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Esther 1: The Demise of a Queen

Original Publication Date
April 22, 2017
Updated
Oct 25, 2022 3:26 AM
Tags
WomenEstherPersiaChapter Study
Bible References
Esther 1
Status
Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on April 22, 2017 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

Esther 1 introduces us to Ahasuerus, King of Persia and his wife Vashti, Queen of Persia. The events of the chapter take place during the third year of Ahasuerus' rule and the main location seems to be Shushan, where the palace was. The events in this chapter pave the way for Esther to become queen.

The Demise of a Queen

During the third year of his reign, King Ahasuerus has a great feast in which all of the leaders of nations under Persian rule are invited. After this feast, he hosts a second feast for the people. The opulence of the kingdom is shown in the hosting of these feasts, along with the fact that Ahasuerus gave unlimited wine to the invitees. In addition to the two feasts held by the king, his wife, Vashti holds a feast for specifically for the women.

On the 7th day, the king commands his queen to come forth so that everyone may see her beauty. Vashti refuses, however, which greatly angers the king. As king of the most powerful empire in the world, everyone was supposed to listen to him, yet his own wife disobeyed him in front of his subjects! It's not hard to see why he was so angry.

The subordinate leaders of Persia, feared this behavior would spread among the other women. Women of the kingdom probably looked up the queen as we do celebrities and the first lady.[7] These women set the tone for fashion and behavior among those who look up to them. Although it might be a little reaching to suggest ordinary women would mimic the queen's behavior—there are lots of things the rich and famous can do that we ordinary people cannot, and most of us are quite aware of this—however, it isn't completely far-fetched.

At the urging of the leaders, the king handles the situation by sending out a decree encouraging men to be the masters of their house. In this decree, he also strips Vashti of her position as queen. The latter decision, he later regrets which spurs the movement to find him a new queen and paves the way for Queen Esther.

Divorce

Kings from various countries were known to take out their insecurities on their wives (think Henry VIII), so it isn't surprising that the king of Persia would take drastic measures to show his might and authority after being ignored. What is interesting is that for all of the talk about submission and wives following the lead of their husbands within the church, Ahasuerus' divorce of Vashti would be considered invalid under the law. Granted Ahasuerus was not an Israelite and thus, did not take his vows to God… However, if an Israelite king, such as David or Solomon, had tried to divorce his wife on the grounds of disobedience, it would not have been good in the eyes of God. The law lists only one acceptable reason for divorce: adultery. We aren't told what God thought of Vashti's decision not to appear when her husband called, but we are told that this isn't a valid reason to divorce a wife.

Many church leaders focus on the topic of submissive wives, ignoring the role of the husband all together. In this, they miss critical parts of the Bible's description of the relationship. Husbands are supposed to be loving, caring, and respectful of their wives. We are told of the kings order and the queen's refusal, but we aren't told why. Perhaps the queen did not feel well; with all the drinking that took place during the feasts, it is quite possible she was hungover. The king didn't inquire of the queen's feelings or why she declined to appear. He then allowed pride to push him into the rash decision to have her banished, a decision he would come to regret when he simmered down. This decision may have led to the victory of the Jews, however, it may not have been so great for Persia. Remember Ahasuerus is not being portrayed as a godly man, simply a man used to carry out God's will.

Who is Ahasuerus?

The first question anyone asks when beginning Esther is, "who was Ahasuerus?" We learn about the Persian empire in school and neither Ahasuerus nor Esther are mentioned. The easiest confirmation of the Bible would be to find Persian records that made mention of Ahasuerus and Esther. However, the whole point of faith is to believe with your heart (Mark 8:12), which means it's highly unlikely that we would find fool proof evidence that the Bible is indeed factual. Not to mention, the devil has been busy throughout history destroying said evidence, so that we won't believe.

Nonetheless, as believers, we know that Ahasuerus must be a real Persian leader and Esther, a real Persian queen. Thus, bible scholars have been trying to answer the question of who Ahasuerus really is for quite some time. One problem that exists in identifying him, is that the Bible uses this name to refer to several different Persian kings. This is confirmed in Esther 1:1 where the author tries to distinguish this Ahasuerus from the another Ahasuerus. In this, we are given a clue about Ahasuerus' reign. Ahasuerus reigned when Persia encompassed India and Ethiopia. This would have been during the Achaemenid Empire, when Persia was at its greatest. Persia had the most territory under Darius I, but he wasn't the only ruler to reign over the territories known then as India and Ethiopia. As such, several rulers from the Achaemenid line have been suggested as Ahasuerus' identity.

Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons/
Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons/Ali Zifan

Darius I

The main issue I have with the idea of Darius being the king in question is that the Bible references Darius, king of Persia in multiple places. Ezra references Darius in chapters 4, 5, and 6. Nehemiah 12:22 also references a king of Persia named Darius. This confirms that the Jews of that time period knew Darius as Darius, not as Ahasuerus. Furthermore, Daniel 9:1 lists an Ahasuerus who is the father of Darius the Mede. It isn't clear if the Ahasuerus of Daniel is the same Ahasuerus of Esther, though it does give us more evidence that the name Darius was common in Hebrew. I should note that Darius the Mede is not Darius I; Darius the Mede is generally placed as a king during the reign of Cyrus the Great and may even be Cyrus the Great.[1][2]

Artaxerxes

A more popular theory is that Ahasuerus is Artaxerxes. Scholars have aligned him with Artaxerxes I, II, and III. However, Artaxerxes is mentioned by name in Ezra and Nehemiah just like Darius. These theories stem from the fact that the Greek translation of the Bible uses the name Artaxerxes instead of Ahasuerus, and Josephus, a Jewish historian from the first century, claimed that this was the name given to him by the Greeks.[3]

Xerxes

The most widely accepted theory is that Ahasuerus is actually Xerxes. The Hebrew name Ahasuerus is thought to be the equivalent of the Persian Khshayārshā, which is Xerxes.[4] Xerxes is the only king of this line not mentioned by name in the Bible, which aids the idea that he was mainly known by the Hebrew version of his name to the Jews. Some believe the feast held by Xerxes in Esther 1:3 was held after a council to invade Greece, which would pinpoint Xerxes as the identity of Ahasuerus.[5] Shushan, also known as Susa, is the location given for the palace, and was indeed the location of the winter palace during Xerxes' reign.[6]

Who is Vashti?

If we agree with scholar's assertion that Xerxes is Ahasuerus, who is Vashti? Xerxes I's wife was Amestris. It is thought that Vashti may not be her name but a title.[6] Xerxes would have had many wives, however. So, Vashti may have been a different wife (also some link Amestris with Esther).

References and Footnotes

  1. "Darius the Mede". Bible Gateway: Encyclopedia of the Bible; visited April 2017
  2. "Darius the Mede". Wikipedia; visited 2017
  3. "Ahasuerus". Wikipedia; visited 2017
  4. Gerson B. Levi, Kaufmann Kohler, and George A. Barton. "Ahasuerus". Jewish Encyclopedia; visited April 2017
  5. "Ahasuerus". Bible Hub; visited April 2017
  6. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Bible, pg. 847-849. 2014
  7. Rereading this in 2022, this statement made me laugh. I think I was thinking of first ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie O., and Michelle Obama who had significant influence, but it took me quite a while to even remember who the first lady is right now.

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