Upon Xerxes’ Return

Esther 2:1 Some time later, when King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes’) rage had cooled down, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what was decided against her.  2 The king’s personal attendants suggested, “Let a search be made for beautiful young women for the king.  3 Let the king appoint commissioners in each province of his kingdom, so that they may assemble all the beautiful young women to the harem at the fortress of Susa.  Put them under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women, and give them the required beauty treatments. 4 Then the young woman who pleases the king will become queen instead of Vashti.”  This suggestion pleased the king, and he did accordingly.(HCSB)

Remember from earlier that we discussed that between chapters 1 and 2 the Persian Greek War, the war the movie “300″ made famous once again, occurred and that Xerxes came home with his army left behind and losing.  Therefore, when it says, “some time later” the “later” it is referring to is after he came home from the war.

After Xerxes comes home we know of one major event in his life from the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian, his affair with his daughter-in-law.  What occurred from this affair, I believe, along with the riggers of war, helped to turn Xerxes mind back to Vashti.  You see, Xerxes gave to his daughter-in-law, the wife of his eldest son, a robe that Vashti had given him.  She then took the robe and wore it in public, a royal robe of the King.  Vashti then has her mother killed (Xerxes sister-in-law and also a former lover).  This was a warning.  It appeared that the daughter-in-law was seeking to claim power for her father, Xerxes brother and general.  This act of Vashti’s may have caused Xerxes to turn his affections toward her and once again think he might be able to trust her.  I told you there was a lot of family intrigue in Xerxes’ life.  Every where he turns he is looking for someone to love and trust.  He is seeking a home for his heart.

It is at this point that Xerxes’ attendants step in and keep him from breaking his own law.  Their suggestion pleases the king.  But what was it?  Basically to collect the young pleasing virgins of the kingdom who could be a potential bride.  This collection of young women were to be brought to the eunuch, Hegai, in the palace at Susa.  Interestingly, the word for harem can also mean palace or even temple.  Considering the meaning for the treatments it is an intriguing thought to think that Esther may have been taken to a temple of Ahura Mazda for this preparation.

Yes, they were to undergo treatments.  These treatments, as we learn later in the chapter, were two sets of six month long treatments.  Here I believe the King James Bible gets it right.  It refers to these treatments as a means of purification.  They were to be purified before coming into the presence of the king.  It is here that I must begin our look at the prophetic nature of the book of Esther.  King Xerxes on some levels is a type of Christ or Messiah.  Here is one of these places.  Before we, the Bride of Christ, enter His presence we undergo a time of purification.  We call it sanctification.  We will someday enter His presence pure and blameless, without spot or wrinkle.  Again Xerxes is just a type, he by no means is a perfect representation of our Messiah.

Then Xerxes’ attendants speak of Xerxes choosing the one that pleases him, remember Xerxes’ anger toward Vashti was  hot displeasure and that he is looking for the exact opposite of her.  It would be this one that is most pleasing to him that would receive the crown of the Queen.  They have set a plan before Xerxes and it pleases him.  It would be this that sends him into the intrigues of the harem, which is also where Herodotus tells us his heart goes.  It will be there we meet Esther.

Seeking The Pure Heart,

Vicky

Family Harmony

I want to focus today on what Memucan says about the women of the nobility and of the kingdom hearing of Vashti’s disobedience and the consequences.

16 Memucan said in the presence of the king and his officials, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king, but all the officials and the peoples who are in every one of King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) provinces. 17 For the queen’s action will become public knowledge to all the women and cause them to despise their husbands and say, ‘King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) ordered Queen Vashti brought before him, but she did not come.’ 18 Before this day is over, the noble women of Persia and Media who hear about the queen’s act will say the same thing to all the king’s officials, resulting in more contempt and fury….

20 The decree the king issues will be heard throughout his vast kingdom, so all women will honor their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” 21 The king and his counselors approved the proposal, and he followed Memucan’s advice. 22 He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to each province in its own script and to each ethnic group in its own language, that every man should be master of his own house and speak in the language of his own people. (HCSB)

Are these honest concerns that Memucan has?  I believe so.  He is asking Xerxes to make sure that harmony is maintained in the homes of the kingdom.  It is the understanding that the family is the basis of the society and that if the family breaks down then so does all of society.  He realizes that Xerxes’ home must change, but does not want to see that happen to the rest of the homes throughout the kingdom, especially the homes of the other nobles.

Memucan wanted to make sure that a possible revolution amongst the women was stopped before it had a real chance to take hold.  It is hard to blame him for this.  We have seen what the break down of the home has done to our own society.  It hasn’t been a pretty sight and too many kids are growing up without fathers or the attention from both parents that is needed in a young life.  Husbands and fathers are dismissed in our society as a fact of life that is no longer necessary.  This is simply not the truth.  A husband and father is necessary to a family and he needs to be respected by all within the family.

Memucan in wanting the women of the kingdom to respect their husbands.  As we studied in Ephesians this is what the man in a family needs, it is a natural need put in him by God.   We should not be alarmed that this was the major concern in this instance.  Memucan, whose wife was probably sitting right there with Vashti when she disobeyed Xerxes, is concerned that his wife and the wives of the other nobles might come home with new ideas that would make the family life more difficult and even confusing.  It had the potential of bringing great contempt and strife to the home, a lack of family harmony.

Peter in I Peter 3 puts it like this:

1 In the same way, wives submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live 2 when they observe your pure, reverent lives. 3 Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes. 5 For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do what is good and are not frightened by anything alarming.(HCSB)

This is a perfect description of Esther and who we will see that she is as we go through our study.  She is one who with a quiet spirit, a spirit not in conflict with God or in inner turmoil, will bravely confront her husband in an alarming situation and even potentially deadly one for her.  It will be her character and her confidence in God that will win the attention of her husband.

So in the book of Esther we see the decree of Xerxes going out to every part of his kingdom.  It is important to note at this point that part of that kingdom was the land of Israel.  The decree went out and stated that the husband was to be the master of his own home.  In other words, to put it in Christian terms, that he was to be the head of his home.

The other issue in the decree is the idea of the native language of the man being the language of his home.  This may seem like a foreign concept to us today, but back in Xerxes’ day it was a real issue.  Speaking the language of the husband was another sign of respect for him and the heritage he would pass on to his children.

As for Xerxes, if you remember from his family tree, he was a Persian while Vashti was from the Median side of the family.  Two different languages would have been at issue here even in the household of the king.  In his decree Xerxes is making a stand for his heritage, his is the one that conquered Media, not the other way around.  It makes me wonder if Vashti’s response to him came back in Median instead of Persian.  Could she have been, in her own little way, claiming Median dominance over her Persian king?

This brings us to the end of chapter one in Esther.  It is important to note that between chapters 1 and 2 the Persian Greek War occurs.  When we resume in chapter 2 Xerxes has come home from a war he is losing, his men are still there.

Before we go to chapter 2, however, we will take a look at Zoroastrianism, the religion of the noble family.

In the quiet confidence of our Lord,

Vicky

Vashti’s Fall

In Esther 1 we find Xerxes the ruler of 127 Provinces and having a banquet for his officials, staff, military leaders, nobles and the officials of their province’s.  It is the fall of 483 B.C. and this banquet will last for 6 months in the winter palace, fortress or citadel of Susa. 

This first banquet in the chapter is believed to be more of a war council where Xerxes is planning and garnishing support for the upcoming campaign against Greece the coming year.  This strategic, planning council/banquet last until the spring of 482 B.C. and at the end of it another feast is thrown for all those within the citadel of Susa, both small and great.  At this time Vashti also gives a feast for the women of the citadel within the palace–many of them wives of the visiting men.

Both of these feasts were designed to last for seven days; excessive drinking was the norm.  They were also probably meant to celebrate the men going off to war. 

Notice that for the men’s feast we have many more details, describing the surroundings of the courtyard and the location of their feast.  The hanging linens were probably meant to block the wind and to also set up private chambers, as well as couches, where they could recline or even sleep during these days. 

At the end of these days, when he is high is spirits, Xerxes calls for Vashti to come to him in her crown.  He wishes to show her off and to probably fix her image in his own mind before leaving for war.  Vashti was either very pregnant, or had just given birth (to Artaxerxes), as well as, probably being high in spirits herself refuses his command.

This refusal sends Xerxes into a hot rage of displeasure.  Notice that word ‘displeasure’, it is very important to our study because as he looks for another he will be looking for the opposite.  As a matter of fact, both words used for Xerxes’ anger in 1:12 mean a displeasure. 

We do not have the reason for Vashti’s refusal, but suffice it to say, do not feel sorry for her.  By all accounts, she was an evil woman who worshipped the god of the underworld within the Zoroastrian religion.  Her heart leaned toward darkness and death, not one that sought what was best for her husband or his kingdom. 

We will discuss in an upcoming post the religion of the Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism, and how it fits into our story.

The men advising Xerxes are most concerned with the influence her attitude would have on the rest of the women in the kingdom. 

At this point it is important to note that his advisers are the seven who have greatest access to him, the highest ranking Persian and Median officials in the land.

In other words, his relatives.  There is really nowhere Xerxes could go to escape the family and the hold they had over him or the conspiracies that pervaded the family to replace him.  His family was everywhere. 

So he turns to the seven relatives he has allowed access to him; these are men he trusts.  It is one of them that advises him to issue a decree to depose Vashti and to give her position, which would have also included her property, to another.  She was never again to enter into the king’s presence, at least not at court.  Perhaps she could see him in other capacities, but not in any official capacity or with any position within the kingdom.

Remember it was the influence on their own wives that the nobles were concerned about.  Their wives would have been at the banquet with Vashti and again many would have been her relatives. 

This family as we saw in Xerxes’ family tree, is very intertwined.

Also keep in mind that the truly most powerful woman in the kingdom would also be at that banquet, Xerxes’ mother, Atossa, who would have still been alive. 

This behavior by Vashti, while directed toward Xerxes, could also have been directed toward Atossa in an attempt to replace her as the most powerful woman of the kingdom. 

The men wish to make sure that their wives do not get any ideas of overpowering them.  They are interested in maintaining the current level of respect and harmony in their homes, if not to also increase it.

Here we go from Xerxes’ displeasure to one of his nobles, Memucan, saying, “If it pleases the king”.  He is deliberately working to change the attitude of the king, he does not want that displeasure coming his way. 

He makes his suggestion about the decree and Vashti’s loss of the crown, but he does not stop there.  He goes on to suggest that another woman, one ‘better’ or ‘more worthy’ be put in her place. 

It would not surprise me if he already had someone in mind, perhaps his own daughter or granddaughter.  However, this suggestion would not have come as a foreign or unusual concept.  After all these men were experts in Persian/Median Law and knew the times, they knew their history. 

Remember Xerxe’s father, Darius, was also married before coming to the throne and then afterward married someone ‘more worthy’ of the position of Queen, Xerxes’ mother, Atossa.  His own family tree was all the evidence he would have needed to make such a decree and decision.

With that decision, the reign of Vashti ends within the reign of Xerxes.  She will see the light of honor again, however, under the reign of her son, Artaxerxes.

Be More Worthy,

Vicky