Devotional # 78. 3/17/14. Introduction & Esther 1.
Introduction. The last few weeks we have gone through several different “random” books and chapters. I feel that it would be good to settle down in a book for a while. I love the story of Esther and it is very powerful so we’ll go ahead and study it.
Esther Introduction. The actual story of Esther ends around 473 B.C. and could have been written as early as “mid-fifth century B.C. The latest reasonable date would be prior to 331 B.C. when Greece conquered Persia” (Source 1, p. 681). So Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi report later historical events than Esther but it is interesting that this story is near the end of the OT timeline of God speaking to people (ibid). After these books there was the 400 years of silence prior to the birth of John the Baptist being heralded. MacArthur says Ezra, Nehemiah and Mordecai have been plausibly suggested as writers of the book. Either way the author had great knowledge of both Hebrew and Persian history and customs and a “strong sense of Jewish nationalism” (Source 1,p. 681). McGee says the writer could have been Mordecai and to see Esther 9:29 (Source 2, p. 169).
“Hadassah” (see Esther 2:7) is Esther’s name in Hebrew meaning “myrtle” and came from the Persian word for “star” or “possibly from the name of Babylonian love goddess, Ishtar” (Source 1 , p. 681).
Interestingly God is not named anywhere in Esther whereas the ‘king of Persia” is mentioned 175+ times. MacArthur says this is “more of a problem at the human level than the divine, because Esther is the classic illustration of God’s providence as He, the unseen power, controls everything for His purpose” (Source 1, p. 682). I think this should resonate with us because we don’t have audible voices from heaven but by faith we hear God speak to us through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur explains, “Whether He is named is not the issue. He is clearly the main character in the drama” (Source 1, p. 682).
Notice that God was setting up Esther as queen long before it came time for Haman’s plot which shows us “the foresight and vast reaches of Providence” (Source 3, p. 505). Tied to this we see how “God serves his own purposes even by the sins and follies of men” with Xerxes anger and divorce of his wife (Source 3, p. 505).
vv. 1-8. We are introduced to King Ahasuerus (pronounced “Ack-ash-vay-roe-sh). Most scholars believe this was Xerxes and McGee gives proof. He says the book titled The Sculptures and Inscriptions of Darius the Great on the Rock of Behistin in Persia published in 1907 by the British museum uses “the ‘Cyrus Cylinders’ translation that Ahasuerus and Esther were the parents of the Cyrus of Isaiah 44:28; 45:1” (Source 2, p. 177). This was a different Ahasuerus from Daniel 9:1 (Source 1, p. 684).
So it seems that the King is pleased with his riches and kingdom so he throws a 6 month party. In fact verses 5-8 show the king flexing his royal muscle. “Judging from secular history, the purpose of Xerxes in giving this banquet was to win support for his forthcoming military campaign. He wanted everyone to know He could afford a war. He used a feast to convince his princes and rulers” (Source 2, p. 179). It is probable that the party was being set up and that there were different celebratory things going on but the focus was the seven days mentioned in verse 5.
vv. 9-15. On the last day of the feast the King asks Queen Vashti to present herself to him and his court. “Greek literature records [Queen Vashti’s] name as Amestris. She gave birth (ca. 483 B.C.) to Ahasuerus’ third son, Artaxerxes, who later succeeded his father Ahasuerus on the throne (Ezra 7:1)” (Source 1, p. 684). The connotation is that she was supposed to wear her crown and nothing else. So the queen, not wanting to go before a drunk king and his buddies declines. He is so surprised and angered that he has to ask his advisors what to do.
vv. 16-18. Memucan jumps to worst case scenario that all the women in the kingdom will become empowered to disregard what their husbands so and there will be anarchy. A good point is that if King Ahasuerus was demonstrating that he was ready to command generals in war but he couldn’t even “order” his wife around then maybe his leadership should be questioned.
vv. 19-22. The most important thing here is the mention of the “laws of the Persians and Medes.” This law was unchangeable, as it says “will not be altered.” This will play an important role in the rest of the book. See Dan. 6:8, 12, 15 for more on the irrevocability of Persian law. All wives will honor their husbands. Obviously this was a new law Persian law hoping to use legal consequences to force respect. We know that forcing someone to do something begrudgingly never works but a change of heart will supply conformance. So when Christians wives are told to honor their husbands then the husband is also to honor the wife BUT as what? As Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Only Jesus as our model will provide the ability to do this.
Conclusion. Although Esther hasn’t even been mentioned yet this chapter gives us a lot of information. We see that the world wants to force submission by legal means because they don’t have a foundation in love. But the Christian knows true love, because they have experienced Christ’s love. Esther is a beautiful story of love: God’s love for His people, Esther’s love for her people and God’s absolute justice. I look forward to going through the remaining nine chapter with you!
Source 1: John MacArthur, John MacArthur Study Bible.
Source 2: J. Vernon McGee, Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther, 1977.
Source 3: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Commentary, OT, p. 1093.