Esther 1

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The King Dethrones Queen Vashti Ahasuerus' Feast Introduction Ahasuerus' Banquet
1:1-9 1:1-9 1:1-2 1:1-4
    1:3-4  
    1:5-8 1:5-8
      Disgrace of Queen Vasti
  Vasti's Fall
(1:10-2:4)
1:9 1:9-20
1:10-12 1:10-12 1:10-12  
1:13-22 1:13-20 1:13-15  
    1:16-20  
  1:21-2:4 1:21-22 1:21-22

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
 In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
  Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical StructureTextual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:1-4
 1Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa, 3in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. 4And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days.

1:1 "Now it took place in the days of" The Handbook on the Book of Esther mentions that this was a common opening term (BDB 224, KB 243 Qal IMPERFECT), used to link the current events (or story) with previous events (p. 13). The same term introduces the biblical books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, and Jonah. Esther also concludes with a standardized ending used in I Kings (cf. 14:19,29; 15:23). The author obviously expects it to be understood as history.

▣ "Ahasuerus" This is the Hebrew spelling of the name (cf. Ezra 4:6, BDB 31, KB 37). He is known in history by his Greek name, Xerxes I (486-465 b.c.). The Persian name is Khshayarsha. He is the son of Darius I Hystapes (522-486 b.c.) and grandson of Cyrus (550-530 b.c.). Both the Septuagint and Josephus identify him as Xerxes' successor, Artaxerxes I. Most historians and Bible commentators agree that Esther relates to the reign of Xerxes I.

▣ "India" This would refer to the land of the Indus River, which for us would be in the area of modern Pakistan. It was conquered by Darius I (Herodotus 3.94-106).

▣ "Ethiopia" This would refer to the large territory south of the First Cataract of the Nile, including southern Egypt, Sudan, and parts of Ethiopia (BDB 468 I), which was conquered by Cambyses (530-522 b.c.).

▣ "over 127 provinces" The Persian Empire covered most of the ancient Near East. It included many ethnic groups and nationalities (cf. 9:30). The Persians allowed these groups much local autonomy. Over several provinces there was a regional administrator called a satrap and many lesser officials. Xerxes I's father, Darius, had 20 satraps (cf. Herodotus 3.89).

1:2 "Susa" Susa (called Sushan in Hebrew) was originally the capital of Elam, located on the Kerkha River. It is an ancient city, even mentioned in early Sumerian documents (3000 b.c.). It became the eastern regional capital of the Persian Empire. The city was expanded and beautified under Darius I. Its climate was so hot that the Persian kings used it primarily in winter.

NASB"the capital"
NKJV, NRSV,
NJB"the citadel"
TEV"capital city"

This Hebrew term (BDB 108, KB 123, from an Assyrian loan word) could refer to a city fortress (cf. Ezra 6:2; Neh. 2:8; Dan. 8:2), a palace, or even a fortified temple (cf. Neh. 7:2; I Chr. 29:1,19). Here it refers to the inner fortress in a large, walled city. This city is also the location of chapter 1 of Nehemiah.

1:3 "in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all" We know from history that Xerxes I gave a great feast to plan his military campaign against Greece (cf. Herodotus 7.19). This occurred after his conquest of Egypt. The third year of Xerxes I would be 483 b.c.

▣ "Persia and Media" Cyrus is the first king of the combined Media-Persian Empire. The term Media comes first in Daniel because Cyrus was king of Media before he became king of Babylon and Persia. Persia was the more powerful of the two nations and by Esther's time the order of the names had switched (cf. 1:3,14,18,19), however, in 10:2 they are reversed.

1:4 "180 days" Some see here two different feasts, one lasting 180 days (v. 4) and one lasting 7 days (v. 5). A better understanding of the Hebrew text is that these Persian leaders were given 180 days to assemble on a certain day for a seven day feast in Susa, the capital.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:5-9
 5When these days were completed, the king gave a banquet lasting seven days for all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. 6There were hangings of fine white and violet linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns, and couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. 7Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king's bounty. 8The drinking was done according to the law, there was no compulsion, for so the king had given orders to each official of his household that he should do according to the desires of each person. 9Queen Vasti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.

1:5 "seven days" Apparently seven was a special number for Persians as it was for Jews (e.g., 1:5,10,14; 2:9).

NASB"the greatest to the least"
NKJV"from great to small"
NRSV"both great and small"
TEV"rich and poor"
NJB"to high and low"

Literally it is "great and small." The same two terms (BDB 152 & 881 I) are used in 1:20 and I Sam. 30:19; II Chr. 15:13 (BDB 152 & 882). In this context it means that all of the people who worked and served in the fortified, upper city (acropolis) were invited to the palace for a seven day feast.

1:6

NASB"There were hangings"
NKJV"There were . . . curtains"
NRSV"There were . . . curtains"
TEV-------
NJB"There were . . . hangings"

The italics (NASB, NKJV) show how this verse intrudes into the context in a grammatically unrelated way. When moderns read this verse we think of wall hangings, but in this hot and windy climate they may have served as shade canopies or walls (cf. James M. Freeman, Manners and Customs of the Bible, pp. 201-202). Persia's colors were white and purple/blue.

▣ "a mosaic pavement" The list of the stones used in the pavement are

1. NASB, NRSV, NJB, "porphyry"

NKJV, "alabaster"

TEV, "red feldspar"

BDB has porphyry, which denotes a reddish to purple color mixed in with other darker rock.

2. NASB, NRSV, NJB, "marble"

NKJV, TEV, "white marble" (?) another hapax legommenon (BDB 1010 II )

3. NASB, NRSV, NJB, "mother of pearl"

NKJV, "black marble" (?)

TEV, "shining mother of pearl," another hapax legommenon (BDB 204)

4. NASB, NJB, "precious stones"

NKJV, NEB, "turquoise" (?)

NRSV, "colored stones"

TEV, "blue turquoise," another hapax legommenon (BDB 695)

Archaeology has confirmed the wealth of the Persian court (cf. also Herodotus 7.27; 9.82). The Persian kings wanted to impress their people and foreign visitors with their wealth, culture, and power!

There are several words in this verse found only here in the OT. Often the only way to translate these hapax legommenon are (1) cognate languages and (2) ancient translations.

1:7 "in golden vessels of various kinds" This also shows an eyewitness detail. Many of these golden vessels were found when the Greeks overran the Persian military camps (cf. Herodotus 3:96).

1:8 "and the drinking was done according to the law" This ambiguous phrase has caused much confusion. The meaning could be:

1. no one could drink the King's wine, but an exception was made for this event

2. all guests could drink as much as they wanted with no restrictions (TEV)

3. usually all guests drank when the king drank (Herodotus 1.13 and Xenophon Cyropaedia 8.8), but on this occasion this rule was not in effect.

 

NASB, NJB"official of his household"
NKJV"the officers of his household"
NRSV"the officials of the palace"
TEV"police servants"

This title (BDB 913 II) can refer to several types of leaders (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1029).

1. royal officials or administrators (cf. Dan. 1:3; 2:48; 5:1)

2. palace stewards (cf. Esther 1:8)

3. military commanders (e.g., Jer. 39:3,13; Dan. 2:14)

4. professionals (cf. Dan. 4:6; 5:11)

5. ship captain (cf. Jonah 1:6)

 

1:9 "Vasti" The precise etymology of this word is uncertain (BDB 255, KB 260), but it may come from:

1. a corruption of Avestan term for "best" (BDB 255)

2. FEMININE PASSIVE PARTICIPLE of Avestan term "the beloved" or "the desired one" (H. S. Gehman, taken from Carey A. Moore, Anchor Bible, "Esther," vol. 13, p. 8).

3. some scholars think that both Amestris and Vasti are attempts to translate one Persian name.

 

▣ "gave a banquet for the women in the palace" This either refers to the harem (seven eunuchs mentioned in v. 10) or, more probably, to the wives of the guests of the king.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:10-12
 10On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, 11to bring Queen Vasti before the king with her royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful. 12But Queen Vasti refused to come at the king's command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.

1:10 "and on the seventh day" The use of the number 7 in chapter 1 is recurrent. See note at 1:5.

"the heart of the king was merry with wine" This context shows the problem of alcohol abuse. See Special Topic at Ezra 7:17.

The phrase itself was an idiom describing the satisfaction of wine and a full dinner (cf. Jdgs. 16:25; I Sam. 25:36; II Sam. 13:28; Prov. 15:15, or satisfaction in general, I Kgs. 8:66).

"eunuchs" This Akkadian term can refer to castrated males (later usage, but possible here because of their dealings with the harem). It was quite common for administrators in the ancient world to have eunuchs and it was a title (e.g., II Chr. 18:8; Jer. 39:3,13). It was used of a married man in Gen. 39, which shows it was not always taken literally.

Some of these personal names have been found in Persian documents and monuments. They do not have any connection with Greek names (refuting a supposed second century Greek authoriship) and are probably Persian in origin. This helps substantiate the historical setting as fifth century b.c. from Persia.

1:11 "to bring Queen Vasti before the king with her royal crown" Older Jewish commentators suggest that she was commanded to appear in "only" her crown! Josephus says that in Persia strangers were not allowed to look at a man's wife. Whatever the reason (cultural or personal), Vasti would not come before this large number of drunken men.

Placing the royal crown on someone's head was a sign of affirmation (cf. 6:8) and status (cf. 1:11; 2:17). It was a symbol of Persian royal authority and power.

Herodotus (9.108-113) says the king was married to a strong willed woman named Amestris. Her father was one of the seven special families and an army general. He had helped Darius I (Xerxes I's father) during a time of rebellion (cf. Herodotus 3.61-84). She was the mother of Artaxerxes I, who was born the very year of Vasti's demotion, 483 b.c. She had great influence with her son, even when he became king. The name Vasti does not appear anywhere outside of Esther.

1:12 Kings were not accustomed to being rebuffed (cf. v. 15). The two VERBS (BDB 893, KB 1124, Qal IMPERFECT and BDB 128, KB 145, Qal PERFECT) describe the king's rage growing within him and becoming a settled wrath!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:13-20
 13Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times—for it was the custom of the king so to speak before all who knew law and justice 14and were close to him: Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media who had access to the king's presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom—15"According to law, what is to be done with Queen Vasti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus delivered by the eunuchs?" 16In the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, "Queen Vasti has wronged not only the king but also all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17For 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 Vasti to be brought in to his presence, but she did not come.' 18This 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. 19If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vasti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. 20When the king's edict which he will make is heard throughout all his kingdom, great as it is, then all women will give honor to their husbands, great and small."

1:13 "the wise men who understood the times" This same idiom is used in I Chr. 12:32. Maybe the best way to make it contemporary would be "they understood the cultural impact" (cf. vv. 15-18).

Some scholars assert that this refers to the seven special family counselors of the Persian kings (cf. Ezra 7:14,15,28; 8:25).

▣ "before all who knew law and justice" This phrase either characterizes the wise men mentioned above or is a second group of wise men who were specialists in the law (cf. v. 15). Herodotus says there was a group of judges who were appointed for life who advised the Persian kings on matters of law.

1:14 "the seven princes of Persia" We learn from Herodotus 3.84 that there were seven special families who made up Persian nobility (cf. Ezra 7:14; Herodutus 3.84; Xenophon, Anabasis 1.4.6). Members of these families were the close counselors of the Persian kings.

1:15-16 Ahasuerus's advisors made this event a national threat (not only of the king, but potentially of the other husbands) because of Vasti's precedent of disobedience in the presence of the other assembled wives.

1:18 "there will be plenty of contempt and anger" The TEV catches the implication of this phrase by attributing the contempt to the wives of the nobility, and the anger to their husbands.

1:19 "the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed" This historical addition is only known from the Bible (cf. 8:8; Dan. 6:8,12,15). This may have been a literary device used by the writer to ridicule the Persian government. Their unchanging laws were "changed" by YHWH's powerful presence with His covenant people!

In this context it is stated so that Xerxes will not change his mind about the beautiful Vasti when he sobers up (cf. 2:1).

"that Vasti should come no more into the presence fo the King" Vasti remained in the harem, but could not physically be with the king anymore. This was like an official separation.

NASB"who is more worthy"
NKJV, NRSV"who is better"
TEV"to some better woman"
NJB"worthier"

The Hebrew term (BDB 373 II) has a wide semantic field, but in this context it means more obedient or to show proper respect to the king.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 1:21-22
 21This word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22So he sent letters to all the king's provinces, to each province according to its script and to every people according to their language, that every man should be the master in his own house and the one who speaks in the language of his own people.

1:22 This verse seems unusual, out of place, but possibly it fits exactly into the ancient, multi-racial Persian context where the native language of the father (whatever the language of the wife) was spoken in the home and taught to the children. Therefore, this decree being written in the many languages of the empire was, in a sense, a way to reinforce the authority of the husband (which was the purpose of Vasti's removal from office).

This thought may connect to Neh. 13:24 and shows the dominance of the Canaanite women.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did the book of Esther have such problems being accepted as Scripture?

2. Are we certain of the exact identity of Ahasuerus, and if so, who is he?

3. How does the image of the king change from the beginning of chapter 1 to the end?

4. What extravagant items are found in this chapter that make some scholars think this is a novel or comedy?

 

Passage: