Esther 1-3

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

April 16, 2003

Introduction

This book gives us the historical background to the Jewish Feast of Purim.  Purim is still celebrated by the Jews and kind of carries a flavor similar to Halloween in that the children all dress up in costumes.  It is celebrated around the month of March, this year it fell on March 18, 2003.  Part of the modern celebration involves baking special cookies called a “hamantasch” or, “Haman’s Ear”, which is a crust filled with a sesame seed filling.  The little girls dress up like Esther and the boys get to play the part of evil Haman.  The story of Esther is told and whenever the name “Esther” or “Mordecai” is read, everyone cheers, while everyone “boos” when the name “Haman” is read.

We aren’t told who the author is, but some think that it might have been written by Mordecai, Esther’s cousin.

Some have thought that the book of Esther shouldn’t have been included in the Bible because the name “God” is not used.  Perhaps this is why the ancient Essene community didn’t include any copies of Esther in what we call the “Dead Sea Scrolls”.  Yet you will see God’s fingerprints all through the book.

The first three chapters of the book really are to give a background of the main story.  They record events that will take place years before the actual crisis occurs.

We see this in our own lives.  We sometimes don’t understand why things are happening in our lives, but perhaps somewhere down the road we’ll realize what God was doing all along.

The danger of getting the wrong message.

Much in this book shows us the customs and culture of the Persians.  We need to be careful that we don’t think that they’re setting examples for us to follow.

Esther 1

:1-9 The Persian pride and party

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

AhasuerusAchashverowsh – “I will be silent and poor” (a Persian name).  He lived from 519-465 BC.

He was also known in history as Xerxes I (his Greek name) or, Khshayarsha (his Persian name), and ruled from 486-465 BC.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

India – The area drained by the Indus River, in present-day Pakistan.

The Persian Empire.

:2 which was in Shushan the palace,

SushanShuwshan – “lily” also called “Susa”.  It was the winter residence of the Persian kings; located on the river Ulai or Choaspes.  It’s about 150 miles northwest of modern Basra on the Persian Gulf, about 220 miles east of Babylon.

:3 In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media …

the third year of his reign – 483 BC.  Ahasuerus is 36 years old.

the power of Persia – probably meaning his military rulers.

:4 …even and hundred and fourscore days.

180 days – six months.  It has been suggested that during this first six months, Ahasuerus has gathered all his nobles and military leaders to prepare for his coming invasion of Greece, which will occur in 480 BC.

:5 the king made a feast

feast – at the end of this six month period, Ahasuerus throws a drinking party.

:6 Where were white, green, and blue, hangings…

(Est 1:6 NLT)  The courtyard was decorated with beautifully woven white and blue linen hangings, fastened by purple ribbons to silver rings embedded in marble pillars. Gold and silver couches stood on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and other costly stones.

:8 And the drinking was according to the law

the drinking was according to the law – no one was forced to drink.  No one was forced to stop drinking.

Josephus:

He also gave order to the servants, that they should not force them to drink by bringing them wine continually, as is the practice of the Persians, but to permit every one of the guests to enjoy himself according to his own inclination.[1]

:9 Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women

VashtiVashtiy – “beautiful”

:10-12 Vashti refuses

:10 when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded …the seven chamberlains

merry with wine – they were all drunk

chamberlains – seven eunuchs

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

to showra’ah – to see, look at, inspect, perceive, consider

In those days, a woman was required to keep her veil on.  It is possible that what Ahasuerus is asking is for her to parade around in front of his drunken guests without her veil.  He may be asking her to do something worse.

fairtowb – good, pleasant, agreeable

Lesson

Drunk people do stupid things

Ahasuerus’ marriage is going to fall apart because of his drunken request.

:12 But the queen Vashti refused to come

refusedma’en – (Piel) to refuse, utterly refuse

Josephus records:

But she, out of regard to the laws of the Persians, which forbid the wives to be seen by strangers, did not go to the king; and though he oftentimes sent the eunuchs to her, she did nevertheless stay away, and refused to come[2]

Isn’t it interesting to think that Vashti was the one who was actually obeying Persian law, while her husband wasn’t.

:13-22 Royal Divorce

:13 the wise men, which knew the times

knew the times – lawyers

:14 …and Memucan

Memucan[email protected] – “dignified”

:18 …Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.

He’s afraid that Vashti is setting a bad example.  All the wives will revolt.

I wonder if Memucan was having trouble at home himself.  Perhaps his wife kept bugging him to take out the trash.

:19 …That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus…

that it be not altered – the laws of the Persians and Medes were considered unchangeable.

Daniel knew this.

(Dan 6:8 KJV)  Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
(Dan 6:15 KJV)  Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.

Lesson

Don’t dump her

Divorce for the reason of a wife refusing to obey her husband.  This is wrong.
I wonder about the reasons why people give the advice they do.
We’re going to see that Ahasuerus is going to regret having made this decision.

:22  that every man should bear rule in his own house

Lesson

Husbands and wives

This can sound very similar to what the Scripture teaches, but it’s not exactly like it.
That man should rule over his wife was a result of the curse on Eve:
(Gen 3:16 KJV)  Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

The results of Adam and Eve’s sin included a wife’s desire being towards her husband and her husband ruling over her.

But the Christian pattern for marriage relationships handles things differently:
(Eph 5:22-27 KJV)  Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. {23} For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. {24} Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands.

This doesn’t mean that a woman never has an opinion.  She, like Sarah (1Pet. 3) ought to give her opinion, but learn to teach her husband to be a strong decisive leader by letting him make the decision.

This is a step of faith.  This is how the ancient “holy women” demonstrated their trust in God (1Pet. 3).

 

I think this is interesting since the curse has brought about men ruling over their wives, that now the wife is to learn how to submit in response to her husband.

{25} Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; {26} That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, {27} That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Husbands are not commanded to RULE over their wives.  They are commanded to LOVE them like Christ loves the church.

This is supposed to be a sacrificial love, thinking only of her needs and not the needs of the husband.

This is a beautifying love, where a woman will flourish and blossom, all blemishes disappear.

I think this is interesting since the curse has brought about a woman’s desire being towards her husband, now her husband is to learn to love her back.

What Ahasuerus is advocating is the result of the curse, not the answer to the curse.

:22 that it should be published according to the language of every people.

It is thought that this is talking about what language was spoken in each home:

(Est 1:22 ICB)  …Also, each family was to speak the language of the man.

Esther 2

:1-4 Beauty Contest Proposed

:1 After these things…

After these things – There are going to be a few years here, during which Ahasuerus goes to war with Greece.  Herodotus recorded that he had an army of 2,641,610 warriors.  He planned on conquering Greece as punishment for how they had defeated the Persians under the rule of his father, Darius I.  He would march through Greece and fight many famous battles, including one where he was held off by 300 Spartans for ten days until he wiped them out and burned Athens.  He would be defeated at a decisive naval battle at Salamis in 480 BC. 

It’s probably after this, after having returned home, that Ahasuerus begins to miss Vashti.

:2 Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king:

They probably don’t want to risk Vashti coming back and having them put to death.

:3 Hege the king's chamberlain

HegeHege– “eunuch”

chamberlaincariyc – official, eunuch

:5-7 Mordecai and Esther

:5 Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;

Jew[email protected] – Jew; a form of “Judah”.  This is the first time this word is used in the Old Testament.

Mordecai[email protected] – “little man” or “worshipper of Mars”

the son of Shimei

There is a possibility that this is the Shimei who cursed David when David was being chased out of Jerusalem by his son Absalom:

(2 Sam 16:5-7 KJV)  And when king David came to Bahurim, behold, thence came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera: he came forth, and cursed still as he came. {6} And he cast stones at David, and at all the servants of king David: and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. {7} And thus said Shimei when he cursed, Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial:
This could possibly fit since Shimei was “of the house of Saul”, and Saul’s father’s name was Kish, and they were all from the tribe of Benjamin.
If this is the same Shimei, this could be a cool picture of restoration.  God hasn’t given up on the family of Shimei.

:6 Who had been carried away ,,,with Jeconiah

the captivity … with Jeconiah – Jeconiah was carried off to Babylon in the second captivity, in 597 BC.  That was 117 years earlier than the current time.  That means that Mordecai probably wasn’t the specific one who was taken into captivity, but probably one of his ancestors.  Some have it was “Kish”, the great-grandfather of Mordecai.  If this is the case, then the “Shimei” in the previous verse couldn’t be the one who cursed David.

:7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter

HadassahHadaccah – “myrtle”

EstherEcter – “star”

uncle’s daughter – they were cousins

:8-11 Esther joins the beauty pageant

:8 to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.

HegaiHege– “eunuch”

keeper of the women – this guy was in charge of the harem.

It doesn’t seem that Mordecai made a choice to have Esther “apply” for the job, but it seems that he had no choice in the matter.

Was it wrong for Mordecai to allow Esther to take part in this “beauty pageant”?

I’m not sure we can say whether it was right or wrong.  It just happened.  It seems to be a given.

It will turn out that her taking part in this pageant will be an important thing.

:10 Esther had not showed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not show it.

Was it proper for Esther not to “show her people”?

This will play another important part in the things to come.

:11 And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house

He’s keeping an eye on her.

:12-14 The method of choosing

:12 …six months with oil of myrrh…

six months with oil of myrrh … - I’ve heard that six months were for drawing out bad stuff in the gals’ skin, and six months were to soak her in sweet fragrances.

:14 In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house

evening … morrow – does this imply that the king slept with each woman?  I think it does.

concubines – This sounds like there was a sort of marriage type of agreement with the king and these women.  Yet they were not considered “queens”, only concubines.

Remember, this is a pagan, Persian society.  This isn’t a practice we should copy!!!

:15-20 Esther is chosen

:15  she required nothing but what Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed

She lets Hegai choose her wardrobe and guide her appearance.

Lesson

Listen to advice

Hegai knows what works.  She pays attention.

:16 So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

Tebeth – the Babylonian month that falls near December and January.

seventh year – It has been four years since the divorce from Vashti (Est. 1:3).  It has been one year since Ahasuerus’ defeat at Salamis. It is 479 BC.

:17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.

loved ahab – to love; human love for another, includes family, and  sexual

gracechen – favour, grace, charm; acceptance

favourcheced – goodness, kindness, faithfulness

queen – does this mean that Ahasuerus gets rid of the harem?  I don’t think so.

:18 he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.

made a release – this could mean a release from taxes, a holiday, or possibly a release of prisoners.

:19 And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king's gate.

Why were the virgins gathered together a second time?

It means that Ahasuerus is adding to his harem.

sat in the king’s gate – this means that Mordecai is considered a “judge”.  The courts were located at the city gates.

:21-23 Mordecai saves the king

:21 two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh

BigthanBigthan – “in their wine-press”.  I wonder if he was given that name because when his mother saw him, she said to the lady in the hospital bed next to her, “My baby is Bigger-than your baby”. J

TereshTeresh – “strictness”

:22 Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai's name.

certified amar – to say, speak, utter.  She passed on the news.

:23 they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king.

hanged on a tree – This was not hanging on a rope by the neck.  This was being impaled on a stake or a pole.  It was the Persians who invented crucifixion.

written in the book of the chronicles – an important fact for later in the story.

Esther 3

:1-6 Mordecai won’t bow to Haman

:1 Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him

HamanHaman – “magnificent”

the Agagite – a descendant of Agag.

Josephus records:

by birth an Amalekite

The story of Agag starts back in Exodus.

(Exo 17:8-16 KJV)  Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. {9} And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. {10} So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. {11} And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. {12} But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. {13} And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. {14} And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. {15} And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: {16} For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

King Saul was sent on a mission by God to finish what was decreed back in Exodus.  He was told to wipe out the Amalekites.  He had a great victory, but he apparently didn’t do a complete job.  He spared the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

(1 Sam 15:18-23 KJV)  And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. {19} Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD? {20} And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. {21} But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal. {22} And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. {23} For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
Samuel himself would finish off Agag, but it appears that he had some descendants who survived.
Now one day they would try to get even.

Lesson

Finish off the flesh

Amalek is often seen as a picture of our fleshly nature.
The way to handle the flesh is not to pamper it.  The way to victory is to put the flesh to death.  Completely.
If we leave some things undone, they will come back to haunt us.

Lesson

Sometimes kings make mistakes

Looking at the choice of Haman from a human perspective, we can see that it was a mistake.
It’s hard to choose leaders.  Sometimes you don’t see the problems right away.
(1 Tim 5:22 KJV)  Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure.
(1 Tim 5:24-25 KJV)  Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. {25} Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.

:2 And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him.

It was the king’s idea to have people bow before Haman.

Lesson

The danger of exaltation

I wonder what Haman was like before this exaltation occurred?

:2 But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.

Mordecai won’t “bow” because as a Jew, he only “bows” before God.

(Deu 6:13-14 KJV)  Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. {14} Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you;

Lesson

Respect or idolatry

This is not a matter of showing respect.  This is a matter of not bowing to the things that the world bows to.
This is the same reason why a few years back, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue:
(Dan 3:17-18 KJV)  If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. {18} But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
This does not mean that we don’t show respect for people in authority.
(Rom 13:7 KJV)  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

But we draw the line at not worshipping people.

:5 And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.

Lesson

Test of character

This is when we see the wicked side of Haman’s character come out.
Illustration
In the book “Calvary Chapel Distinctives” (chapter 7), Chuck Smith talks about how they handle people who, while everyone else is sitting down, they stand up in the middle of the worship service, a practice that draws attention to the individual instead of drawing attention to Jesus:

“At Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, if someone does stand up, the ushers approach them and invite them back to the foyer, then one of the pastors talks to them there, gently and in love. They usually say, “We don’t practice this because we’ve discovered that it draws people’s attention away from worship. And surely you wouldn’t want to take the person’s attention from Jesus Christ and put it on yourself, would you?”

“We tell them they are drawing attention to themselves, and people are losing the central focus on Jesus. We talk to them in love and suggest that they not do it, and if they get upset it shows that they were in the flesh the whole time. If they’re really in the Spirit and walking in the Spirit, they will take it in the Spirit. They’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry.” But if they get all huffy, then you know that they were in the flesh.”

Sometimes these types of things that might have a tendency to annoy us might actually be a test of our own character.
How do you handle it when things don’t go your way?

:6 And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone

Haman didn’t want to just get even with Mordecai, he wanted to destroy Mordecai’s people.  If Mordecai isn’t bowing because he’s a Jew, then Haman wants to destroy all of Mordecai’s people.  He only wants to be around people who will bow to him.

:7 Picking a date

:7 …they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.

the twelfth year – Esther and Ahasuerus have been married for five years.  It is now March-April of 474 BC.

PurPuwr – This is an Assyrian word meaning “lot” or “piece”.  This is where the name of the feast, “Purim”, comes from.

Lesson

God’s invisible hand

Haman seems to be a superstitious sort of person, so he is throwing the dice to decide when the best time to kill the Jews would be.
As it ends up, the lot falls on the twelfth month, February-March, which ends up giving the Jews 11 months to prepare for this attack.
(Prov 16:33 KJV)  The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD.

:8-15 Approval of Jews’ destruction

:9 I will pay ten thousand talents of silver

Haman is bribing the king to sign the decree.

He offers to pay

ten thousand talents of silver = 12,000,000 oz (375 tons, or 340 metric tons).

He will get the money back when he confiscates the property of the Jews he has slain.

Josephus suggests that Haman is doing this to make up for the lost tax revenue the king will suffer when the Jews are killed.

:10 And the king took his ring from his hand

ring – to put his “stamp” of approval on the decree, probably making an impression in wax.

:11 The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.

(Est 3:11 NIV)  "Keep the money," the king said to Haman, "and do with the people as you please."

:13 the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.

The Jews are given 11 months before they are wiped out.  They are supposed to be killed on March 7, 473 B.C.

Whoever kills a Jew will get to keep his possessions for his own.

:15 the city Shushan was perplexed.

perplexedbuwk – to perplex, confuse, be confused

Lesson

It ain’t over

Things look bad, but just wait.  There are still eleven months left and God is at work.  He has His people in place. 
(Jer 29:11 KJV)  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.


[1]Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Includes index. (Ant XI, vi 1). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[2]Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Includes index. (Ant XI, vi 1). Peabody: Hendrickson.