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,
Today I want to start with the book of Esther.
The book itself was written between 470 and 430 B.C. making it one of the last Old Testament books written. It was written either at the end of Xerxes reign or during the reign of his son Artaxerxes who ruled from 465 to 424 B.C. It documents the only other festival given in Old Testament outside the books of Moses, the Festival of Purim. It had been 1000 years since God gave the original seven festivals to the Israelites. The record of Hanukkah is not found in the Old Testament although we do see it referred to in the New Testament as a festival that Jesus attended, called the feast of Dedication in John 10:22.
All we know about the life of Xerxes from the Greek Persian War on comes from two primary sources: 1) Heroddutus, the Greek historian, who wrote his histories between 431 and 425 B.C. These writings included accounts of Xerxes part in the Greek Persian War, his affairs before he met Esther, the fact he allowed others to rule for him (in other words, he had Prime Ministers), and that after returning from the war he became involved in the intrigues of the harem; 2) The book of Esther. We do not have any Persian sources from this time period of Xerxes life largely because his son Artaxerxes took power in a cue, a cue largely instigated by his mother and the religious leaders in the kingdom.
In the study of Esther by Beth Moore she says, “Biblical narratives commonly begin with ‘it happened’ but omit ‘in the days of’. On the other hand, prophetic writings are often introduced as having occurred ‘in the days of King…’. The Book of Esther unfolds, however, with the two intertwining.” I firmly believe this is a historical account of this part of Esther and Xerxes’ life, but I also believe it is a book of prophecy. Due to this we will approach the book from both perspectives.
We will begin with the historical background of the book. I feel fairly confident in saying that most of us know the history and background of Esther and her people and how they came to be in Persia. To sum it up quickly the people of Judah rebelled against God and God sent the Babylonians under Nebechanezar to defeat them and send them into exile. After being in exile in the Babylonian lands for 70 years the Persian King, Cyrus, conquered Babylon. He then gives the peoples who were taken in captivity by the Babylonians an opportunity to go home, this included the Jews. However, many did not return to their homeland and stayed in the places where they had been carried off to. This was the case for Esther’s family and her cousin Mordecai.
With that said, have you ever wondered about the other half of the story of Esther, Xerxes’ past. His past is full on intrigue itself and one would be well served by knowing it. The first readers of the book of Esther would have known the past of both Esther and her family and Xerxes and his family. I would like to unfold his past for you today because I am confident that it will make this man’s life with Esther so much more clear and we will refer back to it time and time again in our study.
The history of Xerxes is the history of the Persian Empire. Please excuse the chart, but is the easiest way for you to see the connections.
History of the Persian Empire
Kings of Persia
Achaemenes of Anshan @700 B.C.
Teispes of Anshan
Cyrus I of Anshan Ariaramnes of Persia
Cambyses I Arsames
Cyrus the Great Hystraspes
Darius the Great
Kings of Media
Darius the Mede Mandane
Persia and Media Come Together
Cambyses I marries Mandane
Cyrus the Great
Becomes king in 559 B.C.
Becomes king of Media in 550 B.C. when he is crowned by his cousin Cassandane and then marries her.
Conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.
Cyrus the Great marries his First Cousin Cassandane
Cambyses II Smerdis Atossa Artystone
Cambyses II marries his sister Atossa – They have no children
Cambyses II is king from 530 B.C. to 522 B.C. – He dies on his way back from a campaign in Egypt. Before he left for that campaign in Egypt he secretly killed his brother, Smerdis. Since it was done in secret a usurper who looked a great deal like his brother, Gaumata, is able to take the throne when Cambyses dies. To solidify his position as Smerdis, Gaumata marries Atossa (daughter of Cyrus and wife/sister of Cambyses), he also married another widow of Cambyses, Phaedymia (daughter of Otanes, Cambyses first cousin). Gaumata feared Atossa and kept her prisoner in the harem, but Phaedymia was able to get word out to her father that Gaumata was a fake Smerdis.
Seven conspirators decide to take things into their own hands and reclaim the throne of the kingdom. The two most powerful men of these seven were Darius, son of Hystraspes, and Otanes, son of Darius the Mede (you may recognize his name from the book of Daniel). Darius was 28 at the time a general in the military, as well as a distant cousin of Cambyses II in the Achaemenid Dynasty line. Otanes, being a Mede, allowed Darius to take the throne, but did get some concessions in exchange.
Darius killed Gaumata in 522 B.C. and took the throne. Upon coming to the throne he solidifies his right to it through a series of marriages. He was already married and a father at the time.
1. Atossa – Daughter of Cyrus the Great, widow/sister of Cambyses, widow of Gaumata. She agrees to the marriage and is the most powerful woman in the kingdom.
2. Artystone – younger daughter of Cyrus the Great
3. Parmys – daughter of real Smerdis
4. Phaedymia – Daughter of Otanes, widow of Cambyses II and Gaumata
5. Daughter of Gobryas – Daughter of another co-conspirator
Therefore, Darius ends up with six wives, but only one is given the title of Queen, Atossa.
The other concession that Otanes received was not only the marriage of his daughter to Darius, but he also gets a wife. Otanes receives in marriage a sister of Darius. Therefore, Otanes becomes Darius’ father-in-law and brother-in-law.
Otanes marries Darius’ Sister
Darius marries Atossa – Queen
Their Eldest Son
Xerxes and Vashti are first cousins through his father and second cousins through his mother (in other words, his mother, Atossa, and Vashti are also first cousins). When Xerxes becomes king in 486 B.C. at the age of 35 he is already married to Vashti and a father.
Xerxes marries Vashti
Like I said we will be referring back to this family tree of Xerxes as we go along. I hope it is already making some bells ring for you, but if not don’t worry we will talk about where all this fits in as we go.