Queen Vashti Deposed
Commentary for Study 1
Memory Verse 2:17
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BEFORE READING PLEASE CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF MAJOR EVENTS FROM BABYLON TIMES TO ROMAN OCCUPATION OF JUDAH.
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I. Control (1-12)
1. Who was king? Where was his kingdom? (1, 14) Look this up on the map like above. What had this kingdom done earlier? (2 Kings 17:5-6, 24; 2 Chron. 36:15-21) What might this mean to the people of God? Look at the history link above.
Esther 1:1 "This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush:"
* "This is what happened during" - In Hebrew this book starts with "wyhy" or "hayah". This word usually links a book to a preceding historical account, as is the first word in Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel and also in Ezekiel and Jonah. In the case of The Book of Esther, the preceding events are in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.
The book of Esther is a narrative to explain the events in history concerning an important point in God's history. This book's intent was to remind the Jewish people why they celebrate the annual festival of Purim, which was to praise God for his work through the faith of one woman, Esther; and the faith of one man, Mordecai.
* "during the time of Xerxes" - The word "Xerxes" is a transliteration of the Greek form of the Persian name, "Khshayarshan." In Hebrew it is, "Achashverowsh" or (short.) "Achashrosh"; of Persia; or "Ahasuerus" or "Artaxerxes". It is the title (rather than name) of a Persian king:-Ahasuerus. Xerxes succeeded his father Darius I and ruled 486-465 B.C. The Persian empire fell to Greece in 331 B.C.
* "127 provinces" - The Greek historian Herodotus records that Xerxe's father Darius had organized the empire into 20 satrapies. Satraps, the rulers of the satrapies, are mentioned in 3:12; 8:9; and 9:3. The provinces were smaller administrative units than the satrapies.
* "from India to Cush" - See map "The Assyrian Empire in 721 B.C." link above. The borders of the land was stated so as to not confuse him with the father of Darius the Mede who had the same title (name) (Dan. 9:1).
* "India" - The province of Punjab in West Pakistan today, the region west of the Indus River to which Alexander's forces came in their conquests.
* "Cush"-the upper Nile region, part of ancient and modern day Egypt.
Esther 1:2 "At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa,
* "At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne" - The author stresses Xerxes' royal authority. Some have interpreted this verse to mean that Xerxes was now securely king, i.e. after he had successfully put down the rebellions in Egypt and Babylon, and conquered lands other lands including Israel and Judea. All these marked his ascent to and maintaining the throne.
* "citadel" - The fortified acropolis and palace complex. It is distinguished from the surrounding city in 3:15; 4:1-2,6; 8:15. Several archaeological investigations have been made at the site since the mid 19th century. During his reign Xerxes had made extensive renovations in the palace structures.
* "Susa" - The winter residence of the Persian kings. Located about 125 miles North of the Persian Gulf (then called the Lower Sea). Susa lies 200 miles north-east of Babylon and was the ancient capital of Elam. The three other capitals of Persia were Ecbatana (Ezra 6:2), Babylon and Persepolis. One of Daniel's visions was set in Susa (Daniel 8:2). Nehemiah also served there (Nehemiah 1:1, 2:1). See map "The Assyrian Empire in 721 B.C."
2. What did King Xerxes do? Describe it in detail. What did the king instruct his stewards to do? (8) What might be the results of such a command?
Esther 1:3 "and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present."
* "and in the third year of his reign" - The year 483-482 B.C. During this time he planned his greatest military campaign, which was aimed at the conquest of Greece. This would turn out to be a military failure.
* "a banquet" - Feasting is a prominent theme is Esther. Secular historians note that the Persians were famous for colossal and extravagant festivals and parties. The word translated "feast" or "banquet" (3, 5, 9) literally means "drinking bout."
* "for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media...present" - The persons in attendance and the length of the meeting was to plan for the disastrous campaigns of 482-479 against Greece. Herodotus, the Greek historian, possibly describes this assembly.
* "Persia and Media" - In the days of Cyrus, Media was mentioned before Persia (Daniel 6:8), but now Persia was far more prominent in the dual monarchy.
Esther 1:4-5 "For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa. The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished. "
* "for a full 180 days" - For a full half year this drinking party went on. Later, the author tells us the king was drunk. If the king was drunk than everyone was drunk.
* "he displayed the vast wealth...majesty." - This drinking party was a drunkened party meant for bragging about their conquests of the past, and the conquest to come; namely over Greece.
* "in the enclosed garden of the king's palace" - The excavations at Susa have unearthed a text in which Xerxes' father Darius describes in some detail the building of his palace. Xerxus continued the work his father had begun.
This strikingly beautiful palace burned to the ground toward the end of the reign of Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, in around 435 B.C.
* "white and blue" - The royal colors of Persia.
3. Who was queen? (9) What did she do?
Ester 1:9 "Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes."
* "Queen Vashti" - Deposed in 484/483 B.C.; Esther became queen in 479/478 (2:16-17). The Greek historians call Xerxe's queen Amestris; they record her influence during the early part of his reign and as queen mother during the following reign of her son Artaxerxes (Ezra. 7:1,7,11-12,21; 8:1; Ne 2:1; 5:14; 13:6) until the time of her own death B.C. 424. Artaxerxes came to the throne when he was 18 years old; therefore he was born 484/483, approximately at the time of Veshti's deposal. Since he was the third son of Amestris, the name Amestris cannot be identified with Esther and must be viewed as a Greek version of the name Vashti. Comparatively little is known of the late portions of Xerxe's reign, nor is it possible to determine the subsequent events of the life of Esther. Apparently, after Esther's death, or her fall from favor, Vashti was able to reassert her power and to exercise a controlling influence over her son.
* "also gave a banquet for the women" - Persian law did not require men and women to celebrate separately, but in this case the women partied with the Queen in another location. The reason for the separation may have been the military nature of the king's festival. Another theory is that when Persian wives attended banquets with their husbands, they left when the heavy drinking commenced, leaving behind only the concubines and prostitutes.
4. What had the condition of the king become by the seventh day? (10) What did he command his eunuchs to do? Why? What does his condition show about his motives for this command?
5. How did the queen respond? What was she risking by acting this way? Why might she have done this? What might be learned from her?
6. How did King Xerxes respond to the queens actions? (12) What might be some reasons for this?
Esther 1:10-12 "On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him--Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas--to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger."
* "refused to come" - Some ancient Jewish scholars suggest that the king expected her to appear wearing her royal crown and nothing else, but the original text does not support such an idea. More likely, he expected her to show up in full regal garb.
Perhaps, since only the prostitutes was there, the queen did not want to come to the king because it would go against her dignity. Another possible explanation for her refusal may have been that she was pregnant with Artexerxes (see above).
Whatever her reasoning, Vashti refused to be used as an "object" for a drunken state party. She claimed her rights over herself, even though she must have known that the king would not be pleased.
* "Then the king became furious and burned with anger" - A characteristic of Xerxes was his sudden anger. The king's reaction shows that the king requester her to come out of ego and self pride. He wanted to show others what he "owned" or in other words, "what was his". When the queen refused, it showed that he did not own her and that she was her own person. Although this is true and easy for us to see, for the king in front of his buddies, the issue was a matter of "saving face".
II. The Law (13-22)
7. Who did King Xerxes consult? What does the phrase "who understood the times" mean? What does this say about law and justice in King Xerxes' kingdom?
Esther 1:13-14 "Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king--Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom."
* "who understood the times" - Often laws by men are subject to what the consensus of the time is, rather than absolute truth such that God's law is. Xerxes kingdom appears to be such a case as this. Often in monarchies the law is what the king (and a small amount of people) believe is justice. Such laws often oppress others.
* "seven" - Seven was a special number to the Persians.
* "experts in matters of law and justice...wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king" - These are court astrologers and wise men. Ezra 7:14 and the Greek historian Herodotus indicate that seven men functioned as the immediate advisers to the king. In the New Testament they are called magi (Matt. 2:1). It was an Eastern custom.
* "and were highest in the kingdom" - Obviously there were more than seven in his kingdom, like the 127 mentioned in verse 1.
8. What did the king ask the experts? (15) What was the verdict? (16) What was the basis for this? (17-18) How might this be wrong and/or right?
Esther 1:15 ""According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?" he asked. "She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her."
* "According to law" - This statement shows that the king was not concerned that she broke a law. He just wanted to find a law that would justify his punishment to her. In this way he hoped to save face. Often we humans are concerned with justification for our actions rather than justification to correct our actions.
Esther 1:16-18 "Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, "Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord."
* "Memucan replied" - Their reasoning was comedic. The wise man, Memucan, suggested that Vashti's insubordination would incite a nationwide insurgence of uppity wives against poor downtrodden husbands. The result would be an epidemic of disrespect and marital conflict. When one considers the fact that dominance of men over women was an undisputed fact of life in the Persian Empire, this official concern seems all the more exaggerated and silly. But what could be expected from a group of alcohol-saturated macho males on a seven day binge-after six months of breast beating and muscle flexing?
Note this, Memucan seized the opportunity to transform a private affair into a public and national crisis, doubtless because of a previous conflict between the queen, the princes, and people like Memucan himself.
9. What advise did the king receive about the sentence? (19-20) What was special about the laws of Persia and Media? What did they hope to accomplish with this law? What did the king think of the advice? (21) What does it mean to rule over one's own household according to Ephes. 5:21-33?
Esther 1:19-20 ""Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest."
* "laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed" - The irrevocability of the Persian laws is mentioned in 8:8 and Dan. 6:8.
Also, Memucan wanted to be sure the queen would not rise to power, and thus, punish him for making up this law.
* "never again to enter" - It appears that the punishment was meant to correspond to the crime: Since Vashti refused to appear before the king, it is decreed that she never appear before him again. Furthermore, from this point on she is no longer given the title "Queen" in the book of Esther. However, it should be noted that because she didn't appear to him once (without knowing her reasons) they made it so that she could never see the king again.
* "someone who is better than she" - God is working to set the stage for Esther to become queen, the position that would be used for the benefit of God's people.
* "all women will respect their husbands" - This is not bad advise. But the king's idea of it is not Biblical. Ephes. 5:21-33 says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--  for we are members of his body.  "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."  This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
Esther 1:21-22 "The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people's tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household."
* "The king...was pleased with this advice" - Xerxes was powerful, but he allowed his drinking to interfere with his judgment. His explosive anger threatened anyone who crossed him. And for the sake of macho pride he let his anger separate him from his wife, for whom he seemed to have genuine affection.
* "He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom" - The Persian Empire boasted an efficient postal system, but communication was complicated by the scores of languages spoken throughout the empire.
* "every man should be ruler over his own household" - In addition to taking away the queen's crown, the new law required that every husband should be king in his own family. Ironically this law was one the king himself could not obey. Vashti simply refused to be ruled by him! Of course one could say he was being king of his house by putting her out of it. But in the future this would prove that he was not king of himself for he loved Vashti and could not stop thinking about her.
The king was saying treat your wives as you would a piece of furniture. But this is ridiculous because a husband doesn't treat his wife so because he loves her and treats her as someone special to him.
III. The Search for a New Queen (2:1-18)
10. After his anger subsided, what did the king do? What was the proposal? How did the king respond to this? What does this show about him?
Esther 2:1 "Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her."
* "Later" - The invasion Xerxes had spent six months planning took place between Esther 1 and 2. Esther was taken to Xerxes "in the seventh year of his reign" (16) i.e., in December, 479 B.C., or January, 478. The Greek wars intervened before a new queen was sought.
As mentioned before, Xerxes' army lost to the Greeks. It may be appropriate to ask what part the king's tendency to drunkenness may have played in the miscalculations that led to the failure of the invasion.
* "remembered" - The word indicates that the king found himself dwelling on thoughts of Vashti-meditating, going over in his mind memories of her. He obviously loved her. No doubt he here realized the foolishness of his hasty decision made in drunkenness and pride.
Esther 2:2-4 "Then the king's personal attendants proposed, "Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti." This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it."
* "beautiful young virgins" - To be added to his already big harem. The fact that Xerxes had an extensive harem in Susa is affirmed by historical sources outside the Bible. New women were constantly added to the harem to replace the older women. The proposed new crop of virgins would be collected together in a special set-apart section of the palace. From there, when Hegai the king's eunuch felt they were ready, they would be called to the king's chambers to be used for his pleasure.
* "in every providence" - Realizing that the restoration of Vashti would spell doom for them, the princes abandoned the precedent of providing a queen from among their own daughters, and suggested that the king choose a new queen from among the most beautiful virgins in the empire.
11. Who was Mordecai? Who was Hadassah and what was her relationship to Mordecai? What was her other name? What was special about her? (8-9) How can we see God's hand here?
Esther 2:5-6 "Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah."
* "in the citadel of Susa a Jew" - As far back as the fall of the northern kingdom in 722-721 B.C., Israelites had been exiled among the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6). After the conquest of Babylon by King Cyrus of Persia in 539, some of the Jewish population taken there by the Babylonians (605-586) probably moved eastward into the cities of Medo-Persia. Only 50,000 returned to Israel in the restoration of 538 (Ezra 2:64-67). The presence of a large Jewish population in Medo-Persia is confirmed by the discovery of an archive of texts in Nippur (southern Mesopotamia) from the period of Artaxerxes I (465-424) and Darius II (424-405). This archive contains the names of about 100 Jews who lived in that city. Some had attained positions of importance and wealth. Similar Jewish populations are probable in many other Medo-Persian cities.
* "Mordecai" - From the names given, Mordecai's family had lived away from Israel for four generations (Another explanation is below). By this time much of the customs of the Israelites would have been lost to this and other families. They would have had the tendency to melt into the surrounding culture around them.
"Mordecai" is derived from that of the Babylonian deity Mardu. There are numerous examples in the Bible of Jews having double names-a Hebrew name and a "Gentile" name. A cuneiform tablet from Borsippa near Babylon mentions a scribe by the name of Mardukaya; he was an accountant or minister at the court of Susa in the early years of Xerxes. Many scholars identify him with Mordecai. Verse 2:19 also seems to indicate that he was a minor official in the Persian government for it says, "sitting at the king's gate."
* "son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish" - The persons named could be immediate ancestors, in which case Mordecai would be the great-grandson of Kish, who was among the exiles with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. It is more likely, however, that the names refer to remote ancestors in the tribe of Benjamin (see 2 Sam. 16:5-14 for Shinei, 1 Sam. 9:1 for Kish). This association with the tribe and family of King Saul sets the stage for the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Amalikites (3:1-6). If the names are those of remote ancestors, the clause "who had been carried into exile" (6) would not apply to Mordecai, who would have been over 100 years old in that case; rather, it would have to be taken as an elliptical construction in the sense "whose family had been carried into exile."
Esther 2:7 "Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died."
* "Hadassah" - Esther's Hebrew name meaning, "Mytrle," a name with connotations of gentleness and quiet charm.
* "Esther" - a Persian name meaning "star." Some say it comes from the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (Jer. 7:18). It could have been given to her after she entered the king's harem.
Esther 2:8-9 "When the king's order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king's palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem."
* "Esther also was taken" - Neither she nor Mordecai would have had any choice in the matter. (2 Sam. 11:4)
* "The girl pleased him and won his favor" - Esther immediately "won" the heart of Hegai. The word "won" is important because it shows she won it by her character. Surrounded by beauties from all over the empire, the eunuch saw something in Esther beyond physical beauty. The narrative indicates that she possessed especially lovely aspects of personal charm: physical beauty (7), gentleness, quiet charm (Myrtle), Radiance (Star), submissiveness (10), security and confidence as a result of her adoptive father's love and concern (7,11), and wisdom in taking advice (10,15).
* "special food" - This most likely included unclean food. But if she would have refused unclean food she would have exposed her identity. Obviously her compromise did not offend God.
Why did Mordecai tell her to do this is not clear. Perhaps he was granted by the Lord a special premonition of coming trouble for Israel and the part Esther might play in delivering her people. 4:14 might be hinting at this. But most likely Mordecai didn't have a direct revelation. As time went on he began to see God's hand in all this; much like most people of God don't see God's plans in their own life until after the event is complete.
Considering the circumstances of the Jews at the time, not eating the correct dietary foods of the Jews was smaller than when they were in the promised land.
12. What did she not do? (10-11) Why? What does this show about her? About the way to be?
Esther 2:10 "Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so."
* Esther showed unusual humility. She listened to her step father.
* Mordecai showed wisdom. The religion of the Persians was Zoroastrianism, a religion that encouraged tolerance of the beliefs and deities of its varied conquered peoples. Officially, anti-Semitism did not exist in the Persian Empire. As the story unfolds, however we will discover that allegiance to Jehovah as God automatically creates differences, which some nonbelievers find intolerable. This Mordecai understood, had been so throughout Jewish history, and the danger existed even in tolerant Persia.
Esther 2:12-14 "Before a girl's turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name."
* At least two years of preparing was done to the girls before they would go before the king.
* "another part of the harem" - To the chambers of the concubines.
Esther 2:15-16 "When the turn came for Esther (the girl Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign."
* "she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested." - This again shows Esther's humility. Hegai knew what would please the king the most; his advice would be the best.
* "And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her" - Hegai's favoritism was not because he favored her for special reasons; everyone else could see her inner beauty.
* "in the tenth month...in the seventh year of his reign" - Four years had passed since the banishment of Vashti (1:3). It was now December, 479 B.C., or January, 478. The king would have been with many other virgins by now. The chances were slim for Esther to win the king's favor.
Esther 2:17-18 "Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality."
* "holiday" - The Hebrew for this word, unique to this verse, may imply a remission of taxes, an emancipation of slaves, a cancellation of debts or a remission of obligatory military service.