IMPRESSIVE DISPLAYS OF SECULAR OPULENCE AND DOMINION EXPOSED AS IMPOTENT AND FUTILE AS GOD’S PROVIDENCE WORKS OUT HIS OWN KINGDOM AGENDA
Who really is in control on the world stage and in our own lives and destiny? This satirical treatment of the Persian Empire with its boastful presentation of riches and power borders on the ridiculous. A simple marital dispute on the public stage of a massive banquet erupts into a kingdom crisis that necessitates the deposing of the Queen — paving the way for the ascent to the throne of Esther. The Providence of God is clearly at work behind the scenes as the manipulations of the most powerful man in the world are ridiculed and exposed as impotent. God will protect His people and accomplish His own kingdom agenda.
We live as aliens and pilgrims and even exiles in a secular world where God is ignored and the enemy boasts of its power and wealth and success. But behind the scenes, despite the seemingly hopeless political climate or absence of adherence to God’s righteous standards, history moves forward according to God’s timetable to accomplish His overall sovereign purposes. We are called to remain loyal to God’s kingdom agenda; not to assimilate into pagan culture and become comfortable and invisible; and certainly not to despair of our ultimate triumph. God’s Providence paints a beautiful picture that will ultimately be unveiled and appreciated.
(:1-4) PROLOGUE – HISTORICAL SETTING SHOWCASING THE GLORIOUS KINGDOM OF XERXES
A. (:1-2) Majestic Reign of King Xerxes from the Capital of Susa
1. (:1) Reigning Sovereign of Vast Kingdom = Ahasuerus
“Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus,
the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces,”
Joyce Baldwin: Ahasuerus represents the Hebrew transliteration of the Persian name Khshayarsha, better known to us in the Greek form Xerxes.
Ray Stedman: Ahasuerus is not his name, it is his title, like the word “Czar” or “Shah” or “Pharaoh.” There are several men identified in Scripture as Ahasuerus, not all the same man, because this is a common title. It means “The Venerable Father” and was an apt title for the king.
Wiersbe: His father was Darius I, and his grandfather was Cyrus the Great; so he came from an illustrious family. Ahasuerus ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C. The empire was divided into twenty “satrapies,” which in turn were subdivided into “provinces”; and the king was in absolute control.
2. (:2) Royal Seat at Susa
“in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne
which was in Susa the capital,”
MacArthur: Susa, the winter residence, was one of 4 capital cities; the other 3 included Babylon, Ecbatana (Ezr 6:2), and Persepolis. The citadel refers to the fortified palace complex built above the city for protection.
Davis: Susa itself was considered to be a garden paradise, a capital truly fit for a king. It abounded in fruits and flowers and was particularly famous for a specific kind of lily from which the city received its name. This fortified city was surrounded by streams and mountains that added to its beauty and attraction as a royal citadel during the cooler months of the year (Susa was intolerably hot during the summer). Furthermore, the term bîyrā(h) (often translated “capital”) is best understood to mean “acropolis,” which in the Persian culture indicated an elevated palace complex within a city that was designed both to suggest the majestic grandeur of the king and to provide for his protection.
Mattoon: He had great power and control. There was one thing, however, he could not control and that was himself. As we will see, he was proud, greedy, impulsive, prone to temper tantrums, easily flattered and swayed. Traditionally he was considered a weak king controlled by eunuchs. He was noted for his insane attack on European Greece… Persian kings were known to flaunt their wealth as Xerxes does here. Kings would even wear jewels in their beards. Jewels were a sign of rank among Persian men.
David Thompson: Applications:
1) Key places of secular power still feature the sovereign presence and power of God. 2) No matter how powerful or protected one may be in a particular location, he is not covered and concealed from God.
3) No matter how powerful or glamorous one may temporarily be, without a proper focus on God, it will eventually wind up in ruins.
B. (:3-4) Magnificent Display of Kingdom Glory at Extended VIP Banquet
1. (:3a) Impressive Milestone for the Banquet
“in the third year of his reign,”
F. B. Huey Jr.: when Xerxes was established on his throne after quelling uprisings in Egypt and Babylon during the early years of his reign.
Wiersbe: What was the purpose behind the banquet for the nobles and officials of the empire? Scripture doesn’t tell us, but secular history does. The Greek historian Herodotus (485-425 BC.) may refer to these banquets in his History, where he states that Ahasuerus was conferring with his leaders about a possible invasion of Greece. Ahasuerus’ father, Darius I, had invaded Greece and been shamefully defeated at Marathon in 490. While preparing to return to Greece and get revenge, Darius had died (486 B.C.); and now his son felt compelled to avenge his father and expand his empire at the same time. Herodotus claims that Ahasuerus planned to invade all of Europe and “reduce the whole earth into one empire.”
Deffinbaugh: Ahasuerus is the great king of the Persians, the one of whom Daniel had prophesied:
2 “And now I will tell you the truth. Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece” (Daniel 11:2).
No longer is this kingdom of peoples known as the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5:28; 6:8, 12, 15); now it is the kingdom of Persia and Media (Esther 1:3, 14, 18-19), because Persia has now become the dominant nation.
2. (:3b) Impressive Guest List = Key Military and Political Leaders
“he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of his provinces being in his presence.”
3. (:4a) Impressive Display of Kingdom Riches and Success
“And he displayed the riches of his royal glory
and the splendor of his great majesty”
Wiersbe: It was important that Ahasuerus impress his nobles and military leaders with his wealth and power. When they saw the marble pillars, the gorgeous drapes hung from silver rings, the gold and silver couches on beautiful marble mosaic pavements, and the golden table service, what else could they do but submit to the king?
4. (:4b) Impressive Extended Duration of the Banquet
“for many days, 180 days.”
Wiersbe: The king probably didn’t assemble all his provincial leaders at one time; that would have kept them away from their duties for six months and weakened the empire. It’s more likely that, over a period of six months, Ahasuerus brought the officers to Shushan on a rotating schedule. Then, having consulted with them, the king would bring them all together for the seven-day feast so they could confer collectively.
I. (:5-9) FANCY PARTY TIME HOSTED SEPARATELY BY THE PERSIAN KING AND QUEEN –
SECULAR WORLD POWERS BOAST OF THEIR OPULENCE AND DOMINION
A. (:5) Imperial Banquet
1. Lengthy Duration to Eat and Drink to Excess
“And when these days were completed,
the king gave a banquet lasting seven days”
At the end of the 180 day celebration the king hosted a special 7 day banquet. Here the guest list was expanded to include all kingdom members in the capital city.
2. Unlimited Guest List Crossing All Social Strata
“for all the people who were present in Susa the capital,
from the greatest to the least,”
3. Beautiful Royal Setting
“in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.”
B. (:6) Invaluable Adornments
1. Ostentatious Drapes
“There were hangings of fine white and violet linen
held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns,”
2. Opulent Couches on Gilded Pavements
“and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement
of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones.”
Frederic Bush: It is, however, in the highly circumstantial noun clauses (vv. 6–8) appended to the giving of the second banquet (v 5b) that the depiction of the opulence and extravagance of the royal court are primarily portrayed. The terse, exclamatory sentence-equivalents of v. 6, poetic in character, exquisitely express the wonder and amazement the narrator wishes us to feel at such magnificence and luxury (see Fox, 16–17). Fox nicely captures the feeling portrayed: “The exclamatory listing creates a mass of images that overwhelm the sensory imagination and suggest both a sybaritic delight in opulence and an awareness of its excess.” Vv. 7, 8 underscore the extravagance of the serving vessels, the copiousness of the royal wine, and the freedom of the guests to drink as much as they pleased.
C. (:7-8) Indulgent Drinking
1. (:7a) Presentation in Unique Golden Vessels
“Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds,”
F. B. Huey Jr.: The Targum says they were the vessels taken from the temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C.
2. (:7b) Plentiful Royal Wine
“and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king’s bounty.”
Not just common red wine; but the best quality wine which was ordinarily reserved for the king and his company
3. (:8) Personal Preference Regarding How Much to Drink
“And the drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person.”
John Whitcomb: Usually the king pledged his guests to drink a certain amount, but now they could drink as much or as little as they desired.
D. (:9) Independent Banquet for the Women Hosted by Queen Vashti
“Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace
which belonged to King Ahasuerus.”
Frederic Bush: Whatever may actually have been the case for a banquet for women in ancient Persia, the narrator clearly intends to present a sober and striking contrast between the ostentation and excesses of the banquets of the king and his male subjects and the modest celebration of Vashti and her female companions.
II. (:10-20) FAMILY TENSION BLOWS UP INTO KINGDOM CRISIS AND THE REMOVAL OF THE PERSIAN QUEEN —
SECULAR WORLD POWERS SATIRICALLY EXPOSED AS IMPOTENT
A. (:10-11) The King’s Shameful Command
1. (:10a) Drunken Loss of Self Control — Judgment Clouded by Inebriation
“On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine,”
The powerful king cannot even control himself; overcome with wine
Bruce Hurt: In a word the king was “smashed.” He was under the control of wine, which prompted his request for Queen Vashti’s appearance.
2. (:10b-11) Degrading Exhibition of Queen Vashti
a. (:10b-11a) Egotistical Demand
“he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown”
John Martin: It was a well-known practice then for young men who served the king to be castrated so they would have no illusions of starting their own dynasties.
b. (:11b) Egotistical Motivation
“in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes,
for she was beautiful.”
F. B. Huey Jr.: Some Jewish sources interpreted the order to mean that she was to appear nude, except for her crown.
At the very least this was a degrading demand smacking of exhibitionism in the context of a drunken orgy
B. (:12a) The Queen’s Stunning Refusal
“But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command
delivered by the eunuchs.”
The powerful king cannot control the actions of his own wife
F. B. Huey Jr.: She probably did not choose to degrade herself before the king’s drunken guests.
People have suggested various reasons for her refusal:
– It was a lewd display of exhibitionism (probably involving nudity)
– She was pregnant at the time
– She did not want to appear in an environment of drunken men
J. Sidlow Baxter: The king’s order that Vashti (Vashti means ‘beautiful woman’) should come and immodestly display herself before a vast company of half-intoxicated revelers was not only a gross breach of Persian etiquette, but a cruel outrage which would have disgraced for life the one whom, above all other, the king should have protected. Vashti’s refusal was courageous and fully justified: though we can well understand that such a public rebuff to one who was an absolute monarch, and vainglorious in the extreme, must have been as humiliating and exasperating as it was richly deserved.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown: The refusal of Vashti to obey an order which required her to make an indecent exposure of herself before a company of drunken revelers was becoming both the modesty of her sex and her rank as queen; for, according to Persian customs, the queen, even more than the wives of other men, was secluded from the public gaze: and had not the king’s blood been heated with wine, or his reason overpowered by force of offended pride, he would have perceived that his own honour as well as hers was consulted by her dignified conduct.
C. (:12b) The King’s Burning Anger
“Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.”
The powerful king cannot control his own emotions
Deffinbaugh: Imagine how humiliating this would have been for Ahasuerus. His purpose in all of the festive events of the past six months was to impress his guests with his great wealth and power. He wanted faithful supporters when he began to wage war with Greece. And now, during the closing ceremonies of this six-month extravaganza, the king’s own wife snubs him, refusing to honor or obey him and thereby embarrassing him before all of his guests.
D. (:13-15) The King’s Urgent Inquiry – What is to be Done to Queen Vashti?
1. (:13-14) Appeal to the Wise Men for a Just Resolution
“Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times– for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice, 14 and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom—“
The powerful king cannot control his own kingdom judicial decisions
Frederic Bush: It is significant that both the opening narrative summary and the dialogue are expanded by long and detailed identifications, both by name and function, of the secondary personages who carry out the king’s wishes. In a long and involved parenthetical comment at the beginning of the dialogue, the narrator gives
(1) the names of the “sages who understood the times,”
(2) their identity as “those who had immediate access to the king and occupied the highest posts in the realm,” and
(3) the fact that in such a manner the king would customarily consult with “all those who knew law and justice.”
Such detailed information about these secondary characters adds markedly to the pomposity and pretentiousness of the scene, an effect clearly contributing to the farcical nature of the whole.
2. (:15) Affront of Queen Vashti that Requires Punishment
“According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?”
Frederic Bush: To hide his inadequacy to handle this situation, the king invokes standard court procedure (v 13b). He appeals to his closest and most important counselors—and thereby raises a domestic squabble to the level of a matter of state. These worthies, described in pretentious detail (v 14), demonstrate that they are not “sages” who “understand the times” (v 13a). Rather, they lose all their common sense and decorum in the hysterical assumption that Vashti’s disobedience will spark not only conjugal disrespect in general (v 17) but also rebellion in their own households (v 18; Clines, The Esther Scroll, 32)! Their solution is ironic. They decree for Vashti what she has already decided: she “shall not come again into the presence of King Ahasuerus” (v 19). Their decision to demand honor from their wives by an empire-wide edict would have actually achieved, of course, the dissemination of the very rumors about Vashti’s actions and the king’s embarrassment that they feared and sought to quash.
E. (:16-18) The Kingdom Crisis – Potential Threat to Male Household Authority
1. (:16) Exaggerating the Crisis – Counsel of Memucan
“And in the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, ‘Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes, and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.’”
2. (:17-18) Extrapolating the Impact of Queen Vashti’s Refusal
“For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.’ 18 And this day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.”
Bruce Hurt: Contempt (059) (bazah) is a primary root which means to accord little worth, to despise, to disdain, to hold in contempt. To despise means to look down on one with contempt or aversion; regard as negligible, worthless, or distasteful and may suggest an emotional response ranging from strong dislike to loathing. Contempt describes the state of mind of one who despises and shows lack of respect or reverence for something or someone and can include a willful disobedience to or open disrespect.
Deffinbaugh: We must pause to point out that the king and his advisors did not deal with the matter biblically. They have approached this situation from the standpoint of their eastern, chauvinistic culture, not from the principles of the Word of God. No doubt they saw women as inferior to men and thus to be used by men for their pleasure. As a result, the advice of the king’s counselors was directed at maintaining the status quo, and was not in obedience to divine commands.
F. (:19-20) The Proposed Resolution = Replace Queen Vashti
1. (:19a) Irrevocable Edict
“If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him
and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media
so that it cannot be repealed,”
2. (:19b) Irreconcilable Edict
“that Vashti should come no more into the presence of King Ahasuerus,”
“and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she.”
Wiersbe: The king didn’t immediately replace Vashti. Instead, he went off to invade Greece, where he met with humiliating defeat; and when he returned home, he sought solace in satisfying his sensual appetite by searching for a new queen and filling his harem with candidates. The women in his empire were not only to be subservient to the men, but they were also to be “sex objects” to give them pleasure. The more you know about Ahasuerus and his philosophy of life, the more you detest him.
3. (:20) Impactful Edict Kingdom-wide
“And when the king’s edict which he shall make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small.”
Constable: There is a large emphasis on “honor” (Heb. yekar) in this book (v. 20; et al.). Ahasuerus displayed it (v. 4), Haman wanted it, and Mordecai got it. It was a primary motive for much of the action that took place in this story.
(:21-22) EPILOGUE – REINFORCING MALE HOUSEHOLD AUTHORITY –
MOCKING THE IMPOTENCY OF THE SECULAR SOVEREIGN
A. (:21) Commitment to Execute Memucan’s Proposal
“And this word pleased the king and the princes,
and the king did as Memucan proposed.”
B. (:22) Communication of the King’s Edict
1. Scope of the Communication – Kingdom-wide
“So he sent letters to all the king’s provinces,
to each province according to its script
and to every people according to their language,”
MacArthur: The efficient Persian communication network (a rapid relay by horses) played an important role in speedily publishing kingdom edicts (cf. 3:12-14; 8:9, 10, 14; 9:20, 30).
F. B. Huey Jr.: Xerxes ordered dispatches sent to every part of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, as many languages were spoken in the Persian Empire. He wanted to be sure that all his subjects who spoke different languages and used different written scripts understood the decree, even though Aramaic was commonly understood and used for state business in all parts of the empire from Egypt to India.
2. Summary of the Communication – Husband Rules the Roost
“that every man should be the master in his own house
and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.”
Karen Jobes: The author of Esther is revealing the workings of worldly power and mocking its ultimate inability to determine the destiny of God’s people.