New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Esther 1:1 Now it happened in the days of Ahasuerus (this is Ahasuerus who reigned from India even to Ethiopia, over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces)- The LXX adds at this point: "In the second year of the reign of Artaxerxes the great king, on the first day of Nisan, Mardochaeus the son of Jarius, the son of Semeias, the son of Cisaus, of the tribe of Benjamine, a Jew dwelling in the city Susa, a great man, serving in the king's palace, saw a vision. Now he was of the captivity which Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon had carried captive from Jerusalem, with Jachonias the king of Judea.
And this was his dream: Behold, voices and a noise, thunders and earthquake, tumult upon the earth. And, behold, two great serpents came forth, both ready for conflict, and there came from them a great voice, and by their voice every nation was prepared for battle, even to fight against the nation of the just. And, behold, a day of darkness and blackness, tribulation and anguish, affection and tumult upon the earth. And all the righteous nation was troubled, fearing their own afflictions; and they prepared to die, and cried to God: and from their cry there came as it were a great river from a little fountain , even much water. And light and the sun arose, and the lowly were exalted, and devoured the honorable. And Mardochaeus who had seen this vision and what God desired to do, having awoke, kept it in his heart, and desired by all means to interpret it, even till night. And Mardochaeus rested quiet in the palace with Gabatha and Tharrha the king's two chamberlains, eunuchs who guarded the palace. And he heard their reasoning and searched out their plans, and learnt that they were preparing to lay hands on king Artaxerxes: and he informed the king concerning them. And the king examined the two chamberlains, and they confessed, and were executed. And the king wrote these things for a memorial: also Mardochaeus wrote concerning these matters".

Esther 1:2 that in those days, when the King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom which was in Shushan the palace-
The impression is given that he had recently ascended the throne and was seeking to demonstrate his power and authority. "Shushan" is the Hebrew word for "lily", which was iconicly associated with the Jerusalem temple (s.w. 1 Kings 7:19,22,26; 2 Chron. 4:5). This sets the scene for the impression discussed on :7 that we have here a fake, imitation kingdom and temple of Yahweh.




Esther 1:3 in the third year of his reign, he made a feast for all his princes and his servants; the powerful ones of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him-
The impression is given of a man with huge power "before him". And this powerful man is set to be manipulated by the invisible hand of God working through a nervous, not very spiritually strong Jewish refugee teenager.

Esther 1:4 He displayed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even one hundred and eighty days-
This was the kind of thing Hezekiah did after his deliverance, giving all glory to himself rather than Yahweh and His Kingdom. Riches, glory, honour, majesty and Kingdom are words and ideas all associated with Yahweh's Kingdom, which is the ultimate Kingdom; and which will be displayed eternally and not for 180 days. Again this sets the scene for the impression discussed on :7 that we have here a fake, imitation kingdom of Yahweh; just as Rabshakeh described the kingdom of Assyria in identical language to the description of Yahweh's Kingdom, where Jews would dwell with confidence under their own vine and fig tree. The kingdoms of the world continue to present themselves to us as God's Kingdom, enjoyable now if we submit to them.

Esther 1:5 When those days were fulfilled, the king made a seven day feast for all the people who were present in Shushan the palace, both great and small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace-
LXX adds in various different details: "Then, I say, the days of the marriage feast were completed, the king made a banquet to the nations who were present in the city six days, in the court of the king's house". This would imply that his queen was a new queen; and that he was kindly disposed towards foreigners. See on :11.

Esther 1:6 There were hangings of white, green and blue material, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. The couches were of gold and silver, on a pavement of red, white, yellow and black marble-
The LXX brings out the similarities with the tabernacle and the pavement of emerald upon which Yahweh was manifest to Moses in Ex. 24:10 and which becomes the picture of the Heavenly throne room in Rev. 4:3: "On a pavement of emerald stone, and of pearl, and of Parian stone, and open-worked coverings variously flowered, having roses worked round about". The motif of flowers was likewise found in some of the tabernacle furnishings and equipment (Ex. 25:31 etc.). See on :7 for the significance of all this.

Esther 1:7 They gave them ample drinks in golden vessels of various kinds, including the wine of the kingdom, according to the bounty of the king-
These golden cups may well have been those looted from the temple and used by Belshazzar. For Cyrus to order them sent back to Jerusalem would be a fair statement of repentance by him. Again the impression is given as in :6 that this was a fake tabernacle and temple; see on :2,4,8,9,10,14. And yet even within that, the glory of God was being worked out by the God who is invisible in Esther, "God" never being mentioned in the Hebrew text. This was to teach that God was not inactive with the Jews in exile, although He was not visible as He had been in the time of the tabernacle and temple. And that is a lesson for us today. 

Esther 1:8 In accordance with the law-
This undefined reference to "the law" may be another hint as in :6,7 that we are being given here a picture of a fake tabernacle / temple system. 

The drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had instructed all the officials of his house, that they should do according to every man’s pleasure- The LXX changes the sense: "And this banquet was not according to the appointed law; but so the king would have it". This was to nudge him towawrds accepting that his law could be broken or ammended, as it was to be later with the destruction of the Jews.

Esther 1:9 Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to King Ahasuerus-
"The royal house" is literally "the house of the kingdom", the term used for the temple in 2 Chron. 2:1,12. This extends the  impression discussed on Esther 1:7 that we have here a fake, imitation temple of Yahweh.

Esther 1:10 On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcass, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king-
This may continue the theme of a fake imitation of the heavenly throne room, which has seven spirits (Angels?) standing before the throne of God. 

Esther 1:11 To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the royal crown, to show the people and the princes her beauty; for she was beautiful-
The LXX confirms the impression of :5 LXX that Vashti was only now becoming queen: "to enthrone her, and crown her with the diadem".   

Esther 1:12 But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by the eunuchs. Therefore the king was very angry, and his anger burned in him-
Seeing the king was drunk and he had this idea whilst he was drunk (:10), the intention was surely to have her strip or dance naked. 

Esther 1:13 Then the king said to the wise men who knew the times, (for it was the king’s custom to consult those who knew law and judgement-
Her refusal probably broke no law; see on :15; Esther 3:5. Here the king finds himself trapped by his own laws; he obviously wanted to have her slain, but he could find no law which prescribed death. The only law relevant was the law which said the queen could be killed if she came to the king without an invitation. There was apparently no law regarding what would happen if she refused an invitation. God wanted to save that drunk man, with his hurt pride. And so He was nudging him to realize that his own laws were going to have to be broken if he really wanted to have his way; which meant that he was not in fact divine. For divine beings were imagined to be unchanging, and to never change their laws. This was going to be developed when later he wishes to change his law to destroy the Jews. God likewise works with us.

Esther 1:14 and those next to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who saw the king’s face, and sat first in the kingdom)-
The idea of some in the throne room who see the king's face is another of the suggestions listed on :7 which suggest we have here an imitation of the Heavenly throne room.


Esther 1:15 What shall we do to the queen Vashti according to law, because she has not done the bidding of the King Ahasuerus by the eunuchs?-
As explained on :13, "according to law" she couldn't be punished; for there was likely no law governing such a refusal.

Esther 1:16 Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen has not done wrong to only the king, but also to all the princes, and to all the people who are in all the provinces of the King Ahasuerus-
If there was a law prescribing death in this case, it would have been cited. But there was none. See on :13. And so Memucan comforts the king that indeed they considered she had "done wrong" and labours the implications of what she had done.

Esther 1:17 For this deed of the queen will become known to all women, causing them to show contempt for their husbands when it is reported, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she didn’t come’-
The male assumption of female obedience was such that there was no law prescribing what should be done if a queen refused to come to a king's party. This was God beginning to nudge the king towards obedience and perception of His principles, and to resign his claims to be divine. We would likely not have bothered even trying to work with such a drunken megalomaniac. We would write him off as too hard a case. But God works so gently and persistently with all kinds of people, to lead them to repentance.

Esther 1:18 Today, the princesses of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s deed will likewise tell all the king’s princes. This will cause much contempt and wrath-
The execution of Vashti would have put an end to such fears. And the king surely wanted to do this; but he was trapped by his own legal system, just as he was to be later on when he makes the law to kill the Jews. He was going to end up killing his queen whom he loved, which he had earlier wanted to do to his former queen but couldn't. This paradox was to try to teach him the folly of his own laws and respect of them. It was to help him realize he was not divine, and God's invisible grace was more powerful than any legal system.

Esther 1:19 If it please the king, let a royal commandment go from him and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it cannot be altered, that Vashti may never again come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate to another who is better than she-
Kingship and power were thought to be expressed by making laws and not changing them. The God of Israel however does change His position on things, alters His purpose in accordance with human response (Jer. 18:8-10), and annulled His own eternal law. He does so unashamedly, in reflection of His sensitivity. The LXX has "and let him not alter it". The king could change his own laws but it would involve a loss of face and an admission he was not divine; for they thought that God cannot change in any way. Hence the refusal of Darius to change his law about Daniel was not because he was unable to, but because he lacked humility.  

Esther 1:20 When the king’s decree which he shall make is published throughout all his kingdom (for it is great), all the wives will give their husbands honour, both great and small-
The reminder of the greatness of the kingdom was an appeal to his vanity. Their solution was actually very weak. It amounted to: 'If a woman refuses to dance naked before her husband's friends, then he can divorce her and take another wife'. This was fairly mild for the Persians; the death penalty wasn't in view. Through all this, God was working. Although the Name of God doesn't occur in the Hebrew text of Esther, the letters Y-H-V-H are found in various forms throughout the book as acrostics, and this is an example (Esther 1:20; 5:4,13; 7:5,7).

Esther 1:21 This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan-
Again the king is being nudged towards realizing that he is not sovereign and all wise and powerful, as he was addressed. He did the word of an adviser, who came up with a plan he didn't conceive; and the lesson was repeated to him in Esther 2:4. He was being prepared to agree to do the words of Esther and Mordecai later. And God likewise works with people today, using one situation or experience to prepare them for another.

Esther 1:22 for he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province according to its writing, and to every people in their language, that every man should rule his own house, and that it should be published in the language of each people
- This idea is alluded to in 1 Tim. 3:5, where a brother is supposed to "rule his own house" spiritually. And yet in the same letter (1 Tim. 5:14) a woman is supposed to rule the household (Gk.); perhaps subverting the expectation of male rulership in practical matters, and yet saying in 1 Tim. 3:5 that the cultural expectation that a man should "rule the household" be reinterpreted in spiritual terms.