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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Esther 1

 

 

Verses 1-8

A HALF-DRUNKEN XERXES DEPOSES HIS QUEEN VASHTI (AMESTRIS);

XERXES MAKES PREPARATIONS TO INVADE GREECE

"Now it came to pass in the days of Ahashuerus (this is Ahashuerus who reigned from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and twenty and seven provinces), that in those days when the king Ahashuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace, in the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and of Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him; when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honor of his excellant majesty many days, even a hundred and fourscore days. And when these days were fulfilled, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. There were hangings of white cloth, of green, and of blue, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble; the couches were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and white, and yellow, and black marble. And they gave them drink in vessels of gold (the vessels being diverse one from another), and royal wine in abundance, according to the bounty of the king. And the drinking was according to the law; none could compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure."

Although not apparent in our text, the very first words in the the Hebrew text of the O.T. (the Hebrew) are "and it came to pass," which is made the occasion by Duff to declare that, "The book of Esther is a truncated narrative,"[1] but Keil pointed out that no such conclusion is justified.[2] Many of the Biblical books begin with the word and, indicating their connection with the rest of the canonical books of the Bible. "Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, Ezekiel, and Jonah all begin with the word `and'."[3]

What is revealed here is a six-months interval of intense preparations by Xerxes for the invasion of Greece. It was terminated by a big banquet that lasted a week. During this period all of the mighty princes of his extensive dominion were summoned to appear, probably in successive assignments, to be entertained and to see the king's exhibition of his power and riches, and also, most likely, to receive his assignment to them regarding the troops each would supply for that immense army which he gathered together for the invasion. Our text does not elaborate this; but we learn much about it from Herodotus

"This is Ahashuerus that reigned, ..." (Esther 1:1). In the time of these events, there were no less than three great men called Ahashuerus; the prophet Daniel mentioned one of them, but he was not a king; and there was another Ahashuerus (also a king, Xerxes II) mentioned by Ezra (Ezra 4:6). "Here the author of Esther, who probably knew of the others, distinguished this Ahashuerus from the one named in Daniel as `the Ahashuerus who reigns,' and from the king mentioned in Ezra by the enormous size of his dominion."[4]

"Who reigned from India ... to Ethiopia" (Esther 1:1). "A foundation tablet has been recovered from Xerxes' palace at Persepolis which lists both India and Ethiopia as provinces of Xerxes' realm. Also Herodotus mentioned that both the Ethiopians and the Indians paid tribute to Xerxes."[5]

"One hundred twenty and seven provinces" (Esther 1:1). We learned from Ezra and Nehemiah that there were 27 satrapies in the Perisan empire; but these divisions were different. "The satrapies were taxation districts; but these provinces were racial or national units in the vast empire."[6]

"In those days when Ahashuerus sat on his throne" (Esther 1:2). It is strange that Persian kings almost constantly sat on their throne. "Herodotus wrote that Xerxes watched the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.) seated on a throne! And Plutarch wrote the same thing regarding the battle of Salamis, which came that same year."[7]

"Upon his throne which was in Shushan the palace" (Esther 1:2). There were four capitals of Persia; and the king, at times, reigned in each of them. These were, "Shushan, Babylon, Ecbatana, and Persepolis."[8]

"In the third year of his reign" (Esther 1:3). As Xerxes came to his throne in the year 486 B.C., this would have been 483, B.C.[9]

The magnificent decorations, the luxurious surroundings and all the glory of the Persian palace are beautifully described in these verses. It is particularly interesting that drinking vessels of gold, each one of a different design, were features of that concluding banquet.

"And the drinking was according to the law" (Esther 1:8). It is amusing to us that some of the scholars declare that there was not any such law regarding drinking; but the text flatly says there was, and furthermore, it relates what the law was, "They should do according to every man's desire" (Esther 1:8). This was the law, tailor-made for that occasion by the king himself! We appreciate Keil's comment that, "While this law granted permission for any one to drink as little as he desired, it also allowed every one to drink as much as he desired! Drunkenness was almost a universal sin among the Gentiles. And rulers, especially, indulged in it. Even Alexander the Great drank himself to death. This great banquet given by Xerxes was by no means a beautiful party. It was an unqualified disaster.


Verses 9-12

VASHTI REFUSES TO HONOR THE KING'S CALL TO DISPLAY HER BEAUTY

"Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahashuerus. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagthar, Zethur, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that ministered in the presence of Ahashuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the peoples and the princes) her beauty; for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the kinifs commandment by the chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him."

"When the heart of the king was merry with wine" (Esther 1:10). This appears to this writer as a euphemism with the meaning that the king was drunk. That this is true appears from the fact of the king's unreasonable request.

"The seven chamberlains that ministered before the king" (Esther 1:10). The fact of these men having access to the king's harem indicates that all of them were eunuchs. Scholars usually suggest that this request of the king was reasonable, but this writer cannot believe that it was reasonable, else Vashti, knowing the outrageous nature of the king's ungovernable temper, would not have disobeyed him. She most certainly knew that death itself might be the penalty of her refusal.

"But the queen refused to come" (Esther 1:12). Scholars have suggested a number of possible reasons why Vashti would not obey the king, but in all likelihood, Vashti was pregnant with Artaxerxes I. John Bendor-Samuel writes that, "This banquet probably took place just before the birth of Artaxerxes";[10] and her natural modesty rebelled against making a display of herself before the king and his well drunken banqueteers.

QUEEN VASHTI IS DEPOSED AND DISPOSSESSED

What a heartless, evil wretch was Xerxes! "His design was to present Vashti unveiled before a multitude of semi-drunken revelers ... Xerxes' behavior here was a cruel outrage upon one whom he, above all men, was bound to respect and protect."[11] In a few days she would give birth to his son who would succeed him on the throne, but this half-drunken old fool had no honor or respect for anyone on earth except himself!

Some small measure of appreciation for Xerxes may be found in the fact that he did not at once order the death and dismemberment of Vashti, as he would later do for the oldest son of Pythius, for he restrained his anger sufficiently that he took the matter up with his counselors.


Verses 13-22

"Then the king said to the wise men, who knew the times (for so was the king's manner toward all that knew law and judgment; and next unto him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meshes, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king's face, and sat first in the kingdom), What shall we do unto the queen Vashti, according to law, because she hath not done the bidding of the king Ahashuerus by the chamberlains? 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 peoples that are in all the provinces of the king Ahashuerus. For this deed of the queen will come abroad unto all women, to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahashuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. And this day will the princesses of Persia and Media who have heard of the deed of the queen say the like to all the king's princes. So will there arise much contempt and wrath. If it please the king, let there go forth 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 the king Ahashuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his kingdom (for it is great), all the wives shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small. And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan: for he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and should speak according to the language of his people."

Nothing could demonstrate more forcefully the low estate of women in the ancient world than the brutal facts of this outrage against Vashti. In all the societies of mankind where women are unprotected by the teachings of the Son of God, women have invariably been reduced to the status so clearly visible in this chapter. Only in Jesus Christ are women elevated to the respected and honored status they deserve; and the great pity of our generation is that women are being wooed and persuaded by political promises of all kinds to give up their worship of the Christ. They are promised "equality" with men; but it is a specious `equality,' like that which the women of Russsia got when they gave up even an imperfect Christianity for communism. It turned out to be "equality" to carry the bricks, sweep the streets, and work till they dropped dead in the fields. Let the women of America beware!

The seven princes of Persia and Media (Esther 1:14). In the book of Daniel, one finds the expression, "The law of the Medes and the Persians"; but a little later in this chapter, it reads, "The law of the Persians and the Medes." Why the difference? In Daniel's day, the king was a Mede (Darius); so the Medes were mentioned first, but now Xerxes, a Persian, was the ruler; so the Persians came first! The Medes and the Persians were the two principal races that formed the Medo-Persian Empire, but it was never two empires - only one.

It is of interest that Xerxes' letter to all the 127 ethnic groups in his empire was addressed to each one of the groups in their native language. Also, there was added that provision that every man should use only his native language in his own house, which certainly presented a problem in homes where there were mixed marriages with the races. Such a law was unenforceable. But as Keil noted, "Xerxes was the author of many strange facts besides this."[12]

Halley and others held the opinion that one of the last actions of Xerxes before he left on that four-year campaign against Greece was the deposition of Vashti, and that, "He did not marry Esther until four years later in 478 B.C., after he returned from the Grecian campaign."[13] This accounts for the four-year gap between this chapter and the next one. This conclusion is fully supported by the writings of Herodotus.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Esther 1:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/esther-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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