Comments on the Book of Esther
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah have dealt with the remnant of Israel who returned to the land when the Persian king had given them permission for this. But there were still many Jews who chose to remain in Persia. If they had faith, it was so weak that there was no energy to get back to God's appointed place for them. The book of Esther then shows the way in which God dealt with these Jews in spite of their lack of faith. But it has been often observed that God's name is never mentioned in the book. Why not? Because Israel had not submitted to God's authority and were in such a condition that God did not publicly own them as His people, consistently with what He had said in Hosea 1:9, -- not My people."
Yet this book of Esther makes very clear that God Himself was working in miraculous ways on behalf of the Jews, but working behind the scenes. In this present day, the same fact is true. Israel has rejected their Messiah, and is in a state of being virtually disowned by God publicly; but He is still working among the Jews in obscure ways, preserving them through centuries of persecution and trouble, so that, though scattered among many nations, they have still retained their identity as Jews, and will in the future have their great sorrow and trouble turned into vibrant joy and gladness, such as is symbolized in their celebration of victory in Esther 9:18-19.
Esther's name means "I will be hidden," just as her identity was obscure even after becoming the wife of Ahasuerus; and just as God is hidden from view in the book of Esther. Mordecai, who was finally exalted as ruler in Persia, is at least a faint type of Christ when eventually exalted among the nations. Yet it is not known who wrote the book of Esther, but we know that God is its Author.
THE FIRST FEAST OF THE KING (vv. 1-4)
Ahasuerus was a name given to the chief king of Persia. The Ahasuerus of verse 1 is recorded in history as Xerxes 1. His empire extended over a very large area, including 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. The capital of his empire was Shushan, a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and rich in vegetation. It is here called a citadel, for it was a fortress, a castle built not only for residence, but for military defense (v. 2).
It was in the third year of his reign that he entertained all of his officials and servants including representatives of the many provinces, with a great feast that lasted for 180 days! (v. 4). What was his object? He wanted to impress them with the splendor of his own glory! The wealth expended on this celebration must have been enormous. No doubt he had many things to show to these visitors make them marvel that he was so greatly increased in riches.
THE FEAST FOR ALL THE PEOPLE (vv. 5-8)
Possibly not all were able to be present for the full time, but the king desired a grand conclusion to this event by inviting all the people to a feast lasting seven days, provided in the court of the garden of the king's palace (v. 5). The description of the luxurious circumstances of this is given in verses 6-7, which shows how the religious world likes to adopt for itself principles they recognize to be beautiful, but become only a show without reality. For in reality white and blue linen speak of the purity (white) and heavenly character (blue) of God's testimony among His people. Purple speaks of royal character and the silver rods speak of redemption; all of these being of vital value to those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ. When in the hands of merely religious formalists, however, it is really only imitation, adopted because attractive.
Marble pillars are imposing, and speak of God's sustaining power, while couches of gold and silver speak of resting places where God's glory (gold) is present and redemption (silver) is known. But formal religion, though it often speaks of giving glory to God, does not even know whereof it speaks: it indulges merely in lip service. Redemption (silver) is unknown to the Persians, though they may imitate it because it seems so nice.
Drinks were served in golden vessels, all being different from the others. All of this lavish provision was "according to the generosity of the king" (v. 7). If a Persian king was able to make such a feast as this for all his subjects, how much more able is our great God to provide in glory a feast of unending wonder for those who know Him as revealed in His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus!
Because Ahasuerus had wealth for it, he could show a most magnanimous spirit in this great provision and at the same time fully indulge the people's desire as to whether or not they wanted to drink. This is a striking imitation of the grace of God, who provides every necessity with no legal bondage, encouraging each believer to act on his own faith. But even in Christendom, ungodly men turn the grace of God into lewdness (Jude 4), just as the king was thinking merely of his own gratification.
THE QUEEN'S FEAST AND HER DEFIANCE (vv. 9-12)
A feast also was made at the same time for the women, by Queen Vashti. Thus the celebration of the splendor of the kingdom was complete.
On the last day of the feast, Ahasuerus had no doubt consumed too much wine, and commanded seven eunuchs to go and bring Vashti back with them with the object of displaying her beauty before all the people (vv. 10-11). Why did he need to do this? Simply because it was to his credit that he had such a beautiful wife, just as all the glory of the kingdom was to his credit. Such is the pride of the natural man.
However, one jarring note marred this celebration. Vashti refused to come (v.12). What reason she had we are not told. The king had not expected any such refusal, and he became furious. His authority had been challenged by one from whom he would expect fullest cooperation.
VASHTI DEPOSED (vv. 13-22)
The king then consulted with seven prominent princes of Persia as to what action should be taken in regard to Vashti's defiance of his order (vv. 13-15). The Medes and Persians prided themselves on having just laws which could not be changed (Dan. 6:12), and the king's question therefore was, what should be done according to law. Nebuchadnezzar would not have required such consultation: he was an absolute dictator: "whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished he kept alive; whomever he wished he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down" (Dan. 5:19).
One of the princes, Memucan, took the lead in suggesting what should be done. He said that Vashti had not only wronged the king, but also all the princes and all the people who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus (v. 16). No doubt it was true that Vashti's behavior would become well known to all women, so that they would feel free to despise the authority of their husbands unless drastic action was promptly taken (vv. 17-18). Memucan therefore made the suggestion that if the king agreed, a royal decree would be proclaimed and recorded in the laws of the Persians and Medes, therefore unchangeable, that Vashti be banished and her royal position given to another woman better than she (v. 19).
The Annotated Bible by A.C. Gabelein records that "Jewish tradition gives several reasons why Memucan was so hostile to Vashti. One is that his own wife had not been invited to Vashti's feast, and another, because he wanted his own daughter promoted and become the Queen" ("The Book of Esther, page 86).
Memucan then appealed, not only to the matter of the king's authority in his own house, but his authority also over the kingdom, for prompt action in this case would have the beneficial effect of moving wives to honor their husbands (v. 20). Those who advocate "Women's Lib" today would not be agreeable, but the king and the princes considered such action was necessary to preserve the kingdom from internal corruption and disintegration. Of course the Christian viewpoint differs from this and from the "Women's Lib" viewpoint, but a heathen nation does not act on Christian principles, and neither does "Women's Lib."
The king and the princes were all favorable to Memucan's solution to the problem (v. 21), and letters were sent to all the provinces under the king's rule to the effect that every man should be master in his own house. Thus the letter practically agreed with the Christian principle that the husband is head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), but it failed to agree with the instructions given to husbands in this same chapter, "Husbands, love your wives" and "husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies" (Eph. 5:25,28).
ESTHER CHOSEN AS QUEEN (vv. 1-18)
We read nothing more as to Vashti, whether she was simply banished from the king's court or killed. But it was four years before the king married a queen to take Vashti's place (cf. ch. 1:3 and ch. 2:16). For this marriage there was much preparation. The king's servants advised the king to appoint officers throughout all his kingdom to pick out beautiful virgins and send them to Shushan, to be under the custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who would supervise their being provided with every artificial means of enhancing their beauty (vv. 2-3). In due time the king would interview these women individually and decide which of them he wanted (v. 4). The king was glad to put this plan into action.
Now we are introduced to a certain Jew, Mordecai, who lived in the city of Shushan. We may wonder why, if he loved his nation, he had not returned to Jerusalem when the Persian king had given his permission for any Jews to return. But evidently there was a very large number of Jews who preferred to remain in Persia. Mordecai's grandfather had been carried captive by the Babylonians, but since that was over 70 years previously, Mordecai was no doubt born in Persia, as were the great majority of Jews who lived during that captivity.
Mordecai had brought up his cousin Hadasseh, or Esther, since she was an orphan. Since neither of her parents were living, it was not hard to conceal the fact that she was Jewish, though she had been adopted by Mordecai, a Jew. If people generally were aware of the fact that she was Jewish, there would have been strong objection to her being allowed to be an applicant for the the place of Queen in Persia. We are told that the young woman was "lovely and beautiful" (v. 7).
When the king's decree became known, many young women gathered at the castle, Esther being among them, and she was one chosen to be taken to the king's palace in care of Hegai, the custodian of the women. Hegai was pleased with her, so that he provided everything necessary for the purpose of enhancing her beauty, giving her also seven maidens who would help her prepare for an audience with the king. In fact, Hegai was so impressed with her that he gave her the best place in the house of the women (v. 9).
At the advice of Mordecai, Esther had not revealed her nationality (v. 10). Some have thought this was deception, but without taking sides in this matter, we know that God used the whole circumstance to work for great blessing to the Jews, in spite of not allowing His name to be identified with all that was done. In fact, we may rightly question whether a Jewish woman should think of being married to a Persian, whether king or not, and whether Mordecai should encourage such a union. But the Jews were in such a state that they had virtually forgotten what was becoming to Jewish character. Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's quarters, anxious to hear any news of Esther's progress (v. 11). He was not content that the Jews should be despised in this foreign land, but had aspirations for his adopted daughter, who might be a means by which the Jews would receive more honor. Certainly this is not to be the Christian attitude, and we cannot say that God ordered Mordecai to engage in this project, for the honor of God was not Mordecai's object, but the blessing of the Jews. On the other hand, God was concerned about the Jews too, though He could not associate His name with them at the time.
All of the women applicants were given 12 months of preparation! (v. 12). Thus, the unbelieving world thinks it can improve on the beauty of those whom God has created, by various artificial means. Very likely the king would have been just as impressed with Esther if there had not been this long delay, for Hegai at the beginning gave her the best place among the women.
Each young woman in turn was interviewed by the king as though they were applying for employment. They were given anything they desired to take with them, whether make up, perfumes, delicate clothing, flowers or anything they might consider helpful in appealing to the king (v. 13). To a believer, what are all these surface things compared to the moral and spiritual beauty he sees in a prospective wife? Compare 1 Peter 3:4.
What was involved in the interview we are not told, except that each woman went for this in the evening and returned in the morning to the custody of Shaashgaz, a eunuch who was in charge of the king's concubines (v. 14). We might ask, where did she sleep? -- but we have no answer.
When Esther's turn came, she asked for nothing extra, very likely because her faith was in God, however weak that faith may have been (v. 15). Another note is added here, that all who saw her were favorable toward her. She was taken to the king in the tenth month of the seventh year of the king's reign, four years after Vashti was deposed (v. 16).
Though the king had a large number of women to choose from, he loved Esther more than any of the others (v. 17), so he set the royal crown on her head. This was a plain step in the working of God behind the scenes on behalf of the Jews. The king made a great feast for Esther, inviting all his officials and servants, proclaiming a holiday on this occasion (v. 18).
MORDECAI'S WARNING TO THE KING (vv. 19-23)
We read that "Mordecai sat within the king's gate." Apparently this was allowed to any citizen and Mordecai took advantage of it so as to be as near to Esther as he could, though Esther had not revealed her nationality, in obedience to Mordecai's instructions to her (vv. 19-20). It seems strange that the king had not inquired into Esther's background, but oftentimes it is clearly the case that "truth is stranger than fiction." Also these circumstances are a part of God's working behind the scenes.
While Mordecai was sitting in the gate, a place of discussion of many matters, specially concerning the kingdom, he learned that two of the king's servants who were doorkeepers were embittered against the king and plotted his overthrow (v. 21). He was able to tell this to Esther, who informed the king in Mordecai's name (v. 22). The king had this matter investigated, and when the warning of Mordecai was confirmed, the two conspirators were hanged, and the incident was recorded in the book of the chronicles of the king of Persia.
HAMAN'S ADVANCEMENT AND CONSPIRACY (vv. 1-15)
After this (though we are not told how long after) King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, an Agagite, to a position above all the princes (v. 1). Agag had been the king of the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:8), who were bitter enemies of Israel from the time Israel came out of Egypt (Ex. 17:8-16) concerning whom God said He would utterly blot out the remembrance of them from under heaven (Ex. 17:8-14). King Saul had later spared Agag when destroying the Amalekites, but "Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord" (1 Sam. 15:32-33). We may wonder how this man Haman came into the favor of a Persian king, but this is not explained.
Ahasuerus gave command that all the servants who were in the gate should bow in allegiance to Haman, but Mordecai would not bow to him. The king's servants saw this and asked why he disobeyed the king's commandment (v. 3). He told them he was a Jew, no doubt inferring that it would be wrong for him to bow to Haman. Eventually the servants brought the matter to Haman's attention, including the fact that Mordecai was a Jew. Of course Haman, every time he passed the gate, would particularly observe Mordecai and his not bowing to Haman, so that the man was filled with anger (vv. 4-5). Haman was a shrewd man who bitterly hated all Jews, so that he conceived a plan of not only getting rid of Mordecai, but all the Jews in the realm of King Ahasuerus (vv. 5-6). But Haman was a religious man of the superstitious sort. He with others (perhaps his relatives) cast lots to determine the best day on which to approach the king with the project of getting rid of the Jews (v. 7). His confidence was really in Satan, and just as is often the case at first, this cunning approach worked.
In petitioning the king, Haman did not even mention that he was speaking of the Jews, but told Ahasuerus that there was "a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of our kingdom: their laws are different from all other people"s, and they do not keep the king's laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain" (v. 8). He asked therefore that a decree should be written that these people should be destroyed; but he immediately added that he himself would pay 10,000 talents of silver "into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king's treasury" (v. 9).
Surely the king ought to have realized that Haman had a personal axe to grind since he would personally pay this great amount to have this people destroyed. But the king evidently had a great deal of confidence in this conniving Amalakite who had far more concern for his own reputation than he had for the Persian kingdom. The king therefore agreed, and gave Haman liberty to do just as he desired (vv. 10-11). It seems strange that the king would consult with the princes as to what to do about Vashti (ch. 1:13-15), but in this far more serious case that he would act as though he were a dictator!
The king's scribes were then called to write a decree "according to all that Haman commanded," addressed to all the officials of the kingdom in every province, sealed with the king's signet (v. 12). These letters were then sent by couriers to all the king's provinces, with instructions to the people to kill and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, women and children on one appropriate day, and to take all their possessions as plunder. Haman had taken fullest advantage of the king's permission, having copies of the document sent everywhere (v. 14), declaring this slaughter as law, which law could not be changed, for the Medes and Persians prided themselves on having unchangeable laws (Dan. 6:8).
ESTHER AGREES TO INTERCEDE (vv. 1-17)
Mordecai of course very soon learned of this satanic plot of Haman against Israel and he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes in token of humiliation and repentance. Whether he prayed to God we are not told, but he cried out bitterly in the midst of the city, coming to the outside of the king's gate, though forbidden to come into the gate clothed in sackcloth (vv. 1-2).
At the same time, everywhere the decree of Haman had been sent, the Jews fasted with weeping and wailing, many clothed in sackcloth. Again, nothing is said of whether they prayed to God (v. 3). No doubt God makes this purposely obscure because of Israel's unfaithfulness to Him.
Esther soon received the news of Mordecai through her maids and the eunuchs of the king's court. It naturally distressed her to think that Mordecai was clothed in sackcloth, but she did not know the reason. She sent clothing to him to replace the sackcloth, but he refused it (v. 4). Therefore she sent Hatach, a eunuch of the king, to ask Mordecai the reason for his condition (v. 5). Even Hatach had not heard of the evil plot of Haman, and Mordecai told him what had happened and how Haman had promised to pay a large sum of money for the destruction of the Jews (vv. 6-7).
Mordecai gave to Hatach a copy of the king's decree to show to Esther with a full explanation of Haman's plot, and with instructions for her to supplicate the king for the preservation of her people, the Jews (v. 8). On hearing this, Esther sent a reply to Mordecai, telling him that it was well known that anyone who dared to enter the inner court of the king without an invitation would be put to death unless the king held out his scepter toward the individual. Esther herself had not been called into the king's presence for 30 days (vv. 9-11).
Then Mordecai sent an urgent response to Esther, "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than will the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish" (vv. 13-14). It may be that Mordecai had confidence that God would intervene on behalf of the Jews, though again he does not even mention the Lord. He also asked her a very pertinent question as to whether Esther had come to her present position for the very purpose of meeting this serious attack of the enemy. Certainly this proved to be true.
Esther therefore sent word to Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Shushan to fast on Esther's behalf, not to eat or drink for three days, saying that she and her maids would do likewise, then she would go in to the king. She added, "If I perish, I perish!" (v. 16). Fasting is negative, symbolizing self-judgment, but what of the more important positive action of prayer to God? There is no mention made of this. We should think they would pray, but God omits any mention of prayer because of the Jews' unprofitable spiritual condition.
Mordecai did as Esther asked, so that all the Jews in Shushan were drawn together in a common cause, and all would be informed now that the Queen was Jewish.
ESTHER'S BANQUET (vv. 1-8)
After the three days of fasting, Esther's courage enabled her to enter the inner court of the king's palace, clothed in her royal robes. The king was sitting on his throne, and there is no doubt that God disposed his heart to hold out his golden scepter toward Esther. We can imagine the relief of her heart when he did this! Esther then approached and touched the top of the scepter. The kings's words to her were most magnanimous, offering her whatever she wanted, to the half of his kingdom! King Herod later made such a foolish promise to the daughter of Herodias because her dancing pleased him (Mk. 6:22-23). But Esther did not take criminal advantage of the king as did the daughter of Herodias. She asked that the king and Haman would come that day to a banquet she had prepared (v. 4).
At the banquet, however, Esther did not divulge the purpose of her plans. The king asked her again what she desired, but she only asked for the presence of the king and Haman at a second banquet the next day, when she would make her request. Why did she do this? So that the pride of Haman would be built up to such a level that his fall would be that much greater.
HAMAN PLOTS THE MURDER OF MORDECAI (vv. 9-14)
Haman was sitting on cloud 9! He left the banquet with a joyful heart. Yet there was one matter that greatly annoyed him. Mordecai was in the kings' gate, evidently having changed from his sackcloth, but he gave Haman no recognition whatever (v. 9). So Haman's joy was spoiled by intense anger. He did not even comfort himself by the anticipation that Mordecai would be destroyed with all the Jews quite soon.
Returning home, Haman called for his friends as well as his wife to boast of how much wealth he had gotten, the children he had and his promotion to a place above all the princes of the kingdom. Besides this, he adds, "Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to the banquet that she had prepared, and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king" (v. 12). Certainly the balloon was being over inflated, but Haman did not realize it was ready to burst!
"Yet" he says, "all this avails me nothing so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting in the king's gate" (v. 13). Symbolically, Haman is a very striking picture of the coming antichrist, determined to destroy the people of Israel. Who is it who stands in his way? Certainly it is the true Christ, the Son of God, though Mordecai is but a faint type of the Lord Jesus, as will be seen very soon in this book.
Haman's wife and friends had a ready solution to his problem. Let him have a gallows made, 75 feet high! and ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on it. Thus he could have Mordecai killed before the rest of the Jews. This pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made (v. 14). Now he could anticipate having the deep pleasure of seeing his particular enemy suffer and die in the sight of all the people of Shushan! Thus everything was going to be to the advantage of this proud and wicked enemy of God!
The same night that Haman had had a gallows made on which to hang Mordecai, the Lord intervened in a most amazing way, causing the king to be unable to sleep and moving him to have the book of records of the kingdom brought to him (v.1). When some of the records were read to him, one of these awakened his attention, for it told that Mordecai had virtually saved the king's life when he informed him of the plot against him by two of his doorkeepers. In asking about this he found that Mordecai had been given no recognition at all for this very real kindness.
God's working behind the scenes is further evident when the king asked who happened to be in the court. Haman had just entered with the intention of asking permission to hang Mordecai (v. 4), so the king had him brought in, asking him what he thought should be done to the man whom the king delighted to honor (v. 6). Haman's pride was such that he considered himself the man the king referred to. What a blunder! But he wanted the popular acclaim of all the people, so suggested that the man to be honored should be clothed in a royal robe which the king himself had worn, and placed on a horse that the king had ridden, which had a royal crest on its forehead, then led by one of the king's most noble princes through the city square with a proclamation to the effect that this was done to the man whom the king delighted to honor (vv. 7-9).
What a shock it must have been to Haman to have the king tell him to take the robe and horse and do all that he had suggested to Mordecai the Jew! (v. 10). It seems that up to this time the king did not realize that the people whose destruction he had approved were Jews. Haman had not told him this, though the letters sent by the couriers throughout all the land had stated it in no uncertain terms (ch. 3:13), for the king had told Haman to do as he pleased about that matter, so there was no need for the king to ever read the proclamation.
What could Haman do? His hands were tied. He could only obey the word of the king in spite of his bitter hatred against Mordecai. In parading Mordecai through the city square, it must have been extremely galling to Haman to have to proclaim before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor" (v. 11).
After this Haman could hardly ask the king's permission to hang Mordecai! He returned to his house in grief, utterly humiliated. But he found no consolation from his friends or his wife. They knew that since Mordecai was a Jew and exalted by the king to great honor, this presaged worse trouble yet for Haman, who had plotted the destruction of all Jews.
But this day was that on which Esther had planned a banquet for the king and Haman. He must go immediately to the banquet. Likely he would go with some ray of hope that Esther's invitation would prove helpful in resolving the matter of his serious problem as regards Mordecai, for he did not know that Esther was a Jewess and also related to Mordecai.
HAMAN HANGED ON HIS OWN GALLOWS (vv. 1-10)
At Esther's second banquet the king asked her to make whatever petition she desired, with the promise that he would grant it to her. What a surprise it would be to both the king and Haman that she asked that she and her people might be spared from total destruction! (v. 3). "For," she said, "we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king's loss" (v. 4). What astonishing words these would be to the king! Haman however would realize (with astonishment too) that Esther must be a Jewess, whose nation he plotted to destroy.
The king, not yet connecting Haman's recent edict with the Jewish nation, asked indignantly, "Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?" Esther's response was brief, but like a lightning bolt, "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!" (v. 6). The king was wise enough not to erupt in an outburst of anger toward Haman at the moment, but taking time to think in quietness, he went into the palace garden. Haman remained with Esther, pleading for his life, for he knew the king would not pass by an evil so great as he was guilty of (v. 7). When the king was composed sufficiently to return, he found Haman fallen across the couch where Esther was. Though he was no doubt mistaken in thinking that Haman intended to assault the queen, yet this appeared to him to be the case, and when he so spoke, the servants covered Haman's face (v. 8), for Haman had forfeited all title to see the light.
The situation was so electric that at that moment the king would be ready to act without hesitation, and immediately one servant took the opportunity to announce to the king that Haman had made a gallows on which he planned to hang Mordecai. This would increase the tension, and The king did not hesitate to command, "Hang him on it!" (v. 9). Thus the evil that Haman planned came back violently on his own head, as Ecclesiastes 10:8 warns, "He who digs a pit will fall into it."
A SECOND EDICT CONCERNING THE JEWS (vv. 1-17)
In all of the history we have considered, we cannot but discern the working of God as will be the case in the Great Tribulation period. Mordecai is a type of Christ, the chief object of the enemy's hatred, yet eventually triumphant. Esther is a faint picture of the intercessory work of Christ on behalf of Israel. Haman pictures the antichrist, exalting himself to the highest position possible, but finally abased, destroyed by the brightness of the coming of the Lord.
King Ahasuerus immediately gave Esther all the possessions of Haman. The enemy being spoiled left great spoil for God's chosen one. Esther also revealed her relationship with Mordecai to the king, and the king gave to Mordecai the signet ring he had previously given to Haman, thus virtually appointing Mordecai a prime minister of Persia (v. 2). Esther then committed to Mordecai the responsibility for the house of Haman. Thus, when the Jewish remnant is honored by the authorities of this world, they will transfer this honor willingly to the Lord Jesus.
However, the edict of Haman, sealed with the king's signet, could not be revoked, for the laws of the Medes and Persians were considered to be divinely ordered, and therefore unchangeable. What could be done about such a situation? Esther again ventured her life in coming before the king, but no doubt without the fear she had before, for he had proven his love for her. When the king held out his scepter to her, she implored him with tears to counteract the evil of Haman's scheme to destroy the Jews. "For," she says, "How can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people?" (v. 6).
Certainly the heart of the king could not fail to be moved by his beloved wife pleading in this way. Therefore he spoke to both Esther and Mordecai, reminding them that he had given the house of Haman to Esther, and telling them to write a decree as they saw fit that would be for the protection of the Jews from harm (vv. 7-8). They could not revoke the previous decree, but they found a way to preserve the Jews in spite of it. This second decree was sent as widely as the first, throughout all the lands of the Persian empire, from India to Ethiopia, to every people in their own language. The message was written in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed with the king's signet ring, and sent by couriers on horseback, using thoroughbred horses chosen for their swiftness (vv. 9-10).
These letters authorized the Jews in all these places to gather together to protect their own lives, thus having permission to destroy, kill and annihilate any people who assaulted them on the 13th day of the 12th month, the day that the first decree had authorized the killing of the Jews (vv. 11-12). Thus, though the laws of the Medes and Persians could not be changed, the first edict was really rendered ineffective by the second, and done so legally.
This is a very striking picture of the way Israel will be preserved and blessed through the Tribulation. Her sins against God have by law merited the solemn sentence of death. But God in great mercy will intervene to give life instead of death. It is the same as regards all mankind today. The law of God has passed the sentence of death upon all men. But by sending His own Son to bear sin's penalty on Calvary, God has intervened for the blessing of all who will receive His Son as Savior and Lord.
The first decree would at least serve the purpose of exposing who were the enemies of the Jews, and when they took advantage of the that decree to attack the Jews, then the Jews would take advantage of the second decree to defend themselves and to kill their enemies. Though God's name is not mentioned, yet the Jews could depend on God to fight for them also. The couriers, in bearing their message, were impressed with the urgency of the matter, so that the Jews would be fully prepared for the crucial day (v. 14).
The king had Mordecai clothed in royal apparel of blue and white with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple (v. 15). Though Persia was no doubt ignorant of the significance of these things in God's eyes, yet scripture considers blue as the heavenly color and white as the purity of moral character. Therefore Mordecai is seen by scripture as a type of the Lord Jesus, the Man from heaven in whom is moral perfection. The crown of gold reminds us that Christ is far more than man, for gold speaks of the glory of God. Among the nations the practice of a king wearing a gold crown is common, but it is only an imitation of the glory that really belongs to God. The only man entitled to such glory is the Lord Jesus, for He is God. The garment of fine linen and purple symbolizes the fact that kingly glory (the purple) belongs to Christ, but united with the grace of perfect purity (the fine linen). The rich man of Luke 16:19 was clothed in purple and fine linen, but this was an empty show. Christ on earth was clothed in the garments of the poor, but He will soon have His rightful place, with garments of glory and beauty.
Consistently with Mordecai's exaltation, "the Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor" (v. 16), and this will be wonderfully true when Christ is recognized by Israel at the beginning of the millennium. The blessing of this was spread throughout all the land by the reception of the decree of the king, and the Jews were so greatly blessed that they called a holiday for celebration, and many of the Gentiles became proselytes, taking their place with Israel. While this may not be the case in the millennium, yet the rejoicing of the Gentiles over the blessing of Israel will be remarkably seen, such as is pictured in the rejoicing of the Queen of Sheba for Israel's sake when she came to visit Solomon (1 Kings 10:6-9).
THE JEWS VICTORIOUS (vv. 1-17)
On the day prescribed in both decrees, when the enemies of the Jews expected to destroy all the Jews in the Persian empire, the tables were turned completely, for besides having the king's permission to fight for their lives, the Jews were given power from God to defeat and destroy all their enemies (v. 1). As it was permitted them, the Jews gathered together to make a united stand against the many who sought their destruction, and their energy was such that no one could withstand them (v. 2). In fact, all the officials of government helped the Jews because Mordecai's position of prominence influenced them greatly (v.3). In a coming day too the greatness of the Lord Jesus will have wonderful effect in turning Gentiles to seek the true blessing of Israel.
At this time Mordecai's greatness increased tremendously throughout all the kingdom of Persia (v. 4). Though Christ today is still despised and rejected of men, yet God knows how to change that fact amazingly, as He will when Israel bows to His authority. Then not only Israel will be blessed, but the nations of the world will give allegiance to Him who is "King of kings and Lord of lords."
Thus the victory of the Jews was complete. We read of no Jews being killed, but the number of their enemies killed was great. In Shushan alone on that day 500 were killed. Ten men are mentioned by name who were evidently leaders, as well as the ten sons of Haman. Interestingly, the Jews did not take any plunder from their enemies (v. 10), which shows they were not moved by lust for gain, a picture of the pure justice that will characterize the establishment of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus.
When information was given to the king as to the number killed in Shushan, the king spoke of this to Esther and asked her if she had any further petition (vv. 11-12). She asked that another day be given in order to rid Shushan of the Jews' enemies, and also to have Haman's ten sons hanged (v. 13). Of course, this was after they had been killed, therefore intended to impress the populace with the enormity of Haman's guilt. The king gave his consent to this. Haman's sons were hanged, and the Jews gathered together the next day, killing 300 enemies of the Jews. It must have been that those 300 had before shown themselves to be the Jews' enemies. Again, the Jews did not take any plunder.
Only at Shushan did the second day's slaughter take place. The Jews throughout the rest of the land in gathering together, killed 75,000 of their enemies in the one day, the 13th day of the month Adar, and they also took no plunder (v. 16). On the 14th day they rested and made the day one of feasting and gladness (v. 17). God had made their victory complete, though even then His name is not mentioned.
THE FEAST OF PURIM INSTITUTED (vv. 18-32)
The Jews at Shushan, however, having engaged for two days in destroying their enemies, rested on the 15th day of the month, making it a day of feasting and gladness (v. 18). Since those in the surrounding villages had done this on the 14th day of the month (v. 19), Mordecai wrote letters to all the Jews that both the 14th and 15th days of that month were to be considered holidays for the Jews from that time every year, a time for giving gifts to one another and to the poor (vv. 20-22). The Jews accepted this as a yearly feast because they considered that the memory of this whole occasion should not be allowed to fade from their minds. Thus, verses 24-25 recount briefly the history of the plot of Haman the Agagite to annihilate the Jews, casting Pur, that is, the lot, which in the case of Haman, was identified with the consultation of evil spirits. But though his scheme at first seemed to be successful, by the intervention of Esther whom the king not only respected, but loved, there was a complete exposure of the whole plot, with the result that the wickedness of Haman recoiled on his own head, he and his sons being hanged on the gallows he had erected for Mordecai.
We are not told who wrote this book of Esther, but whoever it was was conversant with the Jewish captivity in Persia and knew this history well. It seems he would not deliberately avoid using God's name in the book; but the book is a vital part of God's word, who would not publicly link His name with Israel, though working for them behind the scenes.
The feast of two days at this time established by the Jews was called Purim, referring to Pur, the lot cast by Haman with the object of destroying the Jews. Very likely the Jews were conversant with Solomon's proverb, "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). Haman had expected demon power to be exerted in backing him up; but no doubt the Jews recognized that the Lord had intervened with His own clear decision. Yet, while the Jews surely did recognize the Lord's hand in this, still, God did not allow His name to be even mentioned publicly.
The feast of Purim was thus established and imposed by the Jews upon themselves and their descendants with the urgent responsibility of celebrating these days every year, and continued in every family of the Jews, wherever they were, that the memory of this great occasion should not be allowed to fade from their minds (vv. 26-28).
We may be sure that news of this occasion reached the returned remnant of Judah in
Jerusalem with little delay. Though they had shown devoted faithfulness to the Lord in returning to the land, they would surely not have hard feelings toward those who had not returned, rather would be concerned as to how their brethren fared in the foreign country. Out of love for their brethren, no doubt they would gladly adopt the celebration of the feast of Purim. Indeed, through all the centuries this feast has continued among the Jews.
In all of these instructions it seems strange that God is not mentioned, though it is plainly evident that it was God's hand of protecting care that had been over the Jews to deliver them from their enemies. Very likely the Jews did include God's name in their celebration, but scripture says nothing of this because the condition of the Jews at that time was really lacking in any evidence of obedience to God. He was virtually disowning them publicly though caring for them behind the scenes.
Thus, the history here speaks of Purim as a feast of the Jews, not a "feast of the Lord." Leviticus 23:1 speaks of "The Feasts of the the Lord," but in John 2:13, the Passover is called "the Passover of the Jews," and another feast of the Lord was called "the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles" (Jn. 7:2). Why? Because it was not primarily the Lord's honor that the Jews sought, but their own enjoyment. What sad disrespect for the Lord's feasts!
Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Persia with the object of confirming the yearly observance of the Feast of Purim at the appointed time. Esther also was identified with this decree. From that time the observance of the Feast of Purim has been continued in Israel, observed even where Jews are scattered in other lands.
THE GREATNESS OF AHASUERUS AND MORDECAI
This remarkable book closes with the announcement of the greatness of the Persian Empire as ruled over by King Ahasuerus. As with every other kingdom of the nations however, this magnificence was only fleeting, for Alexander the Great, being very swiftly exalted to the place of head of the Grecian Empire, overcame and displaced the Persian Empire, as the Lord had prophesied through His servant Daniel (Dan.8:4-7; 8:20-21). But for a brief time Ahasuerus accomplished great things, and specially because he had advanced Mordecai the Jew to a position of great prominence. Mordecai is typical of the Lord Jesus in His being given His place of great power in the millennium. It is always true that when this blessed Son of God is given His true place, whether in a nation or in the history of an individual, the result is great blessing.
King Ahasuerus in this case serves as a very faint type of God the Father, for whose glory
the Lord Jesus will eventually reign. But all types must pass away, that Christ may take His place as Lord of all. The believer longs for the accomplishment of this great end, not simply that this may mean great blessing for us, but rather that Christ will be supremely glorified, in perfect unity with the Father.
No mention is made of Mordecai's death, since he is a type of Christ whose kingdom will have no end. Having once died as a sacrifice for sin, now in resurrection He "dieth no more." Mordecai then continued being well received by the Jews, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen, a lovely picture of the peace of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus.
The post-captivity books, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, etc. maintain a continuity of the history of Israel that goes on into the New Testament; but the history in Esther is not part of that continuity, for the Jews in Esther were outside their land. The book then is significant in showing something of the Jews' condition for the many centuries they have continued away from the land of promise, being called by God, "not my people," yet still watched over for good, and eventually to be restored to the Lord Jesus, and blessed as never before. What a celebration then!
L. M. GRANT