Esther 2
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king:
Verse 2. - The king's servants that ministered unto him. i.e. the great officers of the court, eunuchs and others, who had been more or less concerned in the disgrace of Vashti. Fair young virgins. Or, "young virgins fair to look on" (see Esther 1:11).
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:
Verse 3. - The house of the women. In an Oriental palace the women's apartments are always distinct from those of the men, and are usually placed in a separate building, which the Greeks called the gynaeceum, and the Jews "the house of the women." At Susa this was a large edifice, and comprised several subdivisions (see ver. 14). Hege, the king's chamberlain. Literally, "the king's eunuch, i.e. one of the royal eunuchs (see Esther 1:10). Keeper of the women. Strictly speaking, Hege seems to have been keeper of the virgins only (see ver. 14); but he may have exercised a certain superintendence over the entire gynaeceum. Their things for purification. See ver. 12. Such a divinity lodged in the Persian king that even pure maidens had to be purified before approaching him! It would have been well if the divinity had been himself less impure.
And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.
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;
Verse 5. - Now in Shushan... there was a certain Jew. Hitherto the narrative has been a mere story of the Persian court. Now at last a Jew is brought on the scene, very abruptly; and the history is to a certain extent attached to the other sacred books, and assigned its place, by the genealogy which follows. Whose name was Mordecai. The name Mordecai must almost certainly be connected with that of Marduk, or Merodach, the Babylonian and Assyrian god. But it may have been given to his son by a Baby-Ionian Jew without any thought of its derivation or meaning, perhaps out of compliment to a Babylonian friend or master. Another Mordecai, also a Jew, is mentioned by Ezra (Ezra 2:2) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:7).
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.
Verse 6. - Who had been carried away. The word "who" may have either Kish or Mordecai for its antecedent. It is simplest, however, and most grammatical (see 'Dictionary of the Bible,' vol. 2. p. 419), to refer it to Kish. Chronological considerations also lead to the same result; and indeed, if we suppose Mordecai to be intended, we must give up the identification of Ahasuerus with Xerxes. The captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah. There were at least three captivities of Judah the first when Daniel was carried away, in the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1), which was B.C. 605; the second that here referred to, when Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, was made prisoner, eight years later, or B.C. 597; and the third when Zedekiah was taken and Jerusalem burnt, in B.C. 586. Kish belonged to the second captivity. Whom Nebuchadnezzar... carried away. See 2 Kings 24:15; 2 Chronicles 36:10; Jeremiah 24:1.
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.
Verse 7. - He brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther. "Hadassah" has been compared with "Atossa," and "Esther" with "Amestris;" but there is probably no more ground for the one identification than the other. Mordecai's cousin received originally the Hebrew name of "Hadassah," a derivative of hadas "myrtle" (compare "Susannah" from shushan, "lily"); but was subsequently called by the Persians "Esther," which may either be Ishtar, "Venus," or an equivalent of the Zend ctare, Mod. Pers. sitareh, Greek ἀστήρ, Engl. "star," etc. His uncle's daughter. Therefore his own first cousin, but probably much younger than himself. Whom Mordecai... took for his own daughter. Not perhaps By a formal adoption, but by taking her to live with him, and treating her as if she had been his own child. This fact is related to account for the terms of familiarity between the two, which form an essential part of the later narrative. It introduces Mordecai to the reader under a favourable aspect, as kindly and benevolent.
So it came to pass, when the king's commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.
Verse 8. - His decree. Literally, "his law" - the same word as that which occurs in the phrase "the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not" (Daniel 6:8, 12, etc.). Hegai. The "Hege" of ver. 3. Slight differences in the mode of spelling names were common at this period. Esther was brought. Some have rendered, "was forcibly brought;" and in the second Targum on Esther there is a story that Mordecai concealed her to prevent her from becoming an inmate of the royal harem, and that the king's authority was invoked to force him to give her up; but the Hebrew word translated "was brought" does not contain any idea of violence; and the Persian Jews probably saw no disgrace, but rather honour, in one of their nation becoming even a secondary wife to the great king.
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.
Verse 9. - The maiden pleased him. Literally, "was good in his eyes," the same expression as that which occurs in Esther 1:21. And she obtained kindness of him. This is a phrase peculiar to the Book of Esther, and a favourite one with the author (see vers. 15, 17; and Esther 5:2). It is better translated "she obtained favour" (as in all the other places where it occurs) than "she obtained kindness," though the latter translation is more literal. Her things for purification. See ver. 12. With such things as belonged to her. Literally, as in the margin, "with her portions" - by which is probably meant her daily allowance of food. And seven maidens. Rather, "and her seven maidens." It is implied that each virgin had seven female attendants assigned to her. Meet to be given her. It was in this point that the "favour" or "kindness of Hegel was shown. He selected for her use the most suitable of the attendants.
Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.
Verse 10. - Esther had not showed her people. To have confessed that she was a Jewess would probably have roused a prejudice against her, or at any rate have prevented her from being received with special favour. Mordecai, knowing this, had instructed her to say nothing to Hegel on the subject, and no one else, it would seem, had enlightened him.
And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.
Verse 11. - Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house. Mordecai seems to have been one of the porters at the main entrance to the palace, and his proper place was at the gateway. He contrived, however, during some part of each day to visit the court in front-of the seraglio, in order to see Esther, or at any rate obtain intelligence concerning her.
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;)
Verse 12. - After she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women. Rather, "After she had been (in the palace), according to the law prescribed to the women, twelve months." A year's purification was considered necessary before any maiden could approach the king (see the comment on ver. 3). Six months with oil of myrrh. Myrrh was highly esteemed, both for its scent and for its purifying power, by the ancients. In Egypt it was employed largely in the preparation of mummies (Herod., 2:86). The Jews were directed to make it one of the chief ingredients in their "holy anointing oil" (Exodus 30:23-25). Dresses and beds were scented with it (Psalm 45:8; Proverbs 7:17). And six months with sweet odours. The word translated "sweet odours" seems to mean "spices" generally (comp. Song of Solomon 4:16).
Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king's house.
Verse 13. - Then thus came every maiden, etc. Rather, "And when each maiden came thus purified to the king, whatever she asked was given her," etc. The whole verse is one sentence. The meaning is, that on quitting the house of the women for the king's apartments, each maiden was entitled to demand anything that she liked in the way of dress or ornament, and it had to be given her.
In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.
Verse 14. - On the morrow. Literally, "in the morning." The second house of the women. The gynaeceum comprised at least three distinct houses: -

1. A residence for the queen, corresponding to that which Solomon built for the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 7:8);

2. A house for the secondary wives, or concubines; and,

3. A house for the virgins. On returning from her first visit to the king's chamber, a woman ordinarily became an inmate of the "second house." This "second house" was under the care of a eunuch called Sha'ashgaz.
Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her.
Verse 15. - Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai. Literally, "the paternal uncle," or "father's brother." The genealogy may be thus exhibited: - Kish —> Shimei —> {(Jair—>Abihail) (Mordecai—>Esther)} Who had taken her for his daughter (see the comment on ver. 7). She required nothing, etc. Esther would not trust to the extraneous and adventitious beauty of dress or ornaments, or at any rate would give herself no trouble about such things. If she succeeded, it should be without effort. Hegai might dress her as he pleased. She left all to him. Esther obtained favour, etc. Either this is intended as a general assertion - "No one could ever see Esther without admiring her and feeling favourably disposed towards her," - or it has special reference to the particular occasion - "No one who saw Esther on this evening but admired her and felt well disposed towards her."
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.
Verse 16. - The tenth month, which is the month Tebeth. This is the only mention of the month Tebeth in Scripture. It followed Chisleu, and corresponded to the end of December and the earlier part of January. The word seems to have come in from Egypt, where the corresponding month was called Tobi, or Tubi. In the seventh year of his reign. Four years after the disgrace of Vashti, probably in January, B.C. 479. Xerxes had recently returned from the Grecian expedition defeated and disgraced. He was glad to dismiss warlike matters from his thoughts, and to console himself for his failure by the pleasures of the seraglio.
And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Verse 17. - Above all the women. i.e. "above all his former secondary wives, as well as above all the virgins." The royal crown. See the comment on Esther 1:11.
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.
Verse 18. - Then the king made a great feast. As Persian kings were in the habit of doing on every joyful occasion. Even Esther's feast. It seems to be meant that the feast was one which continued to be spoken about, and which was commonly known under this title. And he made a release to the provinces. As the Pseudo-Smerdis had done when he usurped the throne (Herod., 3:67). A "release" was an exemption from taxation, or from military service, or from both, for a specified period. And gave gifts, according to the state of the king. Literally, that is, "in right royal fashion" (see Esther 1:7). The practice of making presents, so common in the East at all times, was much in vogue among the Persians, and was practised especially by the monarchs (Herod., 1:136; 3:135; 7:26; Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 8:2, § 7, et seq.; 'Anab.,' 1:9, § 22, etc.).

CHAPTER 2:19-23 MORDECAI'S DISCOVERY OF A PLOT AGAINST AHASUERUS' LIFE (Esther 2:19-23). Some time after Esther had been made queen, there was a second collection of virgins at Susa (ver. 19), under circumstances which are not related, and which were probably of small importance. At this time (ver. 21) Mordecai, still serving in his humble office at the palace gate, from which he had not been advanced, since Esther had told no one that he was her relation (ver. 20), happened to detect a conspiracy against the king's life, which had been formed by two of the palace eunuchs, Bigthan and Tercsh, whom Ahasuerus had somehow offended (ver. 21). Being still in the habit of holding communication with Esther, Mordecai was able to make her acquainted with the facts, of which she then informed the king, telling him how she had obtained her knowledge (ver. 22). There was nothing surprising or suspicious in a eunuch of the palace having had speech with the queen, especially when he had intelligence of such importance to impart to her. On inquiry, the king found that Mordecai's information was correct; the conspiracy was laid bare, and the conspirators put to death (ver. 23) - the facts being, as was sure to be the case, entered in the court chronicle, a daily record of the life of the court, and of the circumstances that befell the king. It was to have been expected that Mordecai would have been rewarded for his zeal; but somehow or other it happened that his services were overlooked he was neither promoted from his humble office, nor did he receive any gift (Esther 6:3). This was quite contrary to ordinary Persian practice; but the court generally may have disliked Mordecai because he was a Jew.
And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king's gate.
Verse 19. - When the virgins were gathered together. Rather, "When virgins." There is no article. The fact seems to be mentioned simply as furnishing a date, and we must suppose both that there was a second gathering, and that the time when it happened was generally known to the Jews and Persians. Then Mordecai sat, etc. The three verses, 19, 20, 21, hang together, and form a single sentence: "When virgins were gathered together a second time, and Mordecai was sitting in the king's gate - now Esther had not showed her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the command of Mordecai like as when she was brought up with him - in those days, while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, being of the number of them which kept the threshold, were wroth," etc.
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.
Verse 20. - Esther had not yet showed, etc. This is inserted to account for the humble position still occupied by Mordecai. In the East a person's relations usually rise with him; and the reader would naturally expect that when Esther was once queen, Mordecai would have become rich and great. Esther's silence accounts for Mordecai's low estate; Mordecai's command (see ver. 10) accounts for Esther's silence. For Esther did the commandment of Mordecai. The royal dignity did not change Esther's heart. She was still the dutiful child she had been so many years. Mordecai had forbidden her to tell her kindred; he had not removed his prohibition, so she had kept silence.
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.
Verse 21. - In those days. Or, "at that time" - i.e. at the time when the second gathering of the virgins took place (see ver. 19). Two of the king's chamberlains. Rather, "eunuchs." Bigthan, or Bigthana (Esther 6:2), is probably the same name as the Bigtha of Esther 1:10, and possibly the same personage. Teresh is not mentioned elsewhere. Of those which kept the door. Two of the eunuchs who guarded the entrance to the king's sleeping apartment. This was a position of the highest possible trust, and gave conspirators a terrible advantage. Xerxes actually lost his life through a conspiracy formed by Artabanus, the captain of his guard, with Aspamitras, a eunuch and chamberlain (Ctes., 'Exc. Pers.,' § 29).
And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai's name.
Verse 22. - And the thing was known unto Mordecai. Josephus says that a certain Pharnabazus, a slave of one of the conspirators, betrayed them to Mordecai ('Ant. Jud.,' 14:6, § 4). One of the Targums on Esther attributes his discovery of the plot to his knowledge of languages. But it is probable that these are mere guesses. And Esther certified the king thereof. The original is simpler, "And Esther told it to the king." In Mordecai's name. Mordecai's name thus came first before the king. Esther mentioned him as her informant, but did not say that he was related to her (comp. Esther 8:1).
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.
Verse 23. - It was found out. The subsequent history shows that Mordecai's information was found to be correct, since he was ultimately adjudged to have deserved the highest possible reward (Esther 6:6-10). The two conspirators were condemned to death and hanged on a tree, i.e. crucified or impaled, as traitors and rebels commonly were in Persia (see Herod., 3 159; 4:43; 'Behist. Inscr.,' col. 2. pars. 13, 14; col. 3. par. 8). And it was written in the book of the chronicles. Historiographers were attached to the Persian court, and attended the monarch wherever he went. We find them noting down facts for Xerxes at Doriscus (Herod., 7:100), and again at Salamis (ibid. 8:90). They kept a record something like the acta diurna of the early Roman empire (Tacit., 'Ann.,' 13:31), and specially noted whatever concerned the king. Ctesias pretended to have drawn his Persian history from these "chronicles" (up. Diod. Sic., 2:32), and Herodotus seems to have obtained access to some of them (see the writer's 'Herodotus,' Introduction, ch. 1.h p. 56). Before the king. i.e. "in the king's presence." This was not always the case; but when the matter was very important the king exercised a supervision over what was written.

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