Friday, November 23, 2012

Esther 1 & 2 - Esther Becomes a Queen

LINK: Esther 1 & 2

I love this story! It is a very good narration, and it FLIES by. At the Feast of Purim (we'll talk more about that later), the book of Esther is read in one sitting. Try it!


BACKGROUND


Esther occurs at the time period between Ezra 6 and 7. In a standard Bible, it is included after Ezra and Nehemiah because those books were, at one time, one book. (They were later separated by Origin in the 3rd century A.D.) 


Esther covers a time period of ten year from 483-473 B.C. It was 103 years after Nebuchadnezzar had taken the Jews into captivity (2 Kings 25) and 54 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem (Ezra 1-2), and 25 years before Ezra led the second group to Jerusalem in Ezra 7. This time line is important when you think about the fact that there would have been no second group and no Ezra, for that matter, had it not been for the intervention of Esther. In fact there would have been no Jews in Palestine either.


That is why Esther is such an important book in the Bible even though it is the only book that makes NO mention of GOD. We do not know who wrote it, but it was believed to be a Jew since the author knew Persian and Jewish culture. Some have suggested Ezra or Nehemiah, but there is no evidence to that fact.


Chronology of the Book of Esther (dates in B.C.):

  • Xerxes 1 (Ahasuerus) becomes king - 486
  • Xerxes holds his banquet, deposed Vashti (Esther 1:3) - 483
  • Persia fights Greece and is defeated - 482-479
  • Esther becomes queen (Esther 2:15-17) - December 479-January 478
  • Haman plots against the Jews (Esther 3:7) - April-May 474
  • Xerxes issues the edict against the Jews (Esther 3:12) - April 17, 474
  • Xerxes issues the edicts to protect the Jews (Esther 8:9) - June 25, 474
  • The day of destruction (Esther 3:13, 8:12) - March 7, 473
  • The first Purim celebration (Esther 9:17-19) - March 8-9, 473
(Adapted from Life Change Series: Ruth and Esther, p. 63)
Xerxes was Darius' son. There are different names for Xerxes across all the historical accounts. Here are the different language variations of his name:
  • Xerxes - Greek (pronounced "Zerk-ceez")
  • Khshayarshan - Persian
  • Ahasuerus - Hebrew (the Old Testament name) 

King Xerxes, called Ahasuerus, ruled the Persian Empire from 486-465 B.C. Persia was the dominant kingdom in the Middle East after the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. Xerxes is mentioned in Ezra 4:6 and Daniel 9:1. Judah was one of the many provinces he ruled (Nehemiah 1:2). "India" is present-day West Pakistan; "Cush" was the upper Nile region that included present-day southern Egypt, Sudan, and northern Ethiopia. The Persian Kingdom stretched out over an area of more than 600,000 square miles from modern-day Greece (west) to India (east) and from southern Russia (north) to Saudi Arabia (south). The king was one of the richest men in the whole world!

This is the only biblical account of Jews who remained in Persia after the return led by Zerubbabel in 538 B.C. Even though many Israelites had returned from the Exile to the land of Palestine to rebuild the temple, MOST of the exiles remained behind and were assimilated into the Persian culture, The Jews had great freedom in Persia and were already very established there since it had been 103 years since the Exile. It would be similar to me having no desire to return to Sweden even though my ancestors immigrated from there in 1923. America has become my home, just as Persia had become their home. The major difference between me not returning to Sweden and the Israelites not returning to their land is that they had been urged to return by both Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isaiah 48:20; Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6) so that God could bless them under the covenantal promises (Deuteronomy 28).


I read Herodotus' Histories this year in hopes of seeing Esther's name! King Xerxes and Queen Vashti (Amestris) were mentioned, but there was no mention of Esther. This would not be unusual since women were not usually given much "press" unless they did something related to government and wars. Vashti is mentioned more because she is the Queen mother of the next king, Artaxerxes, who was born a year before Vashti was deposed in 482 B.C. 

Herodotus describes Xerxes as bold, ambitious, handsome, stately, and self-indulgent in every area. At one point, Xerxes was attracted to his brother Masistes' wife. When she rebuffed him, Xerxes married her daughter Artaynte to his son Darius, then seduced Artaynte himself. Xerxes allowed his wife to take revenge on Artaynte's mother, and when Masistes fought back, Xerxes had his own brother and nephews killed along with their army (Joyce Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 19). 
This was the same king . . .
"Who ordered a bridge to be built over the Hellespont, and who, on learning that the bridge had been destroyed by a tempest, just after its completion, was so blindly enraged that he commanded three hundred strokes of the scourge to be inflicted on the sea, and a pair of fetters to be thrown into it at the Hellespont, and then had the unhappy builders of the bridge beheaded. This is the king who, on being offered a sum equivalent to five and a half millions sterling [about $11,000,000] by Pythius, the Lydian, towards the expenses of a military expedition, was so enraptured at such loyalty that he returned the money, accompanied by a handsome present: and then, on being requested by this same Pythius, shortly afterwards, to spare him just one of his sons -- eldest -- from the expedition, as the sole support of his declining years, furiously ordered the son to be cut in two pieces, and the army to march between them" (Baxter, Explore the Book, volume 2, pages 262-263. Baxter refers to Herodotus, book 7, chapters 27-39)
(Life Change Series: Ruth and Esther, p. 64-65)
This brief character study of Xerxes helps you understand, in historical context, what a risk Esther took in going to appeal to the king!

Since this was such a long background to the entire book, I will include background for chapters 1-4 tomorrow. Happy reading!


PRAYER


Lord, teach us from the life of Esther. Amen.
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