Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Book of Esther
1. Name, Contents, Object, and Unity of the Book of Esther
This book bears the name of אסתּר or אסתּר מגלּת, book of Esther, also briefly that of מגלּה with the Rabbis, from Esther the Jewess, afterwards raised to the rank of queen, to whom the Jews were indebted for their deliverance from the destruction with which they were threatened, as related in this book.
Its contents are as follows: - Ahashverosh, king of Persia, gave, in the third year of his reign, a banquet to the grandees of his kingdom at Susa; and on the seventh day of this feast, when his heart was merry with wine, required the Queen Vashti to appear before his guests and show her beauty. When she refused to come at the king's commandment, she was divorced, at the proposal of his seven counsellors; and this divorce was published by an edict throughout the whole kingdom, lest the example of the queen should have a bad effect upon the obedience of other wives to their husbands (Esther 1). When the king, after his wrath was appeased, began again to feel a tenderness towards his divorced wife, the most beautiful virgins in the whole kingdom were, at the advice of his servants, brought to the house of the women at Susa, that the king might choose a wife at his pleasure. Among these virgins was Esther the Jewess, the foster-daughter and near relative of Mordochai, a Benjamite living in exile, who, when brought before the king, after the customary preparation, so pleased him, that he chose her for his queen. Her intercourse with Mordochai continued after her reception into the royal palace; and during his daily visits in the gate of the palace, he discovered a conspiracy against the life of the king, and thus rendered him an important service (Esther 2). Ahashverosh afterwards made Haman, an Agagite, his prime minister or grand visier, and commanded all the king's servants to pay him royal honours, i.e., to bow down before him. When this was refused by Mordochai, Haman's indignation was so great, that he resolved to destroy all the Jews in the whole empire. For this purpose he appointed, by means of the lot, both the month and day; and obtained from the king permission to prepare an edict to all the provinces of the kingdom, appointing the thirteenth day of the twelfth month for the extermination of the Jews throughout the whole realm (Esther 3:1-15). Mordochai apprised Queen Esther of this cruel command, and so strongly urged her to apply to the king on behalf of her people, that she resolved, at the peril of her life, to appear before him unbidden. When she was so favourably received by him, that he promised beforehand to grant whatever she had to request, even to the half of his kingdom, she first entreated that the king and Haman should eat with her that day. During the repast, the king inquired concerning her request, and she answered that she would declare it on the following day, if the king and Haman would again eat with her (Esther 4:1-8). Haman, greatly elated at this distinction, had the mortification, on his departure from the queen, of beholding Mordochai, who did not rise up before him, in the gate of the palace; and returning to his house, formed, by the advice of his wife and friends, the resolution of hanging Mordochai next day upon a gallows; for which purpose he immediately caused a tree fifty cubits high to be prepared (Esther 5:9-14). Next night, however, the king, being unable to sleep, caused the records of the kingdom to be read to him, and was thereby reminded of the obligation he was under to Mordochai. When, on this occasion, he learnt that Mordochai had as yet received no reward for his service, he sent for Haman, who had resorted thus early to the court of the palace for the purpose of obtaining the royal permission for the execution of Mordochai, and asked him what should be done to the man whom the King desired to honour. Haman, thinking his honour concerned himself, proposed the very highest, and was by the king's command obliged, to his extreme mortification, himself to pay this honour to Mordochai, his wife and friends interpreting this occurrence as an omen of his approaching ruin (Esther 6:1-14). When the king and Haman afterwards dined with Esther, the queen begged for her life and that of her people, and pointed to Haman as the enemy who desired to exterminate the Jews. Full of wrath at this information, the king went into the garden of the palace; while Haman, remaining in the room, fell at the feet of the queen to beg for his life. When the king, returning to the banquet chamber, saw Haman lying on the queen's couch, he thought he was offering violence to the queen, passed sentence of death upon him, caused him to be hanged upon the gallows he had erected for Mordochai (Esther 7:1-10), and on the same day gave his house to the queen, and made Mordochai his prime minister in the place of Haman (Esther 8:1-2). Hereupon Esther earnestly entreated the reversal of Haman's edict against the Jews; and since, according to the laws of the Medes and Persians, an edict issued by the king and sealed with the seal-royal could not be repealed, the king commanded Mordochai to prepare and publish throughout the whole kingdom another edict, whereby the Jews were permitted, to their great joy and that of many other inhabitants of the realm (Esther 8:3-17), not only to defend themselves against the attacks of their enemies on the appointed day, but also to kill and plunder them. In consequence of this, the Jews assembled on the appointed day to defend their lives against their adversaries; and being supported by the royal officials, through fear of Mordochai, they slew in Susa 500, and in the whole kingdom 75,000 men, besides 300 more in Susa on the day following, but did not touch the goods of the slain. They then celebrated in Susa the fifteenth, and in the rest of the kingdom the fourteenth, day of the month Adar, as a day of feasting and gladness (Esther 9:1-19). Hereupon Mordochai and Queen Esther sent letters to all the Jews in the kingdom, in which they ordered the yearly celebration of this day, by the name of the feast of Purim, i.e., lots, because Haman had cast lots concerning the destruction of the Jews (Esther 9:20-32). In conclusion, the documents in which are described the acts of Ahashverosh and the greatness of Mordochai, who had exerted himself for the good of his people, are pointed out (Esther 10:1-3).
From this glance at its contents, it is obvious that the object of this book is to narrate the events in remembrance of which the feast of Purim was celebrated, and to transmit to posterity an account of its origin. The aim of the entire contents of this book being the institution of this festival, with which it concludes, there can be no reasonable doubt of its integrity, which is also generally admitted. Bertheau, however, after the example of J. D. Michaelis, has declared the sections Esther 9:20-28 and Esther 9:29-32 to be later additions, incapable of inclusion in the closely connected narrative of Esther 1-9:19, and regards Esther 10:1-3 as differing from it both in matter and language. The sections in question are said to be obviously distinct from the rest of the book. But all that is adduced in support of this assertion is, that the words קיּם, to institute (Esther 9:21, Esther 9:27, Esther 9:29, Esther 9:31), סוּף, to come to an end, to cease (Esther 9:28), the plural צומות, fasts (Esther 9:31), and an allusion to the decree in a direct manner, occur only in these sections. In such a statement, however, no kind of consideration is given to the circumstance that there was no opportunity for the use of קיּם סוּף and the plur. צומות in the other chapters. Hence nothing remains but the direct introduction of the decree, which is obviously insufficient to establish a peculiarity of language. Still weaker is the proof offered of diversity of matter between Esther 9:20-32 and Esther 9-9:19; Bertheau being unable to make this appear in any way, but by wrongly attributing to the word קיּם the meaning: to confirm a long-existing custom.
2. Historical Character of the Book of Esther
The feast of Purim is mentioned, 2 Macc. 15:36, under the name of Μαρδοχαΐκή ἡμέρα, as a festival existing in the time of Nicanor (about 160 b.c.); and Josephus tells us, Ant. xi. 6. 13, that it was kept by the Jews during a whole week. Now the institution of this festival must have been based upon an historical event similar to that related in this book. Hence even this is sufficient to show that the assertion of Semler, Oeder, and others, that this book contains a fictitious parable (confictam esse universam parabolam), is a notion opposed to common sense. For if this festival has been from of old celebrated by the Jews all over the world, it must owe its origin to an occurrence which affected the whole Jewish people, and the names Purim and Mordochai's day are a pledge, that the essential contents of this book are based upon an historical foundation. The name Purim (i.e., lots), derived from the Persian, can be suitably explained in no other manner than is done in this book, viz., by the circumstance that lots were cast on the fate of the Jews by a Persian official, who contemplated their extermination, for the purpose of fixing on a favourable day for this act; while the name, Mordochai's day, preserves the memory of the individual to whom the Jews were indebted for their deliverance. Hence all modern critics admit, that at least an historical foundation is thus guaranteed, while a few doubt the strictly historical character of the whole narrative, and assert that while the feat of Purim was indeed celebrated in remembrance of a deliverance of the Jews in the Persian empire, it was the existence of this festival, and the accounts given by those who celebrated it, which gave rise to the written narrative of the history of Esther (thus Bertheau). On the other hand, the historical character of the whole narrative has been defended not only by Hvernick (Einl.), M. Baumgarten (de fide libri Estherae, 1839), and others, but also, and upon valid grounds, by Staehelin (spec. Einl. in die kanon. BB. des A. T. 51f.). The objections that have been raised to its credibility have arisen, first from the habit of making subjective probability the standard of historical truth, and next from an insufficient or imperfect attention to the customs, manners, and state of affairs at the Persian court on the one hand, or an incorrect view of the meaning of the text on the other. When, e.g., Bertheau as well as Bleek (Einleit. p. 286) says, "The whole is of such a nature that the unprejudiced observer cannot easily regard it as a purely historical narrative," Cleric. (dissert. de scriptoribus librr. hist. 10) far more impartially and correctly decides: Mirabilis sane est et παράδοξος (quis enim neget?) historia, sed multa mirabilia et a moribus nostris aliena olim apud orientales ut apud omnes alios populos contigerunt. The fact that King Ahashverosh should grant his grand vizier Haman permission to publish an edict commanding the extermination of the Jews throughout his empire, is not challenged by either Bleek or Bertheau; and, indeed, we need not go so far as the despotic states of the East to meet with similar occurrences; the Parisian massacre of St. Bartholomew being a sufficient proof that the apparently incredible may be actual reality.
(Note: Rosenmller (bibl. Altertumsk. i. 1, p. 379) calls to mind Mithridates king of Pontus, who, when at war with the Romans, secretly issued an order to all the satraps and local authorities his realm, to assassinate all Romans, without distinction of age or sex, on an appointed day, in consequence of which 80,000 perished on one day; also the pasha of Zaid Mehmed in the sixteenth century, who surprised the nation of the Druses, and put to death all whom he met with (comp. Arvieux, merkw. Nachr. i. p. 391); and then continues: "It is almost more incredible that a ruler should, from the blindness of religious zeal, either execute or drive out of his realm 100,000 of his most diligent and prosperous subjects; yet the history of modern Europe offers us, in Ferdinand the Catholic, who chased 300,000 Jews from Spain, and Louis XIV, who, after putting some thousands of Protestants to death, banished hundreds of thousands from France, examples of such incredible events.")
And all the other statements of this book, however seemingly unaccountable to us, become conceivable when we consider the character of King Ahashverosh, i.e., as is now generally admitted, of Xerxes, who is described by Greek and Roman historians as a very luxurious, voluptuous, and at the same time an extremely cruel tyrant. A despot who, after his army had been hospitably entertained on its march to Greece, and an enormous sum offered towards defraying the expenses of the war, by Pythius the rich Lydian, could be betrayed into such fury by the request of the latter, that of his five sons who were in the army the eldest might be released, to be the comfort of his declining years, as to command this son to be hewn into two pieces, and to make his army pass between them (Herod. vii. c. 37-39; Seneca, de ira, vii. 17); a tyrant who could behead the builders of the bridge over the Hellespont, because a storm had destroyed the bridge, and command the sea to be scourged, and to be chained by sinking a few fetters (Herod. vii. 35); a debauchee who, after his return from Greece, sought to drive away his vexation at the shameful defeat he had undergone, by revelling in sensual pleasures (Herod. ix. 108f.); so frantic a tyrant was capable of all that is told us in the book of Esther of Ahashverosh.
Bleek's objections to the credibility of the narrative consist of the following points: a. That it is inconceivable that if the Persian despot had formed a resolution to exterminate all the Jews in his kingdom, he would, even though urged by a favourite, have proclaimed this by a royal edict published throughout all the provinces of his kingdom twelve months previously. In advancing this objection, however, Bleek has not considered that Haman cast lots for the appointment of the day on which his project was to be carried into execution; the Persians being, according to Herod. iii. 128, Cyrop. i. 6. 46, frequently accustomed to resort to the lot; while not only in Strabo's time, but to the present day, also, everything is with them decided according to the dicta of soothsayers and astrologers. If, then, the lot had declared the day in question to be a propitious one for the matter contemplated, the haughty Haman would not reflect that the premature publication of the edict would afford a portion of the Jews the opportunity of escaping destruction by flight. Such reflections are inconsistent with absolute confidence in the power of magical decisions; and even if what was possible had ensued, he would still have attained his main object of driving the Jews out of the realm, and appropriating their possessions. - b. That at this time Judea, which was then almost wholly reinhabited by Jews, was among the provinces of Persia, and that hence the king's edict commanded the extermination of almost all the population of that country. This, he says, it is difficult to believe; and not less so, that when the first edict was not repealed, the second, which granted the Jews permission to defend themselves against their enemies, should have resulted everywhere in such success to the Jews, even though, from fear of Mordochai the new favourite, they were favoured by the royal officials, that all should in all countries submit to them, and that they should kill 75,000 men, equally with themselves subjects of the king. To this it may be replied: that Judea was, in relation to the whole Persian realm, a very unimportant province, and in the time of Xerxes, as is obvious from the book of Ezra, by no means "almost wholly," but only very partially, inhabited by Jews, who were, moreover, regarded with such hostility by the other races dwelling among them, that the execution of the decree cannot appear impossible even here. With regard to the result of the second edict, the slaughter of 75,000 men, this too is perfectly comprehensible. For since, according to Medo-Persian law, the formal repeal of a royal edict issued according to legal form was impracticable, the royal officials would understand the sense and object of the second, and not trouble themselves much about the execution of the first, but, on the contrary, make the second published by Mordochai, who was at that time the highest dignitary in the realm, their rule of action for the purpose of ensuring his favour. Round numbers, moreover, of the slain are evidently given; i.e., they are given upon only approximate statements, and are not incredibly high, when the size and population of the kingdom are considered. The Persian empire, in its whole extent from India to Ethiopia, must have contained a population of at least 100,000,000, and the number of Jews in the realm must have amounted to from two to three millions. A people of from two to three millions would include, moreover, at least from 500,000 to 700,000 capable of bearing arms, and these might in battle against their enemies slay 75,000 men. Susa, the capital, would not have been less than the Stamboul of the present day, and would probably contain at least half a million of inhabitants; and it by no means surpasses the bounds of probability, that in such a town 500 men should be slain in one day, and 300 more on the following, in a desperate street fight. Nor can the numbers stated by looked upon as too high a computation. The figures are only rendered improbable by the notion, that the Jews themselves suffered no loss at all. Such an assumption, however, is by no means justified by the circumstance, that such losses are unmentioned. It is the general custom of the scriptural historians to give in their narratives of wars and battles only the numbers of the slain among the vanquished foes, and not to mention the losses of the victors. We are justified, however, in supposing that the war was of an aggravated character, from the fact that it bore not only a national, but also a religious character. Haman's wrath against Mordochai was so exasperated by the information that he was a Jews, that he resolved upon the extermination of the people of Mordochai, i.e., of all the Jews in the realm (Esther 3:4-6). To obtain the consent of the king, he accused the Jews as a scattered and separated people, whose laws were different from the laws of all other nations, of not observing the laws of the king. This accusation was, "from the standpoint of Parseeism, the gravest which could have been made against the Jews" (Haev. Einl. ii. 1, p. 348). The separation of the Jews from all other people, a consequence of the election of Israel to be the people of God, has at all times inflamed and nourished the hatred of the Gentiles and of the children of this world against them. This hatred, which was revived by the edict of Haman, could not be quenched by the counter-edict of Mordochai. Though this edict so inspired the royal officials with fear of the powerful minister, that they took part with, instead of against the Jews, yet the masses of the people, and especially the populations of towns, would not have paid such respect to it as to restrain their hatred against the Jews. The edict of Mordochai did not forbid the execution of that of Haman, but only allowed the Jews to stand up for their lives, and to slay such enemies as should attack them (Esther 8:11). The heathen were not thereby restrained from undertaking that fight against the Jews, in which they were eventually the losers.
When, however, c. Bleek finds it "utterly unnatural" that, after the Jews had slain 500 of their foes in one day in Susa, the king should, at the request of Esther, whose vengeance and thirst of blood were not yet appeased, have granted an edict that the slaughter should be renewed on the following day, when no attack upon the Jews was permitted, his objection rests upon a sheer misunderstanding of the whole affair. The queen only requested that "it should be granted to the Jews in Susa to do to-morrow also, according to the decree of to-day" (Esther 9:13), i.e., "to stand for their lives, and slay all who should assault them" (Esther 8:11). This petition presupposes that the heathen population of Susa would renew the attack upon the Jews on the next day. Hence it is evident that Bleek's assertion, that the heathen were not allowed on that day to renew their attack upon the Jews, is an erroneous notion, and one at variance with the text. Together with this erroneous assumption, the reproach of vengeance and bloodthirstiness raised against Esther is also obviated. Her foresight in securing the lives of her people against renewed attacks, betrays neither revenge nor cruelty. Unless the heathen population had attacked the Jews on the second day, the latter would have had no opportunity of slaying their foes. How little, too, the Jews in general were influenced by a desire of vengeance, is shown by the fact so repeatedly brought forward, that they laid not their hand on the spoil of the slain (Esther 9:9, Esther 9:15), though this was granted them by the royal edict (Esther 8:11). - d. Bleek's remaining objections are based partly upon misrepresentations of the state of affairs, and partly upon erroneous notions of Eastern customs.
(Note: E.g., the remark that, though all Susa was thrown into consternation by the edict of Haman, it rejoiced greatly at the second; where Bleek has inserted all to make the matter appear incredible by exaggeration. In the text we only read "the city of Susa was perplexed" (Esther 3:15), "the city of Susa rejoiced and was glad" (Esther 8:15); i.e., in the city of Susa there was in the one instance perplexity, in the other rejoicing. Also that the king published a special decree in all the provinces of his kingdom, that every man should be master in his own house, - a misinterpretation of the passage Esther 1:22; see the explanation of this verse. Finally, the difficulty that Esther, as queen-consort, should have concealed her nationality so long as is stated in the narrative, can exist only for those unacquainted with the state of affairs in the harem of an Oriental prince. The Persian monarchs, who had a fresh concubine for each day, would certainly be ignorant of the descent of each; and though, according to Herod. 3:84, the queens were generally of the race of Achaemenides, yet the same historian also relates (3:31) of Cambyses, that the royal δικασταί declared to him, with respect to his marriage with a sister, that: τῷ βασιλεύοντι Περσέων ἐξεῖναι ποιέειν τὸ ἂν βούληται. The case, too, of a concubine being raised to the rank of queen by a Persian monarch is not inconceivable.)
If, then, all the objections raised against the credibility of the narrative may by thus disposed of, we are perfectly justified in adhering to a belief in the historical character of the whole book, since even Bleek cannot deny, that some at least of "the customs and arrangements of the Persian court are both vividly and faithfully depicted." To this must be added the statement of the names of the individuals who take part in the narrative, e.g., the courtiers, Esther 1:10; the seven princes of Persia, Esther 1:14; the keeper of the women's houses, Esther 2:8 and Esther 2:14; the ten sons of Haman, Esther 9:7-9, and others; and the reference to the book of the chronicles of the Medes and Persians, as the documents in which not only the acts of Ahashverosh, but also the greatness of Mordochai, were written (Esther 10:2). As the numerous and otherwise wholly unknown names could not possibly be invented, so neither can the reference to the book of the chronicles be a mere literary fiction. When, therefore, Bertheau thinks, that the writer of this book, by thus bringing forward so many small details, by stating the names of otherwise unknown individuals, and especially by giving so much accurate information concerning Persian affairs and institutions, - the correctness of which is in all respects confirmed both by the statements of classical authors and our present increased knowledge of Oriental matters, - certainly proves himself acquainted with the scene in which the narrative takes place, with Persian names and affairs, but not possessed also of an historical knowledge of the actual course of events; we can perceive in this last inference only the unsupported decision of a subjectivistic antipathy to the contents of the book.
3. Authorship and Date of the Book of Esther
No certain information concerning the author of this book is obtainable. The talmudic statement in Baba bathr. 15. 1, that it was written by the men of the Great Synagogue, is devoid of historical value; and the opinion of Clem. Al., Aben Ezra, and others, that Mordochai was its author, as is also inferred from Esther 9:20 and Esther 9:23 by de Wette, is decidedly a mistaken one, - the writer plainly distinguishing in this passage between himself and Mordochai, who sent letters concerning the feast of Purim to the Jews in the realm of Persia. Other conjectures are still more unfounded. The date, too, of its composition can be only approximately determined. The opinion that in Esther 9:19 the long existence of the feast of Purim is presupposed, cannot be raised to the rank of a certainty. Nor does the book contain allusions pointing to the era of the Greek universal monarchy. This is admitted by Sthelin, who remarks, p. 178: "The most seemingly valid argument in support of this view, viz., that Persian customs are explained in this book, Esther 1:1, Esther 1:13 (for Esther 7:8, usually cited with these passages, is out of the question, and is the king's speech in answer to Esther 8:5), is refuted by the consideration, that the book was written for the information of Palestinian Jews; while Hvernick, ii. 1, p. 361, refers to a case in Bohaeddin, in which this biographer of Saladin, p. 70, though writing for Arabs, explains an Arabian custom with respect to prisoners of war." On the other hand, both the reference to the chronicles of the Medes and Persians (Esther 10:2), and the intimate acquaintance of the writer with Susa and the affairs of the Persian monarchy, decidedly point to the fact, that the date of its composition preceded the destruction of the Persian empire, and may perhaps have been that of Artaxerxes I or Darius Nothus, about 400 b.c. The omission, moreover, of all reference to Judah and Jerusalem, together with the absence not only of theocratic notions, but of a specially religious view of circumstances, favour the view that the author lived not in Palestine, but in the more northern provinces of the Persian realm, probably in Susa itself. For though his mode of representing events, which does not even once lead him to mention the name of God, is not caused by the irreligiousness of the author, but rather by the circumstance, that he neither wished to depict the persons whose acts he was narrating as more godly than they really were, nor to place the whole occurrence - which manifests, indeed, the dealings of Divine Providence with the Jewish people, but not the dealings of Jahve with the nation of Israel - under a point of view alien to the actors and the event itself, yet a historian acquainted with the theocratic ordinances and relations of Judah would scarcely have been capable of so entirely ignoring them.
4. The Canonicity of the Book of Esther
The book of Esther has always formed a portion of the Hebrew canon. It is included also among the twenty-two books which, according to Josephus, c. Ap. i. 8, were acknowledged by the Jews as δικαίως πεπιστευμένα. For Josephus, who repeatedly asserts, that the history of the Hebrews from Moses to Artaxerxes was written by the prophets and worthy to be believed, relates also in his Jewish Antiquities (l. xi. c. 6) the history of Esther, Mordochai, and Haman. Certain critics have indeed desired to infer, from the statement in the Talmud, Jerush. Megill. 70. 4, that "among the eighty elders who contended against the institution of the feast of Purim by Esther and Mordochai as an innovation in the law, there were more than thirty prophets," that the Jews did not formerly attribute the same authority to the book of Esther as to the other Scriptures (Movers, loci quidam historiae canonis V. T. p. 28; Bleek, Einl. p. 404); but even Bertheau doubts whether this passage refers to the whole book of Esther. For it treats unambiguously only of the fact Esther 9:29-32, which is very specially stated to have been an institution of Esther and Mordochai, and concerning which differences of opinion might prevail among the Rabbis. The further remark of Movers, l.c., that the oldest patristic testimonies to the inclusion of this book in the canon are of such a nature, ut ex iis satis verisimiliter effici possit, eum tunc recens canoni adjectum esse, because it occupies the last place in the series of O.T. writings given by Origen, Epiphanius, and Jerome, according to Jewish authority, and because the canons of the Greek Church, which more accurately enumerate the books received by the synagogue, do not contain the book of Esther, is also incorrect. For (1.) the lists of the canonical books of the O.T. given by Origen (in Euseb. hist. eccl. vi. 25) and Epiphanius give these books not according to their order in the Hebrew canon, but to that of the Alexandrinian version, while only Jerome places the book of Esther last. (2.) In the lists of the Greek Church this book is omitted only in that given in Euseb. hist. eccl. iv. 26, from the eclogae of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, and in that of Gregory of Nazianzen, while it is included in those of Origen and Cyril of Jerusalem; a circumstance which leads to the supposition that it might have been omitted by an oversight in transcription in those of Origen and Epiphanius. Only Athanasius (in his epist. fest.), Amphilochius (in the Jambi ad Seleuc.), and the author of the Synopsis Athanasius, who is supposed not to have lived till the tenth century, reckon it among the apocryphal books; while Junilius (of the sixth century) remarks that there were many in his days who doubted the canonicity of the book of Esther. From this it is sufficiently obvious, that these doubts were not founded upon historical tradition, but proceeded only from subjective reasons, and were entertained because offence was taken, first at the non-mention of the name of God in this book, and then at the confessedly apocryphal additions mingled with this book in the Alexandrinian translation. The author of the Synopsis Ath., moreover, expressly says that the Hebrews regarded this book as canonical. The well-known harsh judgments of Luther in his work de servo arbitrio: liber Esther, quamvis hunc habent in canone, dignior omnibus, me judice, qui extra canonem haberetur, and in his Table Talk, are purely subjective.
(Note: "And while the Doctor was correcting the second book of Maccabees he said: I am so hostile to this book and that of Esther, that I wish they did not exist; they are too Judaizing, and contain many heathenish improprieties.")
Luther could never reconcile himself to this book, because he felt that the saving truths of Scripture were absent from it. The later Jews, on the contrary, exalted it even far above the Thorah and the prophets.
(Note: Comp. the collection of rabbinical eulogies of this book in Aug. Pfeiffer, thes. herm. p. 597f., and in Carpzov's introd. i. p. 366.)
Later Protestant theologians, too, have, in their efforts to justify the canonicity of this book, over-estimated its canonical value, and attributed to the history therein related, Messianic references which are foreign to its meaning (comp. the verdict given upon it in Carpzov's Introd. in V. T. p. 369f.). The moderate opinion of Brentius is: hic liber utilis est ad docendam fidem et timorem Dei, ut pii non frangantur adversis, sed invocantes nomen Domini ex fide, accipiant spem salutis; impii vero alieno supplicio terreantur et ad pietatem convertantur. This opinion is one far better founded than the depreciatory decision of modern critics, that this book breathes a spirit of revenge and pride (de Wette-Schrader); or of Bertheau, that "Esther and Mordochai are full of a spirit of revenge and hostility not to Gentile ways, but to the Gentiles themselves, of cruelty, and of ungodly confidence in a victory over the world, by worldly power and the employment of worldly means," and that this book "belongs to the historical records of the revelation made to Israel, only in so far as it helps to fill up the chasm between the times of the prophets and the days of our Lord." "The book itself and its position in the canon plainly testify, that the people to whom the victory over the world was promised, separated themselves farther and farther from communion with the holy God, trusted to their own arm and to worldly power, and could not, therefore, but be worsted in their contest with the empire of the times." Such a verdict is justified neither by the circumstance, that the Jews, who reject Christ's redemption, understand and over-estimate this book in a carnal manner, nor by the fact, that the name of God does not once occur therein. With respect to the first point, the book itself is not to blame for being misused by Jews who have not accepted the redemption which is by Christ, to nourish a fanatical hatred of all Gentiles. Even if Esther and Mordochai were filled with a spirit of revenge toward the Gentiles, no reproach could in consequence be cast on the book of Esther, which neither praises nor recommends their actions or behaviour, but simply relates what took place without blame or approval. But neither are the accusations raised against Esther and Mordochai founded in truth. The means they took for the deliverance and preservation of their people were in accordance with the circumstances stated. For if the edict promulgated by Haman, and commanding the extermination of the Jews, could not, according to the prevailing law of the Medo-Persians, be repealed, there was no other means left to Mordochai for the preservation of his countrymen from the destruction that threatened them, than the issue of a counter-edict permitting the Jews to fight for their lives against all enemies who should attack them, and conceding to them the same rights against their foes as had been granted to the latter against the Jews by the edict of Haman. The bloodshed which might and must ensue would be the fault neither of Mordochai nor Esther, but of Haman alone. And though Mordochai had irritated the haughty Haman by refusing him adoration, yet no Jew who was faithful to the commands of his God could render to a man that honour and adoration which are due to the Lord only. Besides, even if the offence of which he was thereby guilty against Haman might have incited the latter to punish him individually, it could offer no excuse for the massacre of the entire Jewish nation. As for the second point, viz., the non-mention of the name of God in this book, we have already remarked, 3, that this omission is not caused by a lack of devoutness of reverence, the narrative itself presenting features which lead to an opposite conclusion. In the answer which Mordochai sends to Esther's objection to appear before the king unbidden, "If thou holdest thy peace, there shall arise help and deliverance for the Jews from another place," is expressed the assured belief that God would not leave the Jews to perish. To this must be added, both that the Jews express their deep sorrow at the edict of Haman by fasting and lamentation (Esther 4:1-3), and that Queen Esther not only prepares for her difficult task of appearing before the king by fasting herself, but also begs to be assisted by the fasting of all the Jews in Susa (Esther 4:16). Now fasting was a penitential exercise, and the only form of common worship practised by Jews dwelling among Gentiles; and this penitential exercise was always combined with prayer even among the heathen (comp. Jonah 3:5.), though prayer and calling upon God might not be expressly mentioned. Finally, the occasion of this conflict between Jews and Gentiles was a religious one, viz., the refusal of adoration to a man, from fear of transgressing the first commandment. All these things considered, we may with Sthelin appropriate what Lutz in his bibl. Hermeneutik, p. 386, says concerning this book: "A careful survey will suffice to show, that the religious principle predominates in the book of Esther, and that there is a religious foundation to the view taken of the occurrence. For it is represented as providential, as an occurrence in which, although the name of God is unmentioned, a higher Power, a Power on the side of Israel, prevails. Even in single features a closer inspection will plainly recognise a religious tone of feeling, while the whole book is pervaded by religious moral earnestness." It is this religious foundation which has obtained and secured its position in the canon of the inspired books of the O.T. The book is a memorial of the preservation of the Jewish people, during their subjection to a universal empire, by means of a special and providential disposition of secular events, and forms in this respect a supplement to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which relate the restoration of the Jewish community to the land of their fathers.
On the additions to the book of Esther in the Alexandrinian version, which Luther, after the example of Jerome, excluded from the book and relegated to the Apocrypha under the title of Stcke in Esther, comp. my Lehrb. der Einleitung, 237, and O. F. Fritzsche's kurzgef. exeget. Hdb. zu den Apokryphen des N. T. p. 68f.
For the exegetic literature, see Lehrb. der Einl. v. 150. Comp. also E. Ph. L. Calmberg, liber Esterae interpretatione latina brevique commentario illustr., Hamb. 1837, 4, and Bertheau's Commentary, quoted p. 12.
The Banquet of King Ahashverosh and the Divorce of Queen Vashti - Esther 1
Ahashverosh, king of Persia, gave, in the third year of his reign, a banquet to the grandees of his kingdom then assembled in Susa, for the purpose of showing them the greatness and glory of his kingdom; while the queen at the same time made a feast for the women in the royal palace (Esther 1:1-9). On the seventh day of the feast, the king, "when his heart was merry with wine," sent a message by his chief courtiers to the queen, commanding her to appear before him, to show the people and the princes her beauty, and on her refusal to come, was greatly incensed against her (Esther 1:10-12). Upon inquiring of his astrologers and princes what ought in justice to be done to the queen on account of this disobedience, they advised him to divorce Vashti by an irrevocable decree, and to give her dignity to another and better; also to publish this decree throughout the whole kingdom (Esther 1:13-20). This advice pleasing the king, it was acted upon accordingly (Esther 1:21 and Esther 1:22).
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:)The banquet. Esther 1:1-3 mark a period. משׁתּה עשׂה, which belongs to ויהי, does not follow till Esther 1:3, and even then the statement concerning the feast is again interrupted by a long parenthesis, and not taken up again and completed till Esther 1:5. On the use of ויהי in historical narratives at the beginning of relations having, as in the present instance and Ruth 1:1, no reference to a preceding narrative, see the remark on Joshua 1:1. Even when no express reference to any preceding occurrence takes place, the historian still puts what he has to relate in connection with other historical occurrences by an "and it came to pass." Ahashverosh is, as has already been remarked on Ezra 4, Xerxes, the son of Darius Hystaspis. Not only does the name אחשׁורושׁ point to the Old-Persian name Ks'ayars'a (with א prosthetic), but the statements also concerning the extent of the kingdom (Esther 1:1; Esther 10:1), the manners and customs of the country and court, the capricious and tyrannical character of Ahashverosh, and the historical allusions are suitable only and completely to Xerxes, so that, after the discussions of Justi in Eichhorn's Repert. xv. pp. 3-38, and Baumgarten, de fide, etc., pp. 122-151, no further doubt on the subject can exist. As an historical background to the occurrences to be delineated, the wide extent of the kingdom ruled by the monarch just named is next described: "He is that Ahashverosh who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces." מדינה ... שׁבע is not an accusative dependent on מלך, he ruled 127 provinces, for מלך, to reign, is construed with על or בּ, but is annexed in the form of a free apposition to the statement: "from India to Cush;" as also in Esther 8:9. הדּוּ is in the Old-Persian cuneiform inscriptions, Hidhu; in Zend, Hendu; in Sanscrit, Sindhu, i.e., dwellers on the Indus, for Sindhu means in Sanscrit the river Indus; comp. Roediger in Gesenius, Thes. Append. p. 83, and Lassen, Indische Alterthumsk. i. p. 2. כּוּשׁ is Ethiopia. This was the extent of the Persian empire under Xerxes. Mardonius in Herod. 7:9 names not only the Sakers and Assyrians, but also the Indians and Ethiopians as nations subject to Xerxes. Comp. also Herod. 7:97, 98, and 8:65, 69, where the Ethiopians and Indians are reckoned among the races who paid tribute to the Persian king and fought in the army of Xerxes. The 127 מדינות, provinces, are governmental districts, presided over, according to Esther 8:9, by satraps, pechahs, and rulers. This statement recalls that made in Daniel 6:2, that Darius the Mede set over his kingdom 120 satraps. We have already shown in our remarks on Daniel 6:2 that this form of administration is not in opposition to the statement of Herod. iii. 89f., that Darius Hystaspis divided the kingdom for the purpose of taxation into twenty ἀρχαί which were called σατραπηΐ́αι. The satrapies into which Darius divided the kingdom generally comprised several provinces. The first satrapy, e.g., included Mysia and Lydia, together with the southern part of Phrygia; the fourth, Syria and Phoenicia, with the island of Cyprus. The Jewish historians, on the other hand, designate a small portion of this fourth satrapy, viz., the region occupied by the Jewish community (Judah and Benjamin, with their chief city Jerusalem), as מדינה, Ezra 2:1; Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 7:6; Nehemiah 11:3. Consequently the satrapies of Darius mentioned in Herodotus differ from the medinoth of Daniel 6:2, and Esther 1:1; Esther 8:9. The 127 medinoth are a division of the kingdom into geographical regions, according to the races inhabiting the different provinces; the list of satrapies in Herodotus, on the contrary, is a classification of the nations and provinces subject to the empire, determined by the tribute imposed on them.
That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace,The words: in those days, take up the chronological statement of Esther 1:1, and add thereto the new particular: when King Ahashverosh sat on the throne of his kingdom in the citadel of Susa. שׁבת does not involve the notion of quiet and peaceable possession after the termination of wars (Clericus, Rambach), but that of being seated on the throne with royal authority. Thus the Persian kings are always represented upon a raised seat or throne, even on journeys and in battle. According to Herod. vii. 102, Xerxes watched the battle of Thermopylae sitting upon his throne. And Plutarch (Themistocl. c. 13) says the same of the battle of Salamis. Further examples are given by Baumg. l.c. p. 85f. On the citadel of Susa, see Nehemiah 1:1, and remarks on Daniel 8:2.
In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him:"In the third year of his reign he made a feast to all his princes and his servants, when the forces of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, were before him." משׁתּה עשׂה, to make, to prepare, i.e., to give, a feast; comp. Genesis 21:8. The princes and the servants are, all who were assembled about him in Susa. These are specified in the words which follow as חיל פ. We might supply ל before חיל from the preceding words, (viz.) the forces, etc.; but this would not suit the לפניו at the end of the verse. For this word shows that an independent circumstantial clause begins with חיל, which is added to call attention to the great number of princes and servants assembled at Susa (Bertheau): the forces of Persia ... were before him: when they were before him. By חיל, the host, the forces, Bertheau thinks the body-guard of the king, which, according to Herod. vii. 40, consisted of 2000 selected horsemen, 2000 lancers, and 10,000 infantry, is intended. There is, however, no adequate reason for limiting חיל to the body-guard. It cannot, indeed, be supposed that the whole military power of Persia and Media was with the king at Susa; but חיל without כּל can only signify an lite of the army, perhaps the captains and leaders as representing it, just as "the people" is frequently used for "the representatives of the people." The Persians and Medes are always named together as the two kindred races of the ruling nation. See Daniel 6:9, who, however, as writing in the reign of Darius the Mede, places the Medes first and the Persians second, while the contrary order is observed here when the supremacy had been transferred to the Persians by Cyrus. On the form פּרס, see rem. on Ezra 1:1. After the mention of the forces, the Partemim, i.e., nobles, magnates (see on Daniel 1:3), and the princes of the provinces are named as the chief personages of the civil government.
When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days."When he showed the glorious riches of his kingdom and the excellent honour of his greatness many days, one hundred and eighty days." This verse has been understood by most expositors as stating that the king magnificently and splendidly entertained all the grandees mentioned in Esther 1:3 for a full half-year, and gave them a banquet which lasted 180 days. Clericus supposes proceedings to have been so arranged, that the proceres omnium provinciarum were not entertained at one and the same time, but alii post alios, because all could not be absent together per sex menses a suis provinciis. Bertheau, however, thinks that the historian did not purpose to give an exact and graphic description of the proceeding, but only to excite astonishment, and that they who are astonished will not inquire as to the manner in which all took place. The text, however, does not say, that the feast lasted 180 days, and hence offers no occasion for such a view, which is founded on a mistaken comprehension of Esther 1:4, which combines וגו בּהראתו with משׁתּה עשׂה of Esther 1:3, while the whole of Esther 1:4 is but a further amplification of the circumstantial clause: when the forces, etc., were before him; the description of the banquet not following till Esther 1:5, where, however, it is joined to the concluding words of Esther 1:4 : "when these (180) days were full, the king made a feast to all the people that were found in the citadel of Susa, from great to small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's house." This verse is thus explained by Bertheau: after the soldiers, nobles, and princes of the district had been entertained for six months, all the male inhabitants of Susa were also entertained in a precinct of the palace garden, the women being feasted by Vashti the queen in the palace (Esther 1:9), It is, however, obvious, even from Esther 1:11, which says that on the seventh day of this banquet the king commanded the queen to appear "to show the people and the princes her beauty," that such a view of the occurrence is inadmissible. For this command presupposes, that the people and princes were assembled at the king's banquet; while, according to the view of Bertheau and older expositors, who insist on two banquets, one lasting 180 days, the other seven, the latter was given to the male inhabitants of Susa only. The princes and people of the whole kingdom did not, however, dwell in Susa. These princes and people, to whom the queen was to show her beauty, are undoubtedly the princes and servants of the king, the forces of Persia and Media, and the nobles and princes of the provinces enumerated in Esther 1:3. With this agrees also the description of the guests invited to the seven days feast. בּשׁוּשׁן הנּמצאים כּל־העם does not signify "all the inhabitants of Susa," but all then present, i.e., then assembled in the citadel of Susa. הנּמצאים used of persons means, those who for some purpose are found or present in any place, in distinction from its usual inhabitants; comp. 1 Chronicles 29:17; 2 Chronicles 34:32; Ezra 8:25; and העם does not here signify people in the sense of population, but people who are met in a certain place, and is used both here and Nehemiah 12:38 of an assembly of nobles and princes. קטן ועד למגּדול, moreover, does not mean old and young, but high and low, the greater and lesser servants (עבדים) of the king, and informs us that of those assembled at Susa, both princes and servants participated without exception in the banquet.
This view of Esther 1:3-5 is confirmed by the consideration, that if the seven days banquet were a different one from that mentioned in Esther 1:3, there could be no reason for naming the latter, which would then be not only entirely unconnected with the narrative, but for which no object at all would be stated; for בּהראתו cannot be translated, as in the Vulgate, by ut ostenderet, because, as Bertheau justly remarks, ב cannot indicate a purpose. From all these reasons it is obvious, that the feast of which further particulars are given in Esther 1:5-8 is the same משׁתּה which the king, according to Esther 1:3, gave to his שׂרים and עבדים, and that the text, rightly understood, says nothing of two consecutive banquets. The sense of Esther 1:3-5 is accordingly as follows: King Ahasuerus gave to his nobles and princes, when he had assembled them before him, and showed them the glorious riches of his kingdom and the magnificence of his greatness for 180 days, after these 180 days, to all assembled before him in the fortress of Susa, a banquet which lasted seven days. The connection of the more particular description of this banquet, by means of the words: when these (the previously named 180) days were over, following upon the accessory clause, Esther 1:4, is anacoluthistic, and the anacoluthon has given rise to the misconception, by which Esther 1:5 is understood to speak of a second banquet differing from the משׁתּה of Esther 1:3. The purpose for which the king assembled the grandees of his kingdom around him in Susa fore a whole half-year is not stated, because this has no connection with the special design of the present book. If, however, we compare the statement of Herod. vii. 8, that Xerxes, after the re-subjection of Egypt, summoned the chief men of his kingdom to Susa to take counsel with them concerning the campaign against Greece, it is obvious, that the assembly for 180 days in Susa, of the princes and nobles mentioned in the book of Esther, took place for the purpose of such consultation. When, too, we compare the statement of Herod. vii. 20, that Xerxes was four years preparing for this war, we receive also a corroboration of the particular mentioned in Esther 1:3, that he assembled his princes and nobles in the third year of his reign. In this view "the riches of his kingdom," etc., mentioned in Esther 1:4, must not be understood of the splendour and magnificence displayed in the entertainment of his guests, but referred to the greatness and resources of the realm, which Xerxes descanted on to his assembled magnates for the purpose of showing them the possibility of carrying into execution his contemplated campaign against Greece. The banquet given them after the 180 days of consultation, was held in the court of the garden of the royal palace. בּיתן is a later form of בּית, which occurs only here and Esther 7:7-8. חצר, court, is the space in the park of the royal castle which was prepared for the banquet. The fittings and furniture of this place are described in Esther 1:6. "White stuff, variegated and purple hangings, fastened with cords of byssus and purple to silver rings and marble pillars; couches of gold and silver upon a pavement of malachite and marble, mother-of-pearl and tortoise-shell." The description consists of mere allusions to, or exclamations at, the splendour of the preparations. In the first half of the verse the hangings of the room, in the second, the couches for the guests, are noticed. חוּר from חור means a white tissue of either linen or cotton. Bertheau supposes that the somewhat larger form of ch is intended to denote, even by the size of letter employed, the commencement of the description. כּרפּס, occurring in Sanscrit, Persian, Armenian, and Arabic, in Greek κάρπασος, means originally cotton, in Greek, according to later authorities, a kind of fine flax, here undoubtedly a cotton texture of various colours. תּכלת, deep blue, purple. The hangings of the space set apart were of these materials. Blue and white were, according to Curtius Esther 6:6, Esther 6:4, the royal colours of the Persians; comp. M. Duncker, Gesch. des Alterthums, ii. pp. 891 and 951 of the third edition, in which is described also the royal table, p. 952. The hangings were fastened (אחוּז) with cords of white byssus and purple to rings and pillars of white marble. מטּות, couches (divans) of gold and silver, i.e., covered with cloth woven of gold and silver thread, were prepared for the guests at the feast. These couches were placed upon a tesselated, mosaic-like floor; the tesselation being composed of stones of various colours. בּהט, in Arabic a mock stone, in lxx σμαραγδίτης, a spurious emerald, i.e., a green-coloured stone resembling the emerald, probably malachite or serpentine. שׁשׁ is white marble; דּר, Arabic darrun, darratun, pearl, lxx πίννινος λίθος, a pearl-like stone, perhaps mother-of-pearl. סחרת, a kind of dark-coloured stone (from סחר equals שׁחר, to be dark), black, black marble with shield-like spots (all three words occur only here).
And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace;
Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble.
And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king.The entertainment: "And drinks poured into vessels of gold! and vessels differing from vessels, and royal wine in abundance, according to the hand of a king. (Esther 1:8) And the drinking was according to law; nine did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house to do according to every one's pleasure." השׁקות, inf. Hiph., to give to drink, to hand drinks, is used substantively. The golden drinking vessels were of various kinds, and each differing in form from another. Great variety in drinking vessels pertained to the luxury of Persians; comp. Xenoph. Cyrop. viii. 8, 18. מלכוּת יין is wine from the royal cellar, therefore costly wine. Many interpreters understand it of the Chalybonian wine, which the Persian kings used to drink. See rem. on Ezekiel 27:18. המּלך כּיד, according to the hand of the king, i.e., according to royal bounty; comp. 1 Kings 10:13. The words: "the drinking was according to law, none did compel," are generally understood to say, that the king abolished for this banquet, the prevailing custom of pledging his guests. According to Grecian information (see Baumgarten, p. 12f.), an exceedingly large quantity of wine was drunk at Persian banquets. This sense of the words is not, however, quite certain. The argument of Baumgarten, Si hic mos vulgaris fuisset in epulis regiis, sine dubio haec omnia non commemorata essent, no more holds good than his further remark: formulam illam אנס אין כּדּת non puto adhibitam fuisse, nisi jam altera contraria אנס כּדּת solemnis esset facta. The historian can have noticed this only because it was different from the Jewish custom. Bertheau also justly remarks: "We are not told in the present passage, that the king, on this occasion, exceptionally permitted moderation, especially to such of his guests as were, according to their ancestral customs, addicted to moderation, and who would else have been compelled to drink immoderately. For the words with which this verse concludes, which they imply also a permission to each to drink as little as he chose, are specially intended to allow every one to take much. על יסּד, to appoint concerning, i.e., to enjoin, comp. 1 Chronicles 9:22. בּית רב, those over the house, i.e., the court officials.
And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure.
Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.Vashti the queen also gave a banquet to the women in the royal house (palace) which belonged to King Ahashverosh, probably in the royal apartments of the palace, which were placed at her disposal for this great feast to be given to the women. The name Vashti may be compared with the Old-Persian vahista, i.e., optimus. In Persian šty, means a beautiful woman. This statement serves as an introduction to the scene which follows. Esther 1:10 and Esther 1:11. On the seventh, i.e., the last day of the banquet, when the king's heart was merry with wine, he commanded his seven chamberlains to bring Vashti the queen before him, with the royal crown, to show here beauty to the people and princes. וגו לב כּטוב, when the heart of the king was merry through wine, i.e., when the wine had made him merry, comp. 2 Samuel 13:28; Judges 16:25. It was the office of the seven eunuchs who served before the king (את־פּני משׁרת like 1 Samuel 2:18) to be the means of communication between him and the women, and to deliver to them messages on the part of the monarch. Their number, seven, was connected with that of the Amshaspands; see rem. on Esther 1:14. The attempts made to explain their several names are without adequate foundation; nor would much be gained thereby, the names being of no significance with respect to the matter in question. In the lxx the names vary to some extent. The queen was to appear with the crown on her head (כּתר, κίδαρις or κίταρις, a high turban terminating in a point), and, as is self-evident, otherwise royally apparelled. The queen was accustomed on ordinary occasions to take her meals at the king's table; comp. Herod. ix. 110. There is, however, an absence of historical proof, that she was present at great banquets. The notice quoted from Lucian in Brissonius, de regio Pers. princ. i. c. 103, is not sufficient for the purpose.
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,
To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on.
But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.The queen refused to appear at the king's command as delivered by the eunuchs, because she did not choose to stake her dignity as a queen and a wife before his inebriated guests. The audacity of Persians in such a condition is evident from the history related Herod. Esther 1:18.
Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king's manner toward all that knew law and judgment:The king, greatly incensed at this disobedience to his behest, inquired of his wise men what was to be done to Queen Vashti according to law. These wise men are Esther 1:13 designated as those "who knew the times," i.e., astrologers and magi, who give counsel according to celestial phenomena; comp. the wise men of Babylon, Daniel 2:27; Daniel 5:15; Isaiah 44:25; Isaiah 47:13; Jeremiah 50:35. Of these he inquires, "for thus was the business of the king conducted before all that knew law and judgment." דּבר here does not signify word or speech, but matter, business; and the meaning of this parenthetical sentence is, that in every matter, the king, before deciding, applied to those who were skilled in law and judgment to hear their opinions concerning it. With this is joined a second explanatory parenthetical sentence, Esther 1:14 : "And those next him were Carshena, etc., the seven princes of the Persians and Medes, who behold the king's countenance, who hold the first seat in his kingdom." אליו הקּרב is indefinite, and may be understood as expressing the plural. It is perhaps questionable how this clause should be combined with what precedes, whether with ודין דּת כּל־ידעי, before all that knew law and judgment and those next him, or with לחכמים, Esther 1:13 : he spoke to the wise men ... and those next him. In any case the sense is, that the seven princes of the Persians and Medes were also numbered either among the wise men who knew the times, or those who were skilled in the law. These seven princes are the seven king's counsellors of Ezra 7:14, and by their number of seven form a counterpart to the seven Amshaspands. They who see the face of the king, i.e., are allowed direct intercourse with him. Herod. iii. 84 relates of the seven princes who conspired the overthrow of the pretended Smerdis, that they resolved, that it should be permitted them to present themselves unannounced before the future king. Hence many expositors identify these seven princes with the authorities called the seven counsellors, but without sufficient grounds. The number seven frequently recurs, - comp. the seven eunuchs, Esther 1:5, the seven maidens who waited on Esther 2:9, - and refers in the present case to the seven Amshaspands, in others to the days of the week, or the seven planets. ראשׁנה היּשׁבים, who sit first, i.e., in the highest place, i.e., constitute the highest authority in the realm. What the king said (Esther 1:13) does not follow till Esther 1:15 : "According to law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti, because she has not done the word of the king," i.e., not obeyed his command by the eunuchs? כּדת, according to law, legally, is placed first because it is intended emphatically to assert that the proceeding is to be in conformity with the law. עשׂה with בּ, to inflict something on any one.
And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king's face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;)
What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?
And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.The counsel of the wise men. Esther 1:16. Memucan, who was the last mentioned in Esther 1:14, comes forward as spokesman for the rest, and declares before the king and the princes, i.e., in a solemn assembly, and evidently as the result of a previous joint consultation: Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king alone, but also to all the princes and all the people, because the example of the queen will lead all the Median and Persian wives to despise their husbands. Therefore an irrevocable edict is to be published decreeing the divorce of Queen Vashti, and this law published throughout the whole realm, that all wives may show honour to their husbands. Vashti has not transgressed against the king alone (Esther 1:16), but against all the princes and people in all the provinces of King Ahashverosh (Esther 1:16). In what respect, then, is the latter assertion true? We are told Esther 1:17 and Esther 1:18. "For the deed of the queen will come abroad to (על for אל) all women, to bring their husbands into contempt in their eyes (the infin. להבזות stating the result), while they will say," etc. (the suffix of בּאמרם relates to the women, who will appeal to the disobedience of the queen). Esther 1:18. "And this day (i.e., already) the princesses of the Persians and Medians, who hear of the act of the queen (דּבר, not the word, but the thing, i.e., her rejection of her husband's command), will tell it to all the princes of the king, and (there will be) enough contempt and provocation. קצף is an outburst of anger; here, therefore, a provocation to wrath. Bertheau makes the words זק בז וּכדי the object of תּאמרנה, which, after the long parenthesis, is united to the copula by w, and for, "to speak contempt and wrath," reads: to speak contemptuously in wrath. But this change cannot be substantiated. The expression, to speak wrath, is indeed unexampled, but that is no reason for making קצף stand for בּקצף, the very adoption of such an ellipsis showing, that this explanation is inadmissible. The words must be taken alone, as an independent clause, which may be readily completed by יהיה: and contempt and wrath will be according to abundance. כּדי is a litotes for: more than enough. The object of תּאמרנה must be supplied from the context: it - that is, what the queen said to her husband. In the former verse Memucan was speaking of all women; here (Esther 1:18) he speaks only of the princesses of the Persians and Medes, because these are staying in the neighbourhood of the court, and will immediately hear of the matter, and "after the manner of the court ladies and associates of a queen will quickly follow, and appeal to her example" (Berth.).
For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.
Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king's princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.
If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. After this argument on the queen's conduct, follows the proposal: "If it please the king (על טּוב like Nehemiah 2:5), let there go from him a word of the kingdom (i.e., a royal edict), and let it be written (entered) in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, and not pass away, that Vashti come no more before King Ahashverosh; and let the king give her queenship (her royal rank) to another who is better than she." An edict issued by the king, entered among the laws of the Persians and Medes, and sealed with the royal signet (Esther 8:8), does not pass away, i.e., remains in force, is irrevocable (comp. Daniel 6:9). The counsellors press for the issue of such an edict, for the purpose of making it impossible to the king to take Vashti again into favour, lest they should experience her vengeance on the restoration of her influence. רעוּתהּ, her companion, is any other woman, Vashti being here regarded merely as a woman. הטּובה includes both beauty and good behaviour (Berth.). By this means, add the counsellors in Esther 1:20, all the ill effects of Vashti's contumacy will be obviated. "And when the king's decree, which he shall make, is heard in his whole kingdom, for it is great, all wives shall give honour to their husbands, from great to small." פּתגּן is according to the Keri to be pointed as the constructive state, פּתגּם. The expression עשׂה פּתגּן is explained by the circumstance, that פתגם signifies not only edict, decree, but also thing (see on Daniel 3:16): to do a thing. In the present verse also it might be so understood: when the thing is heard which the king will do in his whole kingdom. The parenthetical clause, for it is great, is intended to flatter the king's vanity, and induce an inclination to agree to the proposal. "From great to small" signifies high and low, old and young.
And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.
And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan:The saying pleased the king and the princes, and the king carried it into execution. He sent letters into all his provinces to make known his commands, and to let all husbands know, that they were to bear rule in their own houses. "In every province according to its writing, and to every people according to their speech" (comp. Esther 8:9), that his will might be clearly understood by all the subjects of his wide domain, who spoke different languages and used different alphabetical characters. The contents of these letters follow in וגו להיות, that every man should be master in his own house. These words state only the chief matter and object of the edict; but they presuppose that the fact which gave rise to the decree, viz., the refusal of Vashti, and her consequent deposition, were also mentioned. The last words: "and that he shall speak according to the language of his people," are obscure. Older expositors understand them to mean, that every man was to speak only his native language in his house, so that in case he had a foreign wife, or several who spoke other languages, they might be obliged to learn his language, and to use that alone. Bertheau, on the other hand, objects that such a sense is but imported into the words, and in no wise harmonizes with the context. Both these assertions are, however, unfounded. In the words, the man shall speak according to the language of his people, i.e., he shall speak his native tongue in his house, it is implied that no other language was to be used in the house, and the application of this law to foreign wives is obvious from the context. The rule of the husband in the house was to be shown by the fact, that only the native tongue of the head of the house was to be used in the family. Thus in a Jewish family the Ashdodite or any other language of the wife's native land could not have been used, as we find to have been the case in Judaea (Nehemiah 13:23). All other explanations are untenable, as has been already shown by Baumgarten, p. 20; and the conjecture set up after Hitzig by Bertheau, that instead of עמּו כּלשׁון we should read עמּו כּל־שׁוה, every one shall speak what becomes him, gives not only a trivial, and not at all an appropriate thought, but is refuted even by the fact that not עם שׁוה, but only ל שׁוה (comp. Esther 3:8) could bear the meaning: to be becoming to any one. Such a command may, indeed, appear strange to us; but the additional particular, that every man was to speak his native tongue, and to have it alone spoken, in his own house, is not so strange as the fact itself that an edict should be issued commanding that the husband should be master in the house, especially in the East, where the wife is so accustomed to regard the husband as lord and master. Xerxes was, however, the author of many strange facts besides this.
For he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.