Chapter 1

Esther 1:

1)  During the reign of Ahasuerus—the same Ahasuerus who ruled over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia—


COMMENTARY:  Hyperbole.  Xerxes actually only ruled around thirty provinces.  Inflating this number—which everybody listening would know was wrong—shows how gradiose “Ahasuerus” is in his own estimation.



2) while he was occupying the royal throne in the royal precinct of Susa,


COMMENTARY:  Susa was the winter palace of the Persian empire, down on the plains where it would be warm.  In summer, when the plains became miserably hot, the royal court would take off for Ecbatana in the cooler mountains, and then come down again when the seasons turned to avoid the snow.  This sets the story in the colder half of the year, which is why Jews celebrate Esther’s eventual victory at the end of winter.



3) in the third year of his reign, he gave a feast for all his officials and ministers: the Persian and Median army officers, the nobles, and the governors of the provinces.


COMMENTARY:  This establishes the King’s power, and also shows all of officialdom joining him in debauchery, soon to share his complete lack of good judgment.



4) For as many as a hundred and eighty days, he displayed the glorious riches of his kingdom and the resplendent wealth of his royal estate.


COMMENTARY:  They already know.  They’re his officials.  He’s showing off just because he’s full of himself.  But this also establishes that Ahasuerus is powerful and rich, not to be crossed lightly.



5) At the end of this time the king gave a feast of seven days in the garden court of the royal palace for all the people, great and small, who were in the royal precinct of Susa.


COMMENTARY:  Still, that’s generous of him, including the servants in on it.  Which can only mean that he drafted still more servants from outside of Susa to cater to the spectacle.  Because he can.  But relevant to this story, it means that later, when he sends forth the royal eunuchs, these normally discreet household servants would not be at their most diplomatic.



6)  There were white cotton draperies and violet hangings, held by cords of fine crimson linen from silver rings on marble pillars. Gold and silver couches were on a mosaic pavement, which was of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones.


COMMENTARY:  Showing off.  White cotton might seem like no big deal to us, but cotton had to be imported from India, and whitening cloth took a lot of extra effort.  Violet and crimson both came from a few coastal dye-masters who knew the secret of extracting dye from the murex sea-snail (whether you got violet, crimson, or royal blue depended on which mordant you used) and was extremely expensive—that’s why we say “royal purple”.



7) Drinks were served in a variety of golden cups, and the royal wine flowed freely, as befitted the king’s liberality. 8) By ordinance of the king the drinking was unstinted, for he had instructed all the stewards of his household to comply with the good pleasure of everyone.


COMMENTARY:  In other words, they got drunk, and stayed drunk for seven days.  Ahasuerus does not harbor any fondness for moderation.  I suppose I should also mention that the ancient world considered it perfectly normal to enhance party-wine with mind-altering herbs of various kinds.  We know this because of the residues left in amphorae, as well as occasional recipes found.  This differs from everyday wine, which they usually just mixed with water to form a drink safe from diseases.



9)  Queen Vashti also gave a feast for the women in the royal palace of King Ahasuerus.


COMMENTARY:  This was considered proper in Persia.  Women and men had separate parties, the most distinguishing feature being that a whole lot less wine flowed at female parties than male ones, and probably not enhanced.  Unless you were a Greek Maenid, of course, on special holidays.



10) On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he instructed Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended King Ahasuerus,


COMMENTARY:  “Merry” is a euphemism for “smashed”.  Keep in mind that the eunuchs were equally intoxicated, by royal decree.



11) to bring Queen Vashti into his presence wearing the royal crown, that he might display her beauty to the populace and the officials, for she was lovely to behold.


COMMENTARY:  This is an ENORMOUS breach of protocol!  You only displayed the beauty of slave-girls at public parties.  (Notice that, in the book of Judith, Holofernes politely held a discreet feast only for his private servants when Judith finally consented to dine with him.)  And to plan on displaying her to the populace as a whole was a real insult!  She might wear the crown beside him on a sober formal occasion, but in this context, putting the crown on her at a men’s party merely marked her as the King’s property, flaunted like the gold and silver couches.



12)  But Queen Vashti refused to come at the royal order issued through the eunuchs. At this the king’s wrath flared up, and he burned with fury.


COMMENTARY:  The listeners contemporary to the storyteller would understand this as the only reasonable response to a drunken husband trying to humiliate his wife in public.



13) He conferred with the sages who understood the times, because the king’s business was conducted in general consultation with lawyers and jurists.


COMMENTARY:  “Understood the times” might mean that they knew basic astrology, or that they knew the King’s schedule and were therefore privy to all of his plans.



14) He summoned Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven Persian and Median officials who were in the king’s personal service and held first rank in the realm, 15) and asked them, “What is to be done by law with Queen Vashti for disobeying the order of King Ahasuerus issued through the eunuchs?”


COMMENTARY:  This piles the sarcasm on thick—Ahasuerus is literally making a federal case out of a domestic spat!  By now all of the listeners would be laughing at him.  Keep in mind also that all of these worthies have been drunk all week alongside him as well, and are not in any frame of mind to offer good counsel.



16) In the presence of the king and of the officials, Memucan answered: “Queen Vashti has not wronged the king alone, but all the officials and the populace throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus.


COMMENTARY:  Mentioning the obvious, that he speaks in the presence of the king and officials, underlines that he doesn’t dare say anything but what the king wants to hear.  He might have spoken differently in a private consultation.



17) For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and they will look with disdain upon their husbands when it is reported, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded that Queen Vashti be ushered into his presence, but she would not come.’ 18) This very day the Persian and Median noblewomen who hear of the queen’s conduct will recount it to all the royal officials, and disdain and rancor will abound.


COMMENTARY:  This is the part that misogynists would love—if taken out of the context of the King and his court being, at this moment, a mob of drunken buffoons taking themselves way too seriously.  To put this reasoning in that context, on the other hand, means to reject it as the insecurity of manchildren who cannot endure their women having any rights or dignity.  Considering that this introduces a book about a woman saving Israel makes the context even clearer.



19) If it please the king, let an irrevocable royal decree be issued by him and inscribed among the laws of the Persians and Medes, forbidding Vashti to come into the presence of King Ahasuerus and authorizing the king to give her royal dignity to one more worthy than she.


COMMENTARY:  They think they’re being clever boys, fitting the punishment to the crime.  However, sober kings rarely exercised their authority to issue an irrevocable royal decree under any circumstance, least of all a party, over a minor domestic dispute.  Irrevocable decrees cut off all options for flexibility later.  This underlines the bad judgment and excess of the king and his besotted court.



20) Thus, when the decree that the king will issue is published throughout his realm, vast as it is, all wives will honor their husbands, from the greatest to the least.”


COMMENTARY:  The storyteller mocks the slavish devotion that men expected of their wives in the gentile nations.



21) This proposal pleased the king and the officials, and the king acted on the advice of Memucan. 22) He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, to the effect that every man should be lord in his own home.


COMMENTARY:  My generation grew up hearing that every man should be lord in his own home, and we females needed to know our subordinate place.  This shows the harm done by teaching scripture without any understanding of the original intent or context.  Guys, it was supposed to be a joke!

Back Index Forward