Real Life

Esther 1:1-9
1Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in Susa, the citadel, 3in the third year of his reign he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, 4while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. 5And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. 6There were white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious stones. 7Drinks were served in golden vessels, vessels of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. 8And drinking was according to this edict: “There is no compulsion.” For the king had given orders to all the staff of his palace to do as each man desired. 9Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the palace that belonged to King Ahasuerus.

Once again, I’m drawn into the incredible stories of God’s people in the Old Testament. There are two books named for women in all of Scripture, Ruth and Esther. While the account of Ruth is a beautiful and poignant love story, Esther has a more historical feel, recounting a time of great danger for the Jews. This book is unique in the cannon as it never mentions the name of God and yet His presence is felt throughout these events. In order to get a clear picture of the people who are principle in this history, included here is a lengthy excerpt from commentary that will provide us with the background information that will help make some of these characters live for us.

     We do not know who wrote the book of Esther. Mordecai, one of the main characters in the book, has been suggested as the author, but Esther 10:2, 3 seems to indicate that someone else was the author. Since the book refers to records kept in the Persian court, it may have been written by Ezra, Nehemiah, or some other Jew employed by the Persian court.
     The book is deliberately written in a secular style to reflect the point of view of a person living outside of the Holy Land in an unholy heathen kingdom. This secular style of the book may account for the near absence of religious elements from the work. It may also be that Mordecai and Esther were not particularly religious in their daily lives. Unlike Daniel and his friends, Esther may have hidden her faith. God is certainly not limited to using models of personal piety to accomplish his purposes. It is possible that the lack of piety in the book is an accurate reflection of the lifestyle of Esther, who had conformed to the Persian way of life.
     The lack of personal piety of Esther and Mordecai actually strengthens the value of the book of Esther as a special demonstration of the providence of God. Ezra and Nehemiah were very conscious of being used as the Lord’s instruments for the welfare of his people. Esther may have been much less conscious of her role in God’s plan. God’s will was accomplished just as surely in both cases.
     This section skillfully sets the scene for the story of Esther. The writer gives us a colorful picture of the fabulous wealth and power of Esther’s future husband, Xerxes, as well as a glimpse of his erratic, tempestuous character. These characteristics are prominent throughout the book of Esther and agree with the portrait of Xerxes that we have from other historical sources.
     The Hebrew name of the king is Achashvayrosh (also spelled Ahasuerus in English), but the NIV uses the Greek form of his name, Xerxes, since this is the form of his name that is well known through secular history. Although a few commentators identify him with a later king of Persia who came after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, it is very likely that he was Xerxes I (485–465 b.c.). Xerxes I ruled Persia between Darius I, who was king when Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple, and Artaxerxes I, the king during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. This Xerxes is mentioned in Ezra 4:6. His great power and wealth are clearly pictured in our text. His empire was the largest the world had known up to his time. It stretched from northwest India on the east to northern Greece on the west. It extended through Egypt to Ethiopia (Cush) in the south. Some critics have made a great deal of the fact that Greek historians say the Persian empire was divided into about 30 districts, called satrapies, while the biblical accounts report about 120 provinces. Such critics, however, have created a problem where none exists, since it is likely that “provinces” here refers to smaller sub-divisions of the larger satrapies. For example, Judah seems to have been a “province” of the large Trans-Euphrates satrapy.
     Xerxes is well known to students of ancient history because of his prominent role in Greek history. His father, Darius, had failed in his attempt to conquer Greece when his invading Persian forces were defeated by the Greeks at the famous battle of Marathon in 490 b.c. Xerxes was determined to avenge this defeat and put an end to Greek meddling in the affairs of his empire in Asia Minor (Turkey). In 480 b.c., Xerxes made another invasion against Greece with the largest army and navy ever assembled. Nevertheless, this invasion failed when Xerxes’ navy was defeated at Salamis and his land forces were defeated the next year at Platea. This is considered to be one of the most crucial campaigns in the history of the world, since the Greek victory preserved the independence of Greece, the nation whose culture made such great contributions to Western civilization.
     A detailed report of this campaign and of the character of Xerxes is preserved in the accounts of the Persian Wars by the Greek historian Herodotus. His description of King Xerxes agrees well with the description in Esther. Herodotus portrays Xerxes as a vain, temperamental ruler and gives many examples of his hot-headed, irrational actions. When the great pontoon bridge that Xerxes had built for his army to cross over into Europe was destroyed by a storm, Xerxes not only executed the bridge builders but also ordered that the sea be whipped and chained for the offense of destroying his bridge! When one of his subjects asked to keep one of his five sons at home while the other four went along with Xerxes to Greece, Xerxes flew into a rage, cut the son into two pieces, laid half his body on each side of the road, and told the father, “There, now you can keep your son at home.” We shall see similar impetuous acts of Xerxes in the book of Esther.
Herodotus reports that it took Xerxes four years to prepare for his invasion of Greece, and that he called an assembly of all his nobles to discuss plans for the invasion. It may well be that the great assembly described in Esther chapter 1 was the same as the planning meetings for the invasion of Greece mentioned by Herodotus. Herodotus’ stories about Xerxes are very interesting; they are the strongest concurrence between biblical history and secular history that has yet been discovered. Herodotus’ portrait of Xerxes offers an interesting parallel with Xerxes’ behavior in the following sections of Esther.
Brug, J. F. (1985). Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (pp. 158–160). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.