Friday, August 28, 2009

Bible Study: For Such A Time As Now - Esther - Introduction and Chapter 1

The only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned by name.

Deliberately written in the style of a Persian secular narrative to reflect the conditions and attitudes of the Jews scattered in Persia in contrast to those of dedicated Jews in the Holy Land. (John Brug, People’s Commentary Bible, 155-156)

The book of Esther deals with the Jews who remained in Babylon by choice at the end of the captivity. It is the final historical book of the Old Testament.

Xerxes reigned 486-465 BC. He was murdered by his son, Artaxerxes.

Takes place between chapters 6 and 7 of the book of Ezra.

The significance of the Book of Esther is that it testifies to the secret watch care of Jehovah over dispersed Israel. The name of God does not once occur, but in no other book of the Bible is His providence more conspicuous. A mere remnant returned to Jerusalem. The mass of the nation preferred the easy and lucrative life under the Persian rule. But God did not forsake them. What He here does for Judah, He is surely doing for all the covenant people. The book is in seven parts:
The Story of Vashti, 1:1-22.
Esther made queen, 2:1-23.
The conspiracy of Haman, 3:1-15.
The courage of Esther brings deliverance, 4:1-7:10.
The vengeance, 8:1-9:19.
The feast of Purim, 9:20-32.
Epilogue, 10:1-3.
The events recorded in Esther cover a period of 12 years (Ussher). (Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition))

Ahasuerus [E] [H] [S] (Nave’s Topical Bible)
King of Persia, history of
Esther 1
Father of Darius
Daniel 9:1

Artaxerxes [E] [H] [S] (Nave’s Topical Bible)
A Persian king probably identical with AHASUERUS
Prohibits the rebuilding of Jerusalem
Ezra 4:7-24
King of Persia. Decree of, in behalf of the Jews
Ezra 7; Nehemiah 2; 5:14

Ahasue’rus [N] [E] [H] (Smith’s Bible Dictionary)
(lion-king ), the name of one Median and two Persian kings mentioned in the Old Testament.
1. In (Daniel 9:1) Ahasuerus is said to be the father of Darius the Mede. [DARIUS] This first Ahasuerus is Cyaxares, the conqueror of Nineveh. (Began to reign B.C. 634.)
2. The Ahasuerus king of Persia, referred to in (Ezra 4:6) must be Cambyses, thought to be Cyrus’ successor, and perhaps his son. (B.C. 529.)
3. The third is the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. This Ahasuerus is probably Xerxes of history, (Esther 1:1) (B.C. 485), and this conclusion is fortified by the resemblance of character and by certain chronological indications, the account of his life and character agreeing with the book of Esther In the third year of Ahaseuerus was held a great feast and assembly in Shushan the palace, (Esther 1:3) following a council held to consider the invasion of Greece. He divorced his queen Vashti for refusing to appear in public at this banquet, and married, four years afterwards, the Jewess Esther, cousin and ward of Mordecai. Five years after this, Haman, one of his counsellors, having been slighted by Mordecai, prevailed upon the king to order the destruction of all the Jews in the empire. But before the day appointed for the massacre, Esther and Mordecai influenced the king to put Haman to death and to give the Jews the right of self-Defence.

Chapter 1 –

Verses 1-9 Which of the kings of Persia this Ahasuerus was the learned are not agreed. Mordecai is said to have been one of those that were carried captive from Jerusalem (ch. 2:5, 6), whence it should seem that this Ahasuerus was one of the first kings of that empire. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that he was that Artaxerxes who hindered the building of the temple, who is called also Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6, 7), after his great-grandfather of the Medes, Dan. 9:1.

That there was no mixed dancing; for the gentlemen and ladies were entertained asunder, not as in the feast of Belshazzar, whose wives and concubines drank with him (Dan. 5:2), or that of Herod, whose daughter danced before him. Vashti feasted the women in her own apartment; not openly in the court of the garden, but in the royal house, v. 9. Thus, while the king showed the honour of his majesty, she and her ladies showed the honour of their modesty, which is truly the majesty of the fair sex. (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary)

1:1 – 483 BC. (Arthur)

Ahasuerus--It is now generally agreed among learned men that the Ahasuerus mentioned in this episode is the Xerxes who figures in Grecian history. (Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible)

Ahasuerus - Many suppose this to be Darius Hystapas, for his kingdom was thus vast, and he subdued India, as Herodotus reports: and one of his wives was called Atossa, differing little from Hadassah, which is Esther's other name, 2:7.Provinces - So seven new provinces were added to those hundred and twenty mentioned, Daniel 6:1. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:2 - Sat - Was settled in the peaceable possession of it. Shushan - The chief or royal city. Shushan might be the proper name of the palace, which thence was given to the whole city. Here the kings of Persia used to keep their courts in winter, as at Exbatana in summer. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:3 – 483 BC. (Arthur)

the meeting described is a war council.

made a feast unto all his princes and his servants-- The ancient palace of Susa has been recently disinterred from an incumbent mass of earth and ruins; and in that palace, which is, beyond all doubt, the actual edifice referred to in this passage, there is a great hall of marble pillars. "The position of the great colonnade corresponds with the account here given. It stands on an elevation in the center of the mound, the remainder of which we may well imagine to have been occupied, after the Persian fashion, with a garden and fountains. Thus the colonnade would represent the 'court of the garden of the king's palace' with its 'pillars of marble.' I am even inclined to believe the expression, 'Shushan the palace,' applies especially to this portion of the existing ruins, in contradistinction to the citadel and the city of Shushan" [LOFTUS, Chaldaea and Susiana] . (Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible)

1:4 - Many days - Making every day a magnificent feast, either for all his princes, or for some of them, who might come to the feast successively, as the king ordered them to do. The Persian feasts are much celebrated in authors, for their length and luxury. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:6 – white and blue – Persia’s royal colors.

Porphyry – costly, red marble.

the beds were of gold and silver--that is, the couches on which, according to Oriental fashion, the guests reclined, and which were either formed entirely of gold and silver or inlaid with ornaments of those costly metals, stood on an elevated floor of parti-colored marble. (Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible)

Beds - For in those eastern countries, they did not then sit at tables as we do, but rested or leaned upon beds or couches. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:8 – drink in his own way – Persians drank a lot. The king was allowing his guests to abstain if they wished.

The law - According to this law which the king had now made, that none should compel another to drink more than he pleased. How does this Heathen prince shame many, that are called Christians, who think they do not make their friends welcome, unless they make them drunk, and under pretence of sending the health round, send the sin round, and death with it! (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:9 – Queen Vashti – great-granddaughter of King Nebuchadnezzar. Daughter of Belshazzar. Mother of Artaxerxes.

Women - While the king entertained the men. For this was the common custom of the Persians, that men and women did not feast together. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

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,
Or, enunchs. (Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition))

1:10-12 - he commanded . . . the seven chamberlains--These were the eunuchs who had charge of the royal harem. The refusal of Vashti to obey an order which required her to make an indecent exposure of herself before a company of drunken revellers, was becoming both the modesty of her sex and her rank as queen; for, according to Persian customs, the queen, even more than the wives of other men, was secluded from the public gaze. Had not the king's blood been heated with wine, or his reason overpowered by force of offended pride, he would have perceived that his own honor, as well as hers, was consulted by her dignified conduct. (Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Whole Bible)

Verses 10-22 It was certainly the king’s weakness to send for Vashti into his presence when he was drunk, and in company with abundance of gentlemen, many of whom, it is likely, were in the same condition. When his heart was merry with wine nothing would serve him but Vashti must come, well dressed as she was, with the crown on her head, that the princes and people might see what a handsome woman she was, v. 10, 11. Hereby, 1. He dishonoured himself as a husband, who ought to protect, but by no means expose, the modesty of his wife, who ought to be to her a covering of the eyes (Gen. 20:16), not to uncover them. 2. He diminished himself as a king, in commanding that from his wife which she might refuse, much to the honour of her virtue. It was against the custom of the Persians for the women to appear in public, and he put a great hardship upon her when he did not court, but command her to do so uncouth a thing, and make her a show. If he had not been put out of the possession of himself by drinking to excess, he would not have done such a thing, but would have been angry at any one that should have mentioned it. When the wine is in the wit is out, and men’s reason departs from them. II. However, perhaps it was not her wisdom to deny him. She refused to come (v. 12); though he sent his command by seven honourable messengers, and publicly, and Josephus says sent again and again, yet she persisted in her denial. Had she come, while it was evident that she did it in pure obedience, it would have been no reflection upon her modesty, nor a bad example. The thing was not in itself sinful, and therefore to obey would have been more her honour than to be so precise. Perhaps she refused in a haughty manner, and then it was certainly evil; she scorned to come at the king’s commandment. What a mortification was this to him! While he was showing the glory of his kingdom he showed the reproach of his family, that he had a wife that would do as she pleased.

Divorce - before they proceeded to this extremity they sent to Vashti to know if she would yet submit, cry Peccavi—I have done wrong, and ask the king’s pardon, and that, if she had done so, the mischief of her example would have been effectually prevented, and process would have been stayed; but it is likely she continued obstinate, and insisted upon it as her prerogative to do as she pleased, whether it pleased the king or no, and therefore they gave this judgment against her, that she come no more before the king, and this judgment so ratified as never to be reversed, v. 19. The consequence of this, it was hoped, would be that the wives would give to their husbands honour, even the wives of the great, notwithstanding their own greatness, and the wives of the small, notwithstanding the husband’s meanness (v. 20); and thus every man would bear rule in his own house, as he ought to do, and, the wives being subject, the children and servants would be so too. It is the interest of states and kingdoms to provide that good order be kept in private families. 3. The edict that passed according to this proposal, signifying that the queen was divorced for contumacy, according to the law, and that, if other wives were in like manner undutiful to their husbands, they must expect to be in like manner disgraced (v. 21, 22): were they better than the queen? Whether it was the passion or the policy of the king that was served by this edict, God’s providence served its own purpose by it, which was to make way for Esther to the crown. (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible)

1:11 – wearing her royal crown – some scholars believe that she was to wear ONLY her crown.

1:12 – she refused – possibly because she was pregnant.

The king became furious and burned with anger – Xerxes was known for his characteristic outbursts of sudden anger.

Refused - Being favoured in this refusal by the law of Persia, which was to keep mens wives, and especially queens, from the view of other men. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:13 - The times - The histories of former times, what princes have done in such cases as this was. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:14 - Saw - Who had constant freedom of access to the king, and familiar converse with him: which is thus expressed, because the Persian kings were very seldom seen by their subjects. Sat - Who were his chief counsellors and officers. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:15 – according to law – Persian law said that men don’t allow other men to view their wives.

1:18 - Contempt - Contempt in the wives, and thereupon wrath in the husbands; and consequently strife in families. (John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible)

1:22 – he sent dispatches – Persian postal service.

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