In Est 1.1-22 we learn that the king is going to hold a huge banquet. This is about 483.B.C. and about three years before his invasion of Greece and the Battle of Thermopylae. Ezra has returned to Jerusalem and the Temple has been built. Nehemiah would return to Jerusalem about 40 years later under Artaxerxes I, Ahasuerus’ son and successor.
The king is actually going to have three feasts, and the first one was for all the government officials where he shows the glory of his kingdom. The second feast was for the citizens of the capital city, Shushan. The third feast was for the women in the palace conducted by Vashti the queen (v 9).
Ahasuerus has defeated Egypt and was planning a war with Greece, so he calls all the chief men of the kingdom together to discuss it ( Est 1.1, Dan 11.2). He calls his wife Vashti to come forward to display her beauty, and his heart was “merry with wine.” The king was the embodiment of Persia, and so was the queen. She was seen as “mother Persia” but she refused to come, and the king was furious.
In Est 1.16 a man named Memucan (dignified) says that Vashti should be banished, and her position given to another. Now, Memucan is spelled in Hebrew with a mem, mem, vav, kof and nun. But in the verse it is spelled with a mem, vav, mem, kof and nun. It is a combination of two words, “mum” and “can” meaning “a blemish here.” The blemish was because he spoke out of turn. He is mentioned last, but was the first to speak (“The Megillah”, Mesorah Pub., p.48-49). This book is a Jewish Orthodox commentary on Esther and has some very valuable information in it. In some Jewish traditions, Memucan is seen as another name for Haman.
If the word got out that Vashti refused to come, other wives would show disrespect to their husbands as well and there would be some real problems (v 17-18). Once the king made a decree, it could not be repealed. So he sent out a decree that “every man should be the master in his own house.” God had ordained that this new law giving the king absolute powers be written in their laws so that it could be later used against Haman (Est 7.9). In other words, God’s plan for the demise of Haman was already set in motion before Haman had done a thing against the Jews yet. Spiritually, that is an important concept to remember. When our enemies come against us, God has already provided the vehicle for their defeat, too.
The fallen relationship between Ahasuerus and Vashti had to be replaced by a renewed spirit, and this alludes to being born again (John 3.5-8). Through out the first chapter of Esther, Vashti is referred to as “Queen Vashti” until she provokes the king. From Est 1.19 onward she is simply referred to as Vashti. Eschatologically, she represents the unbeliever caught within paganism who will be replaced by the rightful bride of Messiah.
Esther 2.1-23 tells us about the plan to replace Vashti with a new queen. They propose that all the young, beautiful virgins in the kingdom be gathered to Shushan. Then the king can choose a new queen from among them (2.4).
At this time, there was a Jew in Shushan named Mordechai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin. In other words, he is a relative of King Saul (1 Sam 9.1, 2 Sam 16.5). That will be an important point to remember at a later time. The term Jew (v 5) meant “Judeans” who were taken to Babylon. So, before we go any further, let’s look at the definition of “Jew” and “Hebrew” and “Israelite.” These definitions are from the Easton’s Bible Dictionary at “Biblestudytools.com.” The reason we are presenting this is because there are people who vehemently argue that the term “Jew” is not a term for any Israelite or Hebrew and they have constructed a whole false theology around this point, but we shall see that these terms became synonymous.
It begins, “Hebrew-a name applied to the Israelites in Scripture only by one who is a foreigner (Gen 19.14, 17; 41.12, etc), or by the Israelites when they speak of themselves to foreigners (Gen 40.15; Exo 1.19), or when spoken of and contrasted with other peoples (Gen 43.32; Exo 1.3, 7, 15; Deut 15.12. In the New Testament there is the same contrast between Hebrews and foreigners (Acts 6.1; Phil 3.5).”
“Israel- the name conferred on Jacob after the great prayer-struggle at Peniel (Gen 32.28), because ‘as a prince he had power with God and prevailed.’ (See Jacob). This is the common name given to Jacob’s descendants. The whole people of the twelve tribes are called “Israelites,” “the children of Israel” (Josh 3.17, 7.25; Judges 8.27; Jer 3.21), and the “house of Israel” (Exo 16.31; 40.38). This name Israel is sometimes used emphatically for the true Israel (Psa 73.1; Isa 45.17, 49.3; John 1.47; Rom 9.6, 11.26).”
“After the death of Saul the ten tribes arrogated to themselves this name, as if they were the whole nation (2 Sam 2.9, 10, 17, 28; 3.10, 17; 19.40-43), and the kings of the ten tribes were called “kings of Israel,” while the kings of the two tribes were called “kings of Judah.” After the exile the name Israel was assumed as designating the entire nation.”
“Jew-the name derived from the patriarch Judah, at first given to one belonging to the tribe of Judah or to a separate kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 16.6; 25.25; Jer 32.12; 33.19; 40.11; 41.3), in contradistinction from those belonging to the kingdom of the ten tribes, who were called Israelites. During the captivity, and after the restoration, the name, however, was extended to all the Hebrew nations without distinction (est 3.6, 10; Dan 3.8, 12; Ezra 4.12; 5.1, 5). Originally this people were called Hebrews (Gen 39.14; 40.15; Exo 2.7; 3.8; 5.3; 1 Sam 4.6, 9), but after the exile this name fell into disuse. But Paul was styled a Hebrew (2 Cor 11.22; Phil 3.5).”
“There are three names used in the New Testament to designate this people, Jews as regards their nationality, to distinguish from the Gentiles. Hebrews with regard to their language and education to distinguish them from Hellenists, Jews who spoke the Greek language. Israelites as respects their sacred privileges as the chosen people of God. According to the above definitions, the people of the 12 tribes (i.e. the descendants of Jacob) are referred to in the New Testament as “Jews,” “Hebrews,” and “Israelites.” The term “Jew” distinguishes them from Gentiles (i.e. everyone who is not a Jew).”
Now, Mordechai was bringing up a young girl named Hadassah (myrtle) and that is the Hebrew name of Esther. She was Mordechai’s cousin (his uncle had a daughter), and he adopted her as his own daughter. When it came about that the command and decree of the king was heard, many young ladies were gathered to Shushan. Now, why would a nice Jewish girl want to marry a pagan king? The answer can be found in Est 2.8.
It says that Esther was “taken” against her will (v 8) and taken to the harem of the king. Josephus says there were 400 young women gathered there. She was put into the custody of Hegai (meditation, word), and Hadassah pleased him. So he gave her cosmetics, food and seven choice maids. He also transferred her to the best place in the harem. Already, as we can see, God’s hand is on her. He is providing the cure (Esther) before the sickness (Haman), and Mordechai has instructed her to not tell anyone that she is Jewish. This will play a role in the fall of Haman.
Mordechai would walk about in front of the court of the harem to learn about how Esther was doing. The word for “walk” in v 11 is not “holech” but “mithhalech” meaning “strolled.” He did not want to be obvious to the guards that he was checking on her. Evidently, Mordechai had a high position in order to do that (2.19).
Ahasuerus wanted to make sure that none of the girls were sick, so he waits twelve months. During that time the women were preapred in ways that enhanced their beauty. Each woman would come before the king for one night. After that, they were taken to a second harem. She would not go again to the king unless he delighted in her and she was called again.
Esther could not have felt good about this whole process. She lost any possibility of marriage and a family among her people now that she was a part of this, but God had a plan to use her to save the whole nation. This book is also a book about the sovereignty of God. Events and the people involved are placed in their roles by the Lord without the participants even knowing what was being played out, but Yehovah did.
So we know she was taken against her will to the king in the tenth month (Tevet) in the seventh month year of his reign and this is eschatological. Messiah will take his bride and marry her in the seventh year also (Messianic Kingdom). He loved Esther more than all the others because she had found favor in the eyes of all who saw her (v 15) and he marries her.
The king gave another banquet and made a holiday for the provinces. This is a picture of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb at Sukkot. Mordechai was sitting at the “king’s gate” and this is an idiom meaning he had a position of trust in the government. He may have been a bodyguard of some sort to the king. Many Jews have served as advisors to the kings they were under. Daniel sat in the king’s gate and had ruled over certain areas, and Nehemiah was a cup-bearer and governor of Judea, and we all know the story of Joseph, although this was in a different type of captivity.
Esther has not told anyone about her heritage as Mordechai commanded her (2.10). Now, as we have said, Mordechai was involved with security of the king. Foreigners were often used in this way because they were not involved in nor interested in all the tribal and family politics of the nation. David had Philistines as bodyguards, for instance.
In those days Mordechai was at the king’s gate and two of the king’s officials who “guarded the door” (v 21) became angry with the king. Their names were Bigthan (gift of God) and Teresh (feared) and they wanted to lay hands on the king. They certainly had the opportunity because they guarded the door, possibly to his bedroom. But their plot became known to Mordechai and he told Queen Esther, and she informed the king in Mordechai’s name.
They were arrested and after an investigation, Bigthan and Teresh were found guilty and hanged on a gallows. This was recorded in the Book of the Chronicles in the king’s presence. Later, the king will be unable to sleep and he will read about what Mordechai did, and will reward him using Mordechai’s enemy Haman. Again, God is weaving into the story the destruction of Haman by establishing the reputation of Mordechai before the king.
In Part 3 we will pick up in Est 3.1-15.