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Bible Commentaries
Esther 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes


A. Vashti Deposed ch. 1

This chapter records the providential circumstances whereby Esther was able to rise to her influential position with the Persian king. It was through the demise of the present queen.

"Though no mention is made of God’s providence, it nevertheless plays a prominent part, and may even give the book its raison d’etre." [Note: Ibid., p. 13. See Forrest S. Weiland, "Literary Clues to God’s Providence in the Book of Esther," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:637 (January-March 2003):34-47.]

Verses 1-9

1. The king’s feast 1:1-9

Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name of the Persian king, Khshayarsha, whom we know better in ancient history by his Greek name, Xerxes. [Note: Lewis B. Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, p. 54. Cf. Ezra 4:5-7; Daniel 11:2.] He reigned over the Persian Empire from 486 to 464 B.C. and was the son of Darius I (521-486 B.C.). Another high-ranking Persian government officer, Artabanus, eventually assassinated him.

Xerxes is famous in secular history for two things: his defeat at the hands of the Greeks, and his building of the royal Persian palace at Persepolis. In 481 B.C. he took about 200,000 soldiers and hundreds of ships to Greece to avenge his father Darius’ loss at the battle of Marathon (490 B.C.). However, he too suffered defeat, in a three-fold manner. His soldiers lost the battle of Thermopylae to the Spartans, his army also lost at the battle of Plataea, and the Greeks destroyed his navy in the battle of Salamis.

The writer mentioned the vast area Xerxes controlled (cf. Esther 8:9; Esther 10:1). Perhaps he did this to avoid confusion with another Ahasuerus (Daniel 9:1) whose son, Darius the Mede, governed the Babylonian provinces under Cyrus the Great from 539 to about 525 B.C. "India" refers to the territory that is now western Pakistan. "Cush" was the upper (southern) Nile region including southern Egypt, the Sudan, Eritrea, and northern Ethiopia, land west of the Red Sea. The 127 "provinces" (Heb. medina) were governmental units of the empire. These were political subdivisions of the satrapies (cf. Esther 3:12). [Note: F. B. Huey Jr., "Esther," in 1 Kings-Job, vol. 4 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 798.]

"Susa" (Esther 1:2) is the Greek name for the Hebrew "Shushan." It was a winter capital and had formerly been the capital of the kingdom of Elam. Susa was the name of both the capital city and the royal fortress that occupied a separate part of the city. [Note: Ibid., p. 298.] Other Persian capitals were Ecbatana (200 miles north of Susa, modern Hamadan, Ezra 6:2), Babylon (200 miles west, Ezra 6:1), Pasargadae, and Persepolis (both 300 miles southeast). [Note: See Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Achaemenid Capitals," Near Esat Archaeology Society Bulletin, NS8 (1976):5-81.] Persepolis was Xerxes’ main residence. [Note: Breneman, p. 304.] Forty years after the events the writer described in the Book of Esther, Nehemiah served as cupbearer to Artaxerxes, Xerxes’ son (cf. Nehemiah 1:1 to Nehemiah 2:1).

The Hebrew word translated "capital" (NASB) or "citadel" (NIV; habirah) refers to an acropolis or fortified area that stood 72 feet above the rest of the city. A wall two and one-half miles long surrounded it. [Note: Ibid.]

The third year of Ahasuerus’ (Xerxes’) reign (Esther 1:3) was evidently 482 B.C. For 180 days (six months) he entertained his guests (Esther 1:4). This was evidently the military planning session that Ahasuerus conducted to prepare for his campaign against the Greeks. The Greek historian Herodotus referred to this meeting and said it took Ahasuerus four years (484-481 B.C.) to prepare for his Greek campaign. [Note: Herodotus, The Histories, 7:8, 20.] Ahasuerus’ Persian army suffered defeat at the hands of the Greeks at Plataea in 479 B.C.

"While labourers received barely enough to live on, even though they were producing works of art that are still unsurpassed, life at court was extravagant beyond imagining. The more lavish the king’s hospitality, the greater his claim to supremacy." [Note: Baldwin, p. 55.]

White and violet (blue, Esther 1:6) were the royal colors of Persia. [Note: John C. Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty, p. 37.] This palace burned to the ground about 435 B.C., toward the end of Artaxerxes’ reign. [Note: A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, p. 352.]

Banquets are a prominent feature of this story. At least nine receive mention (Esther 1:1-9; Esther 2:18; Esther 3:15; Esther 5:4; Esther 5:8; Esther 8:17; Esther 9:17-19).

Verses 1-20


Joyce Baldwin believed that the writer composed the book in a chiastic structure that focuses on the providence of God in the king’s sleepless night. [Note: Baldwin., p. 30.]

A Opening and background (ch. 1)

B The king’s first decree (chs. 2-3)

C The clash between Haman and Mordecai (chs. 4-5)

D "On the night the king could not sleep" (Esther 6:1)

C’ Mordecai’s triumph over Haman (chs. 6-7)

B’ The king’s second decree (chs. 8-9)

A’ Epilogue (ch. 10)

This first major part of the book explains how God placed a simple Jewish young woman in position to deliver her people from possible extinction.

Verses 10-22

2. The queen’s dismissal 1:10-22

The Persian kings castrated many of the men who served the king and his family (Esther 1:10) so they could not have sexual relations with the female members of the royal court and start dynasties of their own.

"Vashti" ("best," "the beloved," or "the desired one," Esther 1:11) was evidently the Persian name of the queen whom Herodotus referred to as Amestris (her Greek name). [Note: J. Stafford Wright, "The Historicity of Esther," in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, p. 40-42.] It is not possible to determine why Vashti refused to obey the king’s summons (Esther 1:12).

"The Rabbis added midrashic embellishments to the story of Vashti, holding that her refusal was the king’s order that she appear naked before his guests. . . . According to the Talmud the queen refused to come because Gabriel had smitten her with leprosy." [Note: Edwin M. Yamauchi, "The Archaeological Background of Esther," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:546 (April-June 1980):105.]

The important point for the writer was that she did not appear, not why she did not.

The counsel of seven (Esther 1:13-14) continued in existence for at least 25 years after this event (cf. Ezra 7:14). These men were cabinet-level officials in the government. The king’s advisers feared that Vashti’s rebellion would lead to a popular women’s liberation movement and to a revolution among the aristocratic wives particularly (Esther 1:17-18).

There is extra-biblical evidence that no one could revoke Persian laws once they were official (Esther 1:19; cf. Esther 8:8; Daniel 6:8). [Note: See Wright, pp. 39-40.]

Herodotus (ca. 484-426 B.C.) traveled in western Persia shortly after Ahasuerus’ reign. He wrote the following concerning the Persian postal service (the original Pony Express), to which the writer of Esther alluded several times (Esther 1:22; cf. Esther 8:10).

"Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers. The entire plan is a Persian invention; and this is the method of it. Along the whole line of road there are men (they say) stationed with horses, in number equal to the number of days which the journey takes, allowing a man and horse to each day; and these men will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they have to go, either by snow or rain, or heat, or by the darkness of night. The first rider delivers his dispatch to the second, and the second passes it to the third; and so it is born from hand to hand along the whole line." [Note: Herodotus, 8:98.]

The last phrase of Esther 1:22 evidently means that the husband’s authority in the home was evident by the fact that his family spoke only his native language. [Note: C. F. Keil, The Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, p. 332.] The Persian Empire encompassed many different language groups.

"When a marriage took place between people of different ethnic backgrounds, the mother’s language would normally prevail in the home and tend to become the language of the children [cf. Nehemiah 13:23-24]." [Note: Gordis, p. 53.]

The first chapter, even the whole book, is highly satirical of the Persian nobility and empire.

"It is indeed a derisive eye that our narrator has cast upon the royal court he describes: A king who rules the whole known world spends his time giving lavish banquets! . . .

"From the satirical depiction of the grandiose and lavishly excessive lifestyle of the Persian court, our narrator turns to undisguised farce: the king who rules the whole world cannot bend his own wife to his will! . . .

"But its [the first chapter’s] mockery has also a sinister side. It reveals a society fraught with danger, for it is ruled by the pride and pomposity of buffoons whose tender egos can marshal the state’s legislative and administrative machinery for the furtherance of selfish and childish causes. Indeed, in such a setting, it will not seem incongruous to find this same machinery of state mobilized to effect the slaughter of one of its own minorities, or to find that this is an end that the king can both blissfully contemplate and cavalierly condone." [Note: Frederic W. Bush, Ruth, Esther, pp. 354, 355 Cf. Proverbs 12:16; 14:17.]

"The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to Vashti. Many biblical scholars believe she was Amestris, the mother of Artaxerxes who ruled from 464 to 425 B.C. It’s likely that Esther was either out of favor or dead; for Amestris exercised great influence as the queen mother during her son’s reign.

"Artaxerxes was born in 483, the year of the great banquet described in Esther 1. It’s possible that Vashti was pregnant with her son at the time and therefore unwilling to appear before the men." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary/History, p. 710.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Esther 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/esther-1.html. 2012.
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