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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:
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
Be Ready To Stand (Esther 2:5-10,15-17)
Stand With Connviction (Esther 2:21—3:6)
Stand Down (Esther 4:1-3,10-16)
Stand With Humility (Esther 5:1-14)
Stand Up and Speak (Esther 7:1-10)
Keep Standing (Esther 8:1-8; 9:20-22)
God is always at work behind
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)
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).
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)?
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).
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,
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.
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
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.
Advantage of New Opportunities (Esth. 2:8-10)
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.
Lessons in Esther 2:8-10:
God can bring His people favor in ordinary circumstances.
God’s favor often provides us an opportunity to serve others.
God’s favor provides a sign He is actively working in our lives.
Step Into New Roles & Look For Opportunities To
Further God’s Kingdom (Esth. 2:15-17)
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.
Lessons in Esther 2:15-17:
We often can learn much from the counsel of others.
God is never in a hurry, but He is always right on time.
God is able to provide us the favor we need with others to accomplish His
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.
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of
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.
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.
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
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
“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
Even In Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize
That God Is At Work (Esth. 2:5-7)
Take Advantage of New Opportunities (Esth.
Step Into New Roles & Look For
Opportunities To Further God’s Kingdom (Esth. 2:15-17)
Advanced Bible Study Commentary: Esther
Even in Tumultuous Circumstances, Recognize That God Is Actively at Work (Esther
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
For Life Commentary: Esther
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
The Pulpit Commentary Esther 2:1-18
Esther, Chapter 2:1-18—Exposition.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.).
Pulpit Commentary; Volume 7: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,Job; Database
© 2007 WORDsearch Corp.
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.
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):
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
Standard Bible Encyclopedia; James Orr, M.A., D. D.,
General Editor; Parsons Technology, Inc.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
(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
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.
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;
The Role of Queen Esther
By Janice Meier
Meier is editor in chief, Explore the Bible Series, LifeWay Christian Resources,
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
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
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
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.
Others identify Mordecai as Esther’s uncle,
for example, Holman Bible Dictionary
(Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), 438.
Josef Wiesehoefer, Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD, Azizeh
Azodi, trans. (New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1996, 2001), 80.
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).
Sidnie White Crawford, “The Book of Esther:
Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections,” The
New Interpreter’s® Bible, vol. 3 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 889.
of the Jews, XI.6.3.
Many think that Vashti was expected to appear
unclothed before the king.
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).
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).
In The Days of Queen Esther
Daniel C. Browning, Jr.
Daniel C. Browning, Jr. is
professor of religion and history at William Carey University, Hattiesburg,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
P.de Miroschedji, “Susa” in The
Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD), ed. In chief D.N. Freedman (N. York:
Doubleday, 1992), 6:243.
F. Vallat, “Elam (Place)” in ABD, 2:424-25.
Books V-VII, Loeb Classical Library, trans. A.D. Godley (Gambridge: Harvard
Univ. Press, 1922), V.49 (pp. 53-55).
Books 15-16, Leob Classical Library, trans. H.L. Jones (Cambridge: Harvard
Univ. Press, 1930), 15.3 (p. 159).
E.M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 282-85.
R. Ghirshman, Persia: From the Origins to Alexander the Great, trans. S. Gilbert
& J. Emmons (London: Thames & Hudson, 1964), 138-42.
S.A. Matheson, Persia: An Archaeological Guide (Park Ridge: Noyes Press, 1973),
Reversals In the Book of Esther
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
B.H. Kelly, ”The Book of Esther” in The
Layman’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8 (Richmond: John Knox, 1962), 41.
R.B. Bjornard, “Esther,” in The
Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 4, Esther-Psalms
(Nashville: Broadman, 1971), 2.
F.W. Bush, Esther, vol. 9 in Word
Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1996), 323.
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.
See J.L. Wilson, “Holy War” in Mercer
Dictionary of the Bible, gen. ed. W.E. Mills (Macon:Mercer Univ. Press,
I His Life and Times
Joseph R. Cathey
Joseph R. Cathey teaches
Old Testament at Dallas Baptist University and is pastor of First Baptist Church
Godley, in Godley, Texas.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
See M. Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, vol. 10 in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman,
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.
Histories 7.1, trans. G. Rawlinson (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1997), 506.
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).
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.
E.M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 204-05.
“Xerxes” in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, & Ecclesiastical Literature, ed.
J. M’Clintock, J. Strong, vol. 2 (New York: Harper, 1887), 1001.
E.M. Yamauchi, “Mordecai, the Persepolis
Tablets, & the Susa Excavations,” Vetus
Testamentum 42, no. 2 (1992): 272-75.
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.
K.H. Jobes, “Esther 2: Extrabibical
Background” in DOT, 171-72l
(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:
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