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Studies on the Women of the Bible
Davis W. Huckabee
ESTHER—“The Planet Venus”
“Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter,” Esther 2:5-7.
Here is the first mention of Esther in the book that bears her name. The first chapter records the historical events that led to the putting away of the first queen of the realm, Queen Vashti, which led to Esther becoming queen in chapter two. There are a lot of uncertainties as to all that was involved in this, but one thing is clear: there had been a six months long feast sponsored by King Ahasuerus at which there was no limit of food or liquor, (1:5-8). At the same time Queen Vashti had made a feast for all the women in the palace, (1:9), and these likewise celebrated the glory of the kingdom.
It is not detailed to us what all was involved in the King’s determination to bring the queen before the people to view her beauty, but she refused to do so. Had this only involved her being admired for her beauty, most women would have delighted to obey this command, and probably would this woman as well. But Queen Vashti refused to do so, indicating that there was more that was expected of her than merely to be admired. Generally in such banquets the wives did not appear, but it was common for there to be prostitutes and concubines be allowed at these. Hence, this probably explains Vashti’s refusal to obey the king—she was being treated as a prostitute. According to Biblical principles, wives are commanded to always be in obedience unto their husbands, except when a moral or spiritual principle is involved. Of course, this was a pagan kingdom, without knowledge of the true God, but even in such kingdoms, women have sometimes had an elevating influence on men to encourage a more moral behavior than might otherwise be lived.
Some have thought that the king intended to parade his queen naked before all the people, and such immoral ideas are common to those that are drunken, as King Ahasuerus was on this occasion, (1:10-11). This may have been that which Queen Vashti rebelled against, being unwilling to be abased in the eyes of the people and made to only be an object of sexual desire by the observers. In any case, whatever was the mental motivations involved, it was all of the Lord’s providential workings so that He could have one of His own people in a place of great influence when wicked Haman would have destroyed all of the Jews. Mordecai recognized this, and gave voice to the principle involved when he said, “And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14). This might well be taken as the key verse in this Book.
But speaking of Haman and his devilish hatred of the Jews we must recall that as early as the days of Abraham God had promised him that He would generally protect the seed of Abraham. “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” (Gen. 12:2-3). Throughout history Satan has moved many wicked people to attempt to kill all of the Jews, for he knew that it was through them that the Promised Seed was to come that would ultimately bruise his head. But all of these anti-Semites are long since dead, but the Jew is still around and thriving.
But persecution of the Jews did not cease with the birth of the Son of God into a human nature in Bethlehem almost two millennia ago. No! Prophecy shows that even after the birth of this “Man Child” Satan would continue to persecute the Jews, and he finds many even today that are his willing tools to do so. “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child,”(Rev. 12:9, 13). So malignant and hateful is Satan that he persecutes anyone that is an instrument by which God is glorified, for he is a thief that desires all glory for himself.
This Book of Esther was apparently written by Mordecai. This seems indicated by what is said in 9:20: “And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both nigh and far.” And the deliverance of the Jews under the influence of Esther resulted in one of the Jews’ feasts beginning, for henceforth from that time there was the annual Feast of Purim celebrated, (9:23-28). The Feast of Purim was to remind the Jews of the Divine deliverance that God wrought by the hand of a young Jewish maiden who was willing to lay her life on the line for the sake of her people.
It is uncertain which of the kings known in secular history the Ahasuerus of this book was, and several different ones have been suggested. One thing stands out about this king, and that is, that he was prone to make decrees without duly considering the results of them, and then later regretting that he had made them. Yet the Law of the Medes and the Persians decreed that, once a law was made, it could not be unmade, (1:19). This is why it took some finagling to bring deliverance to the Jews after Haman had influenced the king to sign into existence a law requiring their extermination.
- CONSIDER THE ORIGIN OF ESTHER.
Esther was an orphan, whose name was originally Hadassah, which means myrtle, a tree that was common in Israel. She is referred to by this name only in 2:7, but she is referred to by “Esther” fifty-five times in this book, but nowhere else. This name refers to the Planet Venus, but we have no information as to how she came to be given this name. Upon the death of her parents Esther is taken into the home of her cousin Mordecai and she becomes, to all intents and purposes his daughter. This is where we find her when King Ahasuerus’ command goes forth to gather all of the beautiful virgins to be considered for the new queen of the realm.
This was not like modern beauty pageants wherein women are invited to enter if they desire. No! This was in a monarchy and the Jews were a subjected people with fewer rights than even the Persians over which Ahasuerus ruled with rigor, so that no young woman had the option of refusing to be considered. It was a duty that involved the death of any one that refused to obey the decree. Of course, the possibility of becoming queen was an enticing possibility for most women that were gathered for consideration, but indications are that Esther had little interest in becoming queen, nor did she put out extra effort to make herself desirable, (2:15). However, God had already given her favor in the sight of Hegai, the eunuch that had the charge of all these women, (2:8-9), as He would later give her favor in the sight of the king. Hegai does all that he can to make her stay comfortable and profitable.
However, from the time that Esther is taken into the palace, Mordecai is daily at the front gate to keep up with how things are going with his adopted daughter. He is not allowed to have direct contact with her, for all of these young virgins are isolated from any but their keepers and handmaidens, nor had she revealed her Jewish heritage, for Mordecai had commanded her to not make this known. He was aware of the hatred that people have for the Jews, so he tries to protect her from this, (2:9-12).
The choice of the new queen was a lengthy process, for each of the candidates underwent a yearlong purification, (2:12). And when this period of purification was completed, each young woman was taken in to be with the king for one night, and then she was transferred to a second house, and did not again appear before the king unless she was specifically called to do so.
When Esther’s time comes to appear before King Ahasuerus it is now some four years since Queen Vashti was deposed. Compare 1:3 with 2:16. But the king is immediately smitten with her for she finds “grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins,” and so, the royal crown is set on her head and she becomes queen. King Ahasuerus makes a special feast just for Esther, (2:17-18).
At this time, somehow Esther obtains for her kinsman the position of one of the judges at the gate where business was often transacted. This was providential, for as a result of him sitting with the other judges he learns of a conspiracy among two of these men to assassinate the king. Mordecai reveals this to Esther who passes the word on to the king as the report from one of his faithful servants, and the matter is recorded in the chronicles of the king, (2:21-23). Later, on a sleepless night, the king reads this, and determines to honor Mordecai, (6:1-3), and this is the beginning of the downfall of wicked Haman and his devilish determination to exterminate all the Jews. It is amazing how God often uses seemingly irrelevant or at least insignificant matters to do His will.
Mordecai received neither recognition nor reward for saving the king’s life. No matter, God saw to it that the facts were permanently recorded, and He would make good use of them at the right time. Our good works are like seeds that are planted by faith, and their fruits don’t always appear immediately.—Warren W. Wiersbe, Bible Study on Ruth and Esther, p. 72.
However, in the interim Haman is promoted by the king, and in his pride and arrogance this man demands undue reverence from everyone, (3:1-6). But Mordecai, as a Jew, will not give the honor demanded to this man, causing Haman to determine to destroy all of the Jews. This race-wide hatred of the Jews by Haman would seem to indicate that something more than mere personal respect was involved in this. There was a hatred between the Jews and the Agagites of long standing which explains Mordecai and other Jews refusal to honor Haman.
Haman was no more an ethnic Persian than Mordecai. He was descended from Agag, king of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:20). Israel was perpetually at war with Amalek because Amalek attacked Israel after the Exodus (Exodus 17:8-16, Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Israel was supposed to kill every Amalekite and destroy all captured property, taking no plunder (1 Samuel 15:1-3). However, King Saul gave in to his army’s demand for plunder, and he also spared the life of King Agag. For these sins, Saul lost his kingship over Israel (1 Samuel 15:7-33). Yet five hundred years later, in the court of Xerxes, a descendent of Saul confronted a descendent of Agag, giving the family a second chance to obey the Lord. This ancestral feud was one reason why Haman was out to get the Jews and why Mordecai refused to honor Haman. Also, in Jewish eyes, the ancient command to kill all Amelekites justified the slaughter of Haman’s family and allies. As instructed in 1 Samuel 15:3, the Jews took no plunder when they killed their enemies (Esther 9:10, 15).—NavPress Study on Ruth and Esther, pp. 86-87.
Haman and his associates therefore cast lots to determine upon the best and most advantageous date in the next year to institute the extermination of the Jews. He brings this up to the king, even offering to pay into the royal treasury ten thousand talents of silver to underwrite the project, (3:7-9). Ahasuerus agrees to this slaughter, and even gives Haman back the silver that he had promised, and so the scribes are called in and letters are written to all the provinces to institute the slaughter almost a year in the future, (3:11-15). In this we once again see the hand of God, although it is not detailed for us, for Haman and his allies had “cast the lot” to determine upon the best date for this extermination, and it comes up almost a year later. It is common for pagans to use lots or other means to determine what is the luckiest or most propitious time for some event. Scripture declares that, “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof IS OF THE LORD,”(Prov. 16:33). Haman’s own means of determining when to initiate this slaughter is so controlled by God as to ensure that time enough will exist for counter measures to be made effectual to the safekeeping of the Jews and the destruction of the Jew haters. Glorious sovereignty of God over even the mightiest human rulers! “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Prov. 21:1). And He will shortly turn the heart of Ahasuerus against Haman by showing him what the man really is, and when that happens, all of Haman’s vast wealth will mean nothing.
It is obvious that Haman was a fabulously rich man, for John Gill reckons the ten thousand talents of silver to have been in value almost four million dollars in the 1700’s when he wrote, and in today’s economy it would probably be ten times that much more. But wealth does nothing toward making anyone spiritual, but rather the contrary; it tends to give wicked people a false hope, as it did Haman, who thought that his riches could get him anything he desired. But Scripture says that, “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as a branch,” (Prov. 11:28).
When the news of this planned extermination of the Jews is made public, Mordecai puts on sackcloth and comes to the palace gate and weeps bitterly. It was forbidden for anyone to enter the palace clothed in sackcloth, and so, Esther sends to Mordecai clothes of a more cheerful nature, but he refuses to receive them, (4:1-4). Using Hatach, one of the king’s eunuch’s as a go-between, Mordecai and Esther discuss this whole matter, and Mordecai insists that Esther must go in unto the king and make supplication to him for her people, (4:5-9).
Here was what seemed like an impossible situation for this young Jewish woman. (1) She was a foreigner, not a native Persian (2) Her chief adversary was the second most powerful man in the kingdom, a very rich man, and a rabid Jew hater. (3) She knew not what her husband the king might do for he seemed much involved with Haman and seemed to favor whatever he suggested. (4) He had only a few years before deposed his queen when she displeased him. (5) The statute books decreed death to anyone that presumed to enter into the king’s presence without being specifically bidden to do so. (6) She had not been called into the presence of her husband for thirty days, (4:11), suggesting that perhaps he was displeased with her for some reason. (7) It would have been easy to reason that surely God would send deliverance from some other source if she did not rise to the occasion.II. CONSIDER THE OPPORTUNITIES OF ESTHER.
Some of these very possibilities mentioned before were in the minds of both of the cousins, as we see in 4:11-17, but in the end she was swayed by his words in 4:14: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther asks that all the Jews in Shushan fast and pray for her for the next three days before she goes in before the king without being bidden. Her words in verse 16f, “If I perish, I perish,” shows that she is willing to die trying to effect the deliverance of her people from the evil machination of the vicious Agagite. Poole expresses her thoughts.
Although my danger be great and evident, considering the expressness of that law, and the uncertainty of the king’s mind, and that severity which he showed to my predessor Vashti; yet rather than neglect my duty to God, and to his people. I will go to the king, and cast myself cheerfully and resolutely upon God’s providence for my safety and success.—Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, Vol. 1, p. 913.
It has been often proven in the past that “Man’s extremity—of whatever sort or degree it is—is God’s opportunity,” and we often see this proven by the Blessed adversities of Scripture. An adversative is a part of speech such as but, yet, nevertheless, etc., that reverses the previous trend of thought. For often a fearful situation is shown where it looks like a saint is about to be overcome, but then Scripture will say, “But God...” and then an instant and complete deliverance is recorded as God effortlessly delivers His trusting people. This is such a commonly shown blessed truth.
Our Lord Himself foretold that the life of the genuine saint would not be an easy one, (John 16:33), as did the Apostle Paul, (Acts 14:21-22), and history has confirmed this time without number. Yet, by the same token assurance is given to all those that are “in Christ” that they shall assuredly triumph. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place,” (2 Cor. 2:14).
Little did this young Hebrew virgin realize when she and her people were carried captive into Persia and she lost her parents in death that God had a great work of deliverance for her to do, and that she would accomplish this by becoming queen to a world ruler. How many times before this all came to pass did she sorrow and weep over all of the adversities that had befallen her, but God was preparing her for what was ahead. Now she calls for all of the Jews, and especially her women associates to join her in fasting and praying that God might take control of the whole situation, and He does.
On the final day of the fast Esther puts off her sackcloth, which was forbidden to be worn in the king’s presence, (4:1-2), and rather dresses in her royal finery and enters uncalled for into the throne room, (5:1-2), where she finds favor in his sight.
Which no doubt was of God, who has the hearts of kings in his hand, and turns them as he pleases. The king had not called her for thirty days past, or more, which showed coolness of affection to her, and now she transgressed a law by coming uncalled for, which might have provoked his wrath, and for a lesser matter than this was Vashti divorced. But yet his mind was inclined to her, and she appeared very amiable and pleasing to him.—John Gill, Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 590.
Ahasuerus is so thrilled to see her that he holds out the golden scepter to her, thereby justifying her presence before him without being executed. We have long felt that this is a picture or type of the grace of Christ that alone gives converted sinners a right in the presence of the Father, and without which there is an automatic death sentence for any uncalled person that might appear there. As was sometimes done to Mid-Eastern queens the king offers a tremendous evidence of his love to her—up to half of his kingdom. What thanksgiving to God all this must have promoted in Esther.
But Esther uses great wisdom in her request, for she only makes a simple request of the king—for him and Haman to come to a banquet of wine that she has prepared for them, and this is quickly expedited, as Haman is called to hasten to it, (5:45). Here is to be seen Esther’s faith, for she had already prepared this banquet, which would have been a funeral meal for her survivors had the king not held out the golden scepter to her when he saw her.
At the banquet attended by only the king, the queen and Haman, the king once more repeats his offer of anything that she desires up to half of the kingdom. She builds suspense by promising to make her request known the next day when she will again prepare a fuller banquet for the three of them, (5:6-8). This further inflates the pride of the Agagite, yet as he goes home, rejoicing in the great honor done to him, Haman’s hurt pride at Mordecai’s refusal to honor him ruins all of his joy. But when he tells his wife, she suggests a plan that shows that she is as wicked a person as he is. While the king is in a good and generous mood on the morrow, Haman is to ask that his Jewish enemy be hanged on a gallows that he causes to be built overnight, (5:9-14). And this appeases his hatred of the Jews for the moment. That, and knowing that in a few months all of the Jews in the kingdom will be murdered. Judging by Jesus’ words in John 8:44, Haman was thoroughly dominated by the original murderer.
But something happens in the king’s bedroom on the night that Haman has the gallows built for Mordecai. King Ahasuerus cannot sleep, and so he calls for the records of the kingdom and finds written Mordecai’s discovery of the plot against the King, and how he had sent word of this to the king by the hand of Esther and so delivered him, (6:1-3). It was always profitable for kings to reward good deeds done for the kingdom, for this encouraged others to do so for self-interest’s sake even if there was no loyalty to the king. By the time that the king has decided what to do, it is early morning, and when he calls for someone to act as a counselor, he is told that Haman is in the outer court. Haman is here to obtain the order for Mordecai to be hung, but when the king asks him what was to be done to the man that the king desired to honor, in his egotism Haman immediately thinks that it can be no one else but himself, (6:4-6). Egotism is generally self-destructive in the long run, for it seeks only self-glorification, and often chooses such ways to do this that may actually destroy the proud man. There is a spiritual principle in all this, (Prov. 8:13; 15:25; 16:5, 18; 29:23). God hates all kinds and degrees of pride for it is basically idolatrous as the proud man endeavors to exalt himself over all, even over God Himself. Sooner or later God destroys the proud man and his family for they often partake of the same sin.
In his extreme egotism Haman thinks to further promote himself by advising the king to highly exalt the man that he delights to honor. What a shock to Haman when the king tells him to give all this honor to Mordecai, (6:7-11). Haman is crushed by all this and goes home in great mourning only to be told by his wife and associates that he shall not be able to prevail over Mordecai, but will fall before him. Before he has time to make further plans, the king’s chamberlains arrive to escort him to Esther’s banquet, (6:12-14). The old Latin dictum finds application here. Sic semper tyrannis! Thus ever to tyrants!
At Esther’s banquet the king once again asks her what her request is, and she asks for deliverance for herself and for her people, saying that if it had only meant that they would be sold into bondage she would have not said anything, (7:1-4). The king is appalled that anyone would presume to do so and it is revealed to him that the culprit is this man that has been working so hard to attain political power in the kingdom. In his anger Ahasuerus leaves the banquet room to walk in the garden, no doubt considering all that is involved in this, and this only gives Haman enough rope to literally to hang himself. For when the king returns to the banqueting room, Haman has fallen upon the bed upon which Esther lies as he pleaded for his life, but it looks to the king like the man was endeavoring to rape the queen. And that seals the man’s doom, (7:5-8).
Before this, because of the great political power that Haman had attained, many in the palace dared not reveal any of the man’s evil manipulations. But now that things have turned out as they have, one of the king’s eunuchs (most common rendering of the Hebrew word saris—“chamberlain”) reveals that Haman has built a gallows for Mordecai. The king’s response is immediate. “Hang him on his own gallows,” (7:9-10).
Ahasuerus now gives the whole household of Haman unto Esther, and she reveals hers and Mordecai’s relationship. And the king, now realizing that Mordecai is a reliable man, and totally different in character from the politically ambitious Haman, sets him in the position formerly occupied by Haman, removing his ring from Haman and putting it on Mordecai, (8:1-2).
But there still remains the problem that the unalterable law of the Medes and the Persians has decreed the slaughter of all of the Jews in the realm. How can this be countermanded? The remainder of the book is an account of the king sending posts to all his realm authorizing the Jews to be enabled to fight against their enemies for their lives, and this would put their enemies into a minority as far as power is concerned. No one would want to takes sides against the Jews in the light of the king’s messages. To do so would be a fatal mistake. Thus, while not reversing the former decree, it gave the preponderance of power to the Jews in every province and enabled them to prevail over all of their enemies.III. CONSIDER THE ODDITIES ABOUT THE BOOK OF ESTHER.
Nowhere in this book does the name of God ever appear, and yet the Hand of God is seen everywhere. The nation of Israel had been delivered into captivity because of their sins against God, and He had allowed them to be scattered far and wide under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, (2:5-6), many of these ending up in Persia. The man of the world thinks that he can live in contempt of God and His Law, but all history bears witness against that foolish idea. (Cf. Prov. 1:23-33).
This book bears out that no one, regardless of how seemingly insignificant he or she may appear, is irrelevant in God’s kingdom. As in the case of Esther, one of the most seemingly insignificant of persons, a teenaged slave girl that had lost both of her parents, is raised by God to be the queen to the most powerful ruler of the day. This whole book illustrates the truth set forth in Psalm 75:7: ‘But God is the judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”
As the old saying goes, Nothing is ever settled until it is settled aright. For a time a wicked, willful, politically ambitious rich man prevails and makes many evil plans to destroy those that are better than he is. He thought that his power and wealth could get him anything that he desired. But in one day all his power and wealth are lost and he is destroyed on the very instrument that he had intended to destroy his enemy Mordecai, and instead Mordecai—an honorable man—is raised to power instead.
Here was also ultimate judgment upon a family that, though they had not been destroyed under King Saul when God ordered it, ultimately—many years and several generations later—the decree is fulfilled. It has been well said that, “Though the wheels of God grind slowly, they grind exceeding small. And though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”
Haman was one of the earliest Anti-Semites and he thought that his wealth and power gave him the right to scorn God’s chosen people, but God had laid down an irrevocable principle in Genesis 12:3 that said that those that curse the seed of Abraham would themselves be cursed. And so it happened to Haman the Agagite though he lived many years later and in a different part of the country. Neither time nor place can alter God’s Divine pronouncements, for they will stand when the material world passes away, (Matt. 24:35). God cannot lie, and this is the basis of our faith, for the Word of God is a firm foundation that will support all that rest upon it.
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