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.
Zoroastrianism was the religion of the Persian ruling family during the time of Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes. It was the religious perspective in which Xerxes would have been coming from when he was getting to know Esther. As we will see in many ways, their religions were very similar. Could that had made it easier for the two of them to relate to each other and even perhaps easier for a possible conversion of Xerxes to Judaism. It was not until the time of Xerxes’ son, Artaxerxes, that it became the official religion of the Persian Empire.
Zoroaster was the prophet who brought this religion to Persia. However, it is not clear when he lived. Dates are given from 1600 B.C. to 500’s B.C. – this is a large range. Most scholars put it at about 1000 B.C. – the time of David.
Their god is Ahura Mazda (meaning Wise Lord), who is:
Omniscient (knows everything)
Omnipotent (all powerful)
Omnipresent (is everywhere)
Impossible for humans to conceive
The Creator of life
The Source of all goodness and happiness
Does this sound familiar? In many ways the god of Zoroastrianism sounds a lot like the one true God.
At the age of thirty, Zoroaster had a divine vision while bathing in a river during a pagan purification rite. On the bank of the river he saw a ‘Shining Being’ made of light who revealed himself as Vohu Manah (‘Good Mind’). Vohu Manah led Zoroaster to the presence of Ahura Mazda (God) and five other radiant beings, which are called the Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals). This was the first of a number of visions in which Zoroaster saw Ahura Mazda and his Amesha Spentas; during each vision he asked many questions. The answers given to Zoroaster are the foundations of Zoroastrian religion.
It is said that Zoroaster tried to convert his neighbors, in northeastern Iran, but they would not convert. He then went on a pilgrimage going west (interesting to remember is the fact that if he went west he may very well have come into the land of Israel) and when he came back he found a king (if during the 500’s this may have been Cyrus’ family) that was willing to convert to his faith.
What is very interesting about Zoroaster going on pilgrimage is that from many aspects of Zoroastrianism it would almost seem a sure thing that he came into contact with Judaism given their many similarities. However, liberal scholars like to turn it into Judaism and therefore Christianity borrowing from Zoroastrianism. They like to claim that Zoroastrianism is the oldest of all the monotheistic religions.
Ahura Mazda has an adversary called Angra Mainyu (meaning ‘destructive spirit’). Angra Mainyu is the originator of death and all that is evil in the world. Ahura Mazda, who is perfect, abides in Heaven, whereas Angra Mainyu dwells in the depths of Hell. When a person dies they will go to Heaven or Hell depending on their deeds during their lifetime.
Amesha Spentas translates as ‘Holy Immortals’. Just as light rays are emanated from the sun but are not the sun, so the Amesha Spentas are emanated by God but are not God. These emanations are seen as the divine attributes of God. They helped God fashion the world and each is associated with a particular aspect of creation. Western scholars have likened the Amesha Spentas to the Archangels in Christianity. This is not strictly correct as they also represent spiritual attainments, in other words, each Amesha Spentas brought one closer to Ahura Mazda as they attained to that Amesha Spentas’ attribute. Zoroastrians believe that man can know God through his Divine Attributes.
The six Amesha Spentas are:
Vohu Manah – Good mind and good purpose.
Asha Vahishta – Truth and righteousness.
Spenta Ameraiti – Holy devotion, serenity and loving kindness.
Khashathra Vairya – Power and just rule.
Hauravatat – Wholeness and health.
Ameretat – Long life and immortality.
Dualism in Zoroastrianism is the existence of, yet complete separation of, good and evil. This is recognized in two interconnecting ways:
Cosmically (opposing forces within the universe)
Morally (opposing forces within the mind)
Cosmic dualism refers to the ongoing battle between Good (Ahura Mazda) and Evil (Angra Mainyu) within the universe.
It is important to understand that Angra Mainyu is not God‘s equal opposite, rather that Angra Mainyu is the destructive energy that opposes God’s creative energy. This creative energy is called Spenta Mainyu. God created a pure world through his creative energy, which Angra Mainyu continues to attack, making it impure. Aging, sickness, famine, natural disasters, death and so on are attributed to this.
With cosmic dualism we have life and death, day and night, good and evil. One cannot be understood without the other. Life is a mixture of these two opposing forces.
Moral dualism refers to the opposition of good and evil in the mind of mankind. God’s gift to man was free will; therefore man has the choice to follow the path of Evil (druj – deceit) or the path of Righteousness (asha – truth). The path of Evil leads to misery and ultimately Hell. The path of Righteousness leads to peace and everlasting happiness in Heaven.
As with cosmic dualism, we have the polarity of happiness and sadness, truth and deception and so on but with an emphasis on choice. This choice is crucial as it determines whether we are the helper of Ahura Mazda or the helper of Angra Mainyu. When all of mankind chooses the former over the latter, evil will finally be defeated and Paradise on earth will be realized.
In practice, modern Zoroastrianism has a positive outlook. It teaches that Mankind is ultimately good and that this goodness will finally triumph over evil. This could be seen as a retrenchment from the faith’s original purity of dualism
Sacred Fire – They believe that the elements are pure and that fire represents God’s light or wisdom
Purification – Clean and Unclean – Sacred Bathing
Coming of age and the Naojote
Fatherhood – We read in Herodotus: “Next to prowess in arms, it is regarded as the greatest proof of manly excellence to be the father of many sons. Every year, the king sends rich gifts to the man, who can show the largest number: for they hold that number is strength.”
Death – The dead were placed in open towers so that there flesh could be eaten by the vultures or decayed by the elements and then their bones are placed in boxes.(Jews would do the same thing with the bones of their dead.)
Scriptures – The Avesta can be roughly split into two main sections:
The Avesta is the oldest and core part of the scriptures, which contains the Gathas. The Gathas are seventeen hymns thought to be composed by Zoroaster himself.
The Younger Avesta – commentaries to the older Avesta scriptures written in later years. It also contains myths, stories and details of ritual observances.