There is no doubt but that the book of Esther sets forth most dramatically and with marvelous detail the account of God’s preserving His people in a critical hour of need.
To the believing student of the Bible, the historical accuracy of the book of Esther is beyond dispute. It is an inspired record of events that actually happened. We accept this fact without the need for proof. Yet if one desires to confirm the historical accuracy of the book, this can be done. Ahasuerus, called Xerxes in the history books, was a great Persian king. According to 1:3 it was in the third year of his reign that Vashti his queen refused to entertain the princes during their drunken feast and was subsequently divorced. In 2:1 mention is made of the king’s wrath being appeased so that he sought out a new queen. According to historical records it was from the third year to the seventh year of Xerxes’ reign that he was involved in war with Greece. Upon his successful conquest, he returned home and married Esther. She was his queen from the seventh year of his reign until the twelfth. If one examines the references to the city of Shushan, its gates, buildings and streets, all this was rediscovered in unearthing this ancient city. The customs referred to conform to those mentioned in the writing of Herodtus: e.g., the extending of the king’s scepter as a sign of acceptance, and death to all he refuses, 4:11. Consider in addition the fact the author knew the names of the seven chamberlains, 1:10, seven Persian princes, 1:14, relatives of Haman, 5:10, 9:7-10. All this indicates that we must accept the book as a record of historical events that are recorded for us with divine accuracy.
We should take a moment to consider at what point in history these events actually took place. Xerxes became king in 485 B.C. Prior to this, in 536 B.C., Cyrus had decreed that the captives could return to Jerusalem. The temple was rebuilt about 516 B.C. So when Esther became queen in 478 B.C. the people of God had been in the land of Canaan for some 60 years. After her reign, Ezra the Scribe had yet to return to Canaan and read the law, and Nehemiah to build the walls (about 30 years later).
AUTHOR AND DATE
There is no way to determine who wrote this book. We cannot draw any conclusions from the book itself. The only suggestion that commentators give is Mordecai, a conclusion drawn from 9:20,22 where we read that he sent letters to all the Jews to celebrate the Feast of Purim. Yet, 10:3 refers to Mordecai as being dead, the events recorded as being a thing of the past. Accepting the doctrine of inspiration, we know God could use anyone for this task and He determined that it should be included in the canon of the Scripture.
As far as the date of its composition is concerned, it is suggested that it may have been written somewhere around 400 B.C. In 10:2 the author reflects upon the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. These must have been in existence then. They were destroyed by Alexander the Great in 322 B.C. Xerxes must have been dead when the book was written, he was assassinated in 465 B.C. Sometime over this 143 year period the book was written.
Strange as it may seem, the message of this book must be drawn out of it by considering it in the light of the entire Bible. We refer to the fact that the book itself and its content do not celebrate God’s providence. As you know, the name of God is not even mentioned in it and it is evident that the main characters, certainly Ahasuerus and Haman, but also Esther and Mordecai as well, are not even regenerated children of God. As a result they do not express God’s greatness. Yet, God overrules all this and by the Holy Spirit has seen fit to include it in the canon of the Bible as a demonstration of His care for His people. The central event is the decree of Ahasuerus to destroy all the Jews, 3:13. This meant that the returned captives as well as all Jews everywhere would be executed. The seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) was in danger by the seed of the serpent. In these events Satan is doing all he can to kill off the line of David so that ultimately The Promised Seed, Jesus Christ, would not be born. Keeping this in mind, we can understand how God used Esther and Mordecai to intervene on behalf of the covenant seed. God’s providence reaches into the palace of the mighty Xerxes so that he and his household must also serve the cause of Christ. Many passages of Scripture speak of this and we must consider the book of Esther in their light. “The Lord has made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil,” Prov. 16:4. “To the intent that the king may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will and setteth up over it the basest of men,” Daniel 4:17. Finally, “The powers that be are ordained of God,” Rom. 13:1. From this history of Esther, we are reminded that the same thing holds true today as well, all government and people in high positions of influence throughout the world ultimately serve the well-being of God’s people and the coming of Jesus Christ even though they do not personally recognize this. The sovereignty of God is our comfort.
FEAST OF AHASUERUS (1:l-22)
This is the first of the great feasts mentioned in the book, the others being the Feast of Esther and the Feast of Purim. For 180 days Ahasuerus showed his princes of different ranks the great glory of his kingdom, 1:4. This was considerable both as to expanse, from India unto Ethiopia, and in worth, as can be seen by the description of the palace and its contents, 1:1,6-7. Other sources of history add that this same period of time gave the king the opportunity to show to his princes the military hardware he had accumulated in preparation for his foray into Greece which was about to begin. At the end of this period, the king hosted a weeklong feast for all his princes. Two things are mentioned in particular to show the lavished splendor of this event, the beautiful court setting, including the hanging of royal color, the fancy couches upon which the men reclined, 1:5-6. The second element is the drinking details: the golden goblets , each designed individually, and the quality and quantity of the wine. The Persians prided themselves in their vintage wine, 1:7-8. Each was not constrained (by pledging or toasting) but could drink as much as he pleased, more than likely referring to more, not less, than customary.
Vashti (which means beautiful woman) hosted a similar feast for the women in the palace itself, 1:9. This feast was interrupted during the last day by the presence of the seven chamberlains who communicated to her the order of the king that Vashti leave the women and present herself before the feast of the men, 1:10-11. The reason given was, “to show her beauty, for she was fair to look on,” 1:11. This was an extraordinary request, not only, but hazardous to Vashti for she knew very well the men were drunk with wine. Her sense of pride caused her to take drastic action; she refused the king in the presence of his princes, 1:12.
The king responded in rage. We can well imagine how his pride was hurt. Like Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 4:30) boasting of the great Babylon he had built, so Ahasuerus has been showing off Persia to his subordinates. Now his wife not only denies him the pleasure of showing off his prized possession, but more importantly, defies his authority. Even the ungodly know that if a man cannot rule his house well, he cannot be expected to rule others. In utter frustration, he seeks the counsel of the seven princes closest to him. These men are “wise men which knew the times,” 1:13, an obvious reference to the astrologers and magi as they influenced the heathen king in making decisions. Memucan served as their spokesman and their counsel was that the king should deal decisively with Vashti since her refusal was an act of rebellion before the nobles of the land. The queen had set an evil example and if allowed to go undisciplined would encourage all the wives to despise their husbands and act out of contempt and, wrath, 1:16-18. The solution is for Ahasuerus to divorce his wife because of this refusal, to give her estate to someone else, and to inform all the people of this action by royal decree. Only in this way would the evil be counteracted and the king once again restored to his position of authority in high regard, and order preserved throughout the land, 1:20.
The advice pleased the king and all the princes that were gathered at the feast. Action was taken immediately and letters dispatched unto all lands, written in their own language. The impact was that every man should rule his own house. It is interesting, as an aside here, to notice that from a formal point of view the ungodly know the value of the works of the law, see Romans 2:14-15. God has decreed from the beginning that the husband rule his household. The woman must obey her husband. Yet, the wicked take this divine order and thoroughly corrupt it. Here, Ahasuerus wanted his wife to corrupt herself, or at least allow the possibility. She disobeyed for her own reasons and surely not in obedience to God. The result is that Ahasuerus shows himself an evil tyrant and Vashti a stubborn victim. The solution is divorce, which flies in the face of God’s created and redeemed order. There is no common grace which produces order in this society, even the order of this society (wives, obey your husbands) is thoroughly corrupted by vain men. Depravity always works through.
FEAST OF ESTHER (2:1-7:10)
Events now lead up to another feast. After King Ahasuerus returns from his conquest in Greece he begins to think of a wife once again. How shall he go about securing a new one? The counselors are quick to supply the answer, let the fairest of virgins be brought to the palace and placed under the management of Hege, the king’s chamberlain, who will treat them with oil of myrrh for six months and another six months with sweet odors and oils, 2:12. After this year of pampering, the King may choose whomsoever he will and spend the night with her and if she delight him, he may call her back and thus determine who will be his wife. The rest will be his concubines, 2:14.
Such advice pleases this heathen king and he immediately sends forth the request of the princes that they recommend to him eligible virgins and to send them to Shushan, 2:3-4. Into this sordid picture appears Esther. Yes, the one whom God will use to preserve His people.
(to be continued)