Esther and the Unseen God

Part 1 of 3 of a verse by verse commentary on the book of Esther

Background

Darius died leaving everything to his son Xerxes….the Old Testament Ahasuerus.

The book of Esther picks up in the third year of Xerxes’ reign, 484-483 B.C. (Esther 1:1-3)

As you recall captivity of Jews occurred by Babylon in (~604 to 586 BC). Babylon fell to Cyrus as prophesied 539 BC. Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home, but many stayed in the conquered lands. These are the Jews of the book of Esther some 55 years after the end of Babylonian captivity.

Esther is one of five books that are read during specific festivals of the year. They are collectively known as the Megilloth, which means “scrolls.” We will see why as we go through the book of Esther.

One of the objections and peculiarities of the book is the absence of a direct reference to God (and prayer some add). It seems like it was on purpose — maybe: because of the audience or the context for which it was written.

As a side note, acrostics for the name of God are found in the book — which some point to as proof God is in the book.  As we will see this is not necessary for us to see God within the pages and words of this book.

It is clear, though the direct references to God are omitted from the story, His involvement is evident.  Jews consider this one of God’s greatest interventions in their lives.

As for who wrote the book, no explicit statement is given. The author was acquainted with Persian culture, as the extensive descriptions of the palace complex attest to.  Shushan (called Susa today) and the domestic details about the reign of King Ahasuerus [Xerxes] indicate a certain familiarity that points to someone on the inside.  This being said, many have ascribed the authorship of the book to Mordecai. It appears that it was written after the king’s death which was in 465 BC.

Esther 1

Esther 1:1 Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia),

Encyclopaedia Brittanica: The division of the empire into satrapies was completed by Darius I (reigned 522–486 BC), who established 20 satrapies with their annual tribute.

The word here does not denote a satrap, but more than likely divisions of the satraps

Esther 1:2 in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel,

Modern day Susa, Iran; Persians; western boarder of Iran that divides them from Iraq

Esther 1:3 that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants—the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him—

484-483 B.C.

Gives perspective to other events in the book

Esther 1:4 when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.

Showing off like this seems to be a part of their culture, even today.  Parading just this year that I can recall: torpedoes, destroyer, cruise-capable submarine, rockets, and drones

Esther 1:5 And when these days were completed, the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.
Esther 1:6 There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble.

Shows some familiarity with the palace; insider information;

Esther 1:7 And they served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king.

Custom made drinking vessels

Esther 1:8 In accordance with the law, the drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had ordered all the officers of his household, that they should do according to each man’s pleasure.

Did not force them to drink; so it was not an insult to drink a little or not be drunk

Esther 1:9 Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.

The position of women, as is today in Iran, is one of submission and subservience

Elaborated on more later

Nonetheless they still had a feast in the royal palace, just separately

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 Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus,
Esther 1:11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold.
Esther 1:12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.

The emphasis here seems to be on the fact that after seven days of drinking the King makes a request that is commensurate with his inebriation

When we read :11 we see that the King wants to show her off as she was no doubt very beautiful (which he prized)

But for some reason (lots of speculation out there) but I don’t want to speculate and put something into your mind that shouldn’t be there…she refused…which was a no-no

the kings word was law!

Esther 1:13 Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice,
Esther 1:14 those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom):

the top advisor’s in the kingdom

Esther 1:15 “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?”

So then the princes make the most of the opportunity:

Esther 1:16 And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.
Esther 1:17 For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’
Esther 1:18 This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath.

It seems like this is the sky is falling scenario; over reacting; perhaps to their own ends

Maybe there was another agenda.  This would call for speculation and since we do not know who Vashti was in history we will leave it at that

Esther 1:19 If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.

Daniel 6:8-17

Now, what we do see is that God is at work. The outcome of this situation, for whatever reason in the minds of the king and princes, would eventually lead to a designed outcome by God.

Having read the story before we can better see how all this came together and the odds of it “just happening this way” show more than chance occurred.

Esther 1:20 When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small.”
Esther 1:21 And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan.
Esther 1:22 Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.

This decree is now the inviolable law of the land and the search is on for another who is better than she (Vashti)

Esther 2

Esther 2:1 After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her.

the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided…

May not refer to the situation at hand.  This may refer to the war campaign against Greece in 481-479BC

It lends credence to the fact that Ahasuerus was indeed Xerxes.  It would have been after the third year that we mentioned in 1:3 and before the seventh year mentioned later in this chapter

The Persians were not very successful overall.  One of the battles at this time was Thermopylae.  A few movies have been made about their battle.

Esther 2:2 Then the king’s servants who attended him said: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king;
Esther 2:3 and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them.
Esther 2:4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This thing pleased the king, and he did so.

You don’t get the feeling that they had much choice in the matter.  Nonetheless, it wasn’t the worst of situations and we know that God is at work here.

Esther 2:5 In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.

This is 1,000 miles east of Jerusalem, such was the nature of the diaspora.  The bible doesn’t say where all the Jews were but when given the opportunity to go home by Cyrus MANY opted to stay and we know the kingdom of Persia extended to India (1:1) so perhaps another 1,000 miles.

So it seems they were content to stay where they were, taking local names and not returning to Jerusalem

There was another notable name in the Bible who came from Kish; Saul son of Kish.  We will reintroduce this again later.

Esther 2:6 Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.

Kish a part of Benjamin was included in the southern kingdom of Judah. So when the Bible speaks of Judah going into captivity it also included Benjamin.

The kingdom was named for the more prominent tribe

Esther 2:7 And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.

The introduction

Mordecai and Esther are Babylonian names

Marduk and Ishtar

Joseph – Egyptian name

Daniel 1:7 To them the chief of the eunuchs gave names: he gave Daniel the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abed-Nego.

Maybe they thought of it no more than we do of names like Diane or Helen

We still see this in our culture today. Call centers

Her given Hebrew name was Hadassah (myrtle) Esther (root means hide, hid)

Mordecai and Esther were first cousins – though a reasonably large age difference since there relationship was more like father and daughter.

We can only wonder how far back God was working with them in regards to the plan that we see unfold in the book of Esther.

Esther 2:8 So it was, when the king’s command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women.

was taken … doesn’t appear to be an invitation that was open to refusal

Esther 2:9 Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance. Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women.

She was beautiful inside and out

Esther had a very nice way about her and she found favor chêsêd

this was also the same mercy and kindness that Ruth found

Esther 2:10 Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.

As we go through the verses we continue to see why something was done is not revealed. I think that if it would have been explained then perhaps we would focus on the wrong thing?

Instead what we should focus on is the unseen hand of God.

If she had said something about who she was then it is unlikely that the events that unfolded later on would have occurred in the way that they did. (specifically between Haman and Mordecai)

Esther 2:11 And every day Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women’s quarters, to learn of Esther’s welfare and what was happening to her.

He was not allowed to go in and apparently nothing could be seen from where they were allowed to go so like a doting father he paced back and forth

Esther 2:12 Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women.
Esther 2:13 Thus prepared, each young woman went to the king, and she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the women’s quarters to the king’s palace.
Esther 2:14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who kept the concubines. She would not go in to the king again unless the king delighted in her and called for her by name.

This was her only chance to make an impression on the king

Esther 2:15 Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king’s eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her.

She deferred to Hegai judgment

Esther 2:16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

This is where we get our next time frame

Third year of the reign to seventh year tenth month

Esther 2:17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

Just like that! Eshter goes from a life of being homeless, raised by her older cousin, to Queen of the world ruling empire of Persia.

How did SHE do that?

Esther 2:18 Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king.

So it seems that the King’s wrath has been quenched and he is back to having a good time like at the beginning of the book.

Esther 2:19 When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate.

By this time it appears that Mordecai is promoted to a key position and it looks like Esther had nothing to do with it.

Rather, it is God that has seen fit to raise up Mordecai and He has done it for a reason that will be revealed shortly.

Esther 2:20 Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.

It is still clear that no one knows that Esther is a Jewess OR that she is related to Mordecai.

But as we will see it is clear that Mordecai is not hiding the fact that he is a Jew.

Esther 2:21 In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.
Esther 2:22 So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name.
Esther 2:23 And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.

These two were not very discreet in their anger and plans AND NOW because Mordecai had been promoted he was in the position to become privy to this knowledge and ACT on it accordingly.

So we do not yet know where things are going in the story, but this is yet another step in the process of what God is working out.

it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king…. and the point here is that it stopped at that and nothing more was done about the fact that Mordecai had saved the life of the King

So what we have here and are beginning to see is that God who is not mentioned in the book of Esther at all, is this unseen hand who is working behind the scenes, orchestrating events in the lives of Esther, Mordecai and others.

A lot of this is not and cannot be seen in the first run through, but becomes glaringly obvious on the second time through.