Esther: Lesson 2: Ahasuerus (Xerxes) Deposes Vashti and Esther enters the Court

Esther and XerxesLast week, we read of Mordecai’s dream, which only come to us in the Septuagint, the Greek-language Old Testament of Jesus and His Apostles.  The dream foreshadowed the events that would later take place in the rest of Esther.

 

 

Lesson 2, Esther as a Chiasm

The Greatness of Xerxes (Ahasuerus)

Read Esther 1:1-2Lesson 2, 4 Capitals of the Persian Empire

The Persian Empire had several capitals.  In the east, there was Babylon; in the north, Ecbatana; in the west, Persepolis; and in the south, Susa.

  • What do we learn of Ahasuerus’ power?

 

Read Esther 1:3-4

  • How long does this first party last?

 

Read Esther 1:5-8

  • How long does this second party last?

 

  • What do we learn of this second party?

 

Read Esther 1:9

  • Who else has a party at the same time?

 

  • Were the “women in the palace” in Queen Vashti’s party not included as part of “all the staff of [the King’s] palace”?

 

  • So what do we have going on here?

 

Lesson 2, Narrative Flow

 

The Final Day

The first party expressed Ahasuerus’ power through large numbers and might: The powerful were there for 180 days.  This second party expressed Ahasuerus’ power through particulars: The architecture and fine furniture and hangings in the palace.  We now see how he will display his power on the last day of the 187 days.

Read Esther 1:10-11

  • What does the king want to do?

 

  • Discuss the significance of 7 eunuchs bringing out Queen Vashti on the 7th day of the feast.

 

Read Esther 1:12

  • Contrary to the king’s planned climax of the event, what does Queen Vashti not do?

 

Vashti may have seen coming before the king and his advisors to display her beauty as something beneath her station.  Public displays of beauty were usually expected of concubines, not queens.

Read Esther 1:13-15

  • How does Ahasuerus respond?

 

“the times”: Hebrew, atah.  “The times” is what the Hebrew says but we aren’t exactly sure what that means in this setting.  Some think “the times” points to the king’s advisors being astrologists who followed “the times” of the stars.  (Note the “wise men” who later followed the star from Persia to Jesus.)   Others say “the times” simply means experts in Persian law.  The Septuagint does not say “the times” but only mentions the law.

Read Esther 1:16-18

  • According to the counsel given to the king, what is at risk if nothing is done about the Queen disobeying the King’s command?

 

Read Esther 1:19-20

  • What two recommendations are given to the king?

 

  • What is the expected, stated result if the king follows the advice?

 

Read Esther 1:21-22

  • What does the king do?

 

The History between Chapters 1 and 2

The text of Esther does not give us all the details of history outside its storyline.  Beyond the Citadel of Susa, much took place to challenge King Ahasuerus and the Persian Empire.

Persia suffered a disastrous year at war with the Greek city-states.  At first, in this war, the Persian army looked to be on another series of stunning victories.  Ahasuerus’ vast army crossed the ocean at Hellespont and entered Greece.  He crushed the Greeks at Thermopolis and marched to Athens, burning the city and the Acropolis.

The Persian navy sailed into the Straits of Salamis, seeking to trap the Greek navy.  The straits, however, confined the large Persian fleet.  Ships found it hard to maneuver and became disorganized.  Seizing the opportunity, the Greek fleet formed in line and scored a decisive victory.  Several months later, the Greeks sank the remnants of the Persian fleet at Platea.

Never again would Greece be in danger of Persian conquest.  Greece would, over time rise to become a world power while Persia would lie in defeat.  That future, however, was not yet here, even though King Ahasuerus returned home beaten and embarrassed by a nation of weaker city-states.

In his military and personal pain, we now find ourselves at the beginning of Esther chapter 2.

 

Esther Enters the Scene

Read Esther 2:1

“Remembered”: Hebrew, zakar.  “To remember” in Hebrew often carries with it a note of compassion (see Genesis 40:14; Leviticus 26:42, 45; Jeremiah 2:2).  The implication of Ahasuerus remembering is that he is sad that Vashti is no longer with him and he now regrets the severity of her punishment.  The structure of the Hebrew text is written to help highlight Ahasuerus remembering Vashti.

 

Lesson 2, Ahasuerus Remembering

 

Read Esther 2:2-4

  • Reading between the lines, what do the King’s advisors do in response? Why?

 

  • How does the Ahasuerus respond to their suggestion?

 

Read Esther 2:5-8

 

  • Who is Esther?

 

  • Does she meet the requirements for the king to gather around him “all the beautiful young virgins?”

 

Read Esther 2:8

  • Where does Esther now find herself?

 

Esther Under the Custody of Hegai

What we understand of the Persian Empire, Esther traveled to the palace and entered the Virgins’ Harem.  Each young woman brought into this harem would go through a rigorous, yearlong preparation before she would spend her first night with the king.  For the first six months, Esther received oil treatments of myrrh to soften her skin.  The second six introduced her to perfumes and cosmetics.

During this time, Esther also received training in court etiquette (hint: don’t be like Vashti!).  She learned the “sexual arts” so she would understand how to please the king when he called for her.  Of course, she would not lose her virginity during her training, for that was reserved only for the King.

After her training, Esther would be brought to the Ahasuerus to spend a night with him.  The next morning, she would not return to the Harem of Virgins but to the Harem of Concubines.  If Esther pleased and delighted the King, he would invite her to spend more time with him—but if he found her unremarkable, Esther might spend the rest of her life forgotten.  She would remain a concubine of the King, but not much more.

We now find out what happens when Esther spends her night with King Ahasuerus.

Read Esther 2:9

  • What did King Ahasuerus think of Esther?

 

Read Esther 2:10-11

  • As far as everyone in the palace knows, do they realize Esther is a Jew?

 

  • Discuss: The morality of Esther’s actions in light of her situation.

 

Next week: The book of Esther will look more deeply into the practice of harem life in the King’s palace.

 

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