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,
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,