Esther Episode 1

Beth's Notes

Chapter One starts with a Par-tay and who doesn’t enjoy a good hoe-down!!!!!  I am reminded of my nieces’ wedding and the reception which ensued.  They had hired the most FUN band to dance with – all the old songs which I could sing along with as well as dance my shoes off (quite literally!!!).  BTW, wedding shoes are NOT made for dancing!!  I ended up in an old pair of my brother’s socks!!!! And I have a picture to prove it!  It was a good look – in my fancy shmancy dress and white crews – and mismatched stained old ones at that!!!  It was a time of laughter and enjoyment and celebration and what a celebration it was!  For a few hours you could forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and just simply be in the moment.  Even as I type this I am smiling remembering the laughter and the enjoyment of others and simply just getting down with my “bad self”!!!  God created us to celebrate!   He ordained many festivals for the Jewish people to honor and I just like to think He enjoys being a part of each one Himself!!!  He likes watching us enjoy ourselves – not wrongly, of course, but rightly.  He is not a party pooper in any form or fashion as some might choose to believe rather He enjoys celebrations which give Him much honor.   

Esther opens with a quick description of King Xerxes prior to the Par-tay starting!  It is mentioned that he ruled over 127 provinces which stretched from India (which corresponds to present-day West Pakistan) to Cush (a term for the upper Nile region which included present-day southern Egypt, all of Sudan, and northern Ethiopia).  This, of course, would have included Jerusalem.  Now I am not good on ancient geography (or modern day for that matter!) but this sounds quite LARGE!!!  Indeed, the vast extent of his empire has been confirmed by several outside sources which state the size of that empire in similar words.  It had become an overgrown kingdom, which in time would sink with its own weight.  The Medo-Persian Empire incorporated the provinces of Media and Persia as well as the previous empires of Assyria and Babylon.  Xerxes (called Ahasuerus throughout the Hebrew text of Esther) ruled the Persian Empire for 21 years from 485 to 465 b.c.    At the time of Esther, he was ruling from his winter citadel (palace) in Susa.  He also had another elaborate palace in Persepolis. 

On a side note, I find it extremely interesting how God deals with us according to our folly and weaknesses.  Those Jews who had opted to remain in Medo-Persia instead of going forward to Jerusalem, who were scattered in the province of the heathen, were providentially taken care of as we will later see in Esther, as well as those who were gathered in the land of Judea.  They were wonderfully preserved when doomed to destruction and appointed as sheep for the slaughter.  God always takes care of His own. 

Xerxes was Persia’s fifth king.  He was very proud and impulsive as we will also soon see.  At this time, Persia was a world power and as the king, Xerxes would have been the center of that power as well.  Persian kings loved to flaunt their wealth – even to the point of wearing precious gemstones in their beards as well as donning great amounts of gold jewelry into battle.  They often held large banquets for their nobility prior to going to war.  Indeed, Xerxes did launch an attack on Greece soon after this soiree had occurred.  I suppose in part the banquet was to show his lavishness and generosity toward those who would be defending him but the predominant motivation of his excessiveness was simply pride.  

In the third year of his reign is when the party took place and what a party it was!!!! He wanted his wealth and splendor to be made known and it was quite a costly affair.  For a full 180 days, with great pomp and grandeur, he flaunted his stuff to his nobles, princes and military leaders.  Thereafter, he gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people from the least to the greatest.   His richly ordained palace enclosed garden was a sight to behold.  From his hangings of white and blue linen (which, BTW, were royal colors) to his couches of gold and silver to his mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother of pearl and other costly stones – he was definitely putting on the proverbial dog! This was vain glory at its best, void of any edification.  Not only were the surroundings lovely to feast their eyes upon, the wine was abundant in keeping with Xerxes’ liberality.  Each man could drink in his own way (as much as he wanted) from a goblet of gold (of course!).

Let’s take a few minutes and discuss God’s viewpoint on pride.  In a word, He detests it and rightly so.  I think of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?   1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Over and over in Scripture God speaks against the proud heart yet uplifts the humble one:

16 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.    Proverbs 6:16-19 (NIV)

(Note:  Haughty eyes is #1 on the list12 Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.   Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

5 The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.  Proverbs 16:5 (NIV)

3 “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ 4 ‘Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,’ declares the Lord.”   Obadiah 1:3-4 (NIV)

Indeed, our foolish pride gets on His holy nerves!  Empty glory is the root cause of our selfish ambition.  Don’t forget the greatest King that has ever walked this dusty earth and Who, BTW, is our Supreme example – both was born and died in humility – from a stable to a cross and everything in between.  Isaiah describes His humble life:

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.   Isaiah 53:2-11 (NIV)

Paul directs it to us in Philippians:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.   Philippians 2:3-11 (NIV)  

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.   Ephesians 4:1-2 (NIV)

“O believer, learn to reject pride, seeing that you have no ground for it.  Whatever you are, you have nothing to make you proud.  The more you have, the more you are in debt to God; and you should not be proud of that which renders you a debtor.”    Charles H. Spurgeon  

We must search our own hearts through the lens of God’s Word and see if we are found wanting – then through the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer, change.  We must keep our accounts short.  Quickly repent which indeed means to turn from it – whatever that “it” may be.  Obviously, this is not a once in a lifetime happening.  To finish well – and we want to finish well - is a day by day process.  Manna was given each day to the Jews in the wilderness.  If they hoarded it, it turned into maggots.  We are fed each day through God’s Word.  Our spiritual nourishment is to be used both for ourselves and for others.  We never receive from God to merely make our heads big if you know what I mean.  Knowledge can puff up yet love edifies and never fails.  We love when we share and flesh out the Truth of God to a hurting and needy world.  We are to be the conduits through which His love, mercy and Truth flow.   

Ok, back to our story…we are told in Verse Nine that Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of the king.  Most probably they were the wives of some of the nobility attending the king’s party.  Hence, the uproar of the nobles when Vashti refused the king’s orders to come!  They appeared to have had an interest at stake too!

King Xerxes’ feast ended in heaviness by his own folly.  An unhappy quarrel between the king and queen broke off the feast abruptly sending the guests away silent and ashamed.  He had sent for Vashti in his drunken state – as well as the drunken state of the other attendees – to show off her beauty as Scripture states she was lovely to look at.  This shows his weakness in that he would choose to dishonor her when he, as well as the other men, were drunk.  Scripture does not tell us why she refused, but I bet we all can imagine why!  I’m only surprised that she would have been brave enough to refuse him!  Seriously, who would want to be the only woman amongst a huge group of drunk men to be gawked at?  Also, one commentator I read stated that she could have even been pregnant because Artaxerxes, Xerxes’ son, was born in 483.  But that is merely supposition.  Any way you look at it, her actions would certainly have been an insult to his super ego!  No one refused him – particularly a woman.                

Vashti’s actions were a breach of etiquette even though it was against the custom of the Persians for the women to appear in public gatherings.  Further, he put a great hardship on her when he did not request, yet rather commanded her to do such an uncouth thing, and basically make her into a sideshow. The king was used to getting whatever he desired whenever he desired it. Therefore her response made him furious.  He burned with anger and outrage and though he was ruler over 127 provinces he appears to have had no rule over his own spirit.  It is easier to rule others than one’s own heart and the ensuing flaring emotions.  We all so desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit!

7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”   Jeremiah 17:7-10 (NIV)

Though angry, Xerxes refused to do anything until he consulted his advisors.  Of these men, Scripture states they were experts in the law and justice – wise men who understood the times and were close to the king as well as having special access to him.  They were his inner circle and had his ear so to speak.  The use of wise men was a feature of ancient Near Eastern courts.  No doubt their wives were just as close to Vashti! 

King Xerxes proposes the question to this inner council for what must be done to Vashti according to the law – her crime being that she had disobeyed a command of the king.  Memucan, one of Xerxes’ wisest wise men made the proposal that the queen be deposed (basically divorced) and that she could never again enter the presence of the king.  She would be thought of unworthy of that honor and of course this would carry with it much disgrace.  This was suggested by Memucan so that the other noble women of the empire would not follow Vashti’s example and despise their husbands – his proposal being a bit self-motivated (to say the least!).  Memucan was worried that there would be no end to the disrespect and discord from all the women in the empire and he wanted to nip it in the proverbial bud.   It is difficult to see how this punishment would cause the women of the empire to respect their husbands yet that was the idea behind the decree. This is partially explained by the fact that the men had been drinking heavily.  The Truth is, one can never get true respect by force.  Respect is earned by character and noble character is made by a lifetime of right choices.  

The idea pleased the king and his nobles so an edict was sent throughout the entire kingdom in various languages signifying that the queen was divorced for insubordination and that if any other wives were in similar fashion undutiful to their husbands, they should expect to be in like manner disgraced as Queen Vashti was.  Further stating that every man should be the ruler over his own household. A vast relay communications system, something like an ancient pony express, made it possible to spread news throughout the empire quickly.  It was a royal decree which could not be repealed. 

These are Beth’s personal notes, due to this fact sources are not often stated.

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