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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Esther 2

 

 

Verses 1-23

FIRST SECTION

The Rise and Conflict of Opposite Elements

Esther 2, 3

A.—ESTHER IS RAISED TO THE PLACE OF VASHTI, AND MORDECAI MAKES HIMSELF DESERVING OF THE FAVOR OF AHASUERUS

Esther 2:1-23

I. Esther’s Elevation. Esther 2:1-18

1After these things [words], when [as] the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased [subsided], he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was 2 decreed against her. Then [And] said the king’s servants [young men] that ministered unto him [his waiters], Let there be fair [good of appearance] young virgins sought [let them seek] for the king: 3And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may [and let them] gather together all the fair young virgins [every young virgin good of appearance] unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody [hand] of Hege the king’s chamberlain [eunuch], keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them [let there be a giving their furbishments]: 4And let the maiden [young woman] which pleaseth [that seems good to] the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased [seemed good to] the king, and he did so.

5Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain [man] Jew, whose [ad his] name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, 6Who had been carried away [made captive] from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away [made captive] with Jechoniah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away [made captive]. 7And he brought up [was supporting] Hadassah (that is Esther) his uncle’s daughter; for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid [young woman] was fair [beautiful of figure] and beautiful [good of appearance];[FN1] whom [and her] Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own [to him for a] daughter8 So [And] it came to pass [was], when the king’s commandment [word] and his decree was heard, and when many maidens [young women] were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody [hand] of Hegai, that [and, i.e. then] Esther was brought [taken] also unto the king’s house, to the custody [hand] of Hegai, keeper of the women 9 And the maiden [young woman] pleased him [seemed good in his eyes], and she obtained kindness of [received favor before] him; and he speedily gave [hastened to give] her her things for purification [furbishments], with [and] such things as belonged to her [her portions], and seven maidens [young women], which were meet [seen, i. e. chosen] to be given [give] her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred [changed] her and her maids [young women] unto the best [good] place of the house of the women 10 Esther had not showed [told] her people nor [and] her kindred [lineage]: for Mordecai hadcharged [enjoined upon] her that she should not show [tell] it. 11And Mordecai walked [was walking to and fro] every day [continually][FN2] before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did [the peace, i. e. welfare of Esther], and what should become of [be done with] her.

12Now [And], when every [each] maid’s turn was come [approached] to go in to [the] king Ahasuerus, after that she had been [at the end of her being] twelve months, according to the manner [law] of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications [furbishments] accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odors [spices], and with other things for the purifying [furbishments] of the women,) 13Then [And] thus [in this time] came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired [might say] was [would be] given her, to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king’s house 14 In the evening she went, and on the morrow [in the morning] she[FN3] returned into the second house of the women, to the custody [hand] of Shaashgaz the king’s chamberlain [eunuch], which kept [keeping] the concubines: she came [would come] in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name 15 Now [And] when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his [to him for a] daughter, was come [approached] to go in unto the king, she required [sought] nothing but what Hegai the king’s chamberlain [eunuch], the keeper of [keeping] the women, appointed [might say]: and Esther obtained [was receiving] favor in the sight [eyes] of all them that looked 16 upon [seeing] her. So [And] Esther was taken unto [the] king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign 17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained [received] grace [favor] and favor [mercy] in his sight [before him] more than all the virgins; so that [and] he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her 18 queen instead of Vashti. Then [And] the king made a great feast [banquet] unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast [banquet]; and he made a release [rest] to the provinces, and gave gifts [a contribution] according to the state [hand] of the king.

II. Mordecai makes himself deserving of the favor of Ahasuerus. Esther 2:18-20

19And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat [was sitting] in the king’s gate 20 Esther had not yet showed [was not telling] her kindred [lineage] nor [and] her people, as Mordecai had charged [enjoined upon] her: for Esther did the commandment [saying] of Mordecai, like as [what she was] when she was brought up [in her being supported] with him 21 In those days, while [and, i. e. when] Mordecai sat [was sitting] in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept [keeping] the door [threshold] were wroth [was enraged], and sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus 22 And the thing [word] was known to Mordecai, who [and he] told it unto Esther the queen, and Esther certified [said to] the king thereof in Mordecai’s name 23 And when inquisition was made of [they sought] the matter [word], [and] it was found out; therefore [and] they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the Chronicles [words (i. e. deeds) of the days] before the king.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 [ Esther 2:7. Of the two expressions here used, the former refers to general symmetry of person, יְפַ־תֹּאַר, and the latter specially to comeliness of countenance, טוֹבַת מַרְאֶת. Esther had not only a fine form, but also a fine face.—Tr.]

2 [ Esther 2:11. The expression here used is doubly emphatic, בְּכָל־יוֹם וָיוֹם, to show Mordecai’s intense solicitude for his ward.—Tr.]

3 [ Esther 2:14. The pronoun, being expressed, is here emphatic = each individual singly.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Esther 2:1-4. Plan for procuring a new Queen.— The history which informs us how Ahasuerus caused virgins to be brought together from all the parts of his kingdom; how in consequence he loved Esther in the place of Vashti, begins properly here, at the point when the anger of the king against Vashti had allayed, and when he thought of what she had done, and what was determined respecting her. In view of Esther 2:16 we would be led to assume, since Esther was brought to the king’s palace in the seventh year, and the tenth month of the year, that now we stand in the fifth or even the sixth year of the reign of Ahasuerus. Hence there would be between Esther 1 (comp. Esther 2:3) and chap2 a period of nearly three years. We may assume that it did not take longer than a half year to execute the order here given; and the preparation of the virgins described in Esther 2:12 did not continue more than a year. Meanwhile Ahasuerus was employed in Greece during the sixth year of his reign, but he returned in the seventh. In all probability we are still in the time of the Grecian war. We may also very naturally conclude that under the circumstances many years were not suffered to pass before it was thought to find a substitute for Vashti. This resolution was formed soon after the rejection of Vashti, but its execution may have been delayed because of the newly undertaken Grecian war. The literal meaning of Esther 2:1 seems to be that Ahasuerus rued in his sober moments what had passed, that hence the fear might have arisen lest he would now direct his anger from Vashti and let it fall upon his counsellors.

שֹׁךְ from שׁכךְ, to let down, to lie down, is here and in Esther 7:10, spoken of the swellings of anger, in Genesis 8:1, of movements of water, and is related to שָׁחַח, to be low or become low.גָּזַר is to decide, to conclude firmly, irrevocably, comp. גְּזָרָה, Daniel 4:14.

Esther 2:2. The youths[FN4] that served before the king sought to avert the danger that threatened. Those here mentioned are his attendants (comp. Nehemiah 4:10), who were employed about his person (comp. Esther 6:3; Esther 6:5). They advised that maidens, virgins, be brought to the king, and that these should be beautiful to look upon. יְבַקְשׁוּ, the 3 d pers. plur, represents, as is usual in the Aram, the impersonal “one,” as a passive expression. נְעָרוֹת, marriageable persons, is in itself too indefinite to be other than an appendage to בְּתוּלוֹת.[FN5]

Esther 2:3. They also gave the plan of execution of this project: The king, through his appointed officers, or through specially authorized men, was to cause to be brought together from all the provinces of his kingdom the most beautiful virgins, and placed under the hand of Hege in the house of the women. This Hege was the chief eunuch of the king, the keeper of the women, under whose care and direction every young maiden taken into the harem was placed, and by him prepared for one whole year to go into the presence of the king (comp. Esther 2:12). הֵגֵא in Esther 2:8; Esther 2:15 called הֵגַי, was, as above stated, the chief overseer of the king’s harem.[FN6]And let their things for purification be given (them).—וְנָתוֹן, the infin. absol, gives prominence to the act purely as such, since it presupposes the subject as being self-evident: “Let them be given” [rather, “Let there be a giving”]. תַּמְרוּק (comp. Esther 2:9; Esther 2:12), from מָרַק, to rub, to cleanse, to make clean, is an abstract image, purification in the sense of cleansing; while מְרוּקִים in Esther 2:12 means rather [passively] become cleansed, or pure. Evidently such a purification meant a cleansing and anointing with precious oils, Esther 2:4. Their purpose was that the one who should please the king might become queen in the room of Vashti. מָלַךְ here speaks of the queen, as it elsewhere does of the king. Ahasuerus approved of this proposition also (comp. Esther 1:21).

Esther 2:5-7. Now our author can and must make a reference to Mordecai and Esther as the chief persons on the one side in the conflict that is to follow. Esther 2:5. A certain Jew—remained about there—in Shushan the palace—whose name (was) Mordecai.—It is a characteristic of our author in his vivid mode of statement that, instead of continuing the connection, he makes use of וַיְהִי, so taking a fresh start (comp. Esther 1:9-10). Thus a new element, which comes into play in this history, receives greater prominence.

The name Mordecai which in the later recensions is not written מָרְדְּכַי, but מָרְדֳכַי, has perhaps connection with the Persian mordkai, “little man” (mannikin). Its derivation from the name of the Chaldee God, Merodach, Isaiah, however, extremely improbable. Its import is equally as uncertain with that of most of the names mentioned in chap1.[FN7]The son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.—According to most commentators, also Clericus and Rambach, Jair, Shimei and Kish were the nearest antecedents of Mordecai.[FN8] Still it is much more natural to hold with Josephus, who traces the genealogy of Esther to a royal house, that King Saul is meant (Arch. XI:6); while both Targums hold both Shimei and Kish as being much earlier in the line, namely, identical with the men mentioned in the Books of Samuel, Shimei, the son of Gera, who cursed David ( 2 Samuel 16:5 sqq.; 1 Kings 2:8; 1 Kings 2:36 sqq.), and Kish, the father of Saul ( 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Chronicles 8:33). This agrees with the statement that the former Shimei, the same as the one here mentioned, should have been a son of Kish. In 1 Samuel 16:5 he is designated as being of the lineage of Saul. Further we discover that Mordecai, by this derivation, was a Benjamite, and that already by this genealogical descent he is placed in opposition to Haman as his enemy. This is most clearly shown by our author in designating the latter as an Agagite (comp. Esther 3:1). It is also well known that it was a custom of Biblical historians not to give the genealogy complete, but rather to form a connection more or less close with celebrated names of the older times (comp. e.g. Maaseiah in Nehemiah 11:5, the son of Shiloni; or Pethahiah, Nehemiah 11:24, the son of Judah; or Shallum, 1 Chronicles 9:19, the son of Korah). The relative sentence in Esther 2:6 : Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity, which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away cannot by any means be referred to the last named Kish, as is thought by older commentators, and also by Clericus and Baumgarten (I. c. p127), but only to Mordecai, to whom special reference is made as being a Benjamite. Not only the analogy of similar personal designations found in the Scriptures demands this, but especially the circumstance that this reference to Kish as a Benjamite would be purely arbitrary. Thus it gives the appearance as if Mordecai had himself belonged to the first period of the exile, and not his great grand-father, and as if the history of our book, instead of belonging to the period of Xerxes, really belonged to the period of a pre-existing king of Media (perhaps to that of Cyaxares, comp. Esther 1:1). For the assumption that Mordecai had lived from the beginning of the exile up to the time of Xerxes, and then, being perhaps120–130 years old, had become prime minister, is quite improbable. So is also the statement that he was identical with the Mordecai mentioned in Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah 7:7, an exile returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Joshua, but afterwards coming back again to Chaldæa, or rather to Shushan (Rambach). The contrast with the youth of Esther renders it in that case well nigh impossible then that she should come into notice here. Still this natural consideration may be deceptive. Since all the other incidents point to the later time of Xerxes, we are justified, indeed compelled, to bear in mind that mode of speech which was then employed. This treats of things done by predecessors as having been witnessed by their progeny, who had a certain part in them; such an analogy is found in Genesis 46:8 sqq. Perhaps also the expression here indicates in advance that Mordecai had been carried away not only along with Jeconiah, but also together with the captives led away at the time of Jeconiah.[FN9] One thing, however, is clear: that though a Benjamite, he belonged to the “captivity” of Judah, and not to that of Israel, to which Joachim Lange would assign him. But in this place reference is made to him, as is indicated in Esther 2:7, because of his relationship to Esther. And he brought up Hadassah [that Isaiah, Esther] his uncle’s daughter.אֹמֵן, a participle connected with an accus, means a guardian ( 2 Kings 11:5; Numbers 11:12), but it may also mean one who cares for, or who is a foster-parent ( Isaiah 49:23). הֲדַסָּה, myrtle, usually masc. הֲדַם, plur. הֲדַסִּים, may be compared with the Greek names for maidens, Μυρτία, Μυῤῥίνη. The phrase, “that Isaiah,, Esther,” has joined with it also the other name by which she has become known. Without doubt she received this at the Persian court. אֶסְתֵּר is old Persian stara with א prosth.; see the term for star, modern Persian sitareh, Greek ἀστήρ. As the daughter of his uncle, his father’s brother, hence also his cousin, it was very likely that she was somewhat younger than her foster-father, but not one hundred or more years younger, as would be the case if he had lived at the beginning of the exile. Her father’s name, according to Esther 2:15, was Abihail.

In Esther 2:8-11 it follows how Esther, and through her Mordecai, were involved in the history of Ahasuerus. Esther 2:8. So it came to pass (literally “when was heard,” comp. Esther 1:20 and Nehemiah 6:1), when the king’s commandment and his decree was heardi.e., the decree of the king as expressed in the publicly proclaimed law, so that all were obliged to give it obedience; among other maidens Esther was brought also into the king’s house.—Perhaps quite a time was allowed to elapse before executing the decree, on account of the war with Greece, which had broken out meanwhile. It is quite certain, according to what follows, that Esther was not brought into the palace of the king Ahasuerus before the sixth year of his reign.

Esther 2:9. Now since Esther appeared very beautiful in the eyes of Hegai, and found favor in his sight נָשָׂא הֶסֶד or נָשָׂא הֵן ( Esther 2:15; Esther 2:17; Esther 5:2) occurs only in our book, commonly מָצָא חֵן, to obtain or bear away grace or favor—he speedily gave her her things for purification with such things as belonged to her (comp. Esther 2:3). מָנוֹת are portions, not so much of oils for anointing as rather good food (comp. Esther 9:19; Esther 9:22). Perhaps those maidens that were selected by the king received during their time of purification an especially good diet (comp. Daniel 1:5). But they were prepared one after the other. Hegai expedited matters that Esther should be counted among the virgins of the harem as soon as possible. The accus.: the things for her purification and such things as belonged to her, does not depend upon יְבַהֵל, but upon לָתֶת לָהּ; the object is placed before the infin. according to Aramæan usage. But the infin. is here added after the following object; and “the seven maidens selected” is repealed, lest the previous objective statement might seem too long. The seven maidens selected, i.e. from the king’s service, were by law given to her as servants and to keep her company. רְאֻיּוֹת means primarily selected for a definite purpose (comp. חֲזָא, Daniel 3:19); in the Talmud and Rabbins רָאוּי takes the meaning of dignus, decens, conveniens[FN10].—And he preferred her and her maids unto the best (place) of the house of the women,i.e. an especially good and beautiful part of it, the staterooms of the women’s house. Thus she might in every respect live as belonged to the distinction awaiting her.

Esther 2:10. Esther owed this fortune next to her fairness to the shrewdness of Mordecai. Because of his advice Esther had not showed her people nor her kindred, as being one of the captive and despised Jews, else she would soon have been set back. Mordecai showed his love and shrewdness also in this, that even now he kept up his relationship to her. And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.—This was to find out whether she was really in preparation for the king. It appears that he could still approach her without hindrance, whereas in chap 4 it is stated, that when he put on clothes of mourning, he was no more permitted either to stand in the gate of the king, or to pass up and down before the house of the women. Perhaps the laws of the harem were in those days not so strict that, though he could not speak to Esther directly, still he could find out about her by her associate maidens. We have neither a right nor claim on the explanation of Jewish commentators that he was a Persian official high in rank, and therefore he had admittance to her (comp. Esther 2:19).[FN11]

Esther 2:12-18. Esther was preferred before all the other virgins. But in order to give prominence to the modesty and simplicity of Esther, our author tells us beforehand, in Esther 2:12-14, what would have been granted her in this decisive hour had she requested it. Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus,etc.—תּוֹד, really order, according to Ewald, § 146 d, probably connected with תּוֹרָת (comp. 1 Chronicles 17:17), here in our verse corresponds to “turn,” “row” ( Esther 2:15); comp. תּוֹרִים, rows, chains, Cantic. i11. So instead of saying: “When the turn of each maid came,” we would say: “When it was the turn of each maid.” After that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women.—One would be led to expect: “At the end of twelve months, after that,” etc. But the author desires to give expression to the thought: “At the end of the purifications and necessary preparations.” The “manner of the women” does not mean the custom of the women ( Genesis 18:11; Genesis 31:35, Clericus), for it would not then be necessary to add “twelve months;” but it is the law prescribing those reparations which are more fully set forth in what follows. The term “women” instead of “maidens” must not seem strange to us at this place any more than תַּמְרוּקֵי at the end of the verse. Six months with the oil of myrrh,etc., is more fully supplemented by: “They were purified” or prepared. The purifications of the women last mentioned are still other means which were employed by the women for this purpose. The clause following in Esther 2:13 should perhaps read: “At the coming of every maiden to the king all these things were given her,” etc. For this is really the declaration upon which a fact is based, namely, that when Esther came, she required nothing more of Hegai than what he appointed, as is stated in Esther 2:15. The expression: “At her coming” is made with a previous clause of condition, and is attached by the conjunction “and” to the sentence gone before; and it is also connected in its participial form with the principal sentence, so that it is best introduced by the terms “and when” or “now when” (comp. Job 1:13; Job 1:16-17 seq, and Ewald, § 341 d). Such participial sentences of condition as are found in Esther 2:14 correspond to the nominative absolute, somewhat like the genitive absolute of the Greeks. Then thus came (every) maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her—בָּזֶה may be understood to mean from that time, as does also the Sept, i.e, illo, sc. tempore; but it may also have reference to the condition, hoc modo, sc. ornata (comp. בְּכֵן, Esther 4:16). The subject, “whatever” (all that), precedes for emphasis, and does not mean a companion (Rambach)—opposed to this is Esther 2:15—but all kinds of articles of decoration and of precious value with which she would decorate herself to appear before the king. The lot that befel most virgins in spite of all preparation and decoration is also on this account made note of by the author in Esther 2:14, in order to give due prominence to the good fortune that came to Esther in her simplicity and attractive demeanor by placing it in such contrast. In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz,etc.—שֵֹׁנִי is for שֵׁנִית, as in Nehemiah 3:30; another part of the harem which was occupied by the concubines. Shaashgaz, who had the special oversight over the concubines, may have been a subordinate officer. She came in unto the king no more, except the king,etc.—We find that נִקְרֳאָה is in other good MSS. also written with the usual punctuation נִקְרְאָה.

Following Esther 2:15 we have Esther’s conduct and success. Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Ahihail, the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come,etc. Thus fully is this account given, since now the decisive moment had come, in which she should come into such an important relation to her people. She required nothing but what Hegai the king’s chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed.—Not, perhaps, because of shrewdness, as if she depended on the fact that Hegai understood best the taste of the king; she did not design to please the king by means of ornamentation, and only put on what was deemed indispensable by Hegai.[FN12]And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her.—She was attractive, sc. in this momentous hour. נָשָׂא חֵן, like נָשָׂא חֶסֶד, in Esther 2:9.—[ Esther 2:16. The month Tebeth.—“This word, which does not occur elsewhere in Scripture, is singularly like that of the corresponding Egyptian month, Tobi or Tubai. A name but slightly different is found in the Palmyrian inscriptions (Gesenius, Thesaur, p543). Tebeth corresponded nearly to our January.” Rawlinson.]

Esther 2:17. And the king loved Esther, and made her queen instead of Vashti: no doubt at the time of the first interview.

Esther 2:18. In addition he also made a joyous marriage-feast, viz.:a great feast unto all his princes and his servants (even) Esther’s feast.—Perhaps such a feast, named in honor of the queen, was a custom on these occasions, and its import is this: Esther’s marriage with the king was thereby celebrated in due form. To this it may be added that Ahasuerus gave to the provinces a release, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.—The verbal form of the Hiphil of הֲנָחָה in Chaldee may mean a release from taxes; the Sept. has it more indefinitely as ἄφεσις. But the Vulg. has it requies, as if it meant only a day of rest, for which עָשָׁה may be more appropriate. מַשְׂאֵת, according to Amos 5:11; Jeremiah 40:5, is a gift of corn or articles of food. כְּיַד הַמֶּלֶךְ, as in Esther 1:7.

Esther 2:19-23. The author connects with the elevation of Esther a meritorious act of Mordecai, namely, the discovery of a conspiracy against the life of Ahasuerus. This fact, though not at once apparent as to its present bearing, became of very great importance in the history yet to be developed. And it could even now serve to confirm the hope, by means of Esther’s elevation, that henceforth an especially good time was coming for Judaism in Persia. Mordecai, who had previously shown himself a very shrewd Prayer of Manasseh, now also reveals himself as a righteous subject. It seems that Hebrews, even more than Esther, was to be celebrated. The introductory sentences in Esther 2:19-20 are very obscure. And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king’s gate.—It may be asked what is meant by this second gathering of virgins. Clericus thinks “they seem on the first occasion to have been collected into the various provinces, and afterwards at Susa, before they were introduced into the royal gynocæum. The writer returns to what had happened before the marriage of Esther.” So likewise Grotius: “It is an ἐπάνοδος or retrogression; for reference is made to the incidents in Esther 2:2.”

But the word שֵׁנִית does not well correspond to this, nor the circumstance that, now, according to Esther 2:20 sqq, Esther is already queen; so that Mordecai now no more takes his post at the inclosure of the house of the women, but in the gate of the king, and thus through him she is enabled to give information to Ahasuerus. Drusius and Bertheau assume that the writer speaks here of the gathering or transfer of those maids who had been with the king into the other part of the house of the women which was under the care of Shaashgaz. Thus we may explain the fact that Mordecai no longer walked up and down before the house of the women, but stopped in the gate of the king, and was at his post when the virgins were conducted from the house of the king back to the house of the women, where be might expect that Esther would pass, since as the beloved queen she frequently came to the king. But then we would not read of a gathering, especially one of virgins, בְּתוּלוֹת. Besides שֵׁנִית does not well have a place in this explanation, and the idea that in the gate of the king one would be nearer to the women when returning from the king’s palace is incorrect. The choice of the same expression קָכַץ, which was employed in verses3,8 with reference to the first collection of women, as well as then שֵׁנִית, leads to the sense, as is recognised by Corn. à Lapide, as also by more modern expositors, Keil included, that after the elevation of Esther a still further collection of virgins was made, perhaps of such as came from distant provinces, and who arrived later. We must keep in mind that the selection of Esther did not prohibit Ahasuerus from loving other virgins also and crowning them queens, even though she had the preference before all the others. Solomon had seven hundred queens and three hundred concubines. The latter were only secundariæ uxores (concubines). Then it may further be asked, What purpose was served by the mention of the second gathering in this connection? Keil’s assumption that thereby the period of the history following is designated, is insufficient, especially since it does not well serve as a designation of a period of time. The words immediately following make it probable that it was intended thereby to express how Mordecai could before this remain the more readily and oftener at his post in the gate of the king without attracting attention, or even without regard being paid to him. It may be assumed that at that time people did often come to the gate of the king except when the virgins had arrived, and in order to see them, while at other times they remained away. Usually, however, it was the seat for the officials, whether high or low in position (comp. Esther 3:2-3, and Daniel 2:49; also Xenophon’s Cyrop. VIII, 1, 6; Herodot. II, 120). We find nothing leading us to suppose that Mordecai was already an officer of the court, and as such had a place in the gate. If such had been the case it would have been mentioned, since, as an explanation to sitting in the king’s gate, it was essential to the matter in hand. But, in Esther 3:2, we again find him sitting in the king’s gate, and that too, day after day. This may be accounted for. We may assume that, in consequence of the event stated of him in this place, he had in a certain sense obtained the right to stand among the servants of the king who had their position there. A confirmation of this view may be found in Esther 2:20, the object of which, without this connection, will remain obscure. Esther had not (yet) shewed her kindred nor her people,etc. If we look at what follows, where the door-keepers did not pay much regard to him, the sense seems to be: Mordecai did not remain there as the foster-father of Esther, for as such he would have been a distinguished personage, and one to be feared, but simply as an unimportant stranger. The reference is clearly to Esther 2:10. The author, in the repetition of this remark, and as is also clearly shown by the use of the participle, desires to indicate that Esther, as from the first so now also, maintained a strict secrecy, even after having become queen. Besides, the position of the word מוֹלַדְתָּהּ is notable. מוֹלֶדֵת, in distinction from עָם, signifies the family connection or relationship, kindred. This is here placed first, because the relation of Esther to Mordecai is under consideration. The strong emphasis laid on the fact that, Mordecai had so instructed her, that she only carried out his wishes, as when she was under his care, seems to oppose the opinion that she did it from other reasons, as that she was ashamed of her descent, and hence kept silence. כַּאֲשֶׁר here means “like as when;” comp. Job 10:19, where it signifies “as if.” אָמְנָהֿ, education, care, has the raphe over the ה, so that the ending may not be taken for a suffix.

Esther 2:21-23. In these days when Mordecai sat in the gate of the king, Bigthan and Teresh,[FN13] two of the king’s chamberlains, of those which kept the door (Sept. ἀρχισωματοφύλακες), or watchmen of the palace (comp. 2 Kings 12:10), were wroth, became angry (קָצַף), and sought to lay hand on the king.[FN14] Contrary to Esther 2:20 the Sept. adds: Because Mordecai had become distinguished. But the matter became known to Mordecai in some way, according to Josephus through the Jewish slave of one of the conspirators; in truth, perhaps, because the lower officers, who had become party to the conspiracy, did not exercise sufficient discretion. Mordecai, through Esther, gave the king notice thereof.

Esther 2:23. The matter was investigated, and it was so found, i.e., established, and they were both hanged on a tree,i.e., they were hung on a stake, or impaled; a customary mode of crucifixion (comp. chaps. Esther 5:14; Esther 6:4; Esther 7:9-10; Ezra 6:11; and Herodot. III, 125).[FN15] These events were recorded in the book of the history of the reign, i. e, in the chronicles of the empire (comp. chaps. Esther 6:1; Esther 10:2; Ezra 4:15), and that before the king, which may mean, either in his presence, so that he might be assured of their correct insertion, or that the chronicles of the empire were deposited before him, in his palace (comp. Esther 6:1). It was a Persian custom to insert the names of those into the chronicles of the empire, who had deserved well of the king, as is confirmed by Herodot. VIII, 85. He also relates that Xerxes, on his campaign against Greece, had historians in his train, who were required to record the deeds of the Persians in a book.[FN16]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

It is of the every-day life of a purely worldly, of a heathen court, that the author of our chapter treats. This moves in the high places of this world, and yet it is a very low life. Ahasuerus begins to feel the loss which he has brought on himself by the rejection of his wife, and his courtiers advise him to procure for his lust another, most liberal indulgence. He lends an ear to their suggestion, and orders what might be expected to follow as a matter of course. Nothing seems more improbable in these events than a divine control and government; and we would hardly be led to expect the thoughts and guidance of God under such circumstances. Yet we are soon made aware that we are standing right in the midst of divine providence. Independent as the world may appear in its outward life, still the Lord knows how to make even the lowest impulses and movements—indeed even the sin present in them—serviceable to His purposes. While on the one side Ahasuerus desires nothing but to find the most beautiful of virgins, God on the other side places Esther in the right position, and through her brings help and protection to His people in the face of the dangers that threaten them on the part of the world. He permits His people to become involved in the low life of the world, nay, He has humbled them to such an extent that even their virgins must be brought to Shushan at the king’s command. But in thus revealing the full depth of their degradation He also begins again to elevate them. Besides, it is remarkable, how the life of human love, even in its sunken state, can illustrate the work of divine Love. For just as Ahasuerus caused virgins to be brought together from all peoples and tribes, in order to select the most beautiful for himself, so God has in a certain sense tested all the peoples of mankind to see if He could find one that would be peculiarly His own. And then, in preference to all others, however many there might be, and however many excellencies they might have in certain directions, He would select the one least noticed as His bride and spouse.

On Esther 2:1-7. The author permits us here to take a hasty but deep insight into the domestic life of a powerful and wealthy heathen ruler, who lives in the world merely to live, and on the other hand he gives us a view into the every-day life of a seemingly poor Jew, who is also despised in the common lot of his people, but who nevertheless incontestably stands under the blessing of his fathers. Ahasuerus, amid all his wealth and splendor, feels an oppressive want. He remembers his wife whom he has rejected, and especially regrets the wrong which he has done her. Without doubt the feeling gains a place in him that the loss of a personal being whom he could call peculiarly his own, was a loss which could not be made good by any other possession, however precious. And the wrong which he thinks he had experienced from her, Isaiah, like all the wrongs of men of the world of which they accuse each other, rather of a doubtful kind. It may be a question whether it could not have been excused, or even taken in a good sense. In truth it was only because of his despotic and mistaken view of common rights, which even the wife has, that caused him to reject her. He had trampled under foot her feminine feelings. Nevertheless she was now for ever lost to him. He was not prudent, not cautious enough. He must even confess to himself that though he had consulted his counsellors, he still had acted in a passionate manner, and given too free a rein to his wrath. Though surrounded by affluence, he is yet discontented, more especially with himself; he is filled with vexation and conflict, though no one has dared to oppose him. Of course there are not wanting those who recommend to him means and ways for shaking off this oppressive feeling. One thing, however, is evident: he cannot attain to a true satisfaction in the manner which they recommend to him as regards the points in question. This can only be brought about by true love. But love, as is beautifully shown and carried out in Canticles, cannot be commanded nor yet purchased; it can only be won, and can only be brought into life and sustained by true love’s labor. The view into the domestic life of Ahasuerus Isaiah, therefore, a view of the brilliant, but hopeless misery of heathendom, which only deceives the sensual fool with reference to its true nature, but which convinces those more circumspect of the poverty of those living without God in the world.

How different a picture is presented to us in the domestic life of Mordecai! Mordecai is a lowly descendant of a formerly distinguished, indeed royal family. He belongs to the scattered foreigners fallen under contempt, who were carried away captives from Jerusalem. He is in a strange land. He has, it appears, neither father nor mother, neither wife nor child. Even his relatives, his uncle and his aunt, are dead. But the latter left an orphan; he is to her a father, she to him a daughter, indeed a precious treasure. Doubtless he is aware how great a trust was left to him in her and with her, how God is justly called the Father of orphans, and that He especially blesses those who pity and minister to them. He knows his duty toward her, and its fulfilment brings to him satisfaction, makes him happy. God has blessed her with beauty, but what is more, He has bestowed on her an obedient, humble, and unassuming spirit, as is afterward fully shown by her conduct in the royal house of the women, and as had doubtless been often manifested before. She loves her people, and surely also its customs, laws, and religion. Thus she is to him indeed a Hadassah, a myrtle in the true sense of the word, an unpromising and yet promising bud. Indeed to him she has developed into a lovely flower of hope; and though it happen that she is taken into the royal house of the women, she will still be to him a lovely flower, whose presence he seeks, whose prosperity lies at his heart day by day, whose development will cause him to rejoice. Again she will more and more become to him a brilliant star, an Esther (aster), in whose light he views his own and his people’s future. In this manner his life is not poor, though he appear insignificant and obscure, though it be filled with painful reminiscences and great perplexities which he must combat daily in his heathen surroundings. On the contrary he is rich in light and hope; and even if he had realized the latter in a less degree than he eventually did, still his existence would not have been in vain.

On Esther 2:8-11. That which gave Esther distinction above all the other virgins, who were at the same time selected with her, and whereby she obtained first the favor of the keeper of the harem, and then the love of Ahasuerus, was certainly not merely greater personal beauty. This would hardly have made such a favorable impression upon the eunuch. But it was rather a certain graciousness of being and carriage, which could only be present where the spiritual element does not occupy a lower plane than the physical, as was the fact with most Persian poorly-trained maidens, but rather where the spiritual element elevates and transfigures the mere bodily element. This grace had its ground partly in her fortune, but also for a great part in the spiritual nature of Judaism through the blessing of an adoration of the true, exalted, and spiritual God. It was therefore not without reason that the then existing Jews thought themselves recognised and honored in the preference of Esther, which, no doubt, they did to its full extent. They all more or less participated in her spiritual advantages, or at least all could or should have participated in them. This, however, affords little ground for beholding in the victory she won an indication of the triumph which Judaism, then so oppressed and despised, should obtain over proud heathendom at large. Nevertheless in the before insignificant but lovely Hadassah, who is now the powerful Esther, we see a symbol of the weaker but better element in Israel perfecting itself as the powerful community of the Spirit in the Christian church, which will yet conquer the world.

Luther: “Whatever heart is thus minded, will bear ornamentation without danger to itself; for it bears and yet does not bear, dances and yet dances not, lives well and yet not well. These are the heavenly souls, the sacred brides of Christ; but they are scarce. For it is difficult not to have a lust for great ornamentation and display.” Stolberg: “Undazzled by splendor and royalty, the tender virgin rejected all these things. With noble simplicity she took the ornaments, neither selecting nor demanding anything, which the chief chamberlain brought to her. Even after she became queen above all the wives of the king, her heart still clung not only with gratitude, but with childlike obedience, to her pious uncle and foster-father, as in the time when he trained her as a little girl.”

On Esther 2:12-18. In the small compass of what has here been said respecting heathen virgins on the one hand and Esther on the other, we find a beautiful picture of the world and of the kingdom of God—the opposite tendencies as also destinies, by which these conceptions are designated. Doubtless the heathen maids decorated themselves with all possible precious things, for the evening for which they had so long prepared themselves by their purifications and anointings, in order to make the best possible impression upon Ahasuerus, upon whose favor or disfavor their whole future happiness of life depended. But by all this tinsel they gained nothing more than to look beautiful in their own eyes, and that for a moment which flew away so soon, and in which they were allowed to harbor hope. The majority were only permitted to see the king, and thereafter for ever to bury their hopes. For them there remained the sad lot of the concubines; they must bid farewell to the joys which they might have had in another sphere of life, without obtaining any compensation for that loss in their strict seclusion. The elevated feeling that they had fulfilled their life-work must for ever be denied them. They had missed their life-purpose; life became to them more and more a uniform dark monotony. In like manner the children of this world act and deceive themselves. Although they are firmly intent on enjoying the pleasures of life, although they direct all their endeavors to this one object, and prepare and decorate themselves in their way at their very best, still they enjoy it but for a single fleeting moment. Esther, on the other hand, was distinguished by her lack of desire or claim to shine in external decoration. She only put on, what so to speak, was forced upon her. But she was thereafter beautiful not only in her own eyes, but in the eyes of all that beheld her.

Thus also her fortune was not a speedy disappointment; she really obtained, not what she had desired, but what she had never hoped nor expected. She really obtained a favorable intercourse with the king; she became his choice, his wife, she became queen. All these things plainly indicate that she possessed in an unusual degree God’s favor and friendship, which still accompanied her. The children of God enjoy a still higher happiness. They who reckon it to be a great favor to serve God in all simplicity, yea to be even door-keepers in His sanctuary, are made His chosen and loved ones, if in other respects they have properly decorated themselves for Him. He adopts them as His children, and cares for them according to what is needful for them, even with temporal blessings; for the meek shall inherit the earth. He also elevates them to kings and priests, and adorns them with the crown of life, for He brings them to the inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them (comp. 1 Peter 3:3; 1 Peter 1:7).

On Esther 2:17-18. It is quite possible that Ahasuerus did not clearly know why Esther was preferred before her heathen virgin competitors, and what he was pleased with in her, why he crowned her as his queen. Still we can readily discover in his demeanor an indication that heathenism is always desirous, even when it has tasted to the full all that it can procure for its own enjoyment, to obtain something different and higher. Certain it is that these higher needs, which could be satisfied with nothing low, and which exhibited a higher receptivity, should arrive at this point. It was meet also that the heathen should see the fact fulfilled, that they themselves, their heathen kings and princes must pay homage to the people of the Lord, as to a queen who above all is worthy to be placed upon the throne, and to impart to the world her laws and ordinances (comp. Isaiah 49:23; Isaiah 62:4 sqq.). When this shall be entirely fulfilled, then the marriage-feast which Ahasuerus made in honor of queen Esther, with the edict proclaiming a temporary freedom from taxation of the people, and the relief from their oppressive yoke granted at the same time, shall correspond to the entire life of mankind.

On Esther 2:19-23. 1. Esther was silent in regard to her Jewish descent and religion, and this was permissible so long as she was not asked to reveal it, so long also as the weal of her people did not require a different course. This she could the more readily do, inasmuch as the Old Testament religion, by reason of its limitation, did not impose the duty of a missionary confession. Even the Christian can keep his faith out of sight so long as its confession will not benefit, but would rather do injury and so long as the duty of veracity is not violated. At all events the martyr’s crown, if it is not hastily seized, but rather borne with dignity, is far more glorious than a royal crown. Yet true faith will manifest its world-conquering power, and be encouraging to its devotees only when it is openly confessed, though its confessors stand at the martyr’s stake, or die by the claws of wild beasts.

2. Nothing justifies us in assuming that Mordecai reported those conspirators because of selfish reasons, or in order to gain distinction and merit, or because Ahasuerus as the husband of Esther was nearly related to himself. Besides being an indication, it may be an expression of shrewdness, of his sense of duty. Although the Jew as such did not have a very warm feeling of attachment to the Persian king, still, in so far as he lived according to the divine Word, he sought to perform his obligations also toward the heathen governmental authority (comp. Jeremiah 29:7). Thereby he also becomes a practical illustration of the fact that the piety which is nurtured by God’s Word is also of benefit to the heathen state and to heathen rulers. The governments of modern times, which treat religion not only with toleration but also with indifference, should remember that godly fear, as it is useful for all things, is also the most substantial bulwark for the continuance of the state.

Brenz: “We have here a daughter bereft of the protection of man by the death of her parents, but God elevated her to great distinction, so that all men gave her honor. Why was she carried into exile, but that she should reign? why bereft of parents, unless that she might become the favorite of God and man?”

Feuardent: On Esther 2:8-9. “From this it may be concluded, as later is actually affirmed by Paul, that God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: that no flesh should glory in His presence. For what is weaker than a little girl, or what more lowly and contemptible than an exiled orphan, born among a people of all other nations the most ignored and hated? What, on the other hand, in the estimation of the flesh and this world, is more wise and prudent, more glorious and powerful than Ahasuerus, Vashti, Haman and the other Persian and Median satraps? Yet by the means of a single person, Esther, they are confounded, superseded, ejected. By her office, I said, but by the help of God, although by the authority and arrangement of Judges, of whom Esther was only the organ; lest the flesh should have aught whereof to glory, but that all the praise of the church preserved in the Persian realms should be referred to God. He was able, as in former days, so to have rallied under a brave Samson or Gideon His entire people scattered hither and thither, and to have fortified them with arms and strength, as to destroy by mutual slaughter all His foes when the great battle was joined; but in that case men would have arrogated something to themselves, and perhaps have said: Our own right hand, and not God, has done all this.”—On Esther 2:15 : “Let then both men and women learn by this case so to direct all their aims and desires as to please God alone by the ornament of a good conscience and by the forms of minds well adjusted; but to despise the adventitious bodily ornaments of this world as vain in His sight, and by this piety gain the surer rewards of heaven. For this alone is the true beauty, which is precious in God’s view, and which causes us to be approved by the King of kings, and joined to Him in spiritual matrimony.… . Surprising that even the heathen saw and taught this. For Crates says: ‘That is ornament which adorns. But that adorns which makes a woman more adjusted and more modest. For this end neither gold nor gems nor purple avails, but whatever has the import of gravity, modesty, and chastity.’ ”

Starke: On Esther 2:1. “Whatever has been undertaken in anger against God’s command can well be changed ( 1 Samuel 25:34-35).”—On Esther 2:2. “To heap sin on sin is the master work of art of all ungodly persons ( 2 Samuel 15:1; 2 Samuel 16:22; Isaiah 30:1; Jeremiah 9:3).”—On Esther 2:3-4. “The advice of courtiers is most generally directed towards the object to which they think their lords are chiefly inclined, and they speak to their wishes ( 2 Samuel 15:4; 2 Samuel 16:21). Carnal ears love to hear nothing better than what will please their lustful hearts ( 2 Samuel 16:22).”—On Esther 2:5-7. “When orphans fear God, He will also care for them ( Psalm 27:10). In a pious and virtuous maiden beauty of person is a great gift of God ( Proverbs 11:2). We should not neglect the orphans of blood relatives. God is the Father of orphans ( Psalm 68:6), and He knows how to open the hearts of pious people who will faithfully care for them ( Psalm 10:14).”—On Esther 2:8-9. “What care and cost is required for the decoration of the soul, when it would prepare as an acceptable bride for Jesus ( Psalm 45:14)” —On Esther 2:16-17. “God will raise the miserable one from the dust, so that He may seat him next to princes ( Psalm 113:7-8).”

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Esther 2:7. Of the two expressions here used, the former refers to general symmetry of person, יְפַ־תֹּאַר, and the latter specially to comeliness of countenance, טוֹבַת מַרְאֶת. Esther had not only a fine form, but also a fine face.—Tr.]

FN#2 - Esther 2:11. The expression here used is doubly emphatic, בְּכָל־יוֹם וָיוֹם, to show Mordecai’s intense solicitude for his ward.—Tr.]

FN#3 - Esther 2:14. The pronoun, being expressed, is here emphatic = each individual singly.—Tr.]

FN#4 - נַעַר however, like παῖς in Greek, and boy in English, often denotes merely a male domestic, with little regard to age.—Tr.]

FN#5 - It here, however, denotes something additional to the charms of the candidates for the queenly state. All young females are not virgins, nor are all virgins young. These were to be both, and more besides, to be fair.—Tr.]

FN#6 - “The ‘gynæceum’ or ‘harem’ was always an essential part of an Oriental palace (comp. 1 Kings 7:8). In the Persian palaces it was very extensive, since the Persian monarchs maintained, besides their legitimate wives, as many as300 or400 concubines (Parmen. ap. Athen. Deipon XIII. p608 a). Hege, strictly speaking, seems to have been ‘keeper of the virgins’ only, since the concubines were under the care of Shaashgaz ( Esther 2:14).” Rawlinson.—Tr.]

FN#7 - “Mordecai has been probably identified with a certain Matacas, who, according to Ctesias, was the most powerful of the eunuchs during the latter part of the reign of Xerxes.……That Mordecai was a eunuch is implied by his adoption of a young female cousin, and also by the ready access which he had to the harem of Ahasuerus.” Rawlinson.—Tr.]

FN#8 - So also Rawlinson: “If the writer had intended to derive Mordecai from a royal stock, he would scarcely have omitted the name of Saul himself. Nor would he have designated Kish as a mere “Benjamite.” The same writer adds that on the supposition “that the list is simply the true line of Mordecai’s descent from a certain Kish otherwise unknown, who was his grandfather,” and had been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar; then “the four generations, Kish, Shimei, Jair, Mordecai, exactly fill up the space of130 years from Jeconiah’s captivity to the latter half of Xerxes’ reign.…… The age of Mordecai at the accession of Xerxes may have been about30 or40; that of Esther, his first cousin, about20.” Still these coincidences seem to be outweighed by the considerations advanced by our author.—Tr.]

FN#9 - “The relative clause, ‘Who had been carried away,’ need not be so strictly understood as to assert that Mordecai himself was carried away; but the object being to give merely his origin and lineage, and not his history, it involves only the notion that he belonged to those Jews who were carried to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar with Jeconiah, so that he though born in captivity, was carried to Babylon in the persons of his fore-fathers.” Keil.—Tr.]

FN#10 - It is implied that each concubine received seven maidens, but that by the favor of Hegai, Esther received picked maidens. Rawlinson.—Tr.]

FN#11 - “Mordecai occupied, apparently, an humble place in the royal household. He was probably one of the porters or door-keepers at the main entrance of the palace (see Esther 2:21, and comp. Esther 3:2; Esther 5:13, etc.). This position separated him from his adopted daughter, and some effort was needed to keep up communication with her.” Rawlinson.—TR.]

FN#12 - “No doubt the virgins generally took the opportunity—one that would occur but once in their lives—to load themselves with precious ornaments of various kinds, neck-laces, bracelets, ear-rings, anklets and the like. Esther allowed Hegai to dress her as he would.”—Rawlinson. Thus, as ever, it proved that true piety is the highest ornament, even in a heathen’s sight; and modesty is the brightest jewel of female beauty ( 1 Peter 3:3-4).]—Tr.]

FN#13 - “Bigthan (the Bigtha of Esther 1:10) is probably the Old-Persian Bagadana, i.e, God-given. Teresh is by some derived from tars, ‘to fear;’ but it is more like a foreign than a Persian name.” Rawlinson.—Tr.]

FN#14 - “Conspiracies inside the palace were ordinary occurrences in Persia. Xerxes was ultimately murdered by Artabanus, the captain of the guard, and Aspamitras, a chamberlain and eunuch (Ctesias, Pers, § 29; Diod. Sic. XI, 60, §1). A similar fate befell Artaxerxes Ochus.” Rawlinson.—Tr.]

FN#15 - Especially “of rebels and traitors in Persia (“see Herod. III, 159; IV, 43; and the Behistun Inscription, passim).” Rawlinson.—Tr.]

FN#16 - “These royal chronicles were distinctly mentioned by Ctesias, who said that he drew his Persian history from them (Diod. Sic. II, 32).” Rawlinson.—Tr.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Esther 2:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/esther-2.html. 1857-84.

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