The Banquets of the King
It was in the days of Ahasuerus ([a]Xerxes) who reigned from India to Ethiopia (Cush) over 127 provinces, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in [b]Susa [the capital of the Persian Empire], in the third year of his reign he held a banquet for all his officials and his attendants. The army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the officials of the provinces were there in his presence. And he displayed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days in all.
When these days were completed, the king held a banquet for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa [the capital], from the greatest [in importance] to the least, a seven-day feast in the courtyard of the garden of the king’s palace. There were curtains (draperies) of fine white and violet linen fastened with cords of fine purple linen to silver rings and marble columns. The couches of gold and silver rested on a mosaic floor of [c]porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and precious colored stones. Drinks were served in various kinds of golden goblets, and the royal wine was plentiful, in accordance with the generosity of the king. The drinking was carried on in accordance with the law; no one was compelled [to drink], for the king had directed each official of his household to comply with each guest’s wishes. Queen Vashti also held a [separate] banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.
Queen Vashti’s Refusal
On the seventh day, when the king’s heart was joyful with wine (in high spirits), he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carkas, the seven [d]eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus [as his attendants], to bring Queen Vashti before the king, [e]wearing her royal crown (high turban), to display her beauty before the people and the officials, for she was lovely to see. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command, which was delivered [to her] by the eunuchs. So the king became extremely angry and burned with rage.
Then the king spoke to the wise men who understood the times [asking for their advice]—for it was the custom of the king to speak before all those who were familiar with law and legal matters— and who were close to him [as advisors]: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven officials of Persia and Media who had access to the king and were ranked highest in the kingdom. [He said,] “According to the law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus which was conveyed by the eunuchs?” And Memucan answered in the presence of the king and the officials, “Vashti the queen has not only wronged the king but [also] all the officials (royal representatives) and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all women, causing them to look on their husbands with contempt (disrespect), since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she did not come.’ This [very] day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s refusal will speak [in the same way] to all the king’s officials, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger. If it pleases the king, let a royal command be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of the Persians and Medes so that it cannot be repealed or modified, that Vashti is [f]no longer to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better and more worthy than she. So when the king’s great decree is proclaimed throughout his [extensive] kingdom, all women will give honor to their husbands, from the great to the insignificant.”
This statement (advice) pleased the king and the officials, and the king did what Memucan proposed. So he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, saying that every man should be the master and rule in his own home and that [g]he should speak [in the household] in the language of his own people.
- Esther 1:1 Ahasuerus’ Greek name was Xerxes (I), his Persian name was Khshayarshan. Xerxes I (also known as Xerxes the Great the son of Darius the Great), ruled 486-465 b.c. He is the Xerxes who invaded Greece, was stopped temporarily at Thermopylae, defeated at the naval battle at Salamis, and nearly annihilated at Plataea (479 b.c.). The French excavations at Susa in 1880-1890 uncovered the great palace of Xerxes, where Esther would have lived. The building covered two and one-half acres. The finds at Susa from this period were so astonishing that the Louvre in Paris devoted two large rooms to the exhibition of the treasures. Xerxes’ tomb (looted in antiquity) is believed to be among the rock-cut tombs located at Naqsh-e Rajab, an archeological site in Iran about ten miles northwest of the site of ancient Persepolis.
- Esther 1:2 Susa was located about a hundred and fifty miles east of the Tigris River. The site, now modern day Shush, Iran, is considered to be one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. An ancient tomb presumed to be that of Daniel is located in the area.
- Esther 1:6 An Egyptian rock of feldspar crystals embedded in a dark red or purple groundmass used as flooring.
- Esther 1:10 Eunuchs were the men who were placed in charge of the king’s harem, and for that reason had been castrated.
- Esther 1:11 According to Jewish tradition Ahasuerus’ guests demanded that Vashti be naked, except for her royal turban to confirm that she was the queen and not just a servant-girl. She pleaded with Ahasuerus using several arguments, one of which was that if the guests found her beautiful, they would want to ravish her and kill him; and if not, her lack of beauty would disgrace him.
- Esther 1:19 The intent may have been simply to confine Vashti to the king’s harem and put another wife on the throne. The ancient rabbis said, however, that when the king accepted the advice, he ordered that Vashti be beheaded and her head brought to him on a platter.
- Esther 1:22 In recognition of the position of her husband a foreign-born wife was to speak his language.
Vashti’s Successor Sought
After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s attendants, who served him, said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. Let the king appoint administrators in all the provinces of his kingdom, and have them gather all the beautiful young virgins to the citadel in Susa, into the harem, under the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their beauty preparations be given to them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did accordingly.
There was a certain Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been deported from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled. He was the guardian of [a]Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. The young woman was beautiful of form and [b]face; and when her father and mother died, Mordecai took her in as his own daughter.
Esther Finds Favor
So it came about when the king’s command and his decree were proclaimed and when many young women were gathered together in the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king’s palace [and placed] in the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. Now the young woman pleased Hegai and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with beauty preparations and her [portion of] food, and he gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace; then he transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. Esther did not reveal [the Jewish background of] her people or her family, for Mordecai had instructed her not to do so. Every day Mordecai [who was an [c]attendant in the king’s court] walked back and forth in front of the courtyard of the harem to learn how Esther was getting along and what was happening to her.
Now when it was each young woman’s turn to go before King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with [sweet] spices and perfumes and the beauty preparations for women— then the young woman would go before the king in this way: anything that she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem into the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in and the next morning she would return to the [d]second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the [e]concubines. She would not return to the king unless he delighted in her and she was summoned by name.
Now as for Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her in as his [own] daughter, when her turn came to go in to the king, she requested nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch [and attendant] who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the sight of all who saw her. So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, to his royal palace in the tenth month, that is, the month of Tebeth (Dec-Jan), in the seventh year of his reign.
Esther Becomes Queen
Now the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the [other] virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen in the place of Vashti. Then the king held a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his officials and his servants; and he made a [f]festival for the provinces and gave gifts in accordance with the resources of the king.
- Esther 2:7 Hebrew meaning “myrtle.”
- Esther 2:7 Lit good of appearance.
- Esther 2:11 See note v 19.
- Esther 2:14 Evidently to keep track of all the women, the first harem was comprised only of those who had not yet had personal relations with the king, while those who had were transferred to a second harem.
- Esther 2:14 See note Gen 22:24.
- Esther 2:18 Or a release from taxes. The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain.