The book of Esther begins with Queen Vashti refusing to obey an order from her husband, King Xerxes (Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name), who was banished from ever appearing before the king again. The search begins, to look for a new queen. The story of Esther fits between chapters 6 and 7 of Ezra, between the first return led by Zerubbabel and the second return led by Ezra. It provides the only biblical portrait of the vast majority of Jews who choose to remain in Persia rather than return to Palestine.
The king sends out a decree to gather all the beautiful women in the empire and bring them into the royal harem. Esther, a young Jewish woman was one of those chosen to be in the kings harem.
Note: Don’t forget to read the chapter in its entirety first, then the commentary I have written.
Verses 1, 2 – This story takes place in Shushan, under Babylonian control, but captured by the Persians under Cyrus the Great, who made it the seat of government. Shushan is mentioned in Nehemiah and once in Daniel. It was also the winter residence of the kings of Persia. Esther’s story begins 103 years after Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews into captivity, 54 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem, and 25 years before Ezra led the second group. The Jewish exiles had great freedom in Persia, and many remained because they had been there long enough to establish themselves there.
Verse 4 – This celebration lasted six months. The real purpose of this great celebration was for the king to show that he had sufficient resources to engage in war against Greece. Waging war was not only for survival but it was a means of acquiring more wealth, territory, and power.
Verses 5-7 – Persia was a world power and the king was one of the wealthiest people in the world. Persian kings loved to flaunt their wealth. Some would wear precious gems in their beards and the soldiers would wear gold jewelry into battle.
Verse 9 – The third feast was given by Queen Vashti and it was only for women. Neither Persian nor Greek records mentions a queen named Vashti but identify Amestris as queen during Xerxes’ reign. Old Testament scholars suggest that Vashti may not be a proper name but a title.
Verses 10, 11 – A castrated official was called a eunuch. They were castrated to prevent them from having children and rebelling and establishing their own dynasty. The king made a decision based on feelings after he had been drinking wine. Impulsive decisions leads to severe complications, especially when alcohol is involved.
Verse 12 – Queen Vashti refused to be paraded before the kings all male party. King Xerxes had invited important officials from all over to see his wealth, power, and authority. If it was perceived that he had no authority over his own wife, his military credibility would be damaged. In addition, he was accustom to getting what he wanted.
Verse 15 – Middle Eastern men often did not have close personal relationships with their wives. We can see that here because he had a harem; he showed no respect toward Vashti; and when Esther became queen, she didn’t see him for long periods of time.
Verses 16-21 – These advisers were obviously drunk if they thought a decree would cause all wives to respect their husbands. Forced obedience doesn’t substitute for the love and respect wives and husbands should have for each other. A Persian king was thought to be a god by many so when he issued a command, it stood forever. It became law but a new law could be made by a new king and neutralize the effects of the old law.