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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Esther 1

 

 

Verse 1

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

Ver. 1. Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus] This book is in the Hebrew called Esther, because she is a chief party therein mentioned and memorized. The Rabbis call it Megillath Esther, that is, the volume of Esther; and further tell us that there be five such volumes of Scripture books; viz. Solomon’s Song, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and this of Esther: which they use to read all over in their synagogues, five times a year. 1. Solomon’s Song at the Passover; in remembrance of their one time deliverance out of Egypt, and their future salvation by the Messiah. 2. Ruth at Pentecost; because therein is set down the genealogy of David their first king. 3. The Lamentations of Jeremiah on the ninth day of the fifth month (that is, of August); in regard to the Babylonian captivity, and ruin of the Temple. 4. Ecclesiastes, at the feast of Tabernacles; in a thankful remembrance of the Divine providence asserted in that book; and exercised over them in a special manner, when they wandered in the wilderness. 5. Lastly, this of Esther, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month Adar, or February; and as often as they hear mention of Haman, they do, even to this day, with their fists and hammers beat upon the benches and boards, as if they did beat upon Haman’s head (R. Abraham, Hispanus cognom, σοφος). They tell us that this book was written by Mordecai himself, an eyewitness and a main party, according to Esther 9:20, and have ever reckoned it among the Chetubin or Hagiographa, that is, the books of Holy Scripture. Indeed, because they find not the name of God or Lord in this whole book, they have a custom to cast it to the ground before they read it. But they need not; for as the ancient heathens used to write upon their books, Yεος, Yεος, God, God, so might the Jews upon this; there being nowhere in Scripture found more remarkable passages and acts of God’s immediate providence for his calamitous people than in this. Surely (saith a great divine) like as a man by a chain made up of several links, some of gold, others of silver, some of brass, iron, or tin, may be drawn out of a pit; so (it may here be seen that) the Lord, by the concurrence of several subordinate things which have no manner of dependence or natural coincidence among themselves, hath wonderfully wrought the deliverance of his Church; that it might appear to be the work of his own hand.

In the days of Ahasuerus] That is, of Xerxes, the terror of Greece, called Ahasuerosh, that is, a hereditary, begotten by king Darius, and born of a king’s daughter, viz. Atossa, daughter to Cyrus, and heir of the kingdom by lineal descent. Such a hereditary prince was our Henry VIII. Greek authors also call Xerxes, Oxyastris, and his wife Amestris, which seemeth to be the same as Esther, who is called Amestris by a like composition, saith an interpreter, as Haman’s father was called Ham-Adata, an honourable addition to a name among the Persians.

This is Ahasuerus which reigned from India even unto Ethiopia] viz. Inclusive, ut loquuntur. This must needs be Xerxes; for he subdued Ethiopia, and thereupon made this great feast. He was lord, we see, of a very great part of the habitable world; as is now the Great Turk, not inferior in greatness and strength, to the mightiest monarchs that ever yet were upon the face of the earth. No part of the world is left untouched by him but America only; not more fortunate, saith one, with her rich mines, than in that she is so far from so great and dangerous an enemy. Nevertheless of all this greatness (belluine rather than genuine), what saith Luther? Turcicum imperium quantum quantum est, &c. The Turkish empire in its utmost extent is but a crust cast to his dogs, by the great housekeeper of the world. The inheritance he reserves for his children; who though held here to strait allowance, yet are far dearer to him than the world’s greatest darlings; as the poor captive Jews were, than this great emperor. Those that seek a mystery in this history tell us, that Ahasuerus typically representeth God the Father ruling over all kingdoms and creatures on earth; choosing some to be heirs of heaven, and purifying them for that purpose. Mordecai (signifying bitter and contrite) setteth forth Christ, say they, broken for our sins, and suffering the bitter wrath of God. Esther (being the same with Alma, Isaiah 7:14, a pure virgin, secreted and secured from defilement) is a lively image of the Church, unspotted by the world, and provided for by her Mordecai. The disdainful Vashti (taking her name from Shatha, to drink) is a fit effigy of the world, proud and luxurious, and therefore excluded heaven. Haman (signifying a tumultuous and obstreperous person) represents the devil, restless and rageful, but to his own utter ruin, &c. These are pretty things, but not so proper. The Popish commentators are full of them.

Over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces] Seven more than were in Darius the Mede’s time, Daniel 6:1. Monarchs will be still adding; and although a man were monarch of the whole world, yea, had the command of moon and stars, yet would he still be peeping beyond them for more, more. Herodotus reckons up sundry satrapies under the king of Persia, out of which he received, yearly, fourteen thousand five hundred and threescore Euboian talents: so that this monarchy is fitly compared (in Daniel) to the silver breast and arms in Nebuchadnezzar’s image.


Verse 2

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

Ver. 2. When the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne] Having peace with all men, being quiet and secure; though this lasted not long; for he was shamefully foiled by the Grecians (against whom he led an army of two millions of men), and forced to flee back again over Hellespont, in a poor fisher’s boat; which being overloaded, had sunk all, if the Persians by the casting away of themselves had not saved the life of their king. Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo, &c.

Which was in Shushan the palace] See Nehemiah 1:1. Ptolemy, Strabo, and Pliny tell us, that in this city (situated upon the river Choaspes) was that famous palace of Cyrus, which was adorned with marble walls, golden pillars, and a great store of precious stones; shining as so many stars from the roof and sides of it, to the dazzling of the eyes of the beholders (Ptol. 1. 6, c. 3; Strab. lib. 15; Plin. 1. 6, c. 27; Herod. 1. 5; Athen. 1. 12, c. 3). Here it was, likely, that the kings of Persia sat to hear causes under a vine of gold, set with smaragds, as with so many clusters of grapes.


Verse 3

Esther 1:3 In the third year of his reign, he 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:

Ver. 3. In the third year of his reign he made a feast] Such a feast, as that all other feasts were but hunger to it, whether we regard the number of guests, the greatness of preparation, or the continuance of time; yet it had an end. But so hath not the feast of a good conscience, Proverbs 15:15. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 15:15"}

Unto all his princes and his servants] To gratify them for their former valour and victory; and to inflame them to a new expedition, viz. against Greece; for the conquest whereof he was now addressing himself; as also that his glory and wealth appearing herein, might make them all the more willing to live in subjection to him, so royal and munificent a prince.

The power of Persia] Or to the army of Persia and Media.

The nobles] Satrapis, παραταμοπις, of which the word Parthemim is made, as some think. Others derive it of Perath, quasi principes Euphrataei, the princes that were beyond the river Euphrates (Kimchi Arias.).


Verse 4

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.

Ver. 4. When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom] Or, that he might show, &c. There were other ends of this feast, as was before noted; but this is instanced by the Holy Ghost, to set forth the pride and vanity of this great monarch, abusing God’s gifts to his own ambition, and priding himself in that wealth which had been gotten by the hard labour of his poor subjects; from whom haply his exactors had received no less sums of curses than of coin. O curas hominum! O quantum est in rebus inane! O the concerns of men, O how great it is in vain things.

And the honour of his excellent majesty] Atqui virtute, non vanitate acquirenda est gloria, saith the orator, glory is to be gotten by virtue, and not by these like vanities, Hezekiah smarted for his folly in this kind; Nebuchadnezzar much more. This great potentate was shortly after brought low enough.

Desinat elatis quisquam confidere rebus;

Magna repente ruunt, summa cadunt subito (Claudian).

Let him cease from burying whoever is to divided by things, They suddenly destroy great things, the greatest things perish suddenly.

Many days, even an hundred and fourscore days] A hundred, fourscore, and five days, saith Joseph Ben Gorion. So long lasted the first feast; though Lyra will have it, that so long they were in preparing, but the feasting was not till after these days expired; and that then both prince and people were feasted together seven days. Of the Sybarites indeed we read, that when they made great feasts, they invited their women twelve months before, that they might come the more richly and luxuriously attired, and might be the more sumptuously entertained. But the text plainly shows that Lyra here did delirare, is crazy, miss the meaning; for after that, the princes, from sundry parts, had been half a year in feasting.


Verse 5

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;

Ver. 5. The king made a feast unto all the people] This was not amiss, so that care were taken that no irregulares gulares unsatisfied appitites, were found among them; for kings should carry themselves toward their people as kindly as parents do toward their children, and shepherds toward their sheep. Are they not therefore called patres patriae, fathers of their country, and shepherds of their people? ποιμενες λαων. David and Cyrus were taken from the sheepfolds to feed men, Psalms 78:70.

Both unto great and small] Pell-mell, one with another, to show his liberality; which yet he might better have bestowed in another away, than in belly cheer, and such open housekeeping to all comers without difference; since this is rather prodigality than bounty.

Seven days] Too long together to be a feasting; since at such times men are so apt to exceed and lash out; eating that on earth that they must digest in hell; and drowning both bodies and souls in wine and strong drink, as Richard III did his brother Clarence in a butt {A cask for wine or ale, of capacity varying from 108 to 140 gallons.} of Malmsey.

In the court of the garden] In the banqueting house, or sub dio, in the open air in the garden, where they had elbow room, and all manner of delights, fit to have been seasoned and allayed with the sight of a sepulchre (the Jews built their tombs beforehand in their gardens), or else of a death’s head (as was the manner of the Egyptians at their great feasts), to keep them from surfeiting.


Verse 6

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 [were of] gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble.

Ver. 6. Where were white, green, and blue hangings] Rich and royal tapestry, set forth with variety of colours, pleasant to the eye.

Fastened with cords of fine linen] More precious than silk.

And pillars of marble] To bear up the hangings, that the guests might the better behold them, and be defended by them from wind, dust, and heat.

The beds] Whereon they sat at meat (which was the manner of all those Eastern parts), their bodies so composed, as that the upper part thereof being somewhat bent and bowed, the rest lay along.

Were of gold and silver] The bedsteads were. See Amos 6:4; Amos 2:8; Jeremiah 23:40.

Upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble] Or, porphyry or crystal. All very costly and stately; and these are those things that made us desirous to live longer here, as Charles V told the duke of Venice; who had showed him his fair palace richly furnished, Haec sunt quae nos faciunt invitos mori. These are what they make for us, [who are] unwilling to die. But what said Nugas, the Scythian prince, to certain ambassadors who brought him brave and rich presents? Will these save a man from sickness? Will they stave off death? Do not these outward gauds {festivities} and gaieties carry away the heart from the love and care of better things? (Val. Max. Christian). Solomon saith as much in his sacred retractations; and Charles V (who besides other territories and dominions, had twenty-eight kingdoms) voluntarily gave over the empire as a burden; and cursing his honours in his old age, his trophies, riches, royalties, said to them all, Abite hinc, abite longe, Be gone, all of you; get you hence. Abi perdita bestia quae me perdidisti, as Cornelius Agrippa said on his death bed, to his familiar devil, Be packing, thou wretched beast, that hast undone me for ever.


Verse 7

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 of the king.

Ver. 7. And they gave them drink] Think the same of food also; but the whole feast hath its denomination in the original from drinking; because at such times they drank freely, and many times more than did them good, Quia in conviviis largiter bibi solet (Corn. Nepos in Vit. Alcibiad.). The Persians are infamous for their intemperance, though they had laws to the contrary; and Xenophon tells us that of old they were otherwise. Only once a year their king had licence to be drunk, viz. when they sacrificed to the sun (Athenaeus).

In vessels of gold] Beset with precious stones (as Josephus addeth), ad delectationem et spectaculum. to pleasure and show.

The vessels being diverse one from another] To show the king’s store of them, that there was not curta supellex, sparse provision, but great plenty and variety of dishes and dainties.

And royal wine] Choice wine, and fit for a king’s palate. Vinum Cos, Wine of Cos, as they call it merrily at Lovain and Paris, id est, coloris, odoris, saporis optimi, of the best colour, smell, and taste (Beehive of Rome, Pref.).

In abundance] They swam in wine, and the tables did even sweat with a variety of dishes; quicquid avium volitabat, quicquid piscium natabat, quicquid ferarum discurrebat, &c., whatever of the birds were flying, whatever of the fish were swiming, whatever of the wild beasts were wandering about. to use Seneca’s expression.

According to the state of the king] For whom it was not unlawful to feast, so to show his liberality toward his peers, and courtesy to his people. But that which was blameworthy in him, was, 1. His vain glory. 2. His prodigality. 3. His wasting of time. 4. His neglect of business. 5. His contempt of the true God, not once acknowledged by him or his guests. Lastly, their profane mirth and jollity, without the least note of sanctity or respect to God’s glory (Merlin. in loc.).


Verse 8

Esther 1:8 And the drinking [was] according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure.

Ver. 8. And the drinking was according to the law] Prescribed by the king, and it was but needful, lest men should make his house a school of intemperance; and lest shameful spueing should be on his glory, Habakkuk 2:15. And, inasmuch as of evil manners come good laws, it appeareth by this edict of the king, that the Persians were now degenerated from their ancient sobriety and moderation in meats and drinks. So likewise were the Cretans when Minos made a law that men should not drink one to another, εις μεθην, unto drunkenness; and the same we may well think of the inhabitants of this land, when King Edgar made an ordinance for putting pins in cups, to stint men how thr they should drink, and that none should quaff whole ones.

Quinetian Spartae mos est laudabilis ille,

Ut bibat arbitrio pocula quisque suo.

Quinetian of Sparta habit is that praiseworthy, that he toasts everyone with his choice cup.

None did compel] Domitius, the father of Nero, slew Liberius, an honest Roman, because he refused to drink so much as he commanded him (Sueton.). Tiberius, for his drunkenness called Caldius Biberius Mero, instead of Claudius Tiberius Nero, made Novellus Tricongius proconsul, for that he could drink three bottles of wine together with one breath. He preferred also Lord Piso to the government of the city of Rome, because he could sit drinking with him continually for two whole days and nights together. Lyra upon this text decries this detestable healthing and carousing too common in all parts of Christendom; and saith that it was brought up first by the barbarians in Normandy, who came and depopulated that country. And what a lamentable thing is it that to this day, in such a state as ours, the civil, sober, and temperate man shall be urged, and it may be forced, to swallow down needless draughts, as a horse doth a drench, by domineering drunkards. The late good act against drunkenness, if well executed, will be some curb to our roaring boys; so they will needs be called by a woeful prolepsis, here for hereafter. Oh that we could persuade such as Mahomet did his followers, that in every grape there dwelt a devil; or, that fire and brimstone storm and tempest, this shall be the portion of the drunkard’s cup.

For so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house] He had appointed, Heb. he had founded or established it for an inviolable decree and officers on purpose (controllers of his house) to see it executed. John 2:8, we read of a governor of the feast. The Jews had such officers or moderators at their merry meetings (called the eyes and overseers of the feast), that took care that none should drink too much himself, Praefecti morum, governor of manners, Oινοπται οφθαλμοι. The Latins also had such, calling them dictators. The Greeks had their symposiarchs; but among these their power extended no further than to see that the feasters drank small draughts only at first; which by degrees they increased till they came to the height of intemperance. But these should have considered that which Anacharsis had told them, that the vine beareth three grapes; the first of pleasure, the second of drunkenness, and the third of misery and mischief.

That they should do according to every man’s pleasure] Drink what they thought good, without stint or force. It is reported of Romulus, that being once invited to supper, he drank not much, because he had weighty business to do on the morrow after. And when one said unto him, Sir, if all men should drink as you do, wine would be far cheaper; nay, it would be dearer, said he, if every man should drink as I have done; that is, as much as he pleaseth to drink. Nam ego bibi quantum volui (Gell. lib. xi. cap. 14).


Verse 9

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

Ver. 9. Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women] Heb. A feast, or a compotation of women. This was better yet than Heliogabalus’s senate of women, with their ordinances correspondent; as what attire each woman should use, how they should take place, when salute, &c. The Romans decreed in senate that no women should drink wine. What Vashti’s practice was I know not; but by her name she should be a meribibula, a wine bibber, as was noted, Esther 1:1.

Conveniunt rebus nomina saepe suis.

The notables came together often with their own matters. Josephus, and after him Lyra, give her the commendation of a modest woman. ‘Tis probable she had the king’s consent to feast the women, because it was in the royal house; and it added much to the king’s munificence. But then she should have subdued her husband by obeying him, as Livia (as great an empress) did Augustus. Dio reporteth of her, that being asked how she got such a power over her husband, she answered, Multa modestia, By my much modesty (Dio in Tiberio). It is remarkable in this third feast, that, first, the women feasted within doors, not in the open court, as their husbands did, and, next, apart from the men. Which whether it were of pride, because Vashti would keep state by herself; or, of necessity, because either the custom of the country or the king’s jealousy would not allow her presence among so many of the other sex, yet surely this may condemn (as one well saith) our most lascivious mingling of both sexes together in dancing, and such like meetings; where nothing is more usual than lustful looks, filthy speeches, unclean touches. Apage omnem hanc impudentiam, shun all occasions of sin that doth so easily beset us. Lot, feasting and drinking wine with his own daughters, fell into the sin of incest. The Israelites doing the like with the daughters of Moab, were ensnared, and subverted. The dancing damsel so inflamed that old goat Herod, that, like a mad man, he sweareth to give her her desire to the half of his kingdom. In all mixed meetings of both sexes, let the husband’s eyes be eyes of adamant, which will turn only to one point; lest some Circe (a) enchant him, having faculty attractive with the jet, and retentive with the adamant. Let the wives also be like that Persian lady, who being at the marriage of Cyrus, and asked how she liked the bridegroom? How? saith she; I know not; I saw nobody but my husband.


Verse 10

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 that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,

Ver. 10. On the seventh day] Here we have Luxuriosi convivii luctuosum exitum, a sad end of a luxurious feast. Sin usually endeth tragically. On the six former days of the feast, having farced his body with good cheer like a woolsack, and inflamed it with wine wherein was excess, he bethinks himself of other pleasures. Vina parant animos Veneri (Ovid). Aristophanes calleth wine the milk of Venus and fuel of lust. Ambrose saith that lust is fed with feasts, nourished with delicacies, kindled with wine, set on flame with drunkenness (lib. i. de Paenit. c. 4). A belly filled with wine foameth out filthiness, saith Jerome.

When the heart of the king was merry with wine] The property whereof is to exhilarate the heart of man, as the Scripture speaketh, 9:13, Psalms 104:15. Pluto calleth wine the mitigator of man’s misery. Euripides saith, Qui non hilarescit bibendo, nihil sapit. He who is not gladdened by drinking, understands nothing. But Ahasuerus’s heart was too merry; the wine was so in, that the wit was out; drunkenness had bereft this Polyphemus of his eye of right reason. This is a vice hateful in all, but in a ruler most of all. See Proverbs 31:4, {See Trapp on "Proverbs 31:4"} What mad work made Alexander the Great many times in his drunkenness, killing those then whom he would afterwards have revived, if he could, with his own heart blood! Therefore it was that the Carthaginians forbade their magistrates all use of wine. Solon punished drunkenness in a ruler with death. And Ferdinand I, emperor of Germany, sharply reproved the ambassadors of the electors and princes sent to an imperial diet, for their quaffing and careless performance of their trust, saying, Abstinete a maledicta ebrietare, &c., Abstain, for shame, from this cursed drunkenness (which is neither good for body nor soul), and look better to your offices.

He commanded Mehuman] These should have advised him better (for now drunkenness had robbed him of himself, and laid a fool in his room, wine had overshadowed his wisdom, vine sapientia obumbratur, as Pliny phraseth it), and not have been so ready to execute his unreasonable and illegal commands. For the Persians had a law (Josephus saith, lib. xi. Antiq. cap. 6) that matrons should not be seen at feasts among men; though harlots might. But kings are never without their court parasites, who will humour them in anything, and whose song is, Mihi placet quicquid regi placet, That which pleaseth the king pleaseth me, howsoever.


Verse 11

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

Ver. 11. To bring Vashti the queen before the king] This was their errand, and they went readily about it (though it beseemed not their state, as being chief about the king), whether they envied the queen, and so sought occasion against her (as the bishops did against Queen Catharine Parr), or were in the king’s predicament, and therefore desired fuel to their fire.

With the crown royal] In all her best, that nest of pride, as one calleth it, and incentive of lust.

To shew the princes and the people her beauty] And thereby to show them all his own imprudence and impudence; this he would not have done, if sober, for any good. Quid non ebrietas designat? "Wine is a mocker, and strong drink is raging." Could he not consider what he had oft read befell Candaules, king of the Sardians, for showing his fair wife to Gyges in a vain glorious humour? (Herodot., Justin.) Knew he not that those well whittled courtiers would soon be inflamed with the sight of such a peerless beauty, and that her gay attire would not make her more comely than common?

For she was fair to look on] Xenophon testifieth of the Persian and Median women, that they are proper and beautiful beyond all other nations. Vashti, we must needs think, then, was a choice beauty; and if she were (as Aspasia Milesia, wife to king Cyrus) fair and wise, it was no small commendation, καλλει τας γυναικας απασας υτερβαλλουσα (Joseph.); καλη και σοφη (Aelian.). But if (as Aurelia Orestilla in Sallust) she had nothing in her praise worthy but her beauty, it was ill bestowed on her. The Jews give a very ill character of her. They say she was daughter to Belshazzar (that notable quaffer, who might therefore call her Vashti, that is, a drinker), that she hated the Jews extremely, and abused various of their daughters (her slaves), making them work on the sabbath day, and putting them every day to the basest offices, not affording them rags to hide their nakedness, &c. This perhaps is but a Jewish fable.


Verse 12

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

Ver. 12. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment] She peremptorily and contumaciously refused, ουκ ηθελεν (Septuag.), though sent for again and again (as Josephus hath it), by her lord and husband, who had in his cups boasted of his wife’s beauty, courtesy, and obedience, whereof he would now make proof to the company, sending for her by such an honourable convoy; yet she would not, that she would not, as the Hebrew word signifieth, but carried herself as if she had been his mistress, and not his wife, to his great grief, and the marring of all their mirth. What if the king were not so well advised? what if he were in his cups? what though she had the law on her side and a pretence of modesty, and lest she could, by coming, occasion the king’s jealousy, &c.? yet Vashti was to have submitted herself unto her own husband (such a husband especially), as it was fit in the Lord, Colossians 3:18, to yield obedience to all his lawful commands and restraints, seem they never so unreasonable. If woman were given to man for a comforter, and in some cases for a counsellor, yet in no case for a controller, as they are apt to be that are fair ( fastus inest formae), rich ( argentum accepi, dote imperium vendidi, saith he in Plautus), better descended, &c., si vis nubere, nube pari. An insolent wife is an insufferable evil; and he hath lost half the comfort of his life who is married to such a one.

Therefore was the king very wroth] He even foamed at the mouth like a wild boar, and frothed as the raging sea, as the word importeth. The Persian kings were noted by some for uxorious; such, as though they commanded the whole world, yet were commanded by their wives and concubines, Captivarum suarum captivi Enslaved by their captives! (Plut.). But here it proved otherwise. This mighty monarch could not bear such a public affront and scorn as he construed it; but rageth beyond reason (whereof his wine for the time had bereft him), and resolveth upon revenge. How much better our William the Conqueror, who though he knew that Maud, his wife, maintained her son, Robert Curtoise, in his quarrel for Normandy, and out of her own coffers paid the charge of that war against his father, and her own husband, yet because it proceeded but from a motherly indulgence for advancing her son, he took for a cause rather of displeasure than of hatred. He loved her while alive, often lamented her death with tears, and most honourably interred her (Speed).

And his anger burned in him] As Nebuchadnezzar also did upon a like occasion, hotter than his seven times heated oven, or than the mountain Etna doth. Moses’s anger waxed hot in him, Exodus 32:19, so that he knew not well what he did in it, it raised such a smoke. Jonah was ready to burst with anger, Jonah 4:9, his blood boiled at his heart, as brimstone doth at the match: therefore is the heart set so near the lungs, that when it is heated with anger, it may be allayed and cooled by the blast and moisture thereof. Josephus saith that he brake off the feast upon this occasion.


Verse 13

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:

Ver. 13. Then the king said to the wise men] What a sudden change is here! Ex conviviis fiunt comitia, imo et convitia, saith an interpreter. The enraged king forgets all his old love to Vashti, and breathes nothing else but reparation of his own lost honour, and revenge upon his peerless paragon. Howbeit herein he is to be commended, that he sent not for her forthwith by force, that he might dispatch her with his own hands; as Alexander did his friend Clitus and others in his cups and choler; neither ran he raging into her chamber, and kicked her out of the world, as Nero did his wife Octavia, for a less matter (Sueton. Ner.). He knew that anger is an evil counsellor.

- qui non moderabitur irae,

Infectum velit esse dolor quod suaserit et mens (Horat.).

He that reineth not in his anger, shall do that in his haste whereof it shall repent him by leisure, and could eat his nails to have it undone again. Ahasuerus therefore calleth for his judges and counsellors, skilful in state matters.

Which knew the times] And what was best to be done in them. This skill they had gotten by much reading of politics and histories, and long observation. The men of Issachar were such, 1 Chronicles 12:32. Such a one was Croesus to Cyrus, Polybius to Scipio, Agrippa to Augustus, Anaxagoras to Themistocles, &c. Xerxes here had seven such to advise with as his privy councillors; Iudices Regios, the king’s judges, Herodotus calleth them, and further saith, that they held their places for their lives, unless they very much misbehaved themselves.

For so was the king’s manner] sc. To advise with them in matters of moment, but not always to take their advice. The manner was, and the fundamental laws of the land took order, for prevention of tyranny, that the kings of Persia should be ruled by this grave senate of the kingdom, and not bring in an arbitrary government. But Xerxes (who is this Ahasuerus) once at least (if not oftener), viz. in his expedition against Greece, which was not long after this great feast, called his seven princes together, and spake to them after this manner; lest, said he, I should seem to follow mine own counsel, I have assembled you, and now do you remember, that it becomes you rather to obey than advise (Val. Max. lib. 9, cap. 5).

Toward all that knew law and judgment] Of these Persian privy councillors it is said, 1. That they were wise men. Now those only are wise quibus res sapiunt prout sunt. 2. They were skilful in the times, that is, well versed in histories, and well furnished with experiences. 3. That they knew the laws, which they had ready, and at their fingers’ ends, as we say. They knew also judgment, that is, equity and moderation, without which utmost right might be utmost wrong: as indeed it proved in the case in hand. Memucan not only accuseth the queen, but aggravateth her offence, and instead of healing the wound, maketh it far wider. This might become a mercenary orator, but not a grave counsellor. The business was this; the king was angry, and he meant to set him going: the queen was an eyesore, and she must be removed. Such slaves are ambitious statists to their own and their princes’ lusts, but especially when their own plough is driven forward with.


Verse 14

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, [and] which sat the first in the kingdom;)

Ver. 14. And the next unto him was Carshena, &c.] These were his trusty and well-beloved cousins, and counsellors, primi et proximi, first in the kingdom, and next unto the king, without whom he was to have done no business of importance. But it is recorded in story that they had no freedom nor liberty of council: for every one of them had a plate or tile of gold to stand upon in the council house; and if he gave counsel that the king thought well or; the plate of gold was given him for a reward; but if he delivered anything contrary to the king’s mind, flagris caedebatur, he was beaten with stripes. Lo, this was the manner of the Persian monarchs.

The seven princes] See Ezra 7:14.

Which saw the king’s face] That came at pleasure into the presence, as they call it. It was a piece of the silly glory of these kings of Persia to secrete themselves from their subjects. No man might see the king uncalled for on pain of death, cum eius persona sub specie maiestatis occuleretur, saith Justin. Only these seven might ordinarily take the boldness to see his face; which lest Haman should do, they covered his face.

And which sat the first in the kingdom] Xenophon tells us that Cyrus, the first Persian monarch, ordained that the nobles should sit before the king every man according to his degree and dignity. Aben Ezra upon this text saith the same.


Verse 15

Esther 1:15 What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?

Ver. 15. What shall we do] Saith the king; who changeth the scene suddenly, the banqueting house into a council chamber, the merry meeting into a most difficult consultation, what to do with the queen, and how to repair the king’s honour so much impaired by her. How easily can the Lord stain the pride of all glory, Isaiah 23:9, cross the world’s greatest darlings, give an unsavoury verdure to their sweetest morsels, and make their very felicity miserable!

Unto the queen Vashti] You should determine nothing rashly against her, but accept of her lawful excuse, hear her plea, remember that she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant, Malachi 2:14, your fellow, and not your footstool; a yoke fellow standing on even ground with you, though drawing on the left side, &c. This you should do to the queen Vashti. But Plutarch notes of the Persians, that they were none of the kindest of husbands, but harsh and jealous. And Athenaeus saith the kings of Persia lord it over their wives, as if they were their handmaids, αγριοι φυσει και χαλεποι (Plut.); ως δεσποτης αρχει της γαμετης ο βασιλευς~ (Athen. lib. 13).

According to law] This you should do; retain the decency and gravity of the law, which is never angry with any man ( Lex non irascitur, sed constituit, saith Seneca), no more must those that administer it. The angry man cannot easily keep a level keel. This Archytas the Tarentine knew, and therefore being displeased with his servants for their sloth, he flung from them, saying, Farewell, I have nothing to say to you, because I am angry at you.

Because she hath not performed the commandment, &c.] This was a fault, no doubt; but not so heinous as was made of it. The faults of his wife a man must either tollere or tolerare, cure or cover, and not go about to kill a fly upon her forehead with a beetle, as they say. But God had a provident hand in it for the good of his Church.


Verse 16

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.

Ver. 16. And Memucan answered before the king] Heb. Mumchan; the junior likely, and therefore spake first, the rest concurred, Esther 1:21. A bold man he was surely (whatever else he was) that durst deliver his mind so freely of such a business, and in such a presence, &c. What if the king and queen should have grown friends again, where had Memucan been? If his cause and his conscience had been as good as his courage was great, all had been as it ought to be.

And the princes] Inter pocula de rebus arduis consultabant, saith Herodotus concerning the Persian princes. In the midst of their cups they use to consult of the greatest affairs. Here they accuse and condemn the queen unheard and unconvicted, which was against all law, divine and human. King Henry VIII, though a boisterous man, dealt more civilly with his first wife, Catherine of Spain, when he had a mind to rid his hands of her; her cause was heard before the two cardinals, Wolsey and Campaine, ere the divorce was pronounced, and she sent out of the kingdom.

Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only] That she had done wrong or dealt perversely against the king, he taketh for granted; because the king’s commandment was not obeyed. But was that a sufficient reason? Was the king’s bare word a law, or rule of right? and is not a wife in case of sin commanded by her husband, rather to obey God than men? Or say she had done wrong, must it needs be out of perverseness? might it not be out of fear, modesty, or for some other civil reason which she might allege for herself, if called to her trial? But, here you may see (saith one) when flattery and malice gives information, shadows are made substances, and improbabilities necessities; so deceitful is flattery, malice so unreasonable. And yet herein also the Lord is exceeding righteous, who meets hereby with other sins of this insolent queen; that whereas (no doubt) she was an example of pride and vanity more generally to other women than she was likely to be in this point, therefore is she hereby found out in her sin, and by this unlikely accusation, condemned of a true fault.

But also to all the princes, and to all the people] Against the king she had offended by her disobedience, against all others by her example. And indeed the sins of great ones fly far upon those two wings, scandal and example; they prove both patterns and privileges to their interiors, for the like. Howbeit we must necessarily distinguish between scandal given and scandal taken only; neither may we judge of a thing by the ill consequences that biassed and disaffected persons can draw from it; there being nothing so well carried, but that it may be liable to some men’s exceptions.


Verse 17

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.

Ver. 17. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad] The least aberration in a star is soon observed; so the miscarriages of great ones are quickly both noted and noticed. Public persons are by Plutarch compared to mirrors, according to which others dress themselves; to pictures in a glass window, wherein every blemish is soon seen; to common wells, which if they be poisoned, many are destroyed. The common people commonly are like a flock of cranes; as the first flies, all follow.

So that they shall despise their husbands] Which indeed ought not to be, no, not in their hearts. Let the wife see that she reverence her husband, Ephesians 5:33. God hath a barren womb for mocking Michel; when Sarah is crowned and chronicled for this, that she obeyed her husband, calling him Lord. It is here taken for confessed, that Vashti despised her husband; and that others would thereby take heart to do the like, is therehence inferred. But doth that necessarily follow? and must the queen therefore be presently deposed, yea, put to death, as the Jew doctors tell us she was? King Asa deposed his grandmother, Maacha; but that was for idolatry. Our Henry VIII beheaded his wife, Anne Bullen, but that was for (supposed, and but supposed) adultery. Queen Elizabeth narrowly escaped with her life, because she was accused (but falsely) of conspiracy against the queen, her sister. But what had Vashti done? Condemned she is without reprival; and the country must come in (but was never called) to give in evidence against her, that haply never saw her, nor heard of her offence. Is this fair dealing?


Verse 18

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.

Ver. 18. Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say] Say what? We will not do as our lords command us. Like enough all this; for their tongues were their own, and their wills no less. That free will (about which there is so much ado made) when men once lost, the women caught it up; and hence they are so wedded to their own will, saith one merrily. Quicquid volunt, valde volunt, what they will do they will do contra gentes, saith another. And for talking and telling their minds, the rabbis have a proverb, that ten kabs (measures) of speech descended into the world, and the women took away nine of them. These ladies of Persia and Media were feasting with the queen when the king sent for her, ubi quid factum est? garritur, potitatur, saltitatur, saith an interpreter, at which time they were chatting, and bibbing, and dancing, and (when their mirth was marred) they would not spare to speak their minds and ease their stomachs, whatever came of it. We read in our own chronicles of the Lady de Breuse, that by her railing and intemperate tongue she had so exasperated King John (whom she reviled as a tyrant and a murderer), that he would not be pacified by her strange present (four hundred cows, and one bull, all milk-white, except only the ears, which were red) sent unto the queen (Speed. 572).

Then shall there arise too much contempt and wrath] Contempt on the wives’ part, and wrath on the husbands’; wives shall slight their husbands, and they again shall fall foul upon their wives; so that coniugium marriage, shall become coniurgium; a dispute, and the house they dwell together in shall be no better than a fencing school, wherein the two sexes seem to have met together for nothing but to play their prizes, and to try masteries. This made Sulla say, I had been happy if I had never been married.


Verse 19

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.

Ver. 19. If it please the king] Courtier-like; lest he should seem to prescribe to the king, or to prejudice the rest of the royal counsellors, he thus modestly prefaceth to his ensuing harsh and hard sentence. He knew well enough it would please the king at present, in the mind he now was in; and to prevent any alteration, he moves to have it made sure by an irrevocable law, that he might not hereafter be censured for this his immoderate and unmerciful censure, but be sure to save one howsoever.

Let it be written, saith he, among the laws of the Persians] Which the king himself could not repeal, Daniel 6:8; Daniel 6:15, but once passed and registered, they remained binding for ever. I have read of a people among whom the laws they had lasted in force but for three days at utmost. This was a fault in the other extreme. Laws are to be made with due deliberation, Legem dicimus, νομον, quasi μενοντα νοον (Plato), and then to be established, and not altered without very great reason, as sometimes there is, since

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.

That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus] But be absolutely deposed and divorced. Here was no proportion between the offence and the sentence. This judgment was like the laws of Draco; of which Aristotle saith, that they were not worth remembrance, but only for their great severity; as being written not with black, but with blood.

And let the king give her royal estate unto another] The more to vex her. Surely such an exauthoration of so great a personage, with so great disgrace and ignominy, could not but be very grievous, yea, worse than death. High seats, as they are never but uneasy; so the fall from them must needs be dangerous and dismal. How well might holy Esther sing with the Virgin Mary, God putteth down the mighty from their thrones, and exalteth them of low degree, Luke 1:52.


Verse 20

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.

Ver. 20. And when the king’s decree that he shall make shall be published] But why should any such thing be published at all, unless the king be ambitious of his own utter dishonour? Is there none wiser than other, but that the king must betray his own nest, tell all the empire that he was drunk, or little better, and did in his drink determine that against his fair queen that he so soon after repented? He should have done in this case as a man doth, that having a secret sore, clappeth on a plaster, and then covereth it with his hand, that it may stick the faster, work the better. Had Ahasuerus been wise, the world had been never the wiser for anything that Vashti had done, &c. But Memucan hath some colour for his bad counsel, a goodly veil to cast over it.

All the wives shall give to their husbands honour] They shall not dare to do otherwise, unless they mean to be likewise divorced. But will terror breed true honour? is soothing right submission? Quem metuunt oderunt, fear makes hatred; and people honour none (to speak properly) but whom they love sincerely. Those lordly husbands that domineer over their wives as if they were their slaves, and carry themselves like lions in their houses, must not look for any great respect there. This man promised himself great matters when he thus said, The wives shall give iittenu in the masculine gender, to signify the wives’ voluntary subjection and obedience; but that he never had, nor any other that took the like course. Those husbands that will be honoured indeed by their wives must give honour to them as to the weaker vessels, as being heirs together of the grace of life, 1 Peter 3:7.


Verse 21

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

Ver. 21. And the saying pleased the king] Pity but itching ears should have clawing counsellors. Memucan was a fit helve for such a hatchet; and his advice fit lettuce for such lips. What marvel that such a smooth counsellor pleased the king, when as he had before given place to two such bad counsellors - Wine and Anger?

And the princes] Who perceived very likely by the king’s looks and gestures, that he was much taken and tickled with Memucan’s counsel; which they therefore second and subscribe to. How rare a jewel in a prince’s ear is a faithful counsellor, that will deliver himself freely, non ad gratiam, sed ad veritatem; not to please, but to profit. Such a one was Agrippa to Augustus, Polybius to Scipio, Latimer to Edward VI, &c. There is safety in the multitude of counsellors, modo audeant quae sentiant, as the orator saith (Cic. pro Milone), so they dare speak out, and will not spare to do it.

And the king did according to the word of Memucan] Dicto citius, it was forthwith done. Vashti is all on the sudden divorced, and the foolish king publicly shamed. But all this was of the Lord, that Esther might be advanced, and the Church relieved. So there was a wheel within a wheel, which the wicked discern not, nor the saints consider. God oft wraps himself in a cloud, and will not be seen till afterwards. All God’s dealings will appear beautiful in their seasons; though for the present we see not the contiguity and concatenation of one thing with another.


Verse 22

Esther 1:22 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 that [it] should be published according to the language of every people.

Ver. 22. That every man should have rule in his own house] Aequum sane edictum, modo moderatum, A righteous decree, had it been but rightly made use of, and not abused to tyranny and rough dealing. Aristotle saith, that the husband ought to have a civil power over his wife, as being her better in honour, speech, gravity, and dignity. Menander and Euripides say the same, holding it unfit that the hen should crow, that the woman should usurp authority over the man; this nature and Scripture do both condemn. But why should these Persian princes at this time send forth such an edict as this? Was it because this good law of nature began to be depraved and obliterated among them, as it was among the Egyptians, where the queen is more honoured than the king, and in private houses the wife than the husband, as Diodorus Siculus reporteth? Or had they a mind to divulge their own shame, and to tell the world that they were least masters at home, and must therefore have a law made to force obedience? Or was it not, lastly, to countenance the king’s rash and unlawful putting away of his wife, for so light a cause; like as Cambyses, their recent king, having a mind to marry his own sister, made a law, that any man should have liberty to do the like? Whatever it was that moved them to send forth this decree, surely there was little need to excite men to use their authority over their wives, since they are apt enough to do so without bidding. Therefore St Paul, after, wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, doth not say, and subjoin, husbands rule over your wives, but, husbands love your wives, and be not bitter against them, Colossians 3:19.

And that it should be published according to the language of every people] That so being particularly understood, it might appear more authentic and weighty, and so take away the hatred from the lawgivers for the wrong they had done the queen. Some render it thus, that he should speak according to the language of his own people, that is, say they, that each man should keep and observe the liberty of his own nation, by commanding his people, and governing his own family, without any contradiction.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Esther 1:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/esther-1.html. 1865-1868.

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