Saturday, October 19, 2013

CXCII - The Book of Esther

Author:  Unknown - Many believe it to be Ezra or Mordecai (I lean toward Mordecai)
Date:  About 465 BC, after Zerubbabel's return to Jerusalem but prior to Ezra's return

As mentioned before, this book breaks the chronological order of the Bible.  This goes back in time about seventy years before the time at the end of the book of Nehemiah.

I must mention a few things about this book of Esther before we proceed.  A student of the Bible should be aware of these things.  It has been greatly disputed that this book should even be included in the Holy Bible.  Although it is of course considered a true story, many ancient scholars considered it nothing more than a that:  A story.  They had legitimate concerns.  God is not mentioned in the entire book.  The king of Persia is mentioned over a hundred times.  The book of Esther is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.  I understand these concerns, but it is not my place to question anything about such matters.  The Bible as it currently stands, which includes the book of Ester, has passed the test of time.  I shall give it the respect I give all of the books of this magnificent work of God we call the Holy Bible.  Besides, this story is interesting to read.  Also, it tells of good triumphing over evil, and how God continued to watch over His people, even when they were in a foreign country far from the Promised Land.  {It's a slippery slope to place anything like this into question.  I've observed over the years that those who allow doubt to enter their minds concerning anything in the Bible seldom leave it at one particular item.  It always seems to spread to other things in the Bible.  As this happens, people are inclined to "pick and chose" parts they embrace according to their own understanding (or desires).  I would caution against giving these things a foothold.  I mention only them because I promised you I would leave nothing out.}

Chapter 1  -  Queen Vashti Punished

I like the way this book begins:  Verse 1a says, "This is what happened during the time of Xerxes".  The timing was the third year of King Xerxes's reign.  The Persian Empire was well established as the "world power', ruling over 125 provinces (or territories).  Xerxes decided to give an elaborate banquet for his military leaders, nobles, and officers of his court.  This banquet (party) would last 180 days (WOW).  Verse 4 indicates to me the purpose of this, which was to display (show off) his wealth, power, and majesty.  Upon the completion of the 180 days, he then throws another party that lasted 7 days.  This would have been for a smaller group and was held in his royal garden.  Verses 6-8 describe the extravagance of this party.  Verse 9 mentions Queen Vashti for the fist time, telling that she also gave a banquet for the women.  (I guess there were no women invited to the king's private banquet.)

Verses 10-22 The Queen's Disobedience

On the seventh day of the king's party, he had a lot of wine to drink and was in "high spirits".  He calls for his eunuchs to bring Queen Vashti out to his party so he could "show her off", as she was very beautiful.  {It mentions that he specified her to wear her royal crown (vs 11).  There are some scholars who suggest that he wanted her to wear ONLY her crown.  I am inclined to believe this because of her immediate refusal to do what otherwise seemed to be a reasonable request from her husband the king.}  She refused.  This made Xerxes extremely angry.  {Kings were not accustomed to even the smallest hint of disobedience.  The power of the Persian kings was immeasurable.  Such power is intoxicating.  Very few people can handle such power without abusing it.}  To add to the king's displeasure, this disobedience was witnessed by the men who were most important to the king.  Also, this story of disobedience would quickly spread throughout the empire.  This would have caused embarrassment to the the king and to the throne of Persia.  The king knew that something must be done.  So he turned to wise council for guidance as to what he could do (damage control).  His councilors' assessment of the results of what the queen did was not favorable.  They concluded that this would cause all of the women in the empire to rebel against their husbands, which could cause a collapse in the "proper order" of the society.  They went on to suggest a plan of action.  They advised the king to issue a royal decree that would punish the queen for her actions.  The queen would no longer be
allowed in the presence of the king, and she would be stripped of all authority and benefits attached to the position of queen.  In fact she would be replaced as soon as it could be arranged.  They were careful also that this decree was to cover the entirety of the empire, and even making certain that it was issued in every language so as to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding.

Chapter 2  -  Esther

As time passed, it seems that the king missed having a queen, and his countenance showed he was troubled by it.  His councilors once again gathered to work on this problem.  They suggested that all of the provinces would place forth their virgins from which a queen could be selected.  Hegai, one of the higher ranking eunuchs, would be placed in charge of the whole selection process.  This would be quite an undertaking, involving hundreds, if not thousands of women.

In verse five the subject shifts, and Mordecai is mentioned for the first time.  Mordecai was among the Israelites brought from Babylon to Persia after Cyrus defeated the Babylonian empire.  It mentions in verse 7 that Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah whose parents had died.  Mordecai adopted here as his own child.  Hadassah was also known by the name of "Esther".  The Scripture says Esther "had a lovely figure and was beautiful".  Esther, being a beautiful virgin was taken into the presence of Hegai, who immediately chose her to be among those presented to the king.  For those chosen as "finalists", much was done in preparation.  They were given seven attendants to assist them and for a whole year they were given beauty treatments and special food (vs 12).  Per Mordecai's instructions, Esther was not to reveal her family History as he was certain that a Jewess would never have been selected, as they were all slaves rather than free citizens of the empire.  After the year of beauty treatments, she was taken into the king's harem.  (vs 14b) She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.  But the king was attracted to Esther more than any of the other women.  He made her queen.  So please with her was the king that he threw a banquet to celebrate.  {It mentions that this took place in the seventh year of king Xerxes, which would be four years after queen Vashti had been deposed.}

Verses 19-23  -  Mordecai Spoils Conspiracy

In the remaining verses of this chapter 2, the subject shifts back to Mordecai.  He raised Esther from her early childhood.  He considered himself to be her father.  And, like fathers do, he kept close track of her.  This passage has him right outside the palace during this banquet, apparently hoping to catch a glimpse of Esther and her happiness.  {Fathers do that.  I've always gotten indescribable joy out of seeing my daughter and my son being happy.  That now includes my precious grandchildren.}  During this time when Mordecai was "hanging around" right outside the king's gate, he overheard two of the king's officers plotting to kill the king.  Mordecai somehow got this information to Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, being careful to make sure the king knew it was Mordecai who deserved all the credit.  An investigation revealed that what
Mordecai had reported was true.  The conspirators were put to death.  {It does not indicated that Mordecai was rewarded for his actions that might have actually saved the king's life, but God will see to it that Mordecai is justly rewarded later.}

Next post  -  The Evil Haman Enters the Scene

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