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Part III:  Book of Esther


Historically, we find Xerxes, son of Darius, strongly desiring to continue his father’s expansion of the Empire’s northwestern borders through the southeastern “back door” of Europe (Greece), and end up finally conquering all of Europe.  That was his overall aim.  There was a vengeance factor in getting back at the Greeks for his father’s defeat at Marathon and the Aegean Greeks assisting their Ionian Greek cousins in their unsuccessful rebellion against Persian occupation and dominion in Asia Minor.  This vengeance factor has been over-estimated as the main motive of Xerxes for attacking mainland Aegean Greece.  The preparations for this massive invasion were really huge, and we will get into this a little bit later.  But in preparation for the preparation, it is thought that Xerxes needed to confer with all the various prince-leaders of his satrapies, as well as all the vassal kings under Persian rule (i.e. Egypt, Libya, Phoenicia, just to name three).  This gives us the setting for what occurs in Esther chapter 1.  Darius died in 586BC and Xerxes took the throne in the same year, shortly afterward.  Verses 1-4 of Esther chapter 1 says that Xerxes had a huge feast for all “his officials and servants---the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him….for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.  Now probably not everybody showed up at this huge feast all at the same time, but on a schedule, and this would have given Xerxes time to confer with all the leaders under his authority in the Persian Empire, even the vassal kings of all the vassal nations under his rule.  Why?  For this vast military undertaking he was about to embark on personally.  And when a Persian king went to war, all his nobles and princes, and all the vassal kings, along with all their personal armies had to go along with him, no one could stay behind.  So this feast, timed at 483BC was a “conference-feast” with all who would accompany him on his invasion of Europe through its southeastern back door, mainland Greece.  Esther 1:1-4, “Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia), in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan [Susa] the citadel, that in the third year of his reign [484-483BC] he made a feast for all his officials and servants---the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him---when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.”  One hundred and eighty days is just about six months.  Since the massive preparations for the invasion of Europe through Greece began shortly after this giant “feast”, this feast was what we’d call in business a “corporate lunch meeting” to discuss the business at hand.  And that business, soon to follow, was the massive preparation for the invasion of Greece and then Europe, and then the invasion itself in the spring of 480BC.  After this huge conference feast was over with, which was filled with military planning and discussions with all the various princes, nobles and kings under his rule (Xerxes was probably getting pretty tired), he had a celebratory feast lasting only seven days, time to relax and party it up, now with all the invasion preparations being put into motion.  At this point God is going to start the process of placing someone special into Xerxes life through a strange set of circumstances, to save the Jewish people who lived throughout the Persian Empire.  Most of the Jews, having prospered in Babylon during their 70 year captivity, did not move back to Judea with Ezra and Nehemiah (nor did they want to), but remained in Babylon and throughout the provinces of what was now the Persian Empire.  In Esther chapter 3 we will see that all the Jews in the Persian Empire become at risk for their very lives, when Xerxes appoints what we would call a new Prime Minister, a guy named Haman.  This Haman character would put a plan into operation which would have killed all the Jews, destroying the entire Jewish race, even those who had moved back to Judea and rebuilt the Temple of God.  So we have Xerxes in 483BC planning a huge military invasion of Greece, which was meant to go onward from there into southern Europe, if he succeeded.  We have this character Haman obviously working his way up the political ladder into the great king’s graces.  Even before the massive invasion of Greece, Haman had to have been working his way up the political ladder, with his evil anti-Semitic schemes and intentions to destroy the Jews.  So God put a plan into operation.


Seven Day Feast following the 180 day “feast”


Esther 1:5-22, “And when these days were completed [i.e. the 180-day “business at hand” feast], the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.  There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble.  And they served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king.  In accordance with the law, the drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had ordered all the officers of his household, that they should do according to each man’s pleasure.  Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.  [This queen Vashti is thought to have been queen Amestris, and according to Herodotus was known for her cruelty, having had the mother of her husband’s paramour brutally mutilated, and she also had fourteen noble Persian young men buried alive]  On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine [probably when the king and everyone else were pretty liquored up, three sheets to the wind, I mean, hey guys, a drinking party for seven days?  As you’ll read, this was a real royal shindig], he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold.  But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.  [Understand, Vashti probably didn’t like the idea of being paraded for her beauty’s sake alone in front of what was probably a huge tent full of drinking and drunk men, who’d been ‘at it’ for almost seven days now.]  Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom):  ‘What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?’  And Memucan answered before the king and the princes:  ‘Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.  For the queen’s behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.’  This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen.  Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath.  [This was a pretty wise man, with a very wise observation.  He’s showing where this action of Vashti is headed, the big picture in the realm.]  If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.  When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small.’  And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan.  Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.”


Selection process for a new queen begins


Esther 2:1-4, “After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus [Xerxes] subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her.  Then the king’s servants who attended him said:  ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king; and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel [fortified city], into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, custodian of the women.  And let beauty preparations be given them.  Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’  This thing pleased the king, and he did so.”  The date, remember, is the date that this second feast---the seven day one---took place, around 483-482BC, just as all the massive military preparations for the invasion of Europe were getting underway.  As we shall see, this selection process for a new queen will culminate with the selection of Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl.  And the date is given for Esther’s selection, it is the 10th month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.  Tebetu is the tenth month of the Babylonian calendar, and corresponds to December/January.  The tenth month of the 7th year of Xerxes reign would be 486BC minus 7, counting 1 for the year 480, gives you the month of December 480BC, when Xerxes is safely back from his defeated campaign in Greece.  All these pretty women spent this period of time---from 483-482BC to the fall of 481BC---going through this selection process right up to the fall of 481BC, when Xerxes marched his massive army up into Asia Minor and wintered there, prior to marching on Greece in the spring of 480BC.  So, although it is not recorded in the Book of Esther here, Xerxes took time out for war.  All during this period of time from 483/482BC to the fall of 481BC these women are going through these ritual 12-month baths described in the next set of verses, along with Esther.  Esther 2, verses 5-14, “In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.  Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.  And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother.  The young woman was lovely and beautiful.  When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.  So it was, when the king’s command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women.  Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance.  Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women.  Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.  And every day Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women’s quarters, to learn of Esther’s welfare and what was happening to her.  Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned:  six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women.  Thus prepared, each young woman went to the king, and she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the women’s quarters to the king’s palace.  In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who kept the concubines.  She would not go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and called for her by name.”  Now don’t forget, up until the fall of 481BC when Xerxes marched the entire massive Persian army up into Asia Minor (Ionia then) to winter prior to their spring crossing of the Bosporus, he had this selection process going on.  Then he must have taken time out from the fall of 481BC until the fall of 480BC for his attempted invasion into Greece and southern Europe.  When this massive invasion failed in September of 480BC, he returned to Susa, Shushan and this selection process continued.  Xerxes took time out for war, this massive military campaign he had been planning and preparing for since 483BC.  So this is where we take our break to fill in some historic pieces to this miracle, for Xerxes could not be killed, and he had to be safely returned to Susa to resume viewing these beautiful young women again at the end of September 480BC, with Esther’s turn coming in December of 480BC.  Xerxes couldn’t be killed in battle, but he had to return safely, having been defeated, safely to Susa around November of 480BC, so he could then select Esther in a little over two months time, thus placing her in a position to “save her people” from evil Haman.  I think we will see how thoroughly Yahweh inhabits history as it is taking place at the current events stage of history.  Why?  because at least three of Xerxes brothers were killed by Leonidas and his Spartiates at the battle of Thermopylae, right in the beginning of hostilities.  Also, if Xerxes had been killed along with his brothers in battle, evil Haman could still have worked his way up to Prime Minister under whoever the successor would have been, and Esther would not have been in the picture.  Xerxes had to return, alive and healthy, his military campaign a total failure, just in time to select Esther as his new queen.  For if his massive military campaign in Greece had succeeded, he would be spending multiple years conquering up into central Europe  and on through western Europe.  All of history would have changed, been different as well, for democracy as the primary form of government in our western world would have died in its infancy.  And judging from the massive preparations Xerxes made for this invasion, failure humanly speaking, just did not seem possible.  Just like our Normandy invasion, failure wasn’t an option.   How do we know the date for her selection and that it fits into history like this?  Esther 2:16, “So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.”  As pointed out before, 486BC – 7 = 480BC.  The tenth of Tebeth (December/January on the Babylonian calendar) would equate to be around December 480BC, after Xerxes had returned to his palace in Susa from his failed military campaign against Greece.

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