The Book of Esther
The most notable and the most noted peculiarity of the Book of Esther is
the entire absence from it of the name of God. None of the titles in use
among the Jews to express the Supreme Being — neither Elohim, nor
Jehovah, nor Shaddai, nor Adonai, nor even any periphrasis for the name
— occurs in it from first to last. The idea of God is there; but by a
reticence, of which we have no other example in Scripture (for even the
shortest psalm has a mention of God at least once), the Divine name is kept
back, unuttered by the speakers, unwritten by the author, merged in the
profoundest silence, totally absent from the whole ten chapters. It has been
suggested that this absence arose from that increasing scruple against using
the Divine name which characterised the period between Malachi and John
the Baptist, which led to the substitution of “Adonai” for “Jehovah” in
the reading of the Scriptures, and to the absolute prohibition of the
pronunciation of the “Tetragrammaton” [This is four Hebrew letters (Yod, He, Waw
and He) called the Tetragrammaton. The four characters are the four Hebrew
letters that correspond to YHWH and are transliterated IAUE or Yahweh.
Yahweh is the name of the Almighty Father in Heaven that people commonly
call "The LORD" or "God"] by any one but the high priest, or
by him excepting in a whisper. But the date of ‘Esther’ is too early for
this explanation to merit acceptance. Rather we must attribute the reticence
either to an “instinctive adoption of the fashion of the Persian court, or to
a shrinking from irreverence on the part of the writer, who may have
viewed it as irreverent to introduce the name of God without necessity into
a history which was addressed as much to Persians as to Jews, and was not
so much intended for sacred history as for secular. “Nec Deus intersit, nisi
dignus vindice nodus inciderit” is a wholesome rule; and as the deliverance
of the Jews from Haman’s machinations was brought about by secondary
causes without overt Divine interference, there was no necessity to bring
the First Cause upon the scene at all. Whether the “Book” was to be
accepted into the Canon, notwithstanding the absence of the Divine name,
was a point which the Jewish Church no doubt seriously considered, and
which we may believe to have been determined, under Divine guidance, by
Malachi. The Book was received, and we can see that it was well that it
was received. It is expedient for us that there should be one Book which
omits the name of God altogether, to prevent us from attaching to the mere
name a reverence which belongs only to the reality. It is well that God
should have vindicated as His own a mere piece of honest, plain,
straightforward, secular history, written by a God-fearing person, and the
chief actors in which were God-fearing persons, that so we may feel that
history itself is God’s, and a true record of it a godly work — a work
which He will accept and approve, whether or no He be explicitly referred
to in it, whether or no it be made a vehicle of direct religious instruction,
whether or no the characters held up for approval have the sacred name
upon their lips, if only they have it in their hearts. For, be it remarked, not
merely is the name of God absent from ‘Esther,’ but direct religious
teaching is also wholly absent from it. Even prayer is not mentioned;
Mordecai and Esther fast (ch. 4:1, 16), but it is not said that they
pray. They exhibit a genuine patriotism, a lofty unselfishness, a readiness to
dare all for the right; but the source of their moral strength is not made
apparent. When Mordecai says to Esther, “If thou holdest thy peace, then
shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another
place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth
whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” he
approaches close to the doctrines of God’s special providence in the
apparent accidents of life, of the special promises of continuance made to
the Jewish people, and of the visitation of sin not only upon the sinner, but
upon the family of the sinner — he does not, however, enunciate any one
of them. When Esther consents to risk her life, with the touching words, “If
I perish, I perish” (ch.4:16); and again when she says, “How can I
endure to see the evil that shall come upon my people? or how can I
endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” (ch. 8:6), she speaks
as only a religiously-minded person would be likely to speak; but she
withholds all mention of the motives which actuate her, and leaves them to
be conjectured. The absence of any mention of
the temple, or the law, is also a noticeable feature of the Book, though
one of far less difficulty and far less practical moment than the peculiarity
which we have been considering. The writer belongs to the Jews of the
Dispersion his special interest is with them; and though warmly attached to
his nation, he is devoid of that affection for localities which characterized
the Jews generally. He is, moreover, so far cosmopolitan as to shrink from
utterances which would stamp him as a provincial, and be either
unintelligible to the Persians, for whom he certainly writes almost as much
as for the Jews, or even displeasing to them. The facts of his narrative do
not call for any mention of peculiar Jewish institutions (excepting that of
the Feast of Purim), and he is thus able to avoid obtruding on his Persian
readers peculiarities with which they would have no sympathy, or practices
to which they would have felt objection. There is nothing that can well be
called peculiar in the style of ‘Esther,’ or in the form of the narrative. Both
are characterized by simplicity. The narrative is very inartificial, following a
strictly chronological order, eschewing digressions, and of a single uniform
tenor. The style is remarkably chaste and simple. It is certainly simple, presenting
few difficulties of construction, and scarcely any ambiguities; but its purity may
be questioned, at any rate, so far as the vocabulary is concerned, since that is
largely impregnated with a Persian element, and contains also terms which
belong properly to the later Hebrew, or Aramaic. The tone of the narrative is
generally grave and dignified; in places it is even pathetic; but for the most part
it interests more than it excites us. Character is well portrayed; the descriptions are
graphic, and occasionally very elaborate. Altogether, the work is one of
considerable literary merit, and, as a picture of court
Achaemenian dynasty, is of the highest historical value, being quite without
There is a striking contrast between the Books of RUTH and ESTHER.
The earlier book is an idyll; the later a chronicle. The earlier relates to
lowly persons and to rural life; the later to kings and queens, and to a great
Oriental metropolis. The earlier is the story of a family, and its interest is
domestic; the later is a chapter from the history of a people, and deals with
the intrigues of a court and the policy of a state. The religious character
and aim of this book may be presented in four observations.
HIMSELF IS IN EVERY CHAPTER. There is no other book except
Song of Solomon in the sacred volume in which the Divine Being is neither
mentioned nor obviously referred to. Yet no disbeliever in God could have
written it; and no believer in God can read it without finding his faith
strengthened thereby. Refer especially to ch. 4:14.
FOR. The feast of Purim was held in high honor, and observed with great
regularity and solemnity and rejoicing, among the Jews. “The temple may
fail, but the Purim never,” was one of their proverbs. This Book of Esther
was written to explain the origin of this national festival.
NARRATIVE. Not only is the great general truth, that earthly greatness
and prosperity are mutable and transitory, brought effectively before us,
but we learn that God humbles the proud, and exalts the lowly who trust in
Him (I Samuel 2:1-10).
MEMORABLY DISPLAYED. We are brought into contact with the
righteousness and the rule of the Most High. A great deliverance is
wrought; and whilst the means are human, the deliverance itself is Divine.
God appears as “mighty to save.” The book is, accordingly, one peculiarly
suitable to those in distress, perplexity, and trouble.
THE GREAT FEAST OF KING AHASUERUS AT SUSA, AND THE
DISGRACE OF VASHTI
THE GREAT FEAST (vs.1-9). King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) in the
third year of his reign, which was B.C. 484-483, entertained at a great feast
in the royal
Persia and Media,” together with all the nobles and princes of the
provinces (vs. 2-3). The hospitality was extended over a space of 180
days (v. 4). At the end of this time there was a further entertainment for
seven days, on even a more profuse scale, all the male
being feasted in the palace gardens (vs. 5-8), while the queen received
the women and made them a feast in her own private apartments. The
special occasion of the entertainment seems to have been the summons to
“princes of provinces,” to advise upon the projected expedition against
on an enormous scale were not uncommon in
and vainglory of Xerxes would naturally lead him to go to an extreme in
this, as in other matters.
1 “Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus
which reigned, from
seven and twenty provinces:)” In the days of Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, in the
original Akhashverosh, corresponds to Khshayarsha (the Persian name from
which the Greeks formed their Xerxes) almost as closely as possible. The
prosthelic a was a necessity of Hebrew articulation. The only unnecessary
change was the substitution of v for y (vau for yod) in the penultimate
syllable. But this interchange is very common in Hebrew. This is
Ahasuerus which reigned, etc. The writer is evidently acquainted with
more than a single Ahasuerus. Ezra had mentioned one (Ezra 4:6), and
Daniel another (Daniel 9:1). If he knew their works, he would
necessarily know of these two. Or he may have known of them
independently. The Ahasuerus of his narrative being different from either,
he proceeds to distinguish him
(1) from the Ahasuerus of Daniel, as a “king,” and
(2) from the Ahasuerus of Ezra by the extent of his dominion.
Cambyses (see comment on Ezra 4:6) had not ruled over
expressed by Hoddu, which seems formed from the Persian Hidush
(‘Nakhsh-i-Rus-tam Inser.,’ par. 3, 1. 25), by the omission of the
nominatival ending, and a slight modification of the vocalization. The
Sanscrit and the Zend, like the Greek, retained the n, which is really an
essential part of the native word.
The two countries are well chosen as the extreme terminal of the Persian
empire. An hundred and twenty-seven provinces. The Hebrew medinah,
“province,” does not correspond to the Persian satrapy, but is applied to
every tract which had its own governor. There were originally no more
than twenty satrapies (Herod., 3:89-94), but there was certainly a very
much larger number of governments.
Nehemiah 11:3), though only a small part of the satrapy of
2 “That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of
his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace,” The throne of his kingdom,
which was in Shushan. Though the Persian court resided a part of the year at
§ 2; ‘Anab.,’ 3:5, § 15), yet
and ranked as the capital of the empire (see Herod., 3:49; AEschyl., ‘Pers.,’ 11.
122-123; Ctes., ‘Exe. Pers.,’ pessim, etc.). “Shushan the palace” is distinguished
from Shushan the city (ch. 9:12-15), the one occupying a lofty but
artificial eminence towards the west, while the other lay at the base of this
mound, stretching out a considerable distance towards the east.
3 “In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes
and his servants; the power of
princes of the provinces, being before him:” In the third year of his reign.
In B.C. 483, probably in the early spring, when the court, having spent the
season of the year. He made a feast unto all his princes and his servants. Persian
kings, according to Ctesias and Duris, ordinarily entertained at their table
15,000 persons! This is of course an exaggeration; but there can be no
doubt that their hospitality was on a scale unexampled in modern times.
The vast pillared halls of the Persepolitan and Susan palaces could
accommodate many hundreds, if not thousands. The power of
Media. The empire of the Achaemenian kings was Perso-Medic rather
than simply Persian. The Medes were not only the most favored of the
conquered nations, but were really placed nearly on a par with their
conquerors. Many of the highest offices were conferred on them, and they
formed no doubt a considerable section of the courtiers. The nobles.
Literally, “the first men,” ha-partemim. The word used is a Persian term
Hebraised. It occurs only in this place. And princes of the provinces. i.e.
satraps. The presence of such persons at the great
preparatory to the Grecian war is witnessed to by Herodotus (7:19).
4 “When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honor
of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore
days.” When he showed the riches. Ostentation was a main feature in
the character of Xerxes. The huge army with which he
more for display than for service. Vain parade is apparent at every step of
his expedition (Herod., 7:31, 40, 41, 44, 59, etc.). He now exhibits “the
riches of his kingdom” to his nobles and chief officers, showing them
doubtless all the splendors of the palace, the walls draped with gold
(AEschyl., ‘Pers.,’ 50:161), the marble pillars and rich hangings, the golden
plane tree and the golden vine (Herod., 7:27), and perhaps the ingots of
gold wherewith Darius had filled the treasury (ibid. 3:96). An hundred
and fourscore days. We need not suppose that the same persons were
entertained during the whole of this period. All the provincial governors
could not quit their provinces at the same time, nor could any of them
remain away very long. There was no doubt a succession of guests during
the six months that the entertainment lasted.
Ambition (v. 4)
The context displays the miserable weakness of a mighty king. Placed in a
position of immense responsibility, he might well have been overwhelmed
with anxiety lest his conduct should prove detrimental to the millions under
his rule. But no considerations of this nature seem to have exercised his
mind; on the contrary, he was animated only with the vainglorious wish of
exhibiting to the world “the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour
of his excellent majesty.” And he could think of no better way of gratifying
this wish than by making an extravagant feast. Doubtless there was
poverty, and wretchedness, and suffering enough in his vast dominions, and
to have used his abundant resources to alleviate these evils would have
reflected immortal glory upon his name; but he preferred to squander his
substance in riotous revelry, a proceeding which must soon have
necessitated the levying of fresh imposts, in order to replenish his
impoverished bank. A right feeling may have a wrong development.
The desire of excelling is truly laudable; but when it is alloyed with
unworthy motives it becomes most despicable. Let us notice, in the first
place, wrong ambition, of which we have an instance in the text; and, in the
second place, right ambition, of which the former is but a perversion.
Ø An immoderate love of fame. We have instances of this in every walk of
life; some of the most brilliant characters in history have been victims of
it. There have been authors who prostrated their divine gifts to gain the
admiration of the world. There have been orators whose chief aim was to
secure the applause of the multitude. And there are men now who will
face danger, endure hardship, sacrifice property, for the sake of world-
wide renown — or even a paltry distinction in the narrow sphere in which
Ø An immoderate love of power. Men hasten to be rich not because of the
inherent value of riches themselves, but because rather of the power
which riches enable them to command; for at the word of the rich
luxury, gratification, service spring up as if at the touch of a magic wand.
The thirst for power is insatiable. The amount enjoyed, however great,
only begets a craving for more. It has led to the most sanguinary wars
that have defiled the earth in ancient and modern times. Alexander,
Caesar, Bonaparte, whom Christian enlightenment has taught us to
regard with horror, are but types of all conquerors, however exalted
their professed aims.
Ø An immoderate love of display. This is the most contemptible form of
all, and to this King Ahasuerus became a willing victim. Think of the
sumptuousness of this feast, the number of the guests, the magnificence
of the palace, the costliness of the furniture, the gorgeousness of the
drapery, by which he sought to impress the world with the “honor of his
excellent majesty” on this occasion. The morbid desire among the
well-to-do classes of outshining each other in the grandeur of their
mansions, and the splendor of their entertainments, is a standing reproach
upon modem civilization. In spite of the gigantic frauds and disastrous
bankruptcies — the natural results of this spirit — which occasionally
startle society, the evil seems as flagrant as ever.
wrong because it is sometimes allowed to flow in wrong directions. Thus
ambition, however uncomely in certain connections, may be in itself
healthy, and conducive to our highest welfare. Ambition, then, is
commendable when it is:
Ø A desire to cultivate the powers with which we are endowed. These
powers are various: physical, mental, spiritual. A man cannot lay
claim to the highest virtue simply because he strives to have strong
nerves and well developed muscles; still perfect manhood is not
independent of these things. The struggle for intellectual distinction
is certainly more dignified, and has a more ennobling influence upon
those who are engaged in it. The chief glory of man, however, is his
spiritual nature, his ability to hold communion with the unseen; hence
spiritual pursuits are the most exalted. However strong man may be
physically, or great intellectually, if his spiritual powers be dwarfed,
he comes miserably short of THE TRUE IDEAL! Take an athletic man,
the most perfect specimen of athletic training, bone flesh and sinew,
if that is all, he is but 1/3 of a man and useless to society; send him to
the schools and cream his mind full, he is but 2/3 of a man and dangerous
as well as useless. Put Christ in his heart to control and urge his purpose
and you have AN IDEAL MAN!
Ø A desire to make the most of our outward circumstances. No man’s
circumstances have been so adverse as to make all excellence
unattainable to him. The most barren and desolate life has some spots
which, by cultivation, may yield glorious results. In the majority of
cases unfruitfulness is due to culpable negligence rather than external
difficulties. Just think of the numerous instances in which formidable
disadvantages have been conquered. Poor boys have worked their way
up into the presence of kings, blind men have mastered the intricacies
of optics, the children of profane parents have been renowned for their
saintliness. All honor to those who have wrestled with fortune and
defied her opposition! The circumstances of most men, however, are
more or less favorable to their advancement, and to make the most of
them is not only allowable, but a positive duty.
Ø A desire to benefit the world. The best ambition is that which is furthest
removed from self. The men who will be held in everlasting remembrance
are those who have contributed their quota to the progress of their kind.
When the names of the most potent warriors shall have perished, the
names of philosophers like
reformers like Luther, shall live in the affections of a grateful world.
But usefulness does not depend upon eminence; every man in his
own sphere may do something for the common good. Even King
David “served his own generation.” (Acts 13:36)
The Sated Sovereign (v. 4)
It is believed that the festivities mentioned in this chapter were held prior to
the invasion of
before that disastrous event.
always the difficulties we encounter which are severest tests of character;
smooth prosperity is at times a fiercer crucible. Ahasuerus may hold his
own against his enemies; will he be able to gain victories over himself?
From all we can learn of him, from the sacred book, and from
contemporary history, he appears to have manifested much pride,
vainglory, self-indulgence, and extravagance. “He showed the riches of his
glorious kingdom and honor of his excellent majesty many days, even an
hundred and fourscore days” (ch. 1:4). For the space of six months
he spread before the numerous guests every delicacy his kingdom could
produce. It would have seemed probable that at the end of that time the
king would have been wearied both with the excesses in which he must
have indulged, and the adulation he must have received. If he became
weary, he evidently resolved to overcome the fatigue, and to bear with the
festivities other seven days, during which not only all officials, but all the
people of the capital were to be invited. Oriental ideas of festivity and of
pomp are to this day very extravagant. Illustrations of this might have been
seen at the Durbar held on the occasion of the proclamation of our Queen
as Empress of India, or at the
opening of the
having been present at the latter event, was staggered at the lavish
expenditure in festivities, and at the number of guests, from all countries,
who, like himself, were feasted at the Khedive’s cost, not one day only, but
as long as they cared to remain. The feast of the Persian king was most
luxurious. The palace was not large enough to contain the guests. They
overflowed to the courtyard, which had been fitted up for their reception.
The walls had been hung with rich stuffs, and with a canopy, of white,
green, and blue, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to “silver rings
and pillars of marble.” The couches on which they reclined were covered
with cloth of gold, interwoven with “gold and silver.” Crowds trod the
tesselated pavement, or lounged on silken divans, quaffing wines and
sherbet from the silver cups of diverse pattern and rich chasing, or inhaling
the scent of the roses, so dear to the heart of a Persian. Endless was the
service of viands, fruits, and wines. None, however, “did compel” in
drinking. The arbiter bibendi, chosen by lot to preside, usually compelled
the guests to drink as much as he drank; but this custom was by command
of the king set aside. He provided that by temperance the feast should be
prolonged, and that by refraining from taking too great a quantity at one
time they might be able to continue the longer at their cups.
luxury and waste on the ground that it is good for a country and for
commerce. They say that it is the duty of the rich to be extravagant for the
sake of the poor. The notion is widely spread, and there are numbers who
“better the instruction.” It is quite right that wealth should in some way be
distributed, and that possessors of wealth should surround themselves with
those things which cultivate their better natures, and lead to a higher
appreciation of the beautiful; but it is not right to squander wealth in that
which merely ministers to pomp and pride. For each one living in luxury
and pride, many have to toil the harder. For all the extravagance practiced
greater exactions have by the poor to be endured. Think of how hard must
have been the lot of the poor
laborers on the plains of
was wrung the money which paid for those splendid festivities of the king.
Possibly also the money was extorted in harsh ways, practiced usually by
the farmers of taxes. Think of the bitterness of the many, as contrasted
with the brightness of the few. What were the mass the better, that a few
tickled their palates, lolled in luxury, or flaunted in pride? The object of the
whole waste was to flatter the vanity of the king. He ought to have been
more thoughtful for the interests of his subjects than to permit or foster
such waste. By moderating pomp, and lessening the expenses of
government, he might have lessened the burdens on his poor subjects and
slaves; but security of position only leads to an indifference to the waste of
consent given to the slaughter of thousands of defenseless, captive, and
inoffensive people. He gave this consent simply to please an inhuman
courtier. This is perhaps only one among many harsh decrees of which we
are ignorant, but it is sufficient to indicate the abuse of absolute power. It
is easy to condemn this act of Ahasuerus, but it is possible that many of us
are guilty of something akin to it in spirit. There is power which comes to a
man by custom, or acquisition, or accumulation, or marriage, or by law. A
man may withhold wages on slight excuse, extract excessive work; if
married, may make his wife miserable by his tyranny, or his children fearful
by outbursts of passion or cruelty. In many a home there is more
absolutism and imperiousness than was ever manifested by a modern Czar
absolute power; and many, like Ahasuerus, forget that there is an equality
of obligations on the part of the ruler and the ruled, superiors and inferiors.
The life of Ahasuerus teaches us that neither possessions nor position,
pomp nor power, pride nor pelf, can satisfy a human soul. God has not
intended they should. He has reserved to Himself the power to make us
really happy. Ahasuerus, with all his magnificence, was doubtless a
dissatisfied man. The determination to prolong the feast is rather an
indication of satiety than of satisfaction. The past had not fully answered
his expectations. He knew not him whose service is perfect freedom, and
the knowledge of whose love once possessed becomes the most cherished
possession. He knew not clearly of that loftiness of character which is a
crown that never fades, and of that hope in the future where treasure never
corrupts. He could not say, in prospect of meeting his God, “I shall be
satisfied when I awake with thy likeness.” (Psalm 17:15)
5 “And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all
the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great
and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s
A feast unto all the people that were found in
males only are intended, as appears from v. 9. So Cyrus on one occasion
feasted “the entire Persian army,” slaughtering for them all his father’s
flocks, sheep, goats, and oxen (Herod., 1:126). In the court of the
garden. The “court of the garden” is probably the entire space surrounding
the central hall of thirty-six pillars at
porticoes of twelve pillars each, described by Mr. Loftus in his ‘Chaldaea
wide, with a square of 145 feet taken out of it for the central building. The
area exceeds 60,000 square feet.
6 “Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords
of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the
beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue,
and white, and black, marble.” Where were white, green, and blue hangings.
There is nothing in the original corresponding to “green.” The “hangings,”
or rather awning, was of white cotton (karphas) and violet. Mr. Loftus supposes
that it was carried across from the central pillared hall to the detached
porticoes, thus shading the guests from the intense heat of the sun
purple. Very strong cords would be needed to support the awning if it was
carried across as above suggested, over a space of nearly sixty feet. To
rings of silver. The exact use of the rings is doubtful. Perhaps they were
inserted into the stone work in order that the cords might be made fast to
them. Pillars of
marble. The pillars at
dark-blue limestone. Perhaps the Hebrew shesh designated this stone rather
than marble. The beds were of gold and silver. The couches on which the
guests reclined are intended (compare ch.7:8). These were either
covered with gold and silver cloth, or had their actual framework of the
precious metals, like those which Xerxes took with him into
Herod., 9:82). Upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black
marble. The four words which follow “pavement” are not adjectives
denoting colors, but the names of four different materials. One is shesh,
the material of the pillars, which accords with the fact that such pavement
slabs as have been found at
The other materials are unknown to us, and we cannot say what the exact
colors were; but no doubt the general result was a mosaic pavement of
four different hues.
7 “And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being
diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according
to the state of the king.” They gave them drink in vessels of gold. Drinking-
vessels of gold were found in considerable numbers in the Persian camp near
of Persian nobles. The king would naturally possess in great abundance
whatever luxury was affected by the upper class of his subjects. The
vessels being diverse one from another. This is a minute point, which
must have come from an eye-witness, or from one who had received the
account of the banquet from an eye-witness. It was perhaps unusual. At
least, in the grand banquet represented by Sargon on the walls of his palace
at Khorsabad, it is observable that all the guests hold in their hands goblets
which are exactly alike (see ‘Ancient Monarchies,’ vol. 2. p. 214). Royal
wine. Literally, “wine of the kingdom” — wine, i.e., from the royal cellar,
and therefore good wine, but not necessarily the wine of Helbon, which
was the only wine that the king himself drank (Athen., ‘Deipnosoph,’ 4. p.
A Royal Banquet (vs. 3-7)
In this description of a sumptuous Oriental feast, notice:
1. The guests. These were, in the first instance, the nobles and princes of
the provinces, who were assembled for purposes of state policy; and
afterwards the people of the metropolis, who were lavishly regaled from
the royal table.
2. The splendor and costliness of the entertainment. The great lords were
shown by Ahasuerus the riches of his kingdom, and the honor of his
excellent majesty. The multitude were entertained in the palace garden,
where gorgeous awnings were slung from marble pillars. The guests
reclined on couches of gold and silver, placed on marble pavements. They
were served with delicious viands and costly wines from the cellar of the king.
3. The protraction of the feast. The people were feasted for a week. The
princes were detained for six months upon business of state. Probably
preparations were then made for the expedition into
famous in history, and which came to so ignominious a close. Consider three
great moral lessons underlying this picture of magnificence.
POWER. The multitude often appear to care more for display than for
justice on the part of their rulers. If the Roman populace under the empire
were supplied with food and shows, they were content. In our own times
we have seen the people of a great city kept quiet by lavish expenditure on
the part of a despot.
AMBITION. Xerxes had a purpose in bringing his lords and satraps to
be slain, and the complete success of which could only issue in his own
aggrandisement and glory. Let the people beware of the selfish and
sanguinary schemes of the great of this world. Justice and peace are
preferable to despotism and bloodshed.
FORGETTING, RATHER THAN FOR REMEMBERING, GOD, THE
GIVER OF ALL. When we sit at Heaven’s table we should give Heaven
thanks. Some of the great banquets mentioned in the Scriptures were
occasions for ostentation and for carousing, and this seems to be no
exception. The bounties of Divine
gratitude and devout acknowledgments. “Whether we eat or drink, or
whatever we do, let us do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31)
Vanity (vs. 5-7)
A special banquet wound up the protracted festivities. Of this banquet note:
1. It was given to the inhabitants of Shushan, both great and small, and it
lasted seven days. The close of the six months’ feasting with the nobles and
governors, at which imperial affairs were probably discussed, was to be
celebrated by a great flourish of kingly magnificence. The banquet to the
capital was evidently the climax and crown of the rejoicings.
2. Special arrangements had to be made for the accommodation of so vast
a crowd. These arrangements were on a most extravagant scale. We are
dazzled by columns of marble, variously-colored hanging’s, couches and
vessels of gold, and wine usually reserved for the king’s use. Everything
was done “according to the state of the king.” From these things we may
will satisfy it. It ever cries for more. The sight of the king’s “excellent
majesty” by the governors of 127 provinces was something to remember,
but it was not enough; a whole city must be gathered to view and to be
impressed by the royal grandeurs.
It loses all perception of its own folly, and it commits its follies as if others
also were equally blind. It thus virtually loses the end on which its greed
fastens. There are always eyes about it keen enough to penetrate its
illusions, and hearts that form, if they do not express, a true judgment.
king to lavish in indulging and feeding his weakness. No thought of the sin
of such waste entered his mind. No fear of possible straits in the future
stayed his hand. It is likely that he possessed far more than sufficient
treasure to meet the demands of the festival. But suppose it were so, that
would not diminish the sin of perverting to vain uses a wealth which, if
wisely applied, might have been helpful to beneficent ends. Money is a
great power in the world either for good or for evil, and men are
responsible to God for the use they make of it. Think of the good that
may be done by it:
Ø In assisting the poor.
Ø In encouraging sound institutions of an educational and
Ø In contributing to gospel missions among the heathen.
the king must have been very trying during the long feast and its closing
banquet. Yet what will not vanity endure to attain its object? In this it is
like every other ungoverned lust — greed of gain, fleshly appetite, worldly
ambition. If not under the grace of God, men will submit to greater
hardships and burdens in pursuit of things that are sinful and disappointing
than in the pursuit of what is necessary to true honor and happiness.
Ø If the main burden of this great festival did not fall on the king, then it
would fall on the king’s servants. These would have a hard time of it.
They would be held responsible for every failing or mishap. Despotic
lords have little consideration for their servants, and despotic mistresses
too. Vanity is another name for self-love, which always makes those
who are in bondage to it indifferent to the claims of inferiors.
Ø Apart from the king and his servants, a heavy burden would fall on the
empire. Not immediately, perhaps, but soon. The attack of
involved the loss of myriads of lives and untold treasure. Families
everywhere were plunged into mourning and desolation. The provinces
were impoverished; and as the king’s treasury had to be supplied, the
people were ground down by heavy imposts. Vanity, when inordinately
indulged, and especially by persons in power, becomes burdensome in
numerous ways to many.
CONSCIENCE AND AGAINST GOD; or, in other words, a violation of
natural and revealed law.
Ø Against conscience, or the law of nature. The moral sentiment of all
ages, and the common verdict of living men, condemn a vain-glorying
or self-conceited spirit as opposed to a just estimate of self. Even the
vain are quick to discover and condemn vanity in others. Humility is
taught by the law of the natural conscience to be the proper habit
of man in all circumstances.
Ø Against God, or the law of God’s word. The uplifting of the heart
under vanity are at variance with that Divine revelation of
righteousness and love by which all men are condemned as sinners,
and made dependent on the mercy that is offered in Christ. All self-
glorying manifests ignorance or forgetfulness of the true relation
which the gospel reveals as subsisting between man, the transgressor,
and God, the Redeemer. The faith which submits all to God in Christ
is an emptying of self, and a putting on of the “Holy and Just One,”
who was “meek and lowly in heart.” God is therefore
dishonored, His truth resisted, and His mercy despised, when men who
confess His name become “high-minded” or “puffed up” in self-conceit.
“God forbid that I should glory,” said Paul, “save in the cross of Jesus
Christ.” (Galatians 6:14) Humility before God and men is Christ-like,
and the rightful clothing of the followers of the Lamb.
8 “And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for
so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they
should do according to every man’s pleasure.” The drinking was according
to the law. Rather, “according to edict” — the edict being the express order
given by the king to all the officers of his household. It is implied that the usual
custom was different — that the foolish practice prevailed of compelling men
to drink. That the Persians were hard drinkers, and frequently drank to excess,
is stated by Herodotus (1:133) and Xenophon (‘Cyrop.,’ 8:8, § 11).
Temperance (v. 8)
At the feast of Ahasuerus the provision of luxuries was profuse. The wine
was choice, costly, and rare; and was served in cups of gold of various
form and pattern and ornament. But it was the king’s command that no
guest should be compelled to drink more than he needed or wished. A wise
ordinance; and one which shames many of the customs and requirements of
hospitality, both ancient and modern. Observe:
and all of them may not concur in ordinary experience. For example, there
Ø Appetite. If there were no natural instincts of hunger and thirst there
would be no gluttony and no drunkenness. It does not follow that
natural appetite is bad. The evil lies in over-indulgence, in permitting
bodily desire to overmaster the reasonable nature.
have no means of procuring drink. There is little virtue in such sobriety,
which only awaits the opportunity of abjuring itself. The Persians in the
were proverbially luxurious (Persicos odi, puer, apparatus!). Those of
the guests who were temperate were not so because they had no option.
Ø Example. It could scarcely happen that in so vast an assemblage there
were none intemperate. Whilst the society of the abstemious is a check
and preservative, that of the self-indulgent is an incentive to sin. “Evil
communications corrupt good manners.” (I Corinthians 15:33) The
Persians, who in the early period of their history had been a sober people,
had, with the advance of luxury, lost their reputation for temperance.
It is said that the king had, once a year, an obligation to be drunk, on
the occasion of the annual sacrifice to the sun. We read that the heart
of Ahasuerus was merry with wine; and with such an example before
them, it would have been strange if the subjects universally maintained
Ø Remark the wisdom of the royal ordinance. The king, in the exercise, in
this case, of an enlightened discretion, forbade the too frequent practice
of urging the guests on to intoxication. Even if his example told against
the regulation, the regulation in itself was good.
Ø Remark the consequent action of the officers in charge of the banquet.
The Greeks at their feasts had a symposiarch; the Latins an arbiter
bibendi; the Jews a master of the feast. Much rested with these officials
with regard to the proceedings on such occasions. On this occasion they
exercised their functions in accordance with directions received from the
Ø Remark the consequent liberty of the guests. These were to act every
man according to his pleasure. None did compel. Those who were
disposed to sobriety were not urged to depart from their usual practices, to
violate their convictions of what was right. The custom of constraining
men to drink more than is good for them is filthy and disgraceful. Banished
from decent society, it still lingers among some dissolute associations of
handicraftsmen. It should be discountenanced and resisted; and, in the
present state of public opinion, in a free country, it will not endure the light
of day. Let it be remembered, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging;
and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)
The Law of Temperance (v. 8)
The entertainment of such large and promiscuous companies as those
which were gathered for seven days in the court of the palace garden at
Shushan was not an easy matter. To secure order, and propriety of
conduct, and the general comfort, required much forethought and care. As
an example of the measures adopted, a certain law of the feast is mentioned
as having been laid down by the king for the occasion.
guests to take wine. All were to be left free to drink or not drink as they
the law was put in force on this occasion. We learn from this:
Ø that the royal command was needed, and
Ø that the king, thoughtless as he was in many things, exerted a direct
influence on the orderly arrangement and conduct of the banquet.
The great lose no dignity by attending personally to little duties. What seems
little may contain the seeds of, or have a close connection with, great issues.
issued a special command to enforce a law that was contrary to the usual
practice may be taken as proof that he had special reasons for making
known his will. The following are suggested:
Ø Self-dignity. Any excess on the part of the citizens would have been
unbecoming in his presence, and might have led to the serious
humiliation of his imperial majesty.
Ø Policy. It would have been an awkward thing if the close of the
prolonged and so far triumphant festival had been signalized by a
popular riot, whether good-humored or the reverse. The noise of it
would have spread throughout the empire, and its real character
might have been lost in the misrepresentations of rumor and report.
And such a result was not improbable, supposing that the servants
and the mixed multitude had been left guideless as to their obligations
in presence of the king and his boundless hospitality.
Ø Sympathy. There would be many in such assemblies as now filled the
king’s tables who were unaccustomed to the use of wine, and more
perhaps whose “small” condition would only enable them to use it
sparingly. — Young men also would be present to whom the
indulgences of the older society about them would be yet strange.
It would have been, therefore, a hardship and a wrong, as well as a
danger, if the city guests had been allowed to act on the natural
belief that at the king’s table they were expected to take wine
whenever it was presented. Whatever the motive or motives of
the king, it goes to his credit that when the young and
old, the small and great, were his guests, he enforced a law that
favored temperance. Temperance is not always studied, either on
great festive occasions, or in social gatherings of a more private kind.
Thus this old Persian law becomes our teacher —
o As to the relative duties of host and guest. In countries where
social life is highly developed, and where the men and women
of different families mix much in free and lively intercourse,
these duties are of great importance.
§ The host.
ü He should be kindly considerate of all whom
he invites to share the hospitalities of his house —
avoiding all tyrannical rules that make no
allowance for differences of age, habit, and
ü He should invite none whose manners are
offensive to the temperate, or whose example
and influence would place an undue constraint
on the consciences of others.
ü He should be careful to put no temptations to
excess before the weak, and to give no
countenance to what may favor intemperate
§ The guest. While showing a full appreciation of the good
intent of his host, and a suitable amiability to his fellow-
guests, he should claim and exercise the right to guide
himself in the matters of eating and drinking by
the dictates of the Christian conscience. Whether he
abstain from wine or not, a regard for himself, for his
host, and for his companions should bind him to be
temperate in all things. (I Corinthians 9:25)
o As to the duty of all men to the law of moderation. Not
long ago, to abstain or even to be temperate at social
meetings was considered the mark of a sour and
ungenerous nature. But since then a great improvement in
manners has taken place. Little courage is now required to
abstain altogether from wine. It is said that Queen Victoria
sets a good example in this respect. To the expressed desire
of a sovereign the authority of a command is attached, and to
refuse wine when presented at a sovereign’s table is regarded
as an act of disobedience. But our queen has abolished
this law at her own table, and substituted the law of Ahasuerus
at his great banquet — that all guests shall be free to take or
refuse wine — that none shall compel. The change for the better
in social customs is a matter for thankfulness, but there is still
much room for amendment. Let us remember that to indulge in
§ A sin against society.
§ A sin against one’s self.
ü It injures the body
ü It weakens the mind.
ü It enervates the will.
ü It deadens the conscience.
ü It impoverishes and embitters the life.
ü It destroys the soul.
§ A sin against God.
ü It is a transgression of His law.
ü It is a despising of His love.
ü It is opposed to the spirit and example of his Son.
ü It is a braving of his judgment.
Christian men and women should live under the power of the Christian law,
and strive in all things to be “living epistles” of the Master whom they
serve. All such will give earnest heed to the injunction of Paul, “Let your
moderation be known among all men; the Lord is at hand.” (Philippians 4:5)
9 “Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal
house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.” Vashti, the queen. The only
wife of Xerxes known to the Greeks was Amestris, the daughter of Otanes,
one of the seven conspirators (Herod., 7:61). Xerxes probably took her to wife
as soon as he was of marriageable age, and before he ascended the throne had
a son by her, who in his seventh year was grown up (ibid. 9:108). It would seem
to be certain that if Ahasuerus is Xerxes, Vashti must be Amestris. The
names themselves are not very remote, since will readily interchange with
v; but Vashti might possibly represent not the real name of the queen, but a
favourite epithet, such as vahista, “sweetest.” Made a feast for the
women. Men and women did not take their meals together in
in the privacy of domestic life (Brisson, ‘De Regn. Pers.,’ 2. pp. 273-276).
If the women, therefore, were to partake in a festivity, it was necessary that
they should be entertained separately. In the royal house. In the gynaeceum
or harem, which was probably on the southern side of the great pillared hall
The Position of Women (v. 9)
A noticeable feature of the king’s banquet was that even the women were
not excluded from participation in the festivities. In the court of the garden
the king entertained only men. But inside the palace Queen Vashti made a
feast for the women.
Ø On the field of governmental policies and national events. It has often
been dominant, even though unseen, both in civilized and in uncivilized
countries. A beautiful and clever woman may easily make a weak prince
her slave, and through him affect the current of history either for good or
evil. There are not a few instances of the exercise of the feminine power in
the region of politics both in sacred and secular history, both in ancient
and modern times.
Ø On the field of domestic, social, and religious life.
o Mothers. To a large extent mothers give the mold of thought and
character to each generation. The early years, the formative
periods, of men and women alike, are in their hands. The early
home, whatever its character, is never forgotten.
o Wives. The power of a trusted and loved wife over her husband
cannot be estimated. It will, as a rule, work its way gradually and
surely, either to his well-being or to his detriment. The effect of
so close, and tender, and constant a companionship will inevitably
show itself, somehow:
§ in his character,
§ his happiness, and
§ his work.
The spirit that rules his wife will come in some real measure to
§ it will strengthen or weaken his character,
§ brighten or darken his home,
§ benefit or blast his life.
Is there anything more beautiful, and strong, and good in human
society than the influence of the modest, loving, virtuous, and
o Women generally. In societies which allow freedom in the
family and world between men and women of all ages, feminine
influence touches human life at every point. When it is pure it is
always purifying. When it is impure it has a terrible power to
corrupt. A relationship with a high-minded and good-hearted
Christian woman is a lift heavenward. Familiarity with an
unprincipled woman is a plunge hellward. In all circles, and
in all directions, the influence of women powerfully tells.
It is at once the best and the worst element in all grades of
CLAIMS OF WOMEN. The effect of secluding women, and treating them
as the chattels and toys of men, has been to degrade them, and to deprive
society of their proper influence. It is undoubtedly true that the position
assigned to women in Eastern nations has been one of the chief causes of
their decay, and is now one of the chief obstacles to all civilizing or
Christianising movements. My favorite and most enlightening scripture
concerning this issue is “Likewise, ye husbands dwell with them according to
knowledge, giving honor to the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being
heirs together of the GRACE OF LIFE!” – I Peter 3:7 – CY – 2014)
WOMEN. Wherever the gospel of Jesus is allowed to govern families or
communities, the gentler sex is raised by it into its true relative position.
We think of the holy women to whom Jesus gave such a mingled respect
and affection, and of those who were associated with the apostles in their
work, and of whom such honorable mention is made. The Christian
religion ever brings with it the emancipation of women from the thraldom
of man’s tyrannical lust, and secures to them their rightful share of work
and influence. It makes them mistress in their own sphere. It clothes them
with a new responsibility and power, and, by surrounding them with high
duties and ministries, draws into beneficent activity the best qualities of
their nature. Nations that degrade their women are doomed; nations that
cherish a Christian respect for them have a spring of life that will make
them strong and enduring. The greatest trial of gospel missionaries arises
from the utter ignorance of heathen women and the difficulty of reaching
them with the Divine truth they teach.
The Royal Feast (vs. 1-9)
We have in the opening chapter of this Book of Esther the description of a
royal feast; it may remind us of two other feasts to which we of this land
and age, and they of every clime and century, are invited guests.
deed and truth the “King of kings,” and not in name only, like these Persian
monarchs, spreads a regal feast for His subjects. It is one that:
Ø lasts all the year through: not for even “a hundred and eighty days,”
but He “daily loadeth us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19);
Ø extends to all His creatures: there is “food for man and beast.” In this
Divine provision is every needful thing for the senses: “food for all flesh:
for His mercy endureth for ever!” (Psalm136:25), beauty for the eye,
aromas for the smell, delicacies for the palate, melodies for the ear;
(Ponder God’s providence in equipping us with the five senses and
then the extra provision for their satisfaction! CY – 2014)
Ø truth and fact for the mind: “Wisdom hath builded her house,” etc.
Ø love for the heart of man: the love of kindred and of friends, the feast
of pure affection. Of this feast of the Lord of nature we may say that,
like that in the text, it is one of regal bounty; it is the constant and lavish
kindness of a King; that, unlike that in the text, there is more of kindness
than ostentation in it — a “hiding of power” (Habakkuk 3:3-4) rather
than a display; and that it is one in which those who wisely accept the
King’s invitation may find a continual and life-long enjoyment. (Which
which will be extended in ETERNITY! CY – 2014) They who
eat and drink at His table, as He invites them to do, go not through an
exciting intoxication followed by a remorseful misery and ennui? but
find in the gifts of His hand a perennial spring of pure and lasting
”King’s Son,” has made for us a spiritual feast (Matthew 22:1-14):
“royal wine in abundance” (v. 7); (Spurgeon often made reference to
Isaiah 25:6-9 – CY – 2014); “bread enough and to spare” (Luke 15:17 –
I highly recommend Sermon 1000 – Bread Enough and to Spare – just
type in the blue words in your browser – CY – 2014) at His
princely table for all thirsting and hungering souls (Isaiah 55:1; John
6:35). In this gospel feast there is:
Ø no ostentation, but marvellous love; the marked absence of all
stately pomp and material splendor (Isaiah 53.), but the presence
of all generosity and self-sacrificing goodness.
Ø provision, without distinction of rank (contrast vs. 3, 4, 5) or sex
(contrast v. 9), for all subjects, in whatever part of His kingdom
they dwell (contrast v. 5); and
Ø provision which lasts not for a number of days (contrast vs. 4-5), but
so long as the heart hungers for the bread of life, as the soul thirsts
for the waters of salvation.
THE DISGRACE OF VASHTI (vs. 10-22).
On the seventh day of the feast “to all in Shushan” (v. 5), the king having
excited himself with drink, took it into his head to send a message to
Vashti, requiring her to make her appearance in the banquet of the men,
since he desired to exhibit her beauty to the assembled guests, as “she was
fair to look on” (v. 11). His design must have been to present her
unveiled to the coarse admiration of a multitude of semi-drunken revelers,
in order that they might envy him the possession of so lovely a wife. Such a
proceeding was a gross breach of Persian etiquette, and a cruel outrage
upon one whom he above all men was bound to protect. Vashti, therefore,
declined to obey (v. 12). Preferring the risk of death to dishonor, she
braved the anger of her despotic lord, and sent him back a message by his
chamberlains that she would not come. We can well understand that to an
absolute monarch such a rebuff, in the face of his whole court and of some
hundreds or thousands of assembled guests, must have been exasperating
in the extreme. At the moment when he had thought to glorify himself by a
notable display of his omnipotence, he was foiled, defeated, made a
laughing-stock to all
anger burned in him.” It is to his credit that, being thus fiercely enraged, he
did not proceed to violence, but so far restrained himself as to refer the
matter to the judgment of others, and ask the “seven princes” the question,
“What is to be done according to law unto queen Vashti, for not
performing the commandment of the king?” (v. 15). The advice of the
princes, uttered by one of their body (vs. 16-20), and assented to by the
remainder (v. 21), was, that Vashti should be degraded from the position
of queen, and her place given to another. This sentence was supported by
specious arguments based upon expediency, and ignoring entirely the
outrageous character of the king’s command, which was of course the real,
and sole, justification of Vashti’s disobedience. It was treated as a simple
question of the wife’s duty to obey her husband, and the husband’s right to
enforce submission. Ahasuerus, as might be expected, received the decision
of his obsequious counselors with great satisfaction, and forthwith sent
letters into all the provinces of his vast empire, announcing what had been
done, and requiring wives everywhere to submit themselves unreservedly
to the absolute rule of their lord (v. 22).
10 “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with
wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and
Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in
the presence of Ahasuerus the king,” When the heart of the king was merry
with wine. We are told that once a year, at the feast of Mithra, the king of
was bound to intoxicate himself (Duris, Fr. 13). At other times he did as he
pleased, but probably generally drank till reason was somewhat obscured. Mehuman,
etc. Persian etymologies have been given for most of these names, but they
are all more or less uncertain; and as eunuchs were often foreigners,
mutilated for the Persian market (Herod., 3:93; 8:105), who bore foreign
names, like the Hermotimus of Herodotus (8:104-106), it is quite possible
that Persian etymologies may here be out of place. Bigtha, however, if it
be regarded as a shortened form of Bigthan (ch.2:21) or Bigthana
(ch. 6.), would seem to be Persian, being equivalent to Bagadana =
(Theodorus), “the gift of God.” Chamberlains. Really, as in the margin,
“eunuchs.” The influence of eunuchs at the Persian court was great from
the time of Xerxes. Ctesias makes them of importance even from the time
of Cyrus (‘Exc. Pera,’ § 5, 9).
11 “To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to
shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look
on.” Vashti … with the crown royal. We have no representation
of a Persian queen among the sculptures; but Mousa, a Parthian queen,
appears on a coin of her son Phraataces (‘Sixth Oriental Monarchy,’ p.
220), crowned with a very elaborate tiara. It consists of a tall stiff cap, not
unlike the cidaris of a Persian king, but is apparently set with large jewels.
Vashti’s “crown royal” was probably not very dissimilar. To show the
princes and the people her beauty. More than one Oriental monarch is
reported to have desired to have his own opinion of his wife’s beauty
confirmed by the judgment of others. Candaules, king of
have lost his crown and his life through imprudently indulging this desire
(Herod., 1:8-12). So public an exposure, however, as that designed by
Ahasuerus is not recorded of any other monarch, and would scarcely have
been attempted by any one less extravagant in his conduct than Xerxes.
Queen Vashti (vs. 9-11)
It would seem that the character of Vashti has been by many writers
darkened in order to bring out the brightness of Esther’s virtues. But it is
not fair to make one queen simply the foil to the other. Haughty,
disobedient, defiant, Vashti may have been, but she was placed in no
ordinary position, and treated in no ordinary manner.
indicates her beauty, and it is expressly said that she was fair to look upon.
She was the legitimate wife of Ahasuerus. If he were Xerxes, it is possible
she may have been the Amestris of the Greek historians. She fulfilled her
royal duties. We read of her feasting the ladies, the princesses, in the royal
palace; within doors, and apart from the men.
merry with wine, the king bade his chamberlains bring the queen, in her
stately robes, and with her royal crown upon her head, before him, that he
might show her beauty to the princes and to the people. Now this was:
Ø A violation of national custom. We are told indeed, that, when in their
cups, the Persian kings would dismiss their wives and send for their
concubines and singing girls. It was certainly a command contrary to
custom, however it may have been in accordance with the capricious
character of Xerxes.
Ø An outrage upon her womanly modesty. That a young and beautiful
woman should appear before a vast company of boisterous and half-
intoxicated nobles, and this that they might admire her loveliness,
was a foul shame.
Ø A derogation from her wifely dignity. The king should have honored
Vashti as his consort, worthy of respectful treatment; for the disgrace
of the wife is the disgrace of the husband. Ahasuerus must have been
despised by any sober and honorable noble who heard him give this
Ø It was a slur upon her royal station. This station was acknowledged by
her position at the head of the table, where the banquet was given to the
chief ladies of the realm. If it was fit that she should preside as hostess, it
was not fit that she should be brought forward for the general gaze and
admiration, like a courtesan famous for beauty and infamous for
disobedience and defiance. But:
Ø It was a fault with much to extenuate it. The command was
unreasonable. Compliance would have done no one concerned any
good, and would have outraged her own modesty.
Ø It was a fault punished with disproportionate severity. Certainly it was
harsh and cruel to deprive Vashti of her position as queen because of her
refusal to comply with the unreasonable requirement of a drunken
husband. Disputes between the nearest akin are often the most keen.
It was with reason that the inspired apostle penned the admonition
“Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them!”
12 “But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment
by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger
burned in him.” But the queen Vashti refused. Vashti’s refusal was morally
quite justifiable. Neither a husband’s nor a king’s authority extends to the
wanton requirement of acts that, if done, would disgrace the doer for life.
Had Vashti complied, she would have lost the respect not only of the
Persian nation, but of the king himself. Therefore was the king very
wroth. Had Ahasuerus really loved his wife, or been a man of fair and
equitable disposition, be would have excused her refusal, and felt that he
had deserved the rebuff. But, not really loving her, and being of a hot and
ungovernable temper, he was violently enraged with her, as he always was
when anything fell out contrary to his wishes (see Herod., 7:11, 35, 39,
Anger (v. 12)
Vashti’s disobedience kindled in the king’s mind a strong resentment —
he “was very wroth” and “his anger burned in him.”
The king lost dignity when he became “very wroth” in presence of his
guests. He was no longer king, but a suffering subject under the will or
caprice of Vashti. Anger always makes a man look inferior to the occasion
that gives birth to it.
HUMILIATION. If the king had received Vashti’s refusal to obey him
with a calm mind and a pleasant countenance, as a thing personal to himself
and Vashti, and therefore above the observance of the crowd, the last hour
of the banquet might have been in keeping with all the other hours that had
preceded it. But his breaking into an ungovernable fury brought the festival
to a miserable close. The princes and people separated in confusion and
fear. The king’s anger did not mend matters.
when the mind is perturbed by wrathful feelings. The angry man is shut up
to one view of the conduct that has enraged him. He sees everything
through the mist of his passion. The last man to judge or act truly is he who
has given up the reins of temper, and yielded himself to the power of anger.
circumstances which have actuated those against whom it is turned, or for
the initiative or contributory wrong-doing of the heart in which it burns.
While it lasts it is simply absorbed by the self that is pained, and has no
regard for others. All the springs of charity are dried up when anger rules a
It led Ahasuerus, as we shall see, to be unjust and cruel to Vashti. But to
what terrible and varied crimes does it give birth in ordinary life! What a
place it occupies in our criminal records! How many injure others and ruin
themselves by giving “place to wrath!” There is much in the every-day
experience of the world to warn men against allowing themselves to yield
to the power of anger.
There is an anger which is Christlike. “Be ye angry and sin not,” said Paul.
But that is an anger, or holy indignation, against sin and its temptations. It
has reference to things that are evil, and not to persons. Jesus Himself hated
sin and all its works, but He loved sinners and died for them. We cannot
cherish at the same time the forgiving spirit of Christ and the feeling of
anger towards any man. It was at once a recognition of our weakness, and
a desire that we should strive to overcome it, that led the apostle to write,
“Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26)
13 “Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so
was the king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment:
Then the king said to the wise men. Angry as he was,
Ahasuerus had still some power of self-restraint. He was in the presence of
his whole court, and of a great assembly of the people. It would not be
seemly that he should vent his passion in violent words, imprecations, or
threats. His dignity required that he should at any rate seem calm, and,
instead of issuing any hasty order, should proceed deliberately to consider
what were the next steps to be taken. Xerxes appears to have been rather
fond of asking advice (Herod., 7:8, 48, 234; 8:101); and he now, in a
sufficiently dignified way, required the opinion of his “wise men” on the
practical question, What was to be done to Vashti? (see v. 15). Which
knew the times. i.e. persons who were well acquainted with past times,
and knew what it was customary to do on each occasion. For so was the
king’s manner toward all that knew law and judgment. Rather, “For
so was the business of the king brought before such as knew law and
judgment.” Each matter which concerned the king was submitted to
learned persons for their opinion before any actual step was taken
(compare Herod., 3:31, where Cambyses asks the opinion of the royal
judges with respect to his proposed marriage with his sister). It is not a
special practice of Ahasuerus, but a general usage of the Persian monarchy,
which is noticed.
Wise Men (v. 13)
Wisdom is the skill which some men possess of devising means to secure
any end that is aimed at. It is what Aristotle termed an intellectual virtue.
There is no position in life where wisdom is not useful. And in the highest
positions, in Church and in State, it is a quality which is justly held in very
high esteem. Counselors of kings and ministers of state need a large
measure of practical wisdom. The same may be said of pastors of Christian
Churches, and of officers of Christian societies and organizations of all
sometimes said of men that they are “born fools,” and it is certain that
some are by nature more endowed than others with insight into character,
and with fertility of devices and resources. A cunning man is seldom wise,
for he usually overreaches himself, and awakens distrust in the minds of his
is proverbial that hasty men are unwise; they will not allow themselves time
to see more than one side of a subject. To weigh with calmness and
impartiality the possible plans of action is conducive to a wise decision.
Not every well-informed and learned man is wise; but few men are wise
whose knowledge is scanty, and whose experience is contracted. Two
kinds of knowledge are referred to in this passage.
Ø Historical knowledge, or knowledge of the times. To study the
history of nations and of the affairs of state is a good preparation
for the life of a politician or a statesman.
Legal knowledge. The
counselors of the king of
known law and judgment, obviously very essential to men in their
TRUST. Like other good things, it may be used, and it may be abused.
There is a great danger lest the counselors of kings should give advice
fitted to please rather than to profit. It is well, therefore, that all such
should remember that they are themselves accountable to the Lord and
Judge of all. If wisdom be employed to secure merely selfish ends, or to
flatter the ambitious and the vain, it will prove in every way a curse.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from
evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28)
14 And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish,
Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven
Media, which saw the king’s face, and which sat the first in the
kingdom;) And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, etc. The
chief native advisers of Xerxes in the early part of his reign appear to have
been Mardonius (Pera Marduniya) and Artabanus (Pers, Artapana), who
was his uncle (Herod., 7:5-17). It is possible that Mardonius may be here
represented by Marsena, and Artabanus by Admatha; but the names
could only have taken these shapes by a large amount of corruption. The
other form have a general Persian air, but do not admit of even conjectural
identification. The seven princes of Persia and Media. Ezra assigns to
the Persian monarch seven special counselors (ch.7:14), and
Herodotus says that there were seven leading families in
heads were specially privileged (3:84). The title, however, “princes of
Persia and Media,” is not found anywhere but here. Which saw the king’s
face. Among the privileges said by Herodotus to have been reserved to the
heads of the great families, one of the most valued was that of free access
to the monarch at all times, unless he were in the seraglio.
15 “What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because
she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus
by the chamberlains?” What shall we do to queen Vashti according to law?
Literally, “According to law, what is there to do to queen Vashti?” Law is
given the prominent place, as though the king would say, Let us put aside
feeling, and simply consider what the law is. If a queen disobeys the king
openly in the face of his court, what, according to law, is to be done to her?
16 “And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti
the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the
princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the
king Ahasuerus.” And Memucan answered. We gather from Memucan’s reply
that the Persian law had provided no penalty for the case in hand — had, in
fact, not contemplated it. He first argues the matter on general grounds of
morality (v. 16) and expediency (vs. 17-18), and then proposes the
enactment of a new law — a privilegium — assigning Vashti a special
punishment for her contempt of the king’s order. The “decree” (v. 20)
would not have been necessary had there already existed a law on the
point. Vashti, the queen, hath not done wrong to the king only. With
the servility to be expected in an Oriental and a courtier, Memucan throws
himself wholly on the king’s side — insinuates no word of blame against
his royal master, on whom in justice the whole blame rested; but sets
himself to make the worst he can of Vashti’s conduct, which (he says) was
a wrong not to Ahasuerus only, but to the whole male population of the
empire, the princes included, who must expect their wives to throw off all
subjection, in imitation of the queen’s example, if her conduct were
allowed to go unpunished. As such a condition of things would be
intolerable, the king is urged to disgrace her publicly.
17 “For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so
that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be
reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be
brought in before him, but she came not.” They shall despise their husbands.
Literally, “their lords,” but the word is the one ordinarily used for “husband.”
When it shall be reported. Rather, “while they say,” or “and shall say.” (So
the Vulgate — “ut contemnant et dicant.”)
shall the ladies of
the king’s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen.
Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.”
The ladies. Rather, “the princesses.” Translate the whole
passage as follows: — “Likewise shall the princesses
which have heard of the deed of the queen, say this day to all the king’s
princes.” Not only will the wives of the common people get hold of the
story, and quote Vashti’s example as often as they wish to disobey their
husbands, but our own wives too will disobey us on the same pretext, and
will begin forthwith “this day.” (This is what has happened to American
culture – modern communication speeds up deviant life styles – It has
been within my lifetime that schools were forbidden to discipline
students who had body piercings – Just an example which is nothing
compared to damage to society in other areas concerning different
issues! CY - 2014) Too much contempt and wrath. Literally,
“sufficient;” but the meaning is that given by our translators — “quite
enough,” “more than enough.” Contempt on the part of the wives; wrath
on the part of the husbands.
Court Influence (vs. 16-18)
We may admit the general truth of a principle, and yet deny its application
to a particular case. Doubtless wrong-doing on the part of the queen might
have exerted an unwholesome influence upon other women, but it by no
means follows that her conduct in the present instance was open to this
objection. On the contrary, might not her bravery in maintaining the honor
of her sex in the face of so much danger strengthen the hands of others
when placed in similar difficulties? The subject suggested by this passage is
the responsibility of greatness. Let us inquire:
general way, the position of a man who for certain well-defined reasons
towers above the rest of his fellow-men. Evidently, therefore, it may be of
Ø The greatness of position. Some are born heirs to titles and kingdoms.
Distinction is thrust upon them before their wishes are consulted. Their
lives mingle with the web of history simply on account of their birth.
Ø The greatness of wealth This differs from the preceding in that it is
confined to no favored class. A man may have a most humble origin,
and yet through industry and perseverance may become a millionaire.
Ø The greatness of genius. This is the gift of God. It resembles that of
position, in that men are born into it; but it also resembles that of wealth,
in that it is fully enjoyed only through labor. John Milton would have
been a genius had he been “mute and inglorious;” but it was the effort
he put forth in producing ‘Paradise Lost’ that made him immortal.
Ø The fact that the great are members of society. No member of society,
however great or however humble, can be independent. His actions
touch his fellows at so many points that they have a right to control
his conduct to that extent.
Ø The great determine their own actions. No man is a mere puppet of
circumstances. A high position may involve conditions which hamper
the will, but they cannot rob it altogether of its freedom. In so far
then as actions are free the agent is responsible for them.
Ø The great exert an influence. This is true of all, but especially of the
great. And this was the point on which Memucan so emphatically
Influence is independent of our will. We can shape our own conduct,
but we cannot regulate its effects upon others. We cannot plead that we
never desired it, when we are charged with ruining others by our example,
for those who copy us as a rule do not ask our permission. Does the
subject of a deadly fever desire to spread infection?
The influence of the great is powerful in proportion to their greatness.
They are the observed of all observers. They are cities set on a hill which
cannot be hid. Jeroboam son
of Nebat made
of the people for several generations was attributed to the influence of his
It is far easier to influence for evil than for good. The effect produced
upon an object is as much due to the object itself as to the power exerted.
A blow that would leave iron uninjured might shatter glass to atoms. The
original bias of the human heart is TOWRD EVIL so that it needs little
help in that direction. No great eloquence is required to persuade the miser to
hoard his money, or the spendthrift to squander his substance.
Ministers of religion exert an influence. Not merely in the pulpit, but in
their walk in the world. (Once, in graduate school, I took a course on
Adminstration and the professor wanted us to interview x number of people
to find out the power structure of a community (influential community leaders).
Our pastor, John R. Christian, was high on all lists! – CY – 2014)
Parents exert an influence. Their actions will generally produce a deeper
impression than their words.
Associates exert an influence. Men are constantly brought together in
the various pursuits of life. In the workshops in the market-place, in the
transactions of business, each man is unconsciously contributing his share
to the making or the marring of the characters of those with whom he
comes in contact.
The Influence of Example (vs. 17-18)
Where can be found a more striking proof of the general belief in the force
of example than in this passage? The counselors of the king
not men likely to be led away by their feelings or fancies. Yet they
supposed that the conduct of one woman might influence the domestic
demeanor and spirit and habits of the women of an empire throughout its
127 provinces! And they proposed to counteract the evil influence of
Vashti’s disobedience by. a most unusual proceeding, by a stringent law
affecting every household throughout the realm! The conduct of the queen
made the highest personages in the land uneasy, and was thought capable
of affecting the meanest and the most distant.
in human nature. We are naturally social and imitative. The power of
example over children is known to all. But no age is exempt from its
action. Some persons live with the constant sense that their spirit and
conduct will affect those of others. But if persons have no such sense, none
the less is it true that their influence “tells.” This is the explanation of
Ø in manner,
Ø in speech,
Ø in social usages,
Ø even in beliefs.
None of us can say how much he is what he is through the influence of
others’ example. “In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works:
in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity.” (Titus 2:7)
we should influence and be influenced by example is a Divine arrangement.
It works both ways; and to the action of example the cause of virtue and
religion is immensely indebted; whilst the same principle explains the
prevalence of error, vice, and sin. Let every hearer call to mind the
influences to which he has been exposed, and trace up to them the position
he occupies, as well as the character which has been formed in him. This
exercise will make him tremble to think of the responsibility under which
he lies for his own influence over his fellow-creatures.
STATION. Vashti was a queen, and what she did was known to
multitudes, and was influential, more or less, over all who knew it. A queen
sets fashions, gives social laws, even influences, to some extent, the morals
of the community. (Think of the influence of Princess Diana – CY – 2014)
A vicious court is a curse to the land. For a virtuous and
benevolent sovereign, subjects cannot be too grateful. Others in high
station, alike in the Church and in the world, will affect the habits of many
by their good or evil example. Public persons, it has been said, are the
looking-glasses before which others dress themselves. It is of highest
importance that the springs should be sweetened, lest the streams be
poisoned and deleterious.
1. Let us gratefully acknowledge God’s goodness in using the principle in
question for our benefit. Scripture is full of good examples. The history of
the Church teems with such. The Christian society around us contains
many excellent and inspiring examples for our imitation.
2. Especially let as be thankful for the example of our Divine Saviour. He
was not only our Redeemer, but our Exemplar also. He “left us an example
that we should follow his steps.” (I Peter 2:21) It is the one faultless, peerless
example to humanity.
3. Let us be careful what examples we study, and what influences we place
4. Let us be very circumspect in the education of the young, that we have
brought to bear upon their hearts such influences as God may bless to their
5. Let us “watch and pray” that our influences — purposed and
unconscious alike — may be for the highest good of all with whom we are
19 “If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him,
and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes,
that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king
Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that
is better than she.” A royal commandment. Literally, “a command of the
kingdom” — i.e. a public, not a domestic, order. Under ordinary
circumstances such a matter as the disgrace of a favorite wife would have
been settled in the secrecy of the seraglio, without calling general attention
to it. In Memucan’s opinion, the publicity of Vashti’s disobedience had
made it expedient that she should be disgraced publicly. Let it be written
among the laws of the Persians and the Medes. A sentence upon an
individual was not a very suitable thing to add to a national code of laws;
but we see from Daniel (Daniel 6:8-9) that decrees of quite a
temporary character were sometimes attached to the code for the express
purpose of rendering them unalterable; and so it seems to have been in this
instance. Unto another. Literally, as in the margin, “unto her companion.”
Memucan assumes that one of the existing inmates of the seraglio will be
elevated into the place vacated by Vashti. This was the ordinary course,
but on the present occasion was not followed.
20 “And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be
published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives
shall give to their husbands honor, both to great and small.”
The king’s decree. The “commandment” of the preceding
verse is here given the formal name of pithgam, “decree,” which is a
Persian word, used also in Ezra (Ezra 4:17; 5:7, 11). For it is great.
These words seem at first sight superfluous. Perhaps their force is this —
Let a decree be made, and then, great as the empire is, the lesson will be
taught to all: otherwise there will be many to whom it will never penetrate.
Counsel (vs. 13-20)
The king of
some degree of common-sense on his part that, instead of acting upon
impulse, he waited to ask the advice of his ministers, those privileged and
trusted men who were nearest to the throne. If they had advised him well
he might have avoided making an exhibition of his own folly to his people.
But their plan was to fall in with the inclinations of their sovereign. This,
whilst we must blame it, we cannot wonder at; for few dared to oppose the
vain and imperious monarchs of
ITSELF. It sometimes happens that a person called upon for advice sees
what it would be right to advise, but gives advice contrary to that which his
judgment would approve. It is better to decline advising than to do this.
THE GIVER. If one advises so as to secure his own interest at the expense
of the friend who trusts and consults him, he acts with baseness, and
RECEIVER. In advising the great, counselors are too often guided by a
desire to fall in with their inclinations, to flatter their pride and vanity, to
minister to their lusts. Flatterers are bad counselors, though by their
flattery they may advance themselves. Their motto is, Mihi placer quicquid
regi placer (that pleases me which pleases my lord, the king).
Advice which is not to the point, or which is given when it is too late for it
to be of use, is vain. How many a misguided youth has had reason to
exclaim, Why was I not warned or directed while warning and direction
might have been of use?
21 “And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did
according to the word of Memucan:” This expression must not be pressed
too closely. It does not imply more than that Memucan’s advice was followed
in a general way — Vashti disgraced, and the grounds of her disgrace published
throughout the provinces. We cannot be sure that the decree was “written among
the laws of the Persians and the Medes.” Even if it was, it was always possible
for a Persian king to give himself a dispensation from the law (see Herod., 3:58).
22 “For he sent letters into all the king’s provinces, into every province
according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their
language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and
that it should be published according to the language of every
people.” For he sent. Rather, “and he sent.” Besides publishing the
decree, Ahasuerus sent letters prescribing certain things, viz.:
1. That every man should bear rule in his own house; and,
2. That every man should speak his own language in his family, and
not that of his wife, if it were different.
This is the plain meaning of the existing text, which cannot bear either of
the senses suggested in the Authorised Version.
Rule in the House (v. 22)
The purport of the edict here recorded was good, although there seems
something almost ludicrous in the feelings and the fears which prompted its
framers and promulgators. “That every man should bear rule in his own
house” seems scarcely a regulation to be prescribed by political authority.
AUTHORITY. It is written upon the very constitution of human nature
that a wife should be directed by her husband, and children by their father.
If purpose is visible anywhere, it is in this domestic law.
it was said to the woman, “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall
rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16) The apostle thus admonishes the female sex:
“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.”
(Colossians 3:16) “The husband,” we are told, “is the head of the wife.”
THOUGHTFUL WISDOM ON THE PART OF HIM WHO EXERCISES
IT. If the husband is a fool, it is not easy for the wife to submit. But if he be
a man of knowledge, experience, and self-control, the wife will usually,
gladly and gratefully, be guided by his desires and requests.
AND FORBEARANCE. Nothing is more hateful or contemptible than the
rule of a domestic tyrant, and such a rule encourages either rebellion or
deceit. Children lose all respect for an unreasonable and passionate father.
The household with such a head is wretched indeed. Affection and
consideration should be manifest in the demeanor and requirements of all
in authority over a family.
SUBMISSION. Women are very much what men make them. Let them be
treated with affection and courtesy, and the response will usually be
HAPPINESS. The family is so far like the state; tyranny awakens
resentment and provokes resistance, whilst a righteous and considerate rule
is acknowledged with gratitude, and is productive of happiness. A home
where there is anarchy is a hell upon earth; a home where a woman rules is
a monstrous and loathsome spectacle. Darius and Xerxes are said, both of
them, to have been too much governed by their wives. History abounds
with instances in which the legitimate power of the wives of kings has been
exceeded, and in which kings’ mistresses have corrupted courts, and to
some degree nations also. (i.e. Athaliah – II Kings 11)
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