Where the world comes to study the Bible

Esther 2

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Esther Becomes Queen Vasti's Fall
(1:10-2:4)
Esther Becomes Queen Esther Becomes Queen
2:1-7   2:1-4a 2:1-4
  Mordecai and Esther 2:4b  
  2:5-11 2:5-7 2:5-7
2:8-11   2:8-9 2:8-11
    2:10-11  
2:12-14 2:12-14 2:12-14 2:12-14
2:15-20 2:15-18 2:15-18 2:15-17
      2:18
    Mordecai Saves the King's Life Mordecai and Haman
  2:19-23 2:19-20 2:19-3:6
2:21-23   2:21-23  

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: 2:1-4
 1After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vasti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. 2Then the king's attendants, who served him, said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. 3Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their cosmetics be given them. 4Then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vasti." And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.

2:1 "when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vasti" Older Jewish commentators (Targums #1 and #2) and Josephus (Antiq. 11.195) say that he remembered her with pleasure and regretted what he had done to her. This seems to fit because the attendants acted quickly to get the king's mind off of the deposed queen (cf. 2:2), who would surely still be mad at them. One of the attendants, Memucan, mentions that the laws of Persia and Media cannot be changed (cf. 1:19).

2:2 "let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king" This VERB (BDB 134, KB 152) is a Peel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. It is known from history (Herodotus) that, after Xerxes' defeat by the Greeks in his seventh year, he spent much more time with his harem. This seems to fit precisely the dating of the book of Esther.

Xerxes had a reputation of having many affairs outside of his large harem.

2:3

NASB, NKJV,
TEV, NJB"harem"
NKJV"into the women's quarters"

This is literally "the house of the women" (BDB 61 and 108, cf. 2:9,11,13,14).

▣ "Hegai" Herodotus (9.33) mentions the name of one of Xerxes I's eunuchs, 'egias, which is similar.

"the king's eunuch" See note at 1:10.

▣ "let their cosmetics be given them" From verse 12 we know that there was a year of training involved in the preparation of these women. This included instructions in both court etiquette (especially in light of Vasti's behavior) and the use of beauty aids (cf. v. 9) available in this day.

This term translated "cosmetics" (BDB 600) means to scour (BDB 599, KB 634, cf. Prov. 20:30). In this context it may refer to (1) skin treatments or (2) rubbings (BDB 599). The Anchor Bible, vol. 7b has "massage," p. 18, with oil of myrrh and other cosmetics, p. 23 (cf. KB 634). Notice also the TEV translation of vv. 3,9,12.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:5-7
 5Now there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, 6who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled. 7He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.

2:5 "a Jew" This term (BDB 397, KB 394) has several meanings.:

1. from the tribe of Judah, son of Jacob

2. from the land of Judah

a. tribal allotment in Joshua

b. southern tribes after 922 b.c. split

c. small area around Jerusalem in post-exilic period

3. "someone who is Jewish, not necessarily of the tribe of Judah" (e.g., 2:5; 3:4; 5:13; 6:10; 8:7; 9:29,31; 10:3). This is the historical period when the term "Jew" takes on its modern usage.

 

▣ "Mordecai, the son of Jair" The exact etymology of the word "Mordecai" is uncertain (BDB 598, KB 632, possibly it related to the Babylonian god, Marduk, cf. Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:7). He was a Benjaminite. He was in some capacity connected with the gate of the palace (cf. 10:6).

2:6 "who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem" Many have assumed that if this refers to Mordecai he would have been over 100 years old since the exiles under Nebuchadnezzar occurred in either 605, 597, 586, or 582 b.c. However, "who" seems to relate to one of his ancestors and not to Mordecai himself (cf. NRSV, specifies the "who" as Kish).

The mentioning of "Kish" and "Shimei" means

1. he was of the royal line of Benjamin, a relative of King Saul

2. his immediate ancestor taken into captivity carried the famous family names

3. both Kish (cf. I Sam. 9:1-2; genealogy in I Chr. 8:33-40) and Shimei (cf. II Sam. 16:5) are ancient Benjamite family names (Josephus, the Targums).

As we have seen so often in comparing the lists of peoples in Ezra and Nehemiah, specific family names appear again and again and often "son" refers to distant relatives or famous descendants.

▣ "Jeconiah King of Judah" See the account in II Kgs. 24; II Chr. 36. He also is known by Coniah (cf. Jer. 22:24,28) and Jehoiachin (cf. II Kgs. 24:6,8,12).

2:7 "Hadassah. . .Esther" This is a Hebrew name from the term "myrtle" (BDB 213, from the Targums, cf. Isa. 41:19; 55:13; Zech. 1:8,10,11).

▣ "that is Esther" This lady apparently had two names, one Hebrew and one Persian, which must have been common for Jews taken into exile. It is possible that Esther was Hadassah's throne name, but this is unsubstantiated.

NASB, NKJV,
NJB"his uncle's daughter"
NRSV, TEV"his cousin"

The Hebrew term (BDB 187, KB 215) can have several familial references. Josephus and Jewish tradition assert that Mordecai was her uncle; the Old Latin and Vulgate texts have "niece" (cf. F. B. Huey, "Esther," Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 806,807; NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 779, says it is "cousin" not "niece," but p. 923 says it is a possibility). The word has a wide semantic range.

"the young lady was beautiful of form and face" The NKJV is more literal, "lovely and beautiful." The author of Esther often combines words, phrases, and sentences that have similar meanings.

The first term (BDB 1061) means "form" and was used in the sense of "gazed at" (cf. Gen. 29:17; Deut. 21:11; I Sam. 25:3).

The second phrase (BDB 909 and 373 II) means "good appearance." This was used to describe Vasti in 1:11. We would say Esther was stunning and stood out in a crowd, a real show-stopper, eye-catcher (aren't metaphors wonderful!).

"took her as his own daughter" The NET Bible (p. 745) has "he was acting as the guardian." To support this change they use the Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon, p. 64, and compare the usage "guardian" with II Kgs. 10:1-5.

There is little direct evidence of adoption in the OT, probably because there were so many ways culturally available to have children. See Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, pp. 14-15 or deVaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1, pp. 51-52.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:8-11
 8So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king's palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. 9Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king's palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. 10Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known. 11Every day Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.

2:8 "many young ladies" Josephus (Antiq. 6.2) tells us that there were 400 young ladies. This does not seem impossible since Plutarch (Artaxerxes, 27.5) mentions that Artaxerxes had 360 concubines.

"Esther was taken to the king's palace" This VERB (BDB 542, KB 534, Niphal IMPERFECT) may imply that she was taken by force (Qal form, cf. v. 15; Gen. 42:36; 44:29; I Kgs. 11:34). The Niphal is used of the Ark being taken away by force (cf. I Sam. 4:11,17,19,21,22). Esther had no cultural choice!

2:9 This verse shows the personal appeal of Esther. Her personality matched her physical beauty. She found favor (see Special Topic: Hesed at Neh. 13:14) with the head eunuch amidst so many other beautiful women.

▣ "He quickly provided" This VERB (BDB 96, KB 111, Peel IMPERFECT) is used several times in Esther (cf. 6:14; 8:14), where it always denotes haste, possibly urgency.

"food" Apparently Esther ate the king's food (unlike Daniel). She either was not familiar with the Levitical food laws (cf. Lev. 11) or perhaps she was concealing her Jewish identity as Mordecai had instructed her (cf. v. 10).

NASB"seven choice maids"
NKJV"seven choice maid-servants"
NRSV"seven chosen maids"
TEV"seven young women especially chosen"
NJB"seven special maids"

Verse 9 shows how Hegai treated Esther with special favors. The number seven was special to both Hebrews and Persians (see note at 1:5). Esther had seven specially chosen (BDB 906, KB 1154, Qal, PASSIVE PARTICIPLE) servants. Apparently the other young virgins did not have this extra care.

Why did Hegai do this?

1. He and Esther had become friends.

2. He saw in Esther the probability of the new queen and wanted to gain her favor.

3. This was the unseen hand of God.

 

2:10 On Mordecai's request Esther did not let anyone know that she was of a royal line of Benjamin, a Jew.

Mordecai's daily visits were a sign of

1. his love for his adopted daughter

2. his fear of anti-Semitism in Persia

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:12-14
 12Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women—13the young lady would go in to the king in this way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. 14In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.

2:12 "after the end of twelve months under the regulations for the women" This shows that there was a year of training in court etiquette and beauty treatments (which was meant to remove skin blemishes and lighten skin color). The lengthy period may also have been a way of detecting any kind of disease.

2:13 "anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace" Letting the women choose their own dress and adornments was one way of letting the king know something about the girl's personality.

2:14 "the second harem. . .the concubines" It is uncertain exactly what this phrase specifically relates to, but it is known from history that there were three segments of the royal harem. There were the king's wives, concubines, and virgins. The women who went into the king's presence one time and were never called again still became permanently part of the harem (i.e., concubines) because of their one intimate contact with the king. They became, in some sense, royalty themselves (cf. II Sam. 16:20ff dealing with Absalom and I Kings 1 and 2 dealing with Adonijah).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:15-16
 15Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abigail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

2:15 Esther had grown to trust Hegai. His recommendations would be honored and implemented. Esther's natural beauty may have been accentuated by the plainness of her attire. Apparently Hegai knew the king's preferences.

Esther had a certain presence which attracted people (cf. 2:17; 5:2). This was the unseen hand of God, which is active throughout the account.

2:16 "in the tenth month. . .in the seventh year of his reign" It had been almost four years since Vasti was removed from her place as queen. She was not removed from the harem, but from her position as the king's number one wife. Historically, this seems to be a long period of time, but if a two year Greek campaign is interposed it fits precisely in the known history of the Persian period. See Special Topic: Ancient Near Eastern Calendars at Ezra 3:1.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:17-18
 17The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vasti. 18Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his princes and his servants; he also made a holiday for the provinces and gave gifts according to the king's bounty.

2:17 Again the author's literary style of using parallel words, phrases, or sentences is seen.

A. The overall pattern of the verse

1. The VERB "loved" (BDB 12, KB 17) is Qal IMPERFECT, which matches the VERB (BDB 669, KB 724) before "favor" and "kindness" (see Special Topic: Hesed at Neh. 13:14). This VERB (Qal IMPERFECT) describes a deep longing for one's sexual partner.

a. Isaac - Rebekah, Gen. 24:67

b. Jacob - Rachel, Gen. 29:18,20,30

c. Samson - different women, e.g., Jdgs. 16:4

d. Elkanah - Hannah, I Sam. 1:5 (Qal PERFECT)

e. Rehoboam - Ma'acah, II Chr. 11:21

f. Xerxes - Esther, Esther 2:17

(List from NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 291, but with changes)

2. The descriptive phrase, "more than all the women," is an inclusive, emphatic assertion. It parallels the descriptive phrase, "more than all the virgins."

B. The descriptive terms

1. favor (BDB 336, cf. 5:2; VERB form used in 5:8; 7:3; 8:5)

2. kindness (BDB 338, cf. 2:9)

This is apparently a hendiadys. Apparently Esther's turn with the king was later in the rotation (four years had passed), possibly last because with her arrival before the king the contest stopped! As is common with Persian kings, the drinking party begins!

2:18 "he also made a holiday for the provinces" The term (BDB 629, KB 252), meaning "a giving of a rest," is a hapax legommenon and could refer to several royal favors:

1. no taxation (for a set period of time, KB 252)

2. no military draft (for a set period of time)

3. special amnesty (for a set period of time)

a. to slaves

b. to debtors

c. to prisoners (LXX)

4. a special holiday (BDB 629, from Aramaic root)

There is a historical example of the same type of amnesty found in Herodotus, Histories 3.67, which denotes a cancellation of #1 and #2 for three years.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:19-23
 19When the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate. 20Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her; for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care. 21In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's officials from those who guarded the door, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22But the plot became known to Mordecai and he told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai's name. 23Now when the plot was investigated and found to be so, they were both hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king's presence.

2:19 "when the virgins were gathered together the second time" It is uncertain what the "second time" refers to (i.e., a time, a place, a part of the house of women). Some have assumed that it refers to (1) a second assembling of the first group at the king's house or to the main harem in contradistinction to the second harem (cf. v. 14) or (2) a second group of virgins (the king's sexual freedom did not stop with his infatuation with Esther).

2:21 "while Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate" Mordecai's presence at the king's gate (cf. 2:19, 21; 3:2; 4:6; 5:9,13; 6:10,12) denotes a place of power and trust. He was a Persian official of some type connected with (1) protecting the king; (2) administering legal matters for the king; or (3) some type of advisor.

There has been much speculation as to how Mordecai became privy to this assassination attempt: (1) Targum #1 says that he knew the seventy languages of the world and simply overheard them speaking; (2) Targum #2 says that the Holy Spirit revealed it to him (i.e., the unseen hand of God); (3) Josephus says that a slave of the conspirator Teresh heard of the plot and since the slave was a Jew himself, told Mordecai.

▣ "those who guarded the door" Apparently, these were two eunuchs (see note at 1:10, i.e., personal guards) whom the king had made angry in some way. These close servants would have direct access to the king and would have had the best opportunity to assassinate him.

2:23 "hanged on a gallows" It is uncertain if this refers to the manner of death (i.e., hanging, BDB 1067, KB 1738, Niphal IMPERFECT) or to a later public humiliation by impaling. The Jewish Study Bible, p. 1629, gives Gen. 40:19; Deut. 21:22; Josh. 8:29; 10:26; I Sam. 31:10 as biblical accounts of impaling and then gives comments by Herodotus (cf. Hist. 3.125; 7.238) as confirming the practice. The NIV Study Bible agrees with this interpretation and gives further references in Herodotus (i.e., 3.129,159; 4.43).

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. How can we explain the almost four years between the deposing of Vasti and the crowning of Esther?

2. Explain the beauty treatments and their purpose (cf. v. 12).