Esther 1:1-2:20

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017




The events in the Book of Esther took place during the reign of Xerxes, King of Persia, who reigned from about 485 B.C. to 465 B.C. He is called Ahasuerus in Esther. Everything in Esther occurred between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7 .


The Book of Esther is named after its principal character, Esther. Esther is a Persian word meaning star.


We do not know who wrote Esther, and it is also difficult to determine precisely when it was written. Since he was so well acquainted with Persian life and customs, it seems that he must have lived in Persia rather than in Palestine. Mordecai may have been the author, but we simply do not know.


Esther illustrates the sovereignty of God in protecting His people, Israel, from wicked persons who would try to destroy them. Although God is not mentioned in the entire book, His care of Israel is evident throughout the book. Esther records events which occurred while the Jews were captives in Persia. It deals principally with those Jews who had passed up their opportunity to return to the land of Israel and chose rather to remain among the Gentiles after the return of the faithful remnant in 536 B.C.


    I.     Esther Placed in a Position of Prominence – 1:1 - 2:20

Esther 1


            A.  Vashti deposed by Xerxes – 1:1-22


                        1.   The king’s 187-day celebration – 1:1-9


The events of chapter 1 occur before the war in which Persia fought with Greece.


Esther 1:1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus [i.e. Xerxes], (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:)


1:1 – (RSB) India. The area drained by the Indus River, in present-day Pakistan. Ethiopia (Cush). Presently northern Sudan.


Esther 1:2 That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace,


1:2 – (RSB) Shushan. One of the main capitals of the empire and winter residence of the kings, 150 mi . . . N of the Persian Gulf. . . .


1:3-12 – (RSB) For six months (in the year 482 B.C.) the king exhibited the grandeur of his court, during which time he probably planned with the military and civil leaders his proposed invasion of Greece (which occurred in 480 B.C.). At the conclusion, a seven-day drinking feast was held (vv. 3, 5; though no one was compelled to drink, v. 8), the queen holding a separate feast for the women guests (v. 9).


Esther 1:3 In the third year of his reign, he [i.e. Ahasuerus] made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him:


1:3 – (RSB) the power of Persia. i.e., the military officers of Persia.


Esther 1:4 When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days.


(BKC) Mention of these leaders fits the known fact that the Persian Empire had a large administrative system. Though not stated, this banquet probably corresponds to the great feast Xerxes gave when he was planning to invade Greece. According to Herodotus it took Xerxes four years to get ready for the invasion he launched in 481. (Herodotus’ four years would extend from the beginning of Xerxes’ reign in 485.) No doubt the 180 days involved planning sessions in which all the provinces’ leaders were being prepared for the war effort, as well as being impressed with Xerxes’ wealth and splendor. The campaign was to be a costly affair.


(BKC) The Book of Esther says nothing about Xerxes’ invasion of Greece, but other sources state that he wanted to avenge his father’s defeat at Marathon near Athens. Xerxes’ immense fleet defeated the Greeks at Thermopylae but was defeated at the famous Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. and the Battle of Plataea in 479. He had to retreat home. Esther gained the favor of the king in 479 B.C., the seventh year of his reign (2:16). This would have been after his defeat by Greece. These events recorded in Esther fit the facts known from secular sources.


Esther 1:5 And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace;


Esther 1:6 Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds [i.e. couches] were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble.


Esther 1:7 And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state [i.e. generosity] of the king.


Esther 1:8 And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel [i.e. the drinking was not compulsory]: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure.


Esther 1:9 Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.


                        2.   Vashti deposed – 1:10-22


Esther 1:10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains [i.e. eunuchs] that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,


Esther 1:11 To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal [i.e. wearing her royal crown], to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on [i.e. she was beautiful to behold].


Esther 1:12 But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains [i.e. eunuchs]: therefore was the king very wroth [i.e. the king was furious], and his anger burned in him.


(RSB) On the last day of the feast, the drunken king summoned his queen, presumably to make a lewd display of her before his guests, but she refused to obey.


(BKC) Vashti’s refusal is not explained by the author. There is no implication that the king wanted her to do anything immoral or to expose herself. . . . Regardless of the reason for her refusal, her action was a breach of etiquette. The king was used to getting whatever he desired whenever he desired it. Therefore her response made him furious. . . .


Esther 1:13 Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment:


1:13 – (RSB) wise men, which knew the times. i.e., astrologers. . . .


Esther 1:14 And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king’s face [i.e. who had access to the king’s presence], and which sat the first in the kingdom [i.e. who ranked highest in the kingdom];)

King Ahasuerus is asking the wise men –

Esther 1:15 What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment [i.e. she did not obey the commandment] of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains [i.e. brought by the eunuchs]?


1:16-19 – (RSB) The counselors turned the matter into a national crisis that threatened male supremacy!


Esther 1:16 And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.


Esther 1:17 For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.


Esther 1:18 Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.


These statements in verses 16-18 may or may not have been accurate, but what was said has been accurately reported in the Bible.


Esther 1:19 If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.


1:19 – (RSB) be not altered. Persians laws were irrevocable (8:8; Dan. 6:8).


Esther 8:8 Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.


Daniel 6:8 Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.


Esther 1:20 And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.


Esther 1:21 And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan:


Esther 1:22 For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof [i.e. in its own script], and to every people after their language [i.e. in their own language], that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people [i.e. and should be speaking in the language of his own people and not in the language of his wife if it differed from his].


1:22 – (RSB) The king solemnly decreed (how could it ever have been enforced!) that every man was to rule his own household and that his (not her) native language was to be spoken in that home (the meaning of the last part of the verse).


Esther 2


            B.  Esther elevated to queen – 2:1-20


                        1.   Solution proposed for a new queen – 2:1-4


(BKC) Esther, a Jewess, was placed in a position in which she could help the nation Israel. Her being elevated to queen happened even before Israel needed help. The original readers would realize that this was another instance of God protecting His covenant people.


Whereas the events of chapter 1 occurred before the war with Greece, the events of chapter 2 occur after the war with Greece which Persia lost.


Esther 2:1 After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.


2:1 – (RSB) After these things. After Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes’s) defeat at Plataea in 479 B.C., he probably began to long for his queen again.


Esther 2:2 Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king:


2:2 – (RSB) If Vashti had been restored, she most likely would have destroyed the king’s servants (since they had recommended she be deposed); therefore they urged this alternate plan.


Esther 2:3 And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women [i.e. the harem], unto the custody of Hege the king’s chamberlain [i.e. the king’s eunuch], keeper of the women [i.e. keeper of the harem]; and let their things for purification [i.e. for beauty treatments, for beauty preparations] be given them:


Esther 2:4 And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.


                        2.   Esther taken into the harem – 2:5-11


Esther 2:5 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;


Esther 2:6 Who [i.e. speaking of Kish] 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.


2:6 – (RSB) Kish, not Mordecai, had been taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. After the Persians conquered Babylon, many Jews migrated to the cities of Persia. . . .


Esther 2:7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair [i.e. lovely] and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.


2:7 – (RSB) Hadassah, meaning “myrtle,” was her Hebrew name; her Persian name (Esther) meant “star.”


Esther 2:8 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 [i.e. who had charge of the harem].


Esther 2:9 And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him [i.e. she obtained favor with him]; and he speedily gave her her things for purification [i.e. he provided her cosmetics, he provided her with things for beauty treatments], with such things as belonged to her [i.e. her special menu, her special food], and seven maidens, which were meet [i.e. and seven choice maidservants] to be given her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred her [i.e. moved her] and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women [i.e. in the harem].


2:9 – (RSB) such things as belonged to her included food, some of which would have been forbidden by the law of Moses; yet, in contrast to Daniel (1:5), she ate.


Esther 2:10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her [i.e. instructed her, directed her] that she should not shew it.


Esther 2:11 And Mordecai walked [i.e. walked back and forth] every day before the court of the women’s house [i.e. in front of the courtyard of the harem], to know how Esther did, and what should become of her [i.e. what was happening to her].


2:8-11 – (RSB) Esther was taken into the king’s house of the women (harem) and instructed by Mordecai (her cousin who reared her) not to reveal her nationality. Perhaps he feared for her life (v. 11) or for his own position (v. 19).


(BKC) Esther kept her Jewish nationality a secret . . ., not telling Hegai, her maids, or anyone else because Mordecai had told her not to. From this and other statements in the book it is clear the author was making the point that God protected and used Esther and Mordecai in spite of the fact that they were not living according to the Law commanded by God to the people of Israel. By Law Esther was not to marry a pagan (Deut. 7:1-4) or have sexual relations with a man who was not her husband (Ex. 20:14), and yet this was the purpose of her being included in the harem. Esther could be contrasted with Daniel who refused to eat the things from the king’s table (Dan. 1:5) because the food would include items considered unclean by the Jewish Law. Apparently Esther had no qualms about the food she ate (Est. 2:9). She certainly did not set herself apart as Daniel had done.


                        3.   Esther chosen to be queen – 2:12-20


(BKC) 2:12-15. Esther became extremely popular during her year of preparation for her night with the king. Each girl’s beauty treatments were designed to enhance her attractiveness. Myrrh, a gum from a small tree, gives a fragrant smell.


(BKC) Esther was not in a beauty contest simply to win the king’s affections; the women were being prepared to have sexual relations with the king. This is suggested by the words in the evening she would go there and in the morning return. After that they would be transferred to another harem, under Shaashgaz, which consisted of the concubines. Most of the women were relegated to living the rest of their lives in the harem of the concubines, many probably never again seeing the king. When Esther went to the king she followed the instructions of Hegai the eunuch.


Esther 2:12 Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months [i.e. after she had completed twelve months of preparations], according to the manner of the women [i.e. according to the regulations for the women], (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished [i.e. for the days of their beautification were completed], to wit, [i.e. as follows] six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours [i.e. with perfumes], and with other things for the purifying [i.e. for the beautification] of the women;)


Esther 2:13 Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women [i.e. out of the harem] unto the king’s house.


Esther 2:14 In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women [i.e. into the second harem], to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain [i.e. eunuch], which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called [i.e. summoned] by name.


Esther 2:15 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 [i.e. requested] nothing but what Hegai the king’s chamberlain [i.e. eunuch], the keeper of the women, appointed [i.e. advised, suggested]. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her [i.e. who saw her].


Esther 2:16 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 [i.e. December-January, 479 B.C.].


Esther 2:17 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.


2:15-17 – (RSB) Each concubine waited to be summoned by the king. Esther’s turn came in the month of Tebeth (the Babylonian name for Dec.-Jan.), 479 B.C. She was crowned queen four years after Vashti’s divorce and after Ahasuerus had suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Greeks. . . .


Esther 2:18 Then the king made a great feast [i.e. banquet] unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast [i.e. banquet]; and he made a release to the provinces [i.e. he proclaimed a holiday throughout all the provinces], and gave gifts, according to the state of the king [i.e. according to the king’s generosity, according to the king’s liberality].


2:18 – (RSB) made a release. This could mean a release from taxes, a holiday, or a release of prisoners.


Esther 2:19 And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king’s gate.


2:19 – (RSB) the second time. Another occasion when Ahasuerus added to his harem, after Esther had been made queen.


(RSB) king’s gate. The place where commercial and judicial matters were transacted. That Mordecai was there indicates that he held an important position, probably in the judicial system.


(BKC) Apparently there was a gathering of another harem of virgins during the time Mordecai was . . . at the king’s gate (cf. v. 21; 3:2). His being at the king’s gate probably meant that Mordecai held an official position in the empire’s judicial system. His portion thus helped set the stage for the following events. This fact about Mordecai shows how he could have uncovered an assassination plot and how a feud started that threatened the entire Jewish nation.


Esther 2:20 Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people [i.e. Esther had not yet revealed her family and her people]; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.


This sermon is the 1st part of the series, Study of Esther. Other sermons in this series are: