Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bible Study Notes in Esther- Introduction and Chapter 1

Esther 1

-Introduction: This intriguing, made for the movies/TV, thriller of a real-life story takes place in the Persian Empire somewhere around the years of 486-473 B.C.. It is the courageous encounter of an unlikely queen and her uncle who carried out God’s divine plan for the deliverance of His people while some of them were still in captivity. The first exiles had returned to the land in 538 B.C. and the Temple had been rebuilt in 515 B.C., but many of the Jewish nation still languished as a minority in and around the capital of the Medo-Persian Empire in Susa. This is the setting for a book that never mentions the Name of the LORD, or God, but has all the workings of His Spirit in a unique experience that would initiate the Hebrew Feast of Purim, which occurs in February or March of our calendar. Esther (otherwise known as Hadassah, Esther 2:7), who was an orphan being raised by her cousin Mordecai, is the heroine of this narrative. But, Mordecai deserves much of the credit for the success of what happens. He discovers a plot against King Ahasuerus (otherwise known as Xerxes), raises a Godly girl, stands firm against the plots of evil men, and exhorts incredible redemptive action with wisdom. In the end he is exalted in the kingdom as the vile-villain, Haman, is extinguished from the earth. Authorship of this book is generally credited to Mordecai (Esther 9:29), but some have suggested a later authorship or editing from perhaps Ezra or Nehemiah due to its similarity in writing style. It was written around 470 B.C. after the events of the narrative. Although coming after the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the cannon, the events of Esther take place some 35 years or so prior to the cup bearer’s exodus back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and some 20 years or so prior to Ezra’s return to the Promised Land. Keep in mind that Ahasuerus (Xerxes, Esther 1:1) was the father of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1, Nehemiah 2:1) in the historical timeline. The Greek historian Herodotus confirms the timeline in much detail with exact harmony to the text of Esther in regards to Ahasuerus’ dominion, military expeditions against Greece, and his taking of a new queen (Herodotus 3.97, 98, 7.8, 9, 9.108, 109). Archaeological discovery has also confirmed the description of the royal palace in Susa described in Esther 1:6. The structure of this story goes something like this: The King Loses a Queen (Esther 1:1-22), Esther Becomes the New Queen (Esther 2:1-23), The Jews are Threatened (Esther 3:1-4:17), Esther Intercedes for the Jews (Esther 5:1-8:17), The Jews are Delivered (Esther 9:1-32), and Mordecai is Honored (Esther 10:1-3). Themes of the work include, but are not limited to: God’s Sovereignty, The Ridiculousness of Racial Hatred, Divine Deliverance, Taking Action, and Using Wisdom in a Threatening Environment. Let’s enjoy the reading and studying of this saga in a crucial time of God’s chosen race, and remember with application that the LORD may be calling us to do something special and courageous “for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).”

(Ideas extracted from “New American Standard Bible: Life Application Study Bible.” Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1995, pgs. 817-818)

-Chapter 1: In the third year of Ahasuerus’ (Xerxes) reign over the Medo-Persian Empire, which stretched from India to Ethiopia and incorporated 127 provinces, these events took place in Susa where his royal throne sat at the citadel. King Ahasuerus gave an extraordinary banquet in his presence for all his princes, their attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of his provinces. Historically, this might be connected with a military campaign that was forthcoming against the Greeks. In this extreme party that lasted for 180 days, about half the year, he displayed “the riches of his royal glory” and “the splendor of his great majesty.” When these days were completed, King Ahasuerus gave another banquet, which lasted seven days for all the people of Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the garden of the king’s palace. The Bible describes this ornate setting with intricate detail. There were hangings of fine white and violet linen, and they were held on cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and other precious stones. Drinks were served at this celebration in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was indeed plentiful to the point of no limits for the guests. Each person had to the desire of their heart. This gives us a sense of the lavishness of the occasion. His queen, Queen Vashti (meaning “sweetheart”) also gave a banquet for the women in this beautiful palace that belonged to the king (Esther 1:1-9).

-On the seventh day of the feast, when the king’s heart was merry with wine, Ahasuerus commanded his seven eunuchs who served him to bring Queen Vashti, with her royal crown, to come before them and display her extraordinary beauty before all the people and the princes. This more than likely indicates a drunken man’s request for her to expose herself to all at the party, which would have been culturally inappropriate and ultra-demeaning to this woman of class, dignity, and wealth. She courageously opposed this request in the face of a king’s commands, which angered this very temperamental ruler. The text describes him as being “very angry and his wrath burned within him.” He consulted, as was the custom, with his closest princes of Persia and Media who had special access to his presence and sat in high positions of authority in the kingdom. There were seven of them. He asked them specifics about the what the law said about this situation of disrespect coming from his queen. Memucan spoke up at this juncture and said, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes, and all the peoples who are in the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women causing them to look with contempt on their husbands by saying, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.’ And this day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s conduct will speak in the same way to all the king’s princes, and there will be plenty of contempt and anger.” Then, this Memucan suggested that if it pleased the king a royal edict be issued by him according to the irrevocable law of the Medes and Persians that Vashti be forbidden to come into the king’s presence and her crown taken from her as queen. Another woman would get this privileged title who would be more worthy than the perceived renegade. This, Memucan rationalized, would ensure a dispersal of knowledge throughout the kingdom causing women everywhere to give complete honor and obedience to their husbands for the tranquility of the land. This word pleased the once enraged king, as well as all the princes, prompting the king to do exactly as Memucan had proposed. He sent letters to all of the king’s provinces, according to their language and script, that every man was to be master in his own house and “the one who speaks in the language of his own people (Esther 1:10-22).”

*Application* The anger of man never produces the righteousness of God (James 1:20). A rash decision can still be used of God though for His purposes as we will see in this narrative. On our part, we must deal with things that tempt us to get frustrated, or angry, in a way that will please the LORD. When self-control is lost, we are like a city without walls, left unprotected and vulnerable to schemes of the evil one (Proverbs 25:28). Ahasuerus lost his queen because he was being foolish, getting drunk and trying to impress people. This type of activity didn’t behoove him and will never benefit us.

Verse to Memorize: Esther 1:19

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