Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.II.
(1) After these things.—We have seen that the great feast at Susa was in the year 483 B.C. , and that in the spring of 481 B.C. Xerxes set out for Greece. At some unspecified time, then, between these limits the proposal now started is to be placed. The marriage of Esther, however (Esther 2:16), did not come about till after the return from Greece, the king’s long absence explaining the otherwise curious delay, and moreover, even in this interval, he was entangled in more than one illicit connection.
And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them:(3) The house of the women.—The harem, then as now, a prominent feature in the establishment of an Eastern king.
Hege.—Called Hegai in Esther 2:8; a eunuch whose special charge seems to have been the virgins, while another, named Shaashgaz (Esther 2:14), had the custody of the concubines. The whole verse shows, as conclusively as anything could do, in how degrading an aspect Eastern women were, as a whole, viewed. It was reserved for Christianity to indicate the true position of woman, not man’s plaything, but the help meet for him, able to aid him in his spiritual and intellectual progress, yielding him intelligent obedience, not slavery.
Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;(5) Mordecai.—Canon Rawlinson is disposed to identify Mordecai with Matacas, who was the most powerful of the eunuchs in the reign of Xerxes. It may be assumed that Mordecai was a eunuch, by the way in which he was allowed access to the royal harem (Esther 2:11; Esther 2:22). The name Mordecai occurs in Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah 7:7, as one of those who returned to Judæa with Zerubbabel.
The son of Jair.—It is probable that the names here given are those of the actual father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of Mordecai; though some have thought that they are merely some of the more famous ancestors, Shimei being assumed to be the assailant of David, and Kish the father of Saul. The character of Mordecai strikes us at the outset as that of an ambitious, worldly man; who, though numbers of his tribe had returned to the land of their fathers, preferred to remain behind on the alien soil. The heroic lament of the exiles by Babel’s streams, who would not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, who looked with horror at the thought that Jerusalem should be forgotten—such were not Mordecai’s thoughts, far from it: why endure hardships, when there is a chance of his adopted daughter’s beauty catching the eye of the sensual king, when through her he may vanquish his rival, and become that king’s chief minister?
Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.(6) Who had been . . .—The antecedent is obviously Kish, though as far as the mere grammar goes it might have been Mordecai.
Jeconiah.—That is, Jehoiachin. (See 2Kings 24:12-16.)
Nebuchadnezzar . . . had carried away.—This was in 598 B.C., 117 years before this time, so that the four generations are readily accounted for.
And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.(7) Hadassah.—This is evidently formed from the Hebrew hadas, the myrtle: Esther is generally assumed to be a Persian name, meaning a star. Unless we assume that this latter name was given afterwards, and is here used by anticipation, we have here an early case of the common Jewish practice of using two names, a Hebrew and a Gentile one—e.g., Saul, Paul; John, Mark; Joses, Justus, &c.
Uncle.—Abihail (see Esther 2:15).
And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king's house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women.(9) Obtained kindness of him.—This is the same phrase as that which is rendered “obtained favour in his sight” in Esther 2:17.
Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.(10) Esther had not shewed . . .—From the hope on Mordecai’s part that she might pass for a native Persian, and that her Jewish birth should be no hindrance to her advancement. The king does not learn his wife’s nation till some time afterwards (Esther 7:4).
And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.(11) Mordecai walked . . .—Apparently he was one of the royal doorkeepers. (See Esther 2:21; Esther 5:13.)
Now when every maid's turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;)(12) Manner.—Translate, law or ordinance, as in Esther 1:8; Esther 1:15.
So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.(16) The month Tebeth.—This extended from the new moon in January to that in February; the name occurs only here. The fifth Egyptian month, lasting from December 20 to January 20, was called Tybi. The time referred to in the verse will be the January or February of the year 478 B.C., and must have been very shortly after Xerxes’ return to Susa from the West. The long delay in replacing Vashti is simply to be explained by the long absence of Xerxes in Greece.
Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.(18) Release.—Literally, rest. The word only occurs here: it may refer either to a release from tribute or from military service, probably the former. Either, however, would have been consistent with Persian usage. (See Herod, iii. 67, 6:59.)
And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king's gate.(19) And when the virgins . . .—Here begins a fresh incident in the history, whose date we cannot fix precisely, save that it falls between the marriage of Esther and the twelfth year of Ahasuerus (Esther 3:7). The king “loved Esther above all the women,” but how the word “love “is degraded in this connection is seen by the fact that after she had been his wife certainly less (possibly much less) than five years, there takes place a second gathering of virgins (there is no article in the Hebrew), like the one previously mentioned (Esther 2:2). We should treat Esther 2:20 as parenthetical, and join Esther 2:21 closely to Esther 2:19.
Then Mordecai sat.—Translate, and Mordecai was sitting.
Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.(20) Esther had not yet . . .—Perhaps this verse is added to meet the supposition that the king wished to replace Esther through finding out her nation.
In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus.(21) In those days.—Here the thread of Esther 2:19 is taken up, “then I say, in those days—“
Sought to lay hand on the king.—It is noticeable that Xerxes was ultimately murdered by Artabanus, captain of the guard, and Mithridates, a chamberlain.
And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai's name.(22) And Esther certified the king thereof.—Doubtless by this means an increased influence was gained over the capricious mind of the king, an influence which before long served Esther in good stead.
And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king.(23) Hanged on a tree.—Were crucified; a common punishment among the Persians, especially on rebels (Herod. iii. 120, 125, 159, &c). The dead body of Leonidas was crucified by Xerxes’ orders after the desperate stand at Thermopylæ.
Book of the chronicles.—A sleepless night of Xerxes accidentally brought this matter, after it had been forgotten, before the king’s mind. Herodotus often refers to these Persian Chronicles (vii. 100; viii. 85, 90).