did she make the right choices? Would the beauty treatments and special diet ever accomplish their intended purpose?

During this season of waiting, God remained in control. Although God is not mentioned by name in the Book of Esther, He clearly worked behind the scenes to accomplish His purposes for His people. As believers, we can have faith that God is at work in those waiting periods of our lives, however lengthy they may be. In His perfect timing, He will achieve His plan. We only need to be ready to stand for Him.

Verse 17. This verse reveals that Esther’s wait and preparation had not been in vain. Ahasuerus loved Esther more than all the other women. The Hebrew verb translated loved, like its English counterpart, appears in a wide range of contexts in the Old Testament. It can depict both God’s infinite concern for His people and the carnal appetite of a glutton. It often describes love between human beings, including a father’s love for his son, a servant’s love for his master, and a husband’s love for his wife. The term also identifies people’s love for material objects as well as their love for abstract concepts such as truth, peace, and wisdom. In the context of Esther 2:17 the word depicts Ahasuerus’s attraction to Esther.

Esther won the king’s favor and approval above all the other women in the harem. These two Hebrew terms—chen and chesed—appeared in verse 9 (chesed) and verse 15 (chen). In verse 17 the Hebrew term chen is translated favor, while the word chesed is rendered approval.

In His sovereignty God worked through this encounter of a Jewish virgin and a pagan king. Ahasuerus crowned Esther as queen in place of Vashti. Vashti’s name does not appear again in the Book of Esther. Because Esther was ready to stand, however, she would play a major role in God’s deliverance of His people.

SOURCE: Bible Studies For Life Commentary; Leader Guide; Senior Adults; One LifeWay Plaza; Nashville, TN 37234-0175

The Pulpit Commentary Esther 2:1-18

Esther, Chapter 2:1-18—Exposition.

THE QUEST FOR MAIDENS, AND THE CHOICE OF ESTHER TO BE QUEEN IN VASHTI'S PLACE (Esther 2:1-18). Vashti having ceased to be queen, Ahasuerus appears to have been in no haste to assign her dignity to any one else. Probably there was no one among his other (secondary) wives of whom he was specially fond, or who seemed to him pre-eminent above the rest. And he may even have begun to relent in Vashti's favour (as seems to be somewhat obscurely intimated in ver. 1), and to wish to take her back. Under these circumstances the officers of his court would become alarmed. Vashti's disgrace had been their doing, and her return to power would be likely to be followed by their own dismissal, or even by their execution. They therefore came to Ahasuerus with a fresh piece of advice: “Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king; let officers be appointed in every province to select fitting damsels, and send them up to the court, for the king to choose a wife from among them.” So sensual a monarch as Xerxes (Herod., 9:108) would be strongly tempted by such a proposal (vers. 2, 3). Ahasnerus embraced it at once (ver. 4), and orders were given accordingly. The quest began, and among other maidens selected by the officials as worthy of the royal consideration, there happened to be a young Jewess, named Hadassah, the cousin and adopted daughter of a Jew called Mordecai, a eunuch attached to the court, who had a house in Susa. Hadassah was beautiful both in form and face (ver. 7), and having been selected by those whose business it was to make the choice, was conducted to the palace, and placed under the care of Hegai, the eunuch who had the charge of the virgins on their arrival (ver. 8). Hadassah, who on becoming an inmate of the palace received the Persian name of Esther (= Stella), attracted at once the special regard of Hegai, who granted her various favours (ver. 9), and after she had been “purified” for a year (ver. 12), sent her in her turn to appear before the king (ver. 16). The result was such as Hegai had perhaps anticipated. Ahasuerus, preferring her to all his wives and to all the other virgins, instantly made her his queen, placed the crown royal upon her head, and celebrated the joyful occasion by a grand feast, and a general remission of taxation for a specified period (vers. 17, 18). Thus the humble Jewish maiden, the orphan dependent for her living on a cousin's charity, became the first woman in all Persia- the wife of the greatest of living monarchs — the queen of an empire which comprised more than half of the known world.

Verse 1.

After these things. Probably not very long after. Between the great assembly held in Susa in Xerxes’ third year, B.C. 483, and his departure for Greece, B.C. 481, was a period of about two years, or a little more. The application of the officers must have been made to him, and the directions to seek for virgins given, during this space. Ahasuerus... remembered Vashti. With favour probably, or at any rate with regret and relenting. His anger was appeased, and balancing what she had done in one scale, and in the other what had been decreed against her, he may have begun to question whether her punishment had not been too severe.

Verse 2.

The king's servants that ministered unto him. i.e. the great officers of the court, eunuchs and others, who had been more or less concerned in the disgrace of Vashti. Fair young virgins. Or, “young virgins fair to look on” (see Esther 1:11).

Verse 3.

The house of the women. In an Oriental palace the women's apartments are always distinct from those of the men, and are usually placed in a separate building, which the Greeks called the gynaeceum, and the Jews “the house of the women.” At Susa this was a large edifice, and comprised several subdivisions (see ver. 14). Hege, the king's chamberlain. Literally, “the king's eunuch, i.e. one of the royal eunuchs (see Esther 1:10). Keeper of the women. Strictly speaking, Hege seems to have been keeper of the virgins only (see ver. 14); but he may have exercised a certain superintendence over the entire gynaeceum. Their things for purification. See ver. 12. Such a divinity lodged in the Persian king that even pure maidens had to be purified before approaching him! It would have been well if the divinity had been himself less impure.

Verse 5.

Now in Shushan... there was a certain Jew. Hitherto the narrative has been a mere story of the Persian court. Now at last a Jew is brought on the scene, very abruptly; and the history is to a certain extent attached to the other sacred books, and assigned its place, by the genealogy which follows. Whose name was Mordecai. The name Mordecai must almost certainly be connected with that of Marduk, or Merodach, the Babylonian and Assyrian god. But it may have been given to his son by a Baby-Ionian Jew without any thought of its derivation or meaning, perhaps out of compliment to a Babylonian friend or master. Another Mordecai, also a Jew, is mentioned by Ezra (Ezra 2:2) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:7).

Verse 6.

Who had been carried away. The word “who” may have either Kish or Mordecai for its antecedent. It is simplest, however, and most grammatical (see ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ vol. 2. p. 419), to refer it to Kish. Chronological considerations also lead to the same result; and indeed, if we suppose Mordecai to be intended, we must give up the identification of Ahasuerus with Xerxes. The captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah. There were at least three captivities of Judah the first when Daniel was carried away, in the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1), which was B.C. 605; the second that here referred to, when Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, was made prisoner, eight years later, or B.C. 597; and the third when Zedekiah was taken and Jerusalem burnt, in B.C. 586. Kish belonged to the second captivity. Whom Nebuchadnezzar... carried away. See 2 Kings 24:15; 2 Chronicles 36:10; Jeremiah 24:1.

Verse 7.

He brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther. “Hadassah” has been compared with “Atossa,” and “Esther” with “Amestris;” but there is probably no more ground for the one identification than the other. Mordecai's cousin received originally the Hebrew name of “Hadassah,” a derivative of hadas “myrtle” (compare “Susannah” from shushan, “lily”); but was subsequently called by the Persians “Esther,” which may either be Ishtar, “Venus,” or an equivalent of the Zend ctare, Mod. Pers. sitareh, Greek ἀστήρ, Engl. “star,” etc. His uncle's daughter. Therefore his own first cousin, but probably much younger than himself. Whom Mordecai... took for his own daughter. Not perhaps By a formal adoption, but by taking her to live with him, and treating her as if she had been his own child. This fact is related to account for the terms of familiarity between the two, which form an essential part of the later narrative. It introduces Mordecai to the reader under a favourable aspect, as kindly and benevolent.

Verse 8.

His decree. Literally, “his law” — the same word as that which occurs in the phrase “the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not” (Daniel 6:8, 12, etc.). Hegai. The “Hege” of ver. 3. Slight differences in the mode of spelling names were common at this period. Esther was brought. Some have rendered, “was forcibly brought;” and in the second Targum on Esther there is a story that Mordecai concealed her to prevent her from becoming an inmate of the royal harem, and that the king's authority was invoked to force him to give her up; but the Hebrew word translated “was brought” does not contain any idea of violence; and the Persian Jews probably saw no disgrace, but rather honour, in one of their nation becoming even a secondary wife to the great king.

Verse 9.

The maiden pleased him. Literally, “was good in his eyes,” the same expression as that which occurs in Esther 1:21. And she obtained kindness of him. This is a phrase peculiar to the Book of Esther, and a favourite one with the author (see vers. 15, 17; and Esther 5:2). It is better translated “she obtained favour” (as in all the other places where it occurs) than “she obtained kindness,” though the latter translation is more literal. Her things for purification. See ver. 12. With such things as belonged to her. Literally, as in the margin, “with her portions” — by which is probably meant her daily allowance of food. And seven maidens. Rather, “and her seven maidens.” It is implied that each virgin had seven female attendants assigned to her. Meet to be given her. It was in this point that the “favour” or “kindness of Hegel was shown. He selected for her use the most suitable of the attendants.

Verse 10.

Esther had not showed her people. To have confessed that she was a Jewess would probably have roused a prejudice against her, or at any rate have prevented her from being received with special favour. Mordecai, knowing this, had instructed her to say nothing to Hegel on the subject, and no one else, it would seem, had enlightened him.

Verse 11.

Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house. Mordecai seems to have been one of the porters at the main entrance to the palace, and his proper place was at the gateway. He contrived, however, during some part of each day to visit the court in front-of the seraglio, in order to see Esther, or at any rate obtain intelligence concerning her.

Verse 12.

After she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women. Rather, “After she had been (in the palace), according to the law prescribed to the women, twelve months.” A year's purification was considered necessary before any maiden could approach the king (see the comment on ver. 3). Six months with oil of myrrh. Myrrh was highly esteemed, both for its scent and for its purifying power, by the ancients. In Egypt it was employed largely in the preparation of mummies (Herod., 2:86). The Jews were directed to make it one of the chief ingredients in their “holy anointing oil” (Exodus 30:23-25). Dresses and beds were scented with it (Psalm 45:8; Proverbs 7:17). And six months with sweet odours. The word translated “sweet odours” seems to mean “spices” generally (comp. Song of Solomon 4:16).

Verse 13

Then thus came every maiden, etc. Rather, “And when each maiden came thus purified to the king, whatever she asked was given her,” etc. The whole verse is one sentence. The meaning is, that on quitting the house of the women for the king's apartments, each maiden was entitled to demand anything that she liked in the way of dress or ornament, and it had to be given her.

Verse 14.

On the morrow. Literally, “in the morning.” The second house of the women. The gynaeceum comprised at least three distinct houses: —

1. A residence for the queen, corresponding to that which Solomon built for the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 7:8);

2. A house for the secondary wives, or concubines; and,

3. A house for the virgins. On returning from her first visit to the king's chamber, a woman ordinarily became an inmate of the “second house.” This “second house” was under the care of a eunuch called Sha’ashgaz.

Verse 15.

Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai. Literally, “the paternal uncle,” or “father's brother.” The genealogy may be thus exhibited: —

Kish — Shimei —

Who had taken her for his daughter (see the comment on ver. 7). She required nothing, etc. Esther would not trust to the extraneous and adventitious beauty of dress or ornaments, or at any rate would give herself no trouble about such things. If she succeeded, it should be without effort. Hegai might dress her as he pleased. She left all to him. Esther obtained favour, etc. Either this is intended as a general assertion — “No one could ever see Esther without admiring her and feeling favourably disposed towards her,” — or it has special reference to the particular occasion — “No one who saw Esther on this evening but admired her and felt well disposed towards her.”

Verse 16.

The tenth month, which is the month Tebeth. This is the only mention of the month Tebeth in Scripture. It followed Chisleu, and corresponded to the end of December and the earlier part of January. The word seems to have come in from Egypt, where the corresponding month was called Tobi, or Tubi. In the seventh year of his reign. Four years after the disgrace of Vashti, probably in January, B.C. 479. Xerxes had recently returned from the Grecian expedition defeated and disgraced. He was glad to dismiss warlike matters from his thoughts, and to console himself for his failure by the pleasures of the seraglio.

Verse 17.

Above all the women. i.e.above all his former secondary wives, as well as above all the virgins.” The royal crown. See the comment on Esther 1:11.

Verse 18.

Then the king made a great feast. As Persian kings were in the habit of doing on every joyful occasion. Even Esther's feast. It seems to be meant that the feast was one which continued to be spoken about, and which was commonly known under this title. And he made a release to the provinces. As the Pseudo-Smerdis had done when he usurped the throne (Herod., 3:67). A “release” was an exemption from taxation, or from military service, or from both, for a specified period. And gave gifts, according to the state of the king. Literally, that is, “in right royal fashion” (see Esther 1:7). The practice of making presents, so common in the East at all times, was much in vogue among the Persians, and was practised especially by the monarchs (Herod., 1:136; 3:135; 7:26; Xen., ‘Cyrop.,’ 8:2, § 7, et seq.; ‘Anab.,’ 1:9, § 22, etc.).

SOURCE: The Pulpit Commentary; Volume 7: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,Job; Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

 

DIGGING DEEPER: Key Word(s)

BENJAMITE: One belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, such as Ehud (Judges 3:15), Saul (1 Samuel 9:1-2), Sheba (2 Samuel 20:1), Shimei (1 Kings 2:8), etc.

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

BENJAMIN (‏בִּנְיָמִין‎, binyāmīn, or ‏בִּנְיָמִן‎, binyāmın; Βενιαείν, Beniaeín, Βενιαμίν, Beniamín):

1. The Patriarch:

The youngest of Jacob's sons. His mother Rachel died in giving him birth. As she felt death approaching she called him Benoni, "son of my sorrow." Fearing, probably, that this might bode evil for the child—for names have always preserved a peculiar significance in the East—Jacob called him Benjamin, "son of the fight hand" (Genesis 35:17ff). He alone of Jacob's sons was born in Palestine, between Bethel and Ephrath. Later in the chapter, in the general enumeration of the children born in Paddan-ar am, the writer fails to except Benjamin (Genesis 35:24). Joseph was his full brother. In the history where Benjamin appears as an object of solicitude to his father and brothers, we must not forget that he was already a grown man. At the time of the descent of Israel to Egypt Joseph was about 40 years of age. Benjamin was not much younger, and was himself the father of a family. The phrase in Genesis 44:20, "a little one," only describes in oriental fashion one much younger than the speaker. And as the youngest of the family no doubt he was made much of. Remorse over their heartless treatment of his brother Joseph may have made the other brothers especially tender toward Benjamin. The conduct of his brethren all through the trying experiences in Egypt places them in a more attractive light than we should have expected; and it must have been a gratification to their father (Genesis 42ff). Ten sons of Benjamin are named at the time of their settlement in Egypt (Genesis 46:21).

2. The Tribe:

At the Exodus the number of men of war in the tribe is given as 35,400. At the second census it is 45,600 (Numbers 1:37; Numbers 26:41). Their place in the host was with the standard of the camp of Ephraim on the west of the tabernacle, their prince being Abidan the son of Gideoni (Numbers 2:22f). Benjamin was represented among the spies by Palti the son of Raphu; and at the division of the land the prince of Benjamin was Elidad the son of Chislon (Numbers 13:9; Numbers 34:21).

3. Territory:

The boundaries of the lot that fell to Benjamin are pretty clearly indicated (Joshua 18:11ff). It lay between Ephraim on the North and Judah on the South. The northern frontier started from the Jordan over against Jericho, and ran to the north of that town up through the mountain westward past Bethaven, taking in Bethel. It then went down by Ataroth-addar to Beth-horon the nether. From this point the western frontier ran southward to Kiriath-jearim. The southern boundary ran from Kiriath-jearim eas tward to the fountain of the waters of Netophah, swept round by the south of Jerrus and passed down through the wilderness northern by shore of the Dead Sea at the mouth of the Jordan. The river formed the eastern boundary. The lot was comparatively small. This, according to Josephus, was owing to "the goodness of the land" (Ant., V, i, 22); a description that would apply mainly to the plans of Jericho. The uplands are stony, mountainous, and poor in water; but there is much good land on the western slopes.

4. Importance of Position:

It will be seen from the above that Benjamin held the main avenues of approach to the highlands from both East and West: that by which Joshua led Israel past Ai from Gilgal, and the longer and easier ascents from the West, notably that along which the tides of battle so often rolled, the Valley of Aijalon, by way of the Beth-horons. Benjamin also sat astride the great highway connecting North and South, which ran along the ridge of the western range, in the district where it was easiest of defense. It was a position calling for occupation by a brave and warlike tribe such as Benjamin proved to be. His warriors were skillful archers and slingers, and they seem to have cultivated the use of both hands, which gave them a great advantage in battle (Judges 20:16; 1 Chron. 8:40; 1 Chron. 12:2, etc.). These characteristics are reflected in the Blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49:27). The second deliverer of Israel in the period of the Judges was Ehud, the left-handed Benjamite (Judges 3:15).

5. History:

The Benjamites fought against Sisera under Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:14). The story told in Judges 20:21 presents many difficulties which cannot be discussed here. It is valuable as preserving certain features of life in these lawless times when there was no details in Israel. Whatever may be said of the details, it certainly reflects the memory of some atrocity in which the Benjamites were involved and for which they suffered terrible punishment. The election of Saul as first king over united Israel naturally lent a certain prestige to the tribe. After the death of Saul they formed the backbone of Ish-bosheth's party, and most unwillingly conceded precedence to Judah in the person of David (2 Samuel 2:15, 25; 2 Samuel 3:17ff). It was a Benjamite who heaped curses upon David in the hour of his deep humiliation (2 Samuel 16:5); and the jealousy of Benjamin led to the revolt on David's return, which was so effectually stamped out by Joab (2 Samuel 19f). Part of the tribe, probably the larger part, went against Judah at the disruption of the kingdom, taking Bethel with them. 1 Kings 12:20 says that none followed the house of David but the house of Judah only. But the next verse tells us that Rehoboam gathered the men of Judah and Benjamin to fight against Jeroboam. It seems probable that as Jerusalem had now become the royal city of the house of David, the adjoining parts of Benjamin proved loyal, while the more distant joined the Northern Kingdom. After the downfall of Samaria Judah assumed control of practically the whole territory of Benjamin (2 Kings 23:15, 19, etc.). Nehemiah gives the Valley of Hinnom as the south boundary of Benjamin in his time (Neh. 11:30), while westward it extended to include Lod and Ono. Saul of Tarsus was a member of this tribe (Phil. 3:5).

(4) A great-grandson of Benjamin, son of Jacob (1 Chron. 7:10).

(5) One of those who had married a foreign wife (Ezra 10:32, and probably also Neh. 3:23; Neh. 12:34).

SOURCE: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D., General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

BENJAMIN (behn’ juh mihn):  Personal name meaning, “son of the right hand” or “son of the south.” The second son Rachel bore to Jacob. He became the forefather of the tribe of Benjamin. His birth was difficult, and his mother named him Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.” She died giving him birth. His father Jacob, however, did not let that name stand. He gave the child the name Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand.”

The tribe of Benjamin occupied the smallest territory of all the tribes. Yet, it played a significant role in Israelite history. Saul, Israel’s first king, was a Benjamite. Furthermore, the city of Jerusalem was near the border between the territories of Benjamin and Judah and may have been in Benjamin originally (Josh. 18:16; Judg. 1:21). Benjamin’s appetite for territory may be seen in Jacob’s blessing (Gen. 49:27). Moses’ blessing highlights Benjamin’s special place in God’s care (Deut. 33:12). Late in the period of the judges, Benjamin almost disappeared from history when they mistreated a Levite and his concubine (Judg. 19-21).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul proudly proclaimed his heritage in the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5)

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

 

ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:

The Role of Queen Esther

By Janice Meier

Janice Meier is editor in chief, Explore the Bible Series, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, Tennessee.

W

ho knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?  (Esth. 4:14, NIV).  These words of Mordecai address ed to his cousin, Queen Esther, reflect Mordecai’s conviction of God’s providence at work in Esther’s life.1  God had guided in her selection as queen to bring her to the place where she could play a crucial role in delivering His people in an hour of crisis.

What was that time for which God had given Esther such a crucial role?  Specifically, it was a time when Haman, prime minister under King Ahasuerus, devised a plot to exterminate Esther’s own people, the Jews.  More generally, it was a time when the Persians ruled the Jewish people.

Ahasuerus (also known as King Xerxes, 486-464 BC ) had selected Esther to replace his former queen, Vashti.  Vashti’s actions, as well as those of Queen Esther, grant us brief glimpses into the role of a queen during the era of the Medo-Persain Empire.  What privileges and restrictions characterized the queen’s role in “such a time as this”?  The question is difficult to answer, and biblical scholars hold conflicting viewpoints on many related issues.  This article will present some of those various viewpoints and conclude by summarizing Esther’s contributions to the image of the Persian queen.

A Medo-Persian Queen

The role of the queen, of course, can be understood only in conjunction with that of the king.  In the time of King Xerxes, the Persian king typically viewed himself as possessing unlimited personal power, as being above the law, and as displaying great splendor.2  The king displayed the power in dethroning Queen Vashti when she refused to comply with his whims.  As punishment for failure to appear before the king when summoned, this queen was never again to enter his presence.  The king and his counselors immediately recognized the disastrous repercussions that could occur throughout the land if other women followed the queen’s example of refusing to defer to the king’s wishes (1:12-18).  Queen Vashti has earned a place in history as one who was deposed for challenging not only her husband but also the royal law of the Medes and Persians.3  Vashti’s courage in refusing to come before the king when summoned parallels Esther’s courage in approaching the king without first being called.

The reference to Xerxes’ process of selecting a new queen also sheds light on the queen’s role (2:1-4,12-14).  This procedure reveals that to a large degree, women were merely objects to satisfy a king’s personal desires.  Obviously, polygamy characterized marital practices in the palace.  The Persian king surrounded himself with a large harem of women—some of whom were wives and others concubines.  Chapter 2 of Esther refers to two different parts of the harem.  Evidently virgins had to stay in one area of the harem (vv. 8-9).  After a woman had sexual relations with the king, she then was moved to another part of the harem (vv. 12-14).  The women in this latter group had no guarantee that the king would ever summon them again.  Many virtually became like widows.

Although the women of the harem were isolated and dependent on male favor, a woman nevertheless could wield great power within the palace, particularly if she were selected as queen.  Xerxes himself was eventually killed in a harem coup.  Thus although limited in many ways, these women did have the potential to acquire great influence and control.4

Esther as Queen

After winning King Xerxes’ favor, Esther succeeded Vashti as queen (2:17).  She had faithfully kept Mordecai’s instruction not to reveal her identity as a Jew.  As the plot of the story unfolds, Haman succeeded in getting the king to issue a decree to destroy the Jews (3:8-11).  Mordecai urged Esther to approach the king and plead with him for her people’s lives (4:8).  Aware that such an unbidden approach to the king was a violation of the law and was punishable by death, Esther courageously agreed to enter the king’s presence (v. 16).  Herodotus, a fifth century BC Greek historian, affirmed that Persian kings has such a law.5  The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that men holding axes stood near the king’s throne to punish anyone who approached the king without first being summoned.6 

A person desiring an audience with the king was to make such a request by first sending a message.  Such a law provided defense against assassination attempts.  As queen, Esther was bound by this law.  Yet she demonstrated uncommon courage by her willingness to risk her life for the lives of her people by approaching the king unbidden.  As Vashti had displayed courage by refusing to humiliate herself to fulfill the whimsical desires of her husband,7 Esther demonstrated courage by risking her life for her people.

When Esther finally revealed to King Ahasuerus or Xerxes that she was a Jew and accused Haman of plotting evil against her and her people, she wisely avoided criticizing the king—who had authorized the genocide.  She prudently recognized that she must enlist the king’s help to bring about a reversal in her people’s fortunes.  Esther’s power was that of a queen who knew herself and who refused to be defined by her circumstances.

Several other passages specifically point out the status and power Esther possessed in her role as queen.  First, according to Esther 8:1-2 she received the estate of Haman after he was hanged.  This reward was in line with the indication we have that Persian kings took possession of the goods and property of condemned criminals.8  Second, the king also instructed his queen, along with Mordecai, to write a decree in the king’s name concerning the Jews and to seal it with the king’s signet ring so that none could revoke it (8:8).

Furthermore, Esther 9:29-32 emphasizes that the queen used her royal authority to help establish the Feast of Purim.  The Hebrew word translated “authority” (NIV) in 9:29 literally means “strength” or “power.”  The noun comes from a verb root meaning “to prevail against” or “to overpower.”9  The noun “authority” is modified by the adjective “full,” a translation of a Hebrew term literally meaning “all.”  Esther’s authority appears to be in line with that of the women of the royal house described in the ancient Persepolis texts.10  These royal women are portrayed as resolute, enterprising, and positively active.  They participated in royal feasts and organized their own banquets, traveled across the land and issued instructions, and supervised their estates and work force.11

Esther’s Contributions

What contributions did Esther make to the image of the role of a Persian queen?  In many ways she fit the typical model of a female Persian ruler.  She acted prudently within the limitations of her role.  Yet she also brought a distinct dimension to that role.  Because of her faith in God, she dared to step outside the confines of the expected behavioral patterns of a Persian queen when the lives of God’s people were at stake.  She recognized both through Mordecai’s instruction and by examination of her own experiences that God was providentially at work orchestrating her life’s circumstances.  She responded courageously when she recognized her place in God’s plan.  Queen Esther demonstrated that being faithful to God involved being faithful to His people.  Thus, faithful to the meaning of her name, she became a shining “star” for her people in a time of darkness.                          Bi

1.   Others identify Mordecai as Esther’s uncle, for example, Holman Bible Dictionary  (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 438.

2.   Josef Wiesehoefer, Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD,  Azizeh  Azodi, trans. (New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1996, 2001), 80.

3.   The Jewish historian Josephus, however, recorded that Vashti acted out of regard for the law of the Persians, which forbade wives to be seen by strangers (Antiquities of the Jews,  XI.6.1).

4.   Sidnie White Crawford, “The Book of Esther: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The New Interpreter’s® Bible, vol. 3 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 889.

5.   Herodotus, Histories,  3.118.

6.   Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews,  XI.6.3.

7.   Many think that Vashti was expected to appear unclothed before the king.

8.   Herodotus, Histories, 3.128-129.

9.   Ronald F. Youngblood, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament,  R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., vol. 2 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980).

10. Persepolis, built by Darius the Great, functioned as one of the royal capitals of the Persian Empire (John Bright, A History of Israel  [Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 2000], 374-375).  The city was enhanced by Darius’s son Xerxes (Wiesehoefer, 83).

11. Wiesehoefer, 85.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2004.

SUSA In The Days of Queen Esther

By Daniel C. Browning, Jr.

Daniel C. Browning, Jr. is professor of religion and history at William Carey University, Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

E

STHER IS UNIQUE among biblical books in many ways. Most famously, the book does not overtly mention God, either by His personal name or generically. Additionally, Esther is also the only biblical book in which the action takes place completely in Persia. To understand why, a brief historical background is needed.

As the Setting For Esther

At the beginning of the sixth century BC, the Hebrew kingdom of Judah, ruled by Davidic kings, found itself facing the Neo-Babylonian Empire, a Mesopotamian superpower. At first, in about 605 BC, Judah became a vassal state, then quickly rebelled (2 Kings 24:1), capitulated after a Babylonian onslaught (in 597 BC; 2 Kings 24:10-12), and then rebelled again 10 years later (2 Kings 24:20). In response to the second rebellion, in 587 BC, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah, its capital Jerusalem, and with it the temple (25:8-12). After each rebellion, the Babylonians took large numbers of Judeans (Jews) to Babylon into the experience called “the exile.” Forcibly resettled, these Jews made lives for themselves in southern Mesopotamia. Half a century later, the Persian Empire overtook the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Shortly after coming to power, Cyrus the Great formed the Persian Empire by uniting the kingdoms of the Medes and the Persians. Cyrus took Babylon in 539 BC and in the following year issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1:1-4).

While many Jews returned to their homeland, many did not, and so a diaspora (meaning “scattered”) community of Jews continued in the area around Babylon. These Jews, now free, began to conduct commerce and settle in other cities, including those in Persia to the east of Babylonia. Primary among the Persian cities was Susa, where the story of Esther occurred in the fifth century BC.

Archaeology and History

Susa is identified with Shush, a collection of mounds on a natural extension of Mesopotamia into southwest Persia, modern Iran. This region, ancidnt Susiana, was sometimes under the control of the dominant state of southern Mesopotamia, sometimes independent, and sometimes part of the large Persian states. Susa was usually its capital.

After the British made a brief investigation fo the area in 1851, the French excavated Susa almost continuously from 1884 until the Iranian revolution halted all foreign activity in 1979. Excavations revealed that Susa was occupied without major interruption from about 4200 BC until the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century AD.1

Early occupation at Susa paralleled the development of civilization in neighboring Mesopotamia. Susa, sharing the Uruk culture of southern Mesopotamia in the mid-fourth millennium BC, developed sculpture, wheel-turned pottery, and an accounting convention using tokens enclosed in a clay envelope—an important step in the development of cuneiform writing. Breaking from Mesopotamia after 3200 BC, Susa produced its own still undeciphered abstract symbols called Proto-Elamite. By 2800 BC, Susa was back in the Mesopotamian sphere as an essentially Sumerian city-state. Sargon the Great controlled Susa as part of this Semitic empire from 2350 BC. When that empire failed early in the twenty-second century, though, the city became part of the Elamite kingdom of Awan, only to be reconquered by Shulgi, a powerful Sumerian king of Ur. About 2000 BC, Elamite and Susianan invaders destroyed Ur and its empire.2 As the Elamite civilization took shape, Susa was integrated as a major center, so that the first ruler of the Sukkalmah Dynasty (which existed about 1970-1500 BC ) called himself “King of Anshan and of Susa.”3

Elam reached its cultural and political peak in the Middle Elamite Period (about 1500-1100 BC ) and Susiana became increasingly Elamite in language and religion. A new capital replaced Susa around 1500 BC, but Susa regained its prominence about 1200 BC under the Shutrukid kings. This dynasty conquered Babylon, from which they looted several iconic monuments of Mesopotamia, including the Naram-Sin Stele and the Stele of Hammurabi, containing his famous law code.4 A French archaeological team discovered these iconic Mesopotamian monuments on the Susa Acropolis about 1900, near the lavishly rebuilt temple of Susa’s god Inshushinak.5 This brief Shutrukid Empire collapsed about 1100 BC, and all of Elam entered a dark age with almost no written records until late in the eighth century BC.

When Elam reemerged into the light of history in 743 BC, Susa was one of three capitals of the later Neo-Elamite kings who found themselves n a struggle against Assyria, the prevailing Mesopotamian power. The Elemites were often allied with Babylon in the latter’s frequent attempts to rebel from Assyrian domination. For example, Elam supported the Chaldean Merodach-Babylonian freedom against the Assyrian kings Sargon II and Sennacherib. The last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal, effectively destroyed Elamite power and pillaged Susa in 646 BC. Ezra 4:9-10 reports the “Osnapper”—apparently Ashurbanipal—deported Elamites of Susa and settled them in the region of Samaria. Meanwhile, the plateau of Persia was consumed by the growing Median and Persian kingdom was reestablished around 625 BC at Susa.

In a vision dated to about 552 BC, Daniel saw himself at Susa, at the river Ulai (Dan. 8:1-2,16). The vision began with a two-horned ram that surely represented the Persian Empire (also called the Achaemenid Empire). The Persian Empire was created with Cyrus the Great uniting the Medes and the Persians in 550 BC. Cyrus took Susa in 539 BC, just before the capture of Babylon that made the Persians masters of the Near East.  This was the Cyrus who ended the exile of the Jews with his edict in 538 BC (Ezra. 1:2-4).

In Esther’s Day

Cyrus and his son Cambyses II may have used Susa some during their reigns, but the vast majority of the Persian remains on the site date to the reigns of Darius I the Great (522-486 BC) or Artaxerxes II (404-359 BC ).6 Darius made Susa his main capital.  This and the great Royal Road he built connecting Susa with Sardis brought many important foreign visitors to the city. Herodotus relates that when the cities of Ionia, Greece rebelled against Darius and sought help from Sparta, they indicated on a map “Susa where lives the great king, and there are the storehouses of his wealth; take that city, and then you need not fear to challenge Zeus for riches.”7 The Greek geographer Strabo concurred, saying the Persians “adorned the palace at Susa more than any other.”8

The site of ancient Susa is spread over four distinct mounds, called by the French the acropolis, Apadana, Ville royal, and Ville des Artisans. The Acropolis, as the name suggests, is the tallest, with stratified archaeological remains 82 feet deep. The earliest occupation and most of the Elamite and earlier finds were discovered there, including the Hammurabi Code stele and other looted Mesopotamian treasures.9 North of the Acropolis, Darius I created the Apadana mound (and effectively reshaped the whole city) by constructing a huge 32 acre gravel platform on which he built a palace. The place consisted of residential quarters in the south with an official government center and audience hall—called an “Apadana”—to the north.10

Archaeologists discovered a foundation inscription written in three languages in which Darius I described building the palace by using materials and workmen from throughout his vast empire. This impressive complex is the setting for the story of Esther during the reign of Darius’s successor, Xerxes I. After his ill-fated military campaign against Greece (highlighted by the Battle of Thermopylae, the sack of Athens, and culminating in defeats at Salamis and Plataeai, 480-479 BC ), Xerxes retired to Susa.

A monumental gateway discovered in the 1970s east of the palace complex contains inscriptions of Xerxes, attributing its construction to Darius. The inscription implies Xerxes continued to use the complex. As the gateway is the only known access to the palace, associating it with the “king’s gate” where Esther’s kinsman Mordechai sat is tempting (Esth. 2:19,21; 5:9,13; 6:10, RSV). The residential quarters would correspond to the “king’s palace” in the story (5:1). Within outer walls, this structure had a series of inner courtyards aligned east to west. The first of these served as an entrance courtyard and may be the “outer court of the king’s palace” of Esther 6:4. The third courtyard gives access to what appear to be the royal apartments and may thus be the “inner courtyard” where a nervous Esther made her uninvited approach to the king (4:11; 5:1).11

The audience hall was hypostyle—filled with six rows of six columns each. More columns filled three porticos on the west, north, and east sides. The columns themselves featured fluted shafts on square bases, topped with capitals in the form of two bull torsos facing in opposite directions. They rose 65 feet, an achievement unparalleled in the ancient world. The entire palace, residence, and Apadana were decorated exclusively with glazed brickwork depicting mythical animals and figures of the Immortals, the elite guard troops of the king.12

The royal parts of the city, consisting of the Acropolis, Apadana, and Ville Royal mounds, were enclosed in an impressive city wall. A canal diverted from the Chaour River on the west ran along the north and east sides of the royal enclosure, separating it from the unfortified lower city to the east, represented by the fourth mound, the Ville des Artisans. These distinct parts of the city may be reflected in the text of Esther, where “Susa the capital” (9:6,11,12; where “Susa the capital” (9:6,11,12; RSV) can refer to the royal walled section, while “Susa” without further qualification (vv. 13-15) may indicate the lower city.13

Later Susa

Susa’s importance as a capital ended with the conquests of Alexander the Great, although the city continued to exist and prosper under Hellenistic, Parthian, Sassanian, and Islamic rule. It was finally abandoned in the thirteenth century. Nevertheless, Susa has been and remains a site of pilgrimage for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Mandeans who venerate a medieval structure now enclosed in a mosque as the tomb of the prophet Daniel. While the Tomb of Daniel has been known from at least the seventh century AD,14 Susa has no shrine that is associated with Queen Esther.                  

1.  H. Pittman, “Susa,” in The Oxfort Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, ed. In chief E.M. Meyers (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), 5:106-07.

2.  P.de Miroschedji, “Susa” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD), ed. In chief D.N. Freedman (N. York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:243.

3.  F. Vallat, “Elam (Place)” in ABD, 2:424-25.

4.  Pittman, 109.

5.  Miroschedji, 243.

6.  Pittman, 109.

7.  Herodotus, Herodotus Books V-VII, Loeb Classical Library, trans. A.D. Godley (Gambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1922), V.49 (pp. 53-55).

8.  Strabo, Geography Books 15-16, Leob Classical Library, trans. H.L. Jones (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1930), 15.3 (p. 159).

9.  E.M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 282-85.

10. Pittman, 109.

11. Miroschedji, 244.

12. R. Ghirshman, Persia: From the Origins to Alexander the Great, trans. S. Gilbert & J. Emmons (London: Thames & Hudson, 1964), 138-42.

13. Miroschedji, 244.

14. S.A. Matheson, Persia: An Archaeological Guide (Park Ridge: Noyes Press, 1973), 150.

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234, Spring 2011.

Reversals In the Book of Esther

By D. Larry Gregg, Sr.

D. Larry Gregg, Sr., president of Covecraft Consultants, lives in Rutherfordton, North Carolina.

. . . we should be careful about the literal and figurative gallows we erect for our enemies; we may inadvertently hang ourselves upon them.

S

OME SUGGEST THAT, BECAUSE OF THE COMMONALITIES of human nature, people actually share a limited number of primary human interaction stories; all others are more or less complex variations of a finite number of universal themes. Like the primary colors of the visual palette from which a multitude of shades and hues come, humanity’s basic physiological and psychosocial drives provide the substratum underlying all our stories—from the most epic and enduring to the most petty and transitory.

If this hypothesis has any validity, it may go far to explain the enduring quality of the Book of Esther and its inclusion in the Old Testament canon despite a lack of certain characteristics ordinarily found in other biblical literature.1 Although the book does not mention God, most readers will readily recognized that He was at work, behind the scenes, delivering His people from a threat of certain death. Thus while Esther may be lacking in overt theology and spiritually, it does have more than ample quantities of corruption and integrity, greed, and self-sacrifice, betrayal and faithfulness, wisdom and cunning, duplicity and nobility, drama, prejudice, pandering, and intrigue.

Some believe the original writer’s intent may simply have been to provide a justification for the Jewish observance of the Festival of Purim.2 this writer would argue that Esther’s ultimate inclusion in the biblical canon was based more upon what the narrative discloses about human nature than upon concerns about the nature of God. Esther is not a conduit of revelation concerning the qualities and character of God; it is a mirror reflecting back upon the reader the core qualities and character of human beings, both positive and negative.

Writers of dramatic literature understand that a good plot grasps the reader’s attention and generates a desire to know more.  However, certain literary devices move the plot along toward the ultimate climax of the story. For the writer of Esther, the literary device of reversal serves as the primary vehicle for moving the story line relentlessly toward its dramatic denouement.3 One finds an almost antithetical structure in which the characters trade roles of pride, prominence, power, and prestige for those of humility, marginalization, weakness, and dishonor.

Because of the multiple changes of fortune in Esther, some blatant and others more subtle, the writer comes near to overusing the motif of reversal. Among the most obvious reversals are the following: (1) Queen Vashti in contrast with Esther, (2) the assassins in contrast with Mordecai, (3) theAgagites in contrast with the Benjaminites, (4) Haman in contrast with Mordecai, and (5) the destruction of the Jews’ enemies in contast with the Jews’ vindication and victory. While this list does not exhaust the instances of reversal in Esther, reflecting upon them may reveal something of the concerns of the book’s writer. Believers can benefit from examining the writer’s concerns through the lens of God’s ultimate revelation of Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ—prior to arriving at any applications they may have for contemporary Christian living.

Finding an explicit reason for Vashti’s refusal to appear, at the king’s command, at the celebration banquet is difficult (see Esth. 1:12). Whatever Vashti’s reasons, observers interpreted her refusal as both defiance of the king’s command and as an attempt to undiermine husbands’ authority over their wives. The king’s best advisors recommended that he make an example of Vashti, the royal consort, in order to discourage similar behavior on the part of other wives toward their spouses. In contrast, we read of the rather compliant nature of Hadassah (Esther), the orphaned Jewess, who is routinely obedient to her uncle, Mordecai, the king’s eunuch Hegai, and King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) himself, resulting in both her elevation to be queen and, ultimately, to becoming the providential instrument for her people’s salvation. The lesson seems clear: open defiance can lead to downfall while humble obedience and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances can eventually lead to triumph.

In the narrative of the intrigue of the king’s eunuchs to assassinate him, we are presented with an instance of what happens when people overreach themselves (2:21-23). We are not told the source of these men’s anger; rather, the point seems to be to illustrate the consequences fo faithfulness verses unfaithfulness. While the conspirators and Mordecai held similar places of authority and trust in the king’s household, Mordecai used his position to protect rather than destroy the king. The fact that Mordecai’s role in foiling the assassins remained in the background for an extended period serves to prove that his motivation was loyalty and faithfulness rather than anger and ambition.

To understand the ethnic tension between Agagites and Benjaminites, illustrated in Haman’s hatred for Mordecai, one must look to 1 Samuel 15. There we find the story of how God, through the prophet Samuel, instructre Saul to exterminate the Amalekites and all they possessed (1 Sam. 15:1). After achieving victory over King Agag and the Amalekites, Saul, in disobedience to God’s instructions, spared the life of the defeated king and used the booty of the conquet to reward himself and his soldiers. The consequence of this disobedience was Saul being rejected as Israel’s king and continued ethnic strife between Israelites and Amalekites in the following generations (1 Sam. 30).

The Hebrew term of wiping out a people is herem. The word can refer to “exterminating inhabitants, and destroying or appropriating their possessions.”4 This is not the place to explore the social, moral, or theological implications of the concept of herem5 commonly practiced among ancient peoples. However, the continuing enmities among contemporary ethnicities reaching back across hundreds and thousands of years illustrate the irrational and tragic willingness of some ethnic groups to seek the extermination of others. In our quickness to condemn those of the past for their atrocities, let us not be blind to the willingness of many to justify similar atrocities in the present. Esther reminds us that those originally marked for extermination may later become the exterminators. And wee must keep in mind that these socially and culturally inherited prejudices inform how we relate to particular individuals in our own lives. A little Haman and a little Mordecai likely resides in all of us, and we should be careful about the literal and figurative gallows we erect for our enemies; we may inadvertently hang ourselves upon them.

Do the reversals in Esther and their lessons for human interaction suggest anything about ultimate realities? I am inclined to think they do. Among them I suggest: (1) We all stand close to our immediate circumstances and concerns; only as we develop the capacity to distance ourselves somewhat can we perceive the workings of Divine Providence in our own actions and in the actions of others. (2) Fatalistic acceptance of circumstances is not necessarily synonymous with being in God’s will. Both Mordicai and Esther risked themselves in order to alter positively their own futures and those of others. In doing so, they were the instruments of Divine Purpose whether they realized it or not. (3) The value of one’s personhood must be measured on the basis of what he does with what he has rather than in comparison with what someone does with what he or she has. The narrative in Esther demonstrates that the various courses of thses persons’ lives, to a significant degree, were determined by their individual stewardship of the gifts they possessed and the positions they occupied. (4) Finally, Esther’s inclusion in the biblical canon, despite its various limitations, reminds us that the final determinate of our value does not lie within ourselves; it is found in the unmerited grace of the One who caused us to be and who sustains our being.                                                                                                              

1.  B.H. Kelly, ”The Book of Esther” in The Layman’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Richmond: John Knox, 1962), 41.

2.  R.B. Bjornard, “Esther,” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 4, Esther-Psalms (Nashville: Broadman, 1971), 2.

3.  F.W. Bush, Esther, vol. 9 in Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1996), 323.

4.  This herem—which refers to the wiping out of a people—should not be confused with a harem, which refers to the concubines or wives of a man in a polygamous culture. See (charam, haram; to ban or exterminate) in F. Brown, S.R. Driver, & C.A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew & English Lexicon (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ., 1996), 355.

5.  See J.L. Wilson, “Holy War” in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, gen. ed. W.E. Mills (Macon:Mercer Univ. Press, 1990), 385-86.

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234, Winter 2014-15.

Xerxes I His Life and Times

By Joseph R. Cathey

Joseph R. Cathey teaches Old Testament at Dallas Baptist University and is pastor of First Baptist Church Godley, in Godley, Texas.

T

he Book of Esther tells a story of a heroine much like Deborah or Ruth. It is a story of survival of the Jewish people and the woman who was born for just such a time. Intrinsic to the book is the role of the king—Ahasuerus. Who is this king and what events shaped his kingdom? How does the Book of Esther answer these questions and what role did Ahasuerus play in the ancient Near East?

Xerxes, known in the Book of Esther as Ahasuerus, was one of the last great Achaemenid (Persian) kings. He was the son of Darius I, and grandson of Cyrus the Great, under whose power the Achaemenids expanded their geopolitical hegemony westward up to the city-states of Greece. Xerxes was born around 518 BC to Darius and his queen Atossa. The majority of biblical references to Xerxes are in the Book of Esther; the others are in Ezra 4:6 and Daniel 9:1.  The events recorded in Esther most likely took place between the completion of the rebuilt temple under Haggai and the return of the exiles under Ezra (515-458 BC ).1

Esther records the volatile nature of Xerxes succinctly. He was prone to displaying irrational, angry outbursts (Esth. 1:12; 7:7-8); giving lavish gifts (5:3; 6:-7); and hosting drinking feasts (1:7). Like the Book of Esther, the ancient historians (Herodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides, and Aeschylus) all mention Xerxes’s sometimes irrational nature. Indeed, the word “warrior” would best characterize the monarch in the ancient world.

His Father’s Battle

The battle that was to define Xerxes was not one he began but one he fought against the Greeks to avenge his father’s defeat. The Persians had added vast territories under King Darius I’s rule. After brutally suppressing opponents at home, Darius turned his attention to a convincing show of strength in the ancient Near East. In the east he subjugated northwest India; in the west he pacified various Aegean islands. However, this pacification of the Greek border took four long, bloody years and ended with the Greeks defeating Persia at Marathon in 490 BC.2 Afterward, Darius’s anger “against the Athenians . . . waxed still fiercer, and he became more than ever eager to lead an army against Greece.”3  Darius  died, however, before he could mount an offensive against the Greeks.

Shortly before Darius’s death, a revolt broke out in Egypt. Darius sent Xerxes to quell the disturbance in 485 BC.  In a year’s time, Xerxes had laid siege to Egypt, confiscated temple items, and imposed harsh new taxes. Quickly, he besieged Babylon and devastated the Temple of Marduk. Once these two nations were pacified, Xerxes set his sights on the rebellious Greek city-states.

His Battle

In order to preserve the memory of his father, Xerxes determined to completely conquer the Greeks. The plan Xerxes unfolded to the Persian military aristocracy was nothing short of total war. Ancient historians list 46 nations that supplied men for combat when Persia invaded Greece.4 Xerxes’s naval forces were not as vast as the land contingent but were nonetheless quite impressive. The Persian monarch reportedly put to sea no less than 1,200 manned ships from various nations. At the time of his campaign, Xerxes fielded the largest land and naval contingent in the ancient world.

Xerxes left his capital city likely around April 481 BC; he assembled his full land contingent in the fall of that same year at Critalla, which was about 400 miles east of Sardis. After wintering in Sardis, Xerxes set his sights on what he believed to be the weakest link in his campaign—Hellespont. Under Xerxes’s command, the Persian army did what everybody believed to be impossible—they bridged the strait at Hellespont and crossed from the city of Abydos on the southeastern side to the town of Sestos on the opposite side.5 Once across the strait, Xerxes’s army marched to Thermopylae, which was a Greek term meaning “The Hot Gates.”

Thermopylae was located in a narrow pass between the mountains of central Greece and an adjacent gulf inlet.  The Spartans fought valiantly. Opposing Xerxes, Leonidas, king of the city-state of Sparta, “made his gallant stand on a hill” overlooking the pass.6 Fighting beside Leonidas were 300 Spartan soldiers (his select royal guard) and about 7,000 hoplite soldiers from surrounding Greek city-states.  They killed wave after wave of Persian soldiers in the pass.  This small contingent of dedicated Greek soldiers killed 20,000 Persian soldiers and Xerxes’s two half-brothers.  After two days of fighting, a Greek traitor came to Xerxes and told him of a path that bypassed The Hot Gates.  Some of Xerxes’s soldiers followed the path and came secretly behind the Greek army, trapping them from the front and the rear.  All but 1 of the 300 Spartans died at Thermopylae.

After Thermopylae, the Greeks, emboldened, rallied under the leadership of Themistocles, a Greek navy strategist, by engaging the Persian navy at the Straits of Salamis. Employing unconventional tactics, the Greek navy scored a decisive victory against the much larger Persian navy. Xerxes’s battles against the Greeks at Thermopylae and the island of Salamis were perhaps the two pivotal battles in the west.

The defeat at Salamis caused a demoralized Xerxes to retreat back across the strait at Hellespont and leave his general behind to continue the battle.  Seeking repose, Xerxes returned to his winter home at Susa.

His Story—and Esther

How does Xerxes fit with details in the Book of Esther? Chronologically, Xerxes may have planned and presented his battle plan to the Persian military aristocracy during the 180 days that he showed off his wealth, as described in Esther chapter 1. The battles at Thermopylae and Salamis likely occurred between the events of Esther chapters 1—2.

The search for a replacement queen (2:1-4) also could have occurred after Xerxes’s defeat at Salamis and his subsequent retreat to Susa. Finally, Xerxes’s “large tax . . . may readily have followed the exhaustion of the royal treasury by [his] disastrous expedition into Greece” (10:1).7

Further, we know that the writer of the Book of Esther had extensive knowledge of Persia and the then-contemporary customs. He would have also had at the least a cursory knowledge of Susa and the surround palace environs.8 When one compares Esther’s lavish descriptions of Xerxes’s court (1:5-6) with what archaeologists unearthed at Susa, the similarities are striking. For instance, the Book of Esther describes Mordecai, one of the principal characters, as being present at the great gate area (2:19-21). Archaeologists uncovered both the palace and monumental gate at Susa; these correspond well with details in Esther 4:6.

The Book of Esther’s characterization of Xerxes is similar to what the ancient historians said. Esther characterizes Xerxes as “a bumbling inept figure who becomes an object of mocking.”9 This type of characterization is the same as Herodotus describing the monarch’s petulant flight after his loss at Salamis. Esther’s vivid description of Xerxes as dependent upon his advisors (vv. 12-14) is consistent with the monarch’s delegation of power to his generals after his defeat in Greece. Aeschylus, the Greek playwright of Athens, portrays the end of Xerxes as inextricably bound to prideful ambition. “The Greek playwright’s critique of the megalomaniacal ego of the Persian kings resonates with a similar evaluation of the Persian monarchy found in the Book of Esther.”10 In the end, 20 years after ascending the throne, Xerxes was assassinated by Artabanus—the captain of his bodyguard.                           

1.  See M. Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, vol. 10 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 278.

2.  E.M. Yamauchi, ”Persians” in Peoples of the Old Testament World, ed. A. Hoerth, G.L. Mattingly, & E.M. Yamauchi (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 114-15.

3.  Herodotus, The Histories 7.1, trans. G. Rawlinson (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1997), 506.

4.  Herodotus, The Histories 9:27 (p. 684). Herodotus explained, “What the exact number of the troops of each nation was I cannot say with certainty.” He went on to list a large number (1,700,000 men), which ancient & modern scholars have vigorously debated; see Herodotus, The Histories 7.60 (p. 536).

5.  F. Maurice, The Size of the Army of Xerxes in the Invasion of Greece   480 BC,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 50 (1930): 211; N.G.L. Hammond & L.J. Roseman, “The Construction of Xerxes’ Bridge over the Hellespont,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 116 (1996): 88-107.

6.  E.M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 204-05.

7.  “Xerxes” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, & Ecclesiastical Literature, ed. J. M’Clintock, J. Strong, vol. 2 (New York: Harper, 1887), 1001.

8.  E.M. Yamauchi, “Mordecai, the Persepolis Tablets, & the Susa Excavations,” Vetus Testamentum 42, no. 2 (1992): 272-75.

9.  See K.H. Jobes, “Esther 1: Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, [DOT] ed. T. Longman III & P. Enns (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 163.

10. K.H. Jobes, “Esther 2: Extrabibical Background” in DOT, 171-72l

SOURCE:  Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234, Winter 14-15.

 

BIBLE CHARACTER TRIVIA

 

(61, 35) What is the Answer To & Where in the Bible is This Week’s Trivia Question Found: What two Hebrew women did God make houses for? Answer Next Week:

Last Week’s Question: What king of Israel reigned only seven days and killed himself by burning down his palace around him?  Answer:  Zimri; 1 Kings 16:15,18.