The Word Made Fresh
1This took place during the reign of Ahasuerus who ruled one hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. 2King Ahasuerus was on the royal throne in the capital city of Susa. 3In the third year of his reign he hosted a party for all his officials and department heads. The Persian and Median armies with their nobles and provincial governors were there, 4and he put his wealth and splendor and pomp and majesty on display for a hundred eighty days.
5When the hundred eighty days were completed he threw a huge banquet for all the people, nobles and commoners, who were present in Susa. The banquet lasted for seven days and was held in the courtyard of the gardens of the royal palace. 6It was elaborate: there were white cotton curtains framed in blue hangings tied with fine linen cords held by silver rings to marble columns. Gold and silver couches sat on mosaic pavements of marble, porphyry, mother-of-pearl, and colorful stonework. 7Drinks were served in golden goblets of various design. The royal wine was poured freely from the king’s store. 8The king had given orders to all his officials to allow everyone to do as they pleased, and drinks were poured liberally from large ewers.
9Queen Vashti also threw a party for the women of the palace of King Ahasuerus.
10On the seventh day of the banquet the king, filled with wine, ordered the seven eunuchs who were his attendants – Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas – 11to escort Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, to present her to the people and the officers, for she was quite beautiful. 12But Queen Vashti refused to accompany the eunuchs and appear at the king’s command; and the king was furious.
13So, the king consulted the advisors who knew the proper customs. It was the king’s habit to consult those who were experts in law and royal practices. 14The king’s special advisors were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan. They were the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had direct access to the king and were the highest authorities in the kingdom.
15The king asked them, “According to the law, what is the penalty for Queen Vashti for disobeying the king’s command given to her through the eunuchs?”
16Memucan responded to the king and the officials, “Not only has queen Vashti embarrassed the king, but everyone, officials and commoners in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, is embarrassed as well. 17All the women of the kingdom will hear about what she has done, and they will despise their husbands. They will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to appear before him, and she refused to come.’ 18Now the noble ladies of Persia and Media who hear what the queen has done will treat the king’s officials in the same way, and there will be no end of contempt and embarrassment! 19So, if the king approves, let him send out a royal command as a law that cannot be altered among Persians and Medes; that Vashti is never again allowed in the presence of King Ahasuerus. Let the king award her position to another who is even more lovely than she. 20When this order from the king is announced to every corner throughout the kingdom, all the women will honor their husbands, nobles and commoners alike.”
21Memucan’s advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king 22sent letters to all the royal provinces, both in the language of the crown and in the various languages of the provinces. The letters declared that every man should be treated as master of his own house.
The Book of Esther is shrouded in mystery. It does not seem to be intended as a serious historical account but rather a folk tale around which the Jewish people could rally after the Maccabean rebellion gave them a tenuous freedom in the second century B. C. It has numerous Babylonian elements, giving rise to speculation that it dates from that city during the period of the Exile, or perhaps a bit later. After Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, the only historical records that survived were those carried by the captives into exile to Babylon, or perhaps to Egypt by migrating Jews. That helps explain why Babylonian and Egyptian references are so plenteous throughout the Old Testament.
1-4: Esther begins. The King, Ahasuerus, is mentioned only once in the Bible outside of Esther, and that is in Ezra 4:6, where he precedes Artaxerxes. The name is unknown elsewhere, and scholars generally think it is an alternate name for Xerxes I, who reigned over the Persian Empire from 486-465 B. C. prior to Artaxerxes. The third year of his reign would thus have been 484-483 B. C. It is therefore a time of the greatest expansion of the empire, although there are already signs of its decline. Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) is best known for his abortive attempt to conquer Greece.
By the way, verses 1:1 and 8:9 are the only places in the Bible that mention India.
The setting of the story as it begins is a tremendous party in Susa, a party that lasts six months.
5-8: After the national bash another gala is thrown by the king for the people of Susa which lasts a full week. These verses could have been written by your local gossip columnist.
9: We meet Queen Vashti, who is unknown outside the book of Esther. The first wife of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) was Amestris, according to the historian Herodotus. However, Vashti’s name is well known in ancient literature: Vashti is the name of a Babylonian goddess.
10-12: So, all the guys are drunk, and the king thinks it a good idea to tell his eunuchs to bring the beautiful Queen Vashti to the party wearing her royal crown. Some commentators think the text hints that she is to wear only the royal crown. Vashti, having a better sense of decorum than her husband, declines the invitation. Besides, she is having a roaring good time with the other ladies in another part of the palace (see verse 9). She has better things to do than parade herself around to be ogled by a bunch of inebriated party goers.
13-20: The king is stunned and stumped. What can one do if the queen refuses the king’s invitation? Well, he is surrounded by seven lawyers (to provide some balance for the seven eunuchs, I suppose), and he puts the question to them. One of them, Memucan, points out that Queen Vashti hasn’t merely insulted the king, she has insulted husbands everywhere. Why, this could be the start of a regular feminist movement! He advises the king to issue a decree that Queen Vashti is to be deposed. That, he says, will send a message to all the women in the kingdom that such behavior will not be tolerated.
21-22: King Ahasuerus likes the idea and sends the letter out immediately, declaring that a man’s house is his castle, and the crisis is averted.
Just so you’ll know, Vashti, the Bible’s first feminist, is not punished other than to be banished from the king’s bedroom. Of course, she is not mentioned again after chapter two. Her strong character will not be matched again until the wonderful, but unnamed, wife at the end of the book of Proverbs.