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Old Testament Notes

The Book of Esther

Esther 1:1 - "Ahasuerus" is the Persian form of the name for the king known as Xerxes to the Greeks. This particular king was Xerxes I, who tried to conquer the Greeks. However, in 480 BC he lost a decisive battle on land at Thermopylae (in Greece) and also saw all his fleet of ships trapped in the bay of Salamis and destroyed by the Greeks. Xerxes (Ahasuerus) was so sure he was going to win, that he was sitting on a golden throne to watch the battle. He saw his ships get tricked into entering the bay of Salamis near Athens, where they were too big to maneuver properly, and the smaller Greek ships trapped them and sank them. Xerxes had to flee, leaving his tent and all his golden plates and jugs behind, and the Athenians came and got them. These opening verses of Esther give the Persian view of the situation - the defeat was not mentioned at all, and Ahasuerus tried to impress everyone with how great he was.
Esther 1:2 - Shushan, now called Susa, had been the capital of Elam, and became the winter palace for the Persian kings. It is now an archaeological site in which the city and the palace have been excavated.
Esther 1:11 - it is not clear whether or not Vashti was supposed to be wearing only the crown and no clothes, or whether she was to appear in her royal robes but with her face uncovered. Her refusal might have been out of modesty, not wanting to go uncovered to a place where the men were carousing and the king was drunk. Ahasuerus was already sore from his defeats by the much smaller country of Greece, so Vashti's refusal pushed his wounded pride too much.
Esther 2:1 - When he sobered up, King Ahasuerus had second thoughts about what he had done, but it was too late : the Persians had very set ideas about royal decrees being irrevocable.
Esther 2:6 - Jeconiah was another form of the name of Jehoiachin, the king who reigned in Jerusalem for three months before being taken prisoner and deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC (II Kings 24:8-16). Ezekiel was also one of the group of hostages taken to Babylon at this time (Ezekiel 1:2). After being kept in prison for 37 years Jehoiachin was released from prison, but was kept in Babylon and was not allowed to return to Jerusalem (II Kings 25:27-30).
Esther 2:7 - Haddassah is the Hebrew name, and Esther the Greek name, both meaning "Star".
Esther 2:10 - Esther did not tell the officials that she was jewish.
Esther 2:12-14 - after a year of beauty treatments each girl got to spend one night with the king, and then was taken to the harem, where she would be kept until the king sent for her again.
Esther 2:21 - Bigthan and Teresh plotted to assassinate the king.
Esther 3:1 -"Haman the Agagite" - his description implies that he was a descendent of Agag, king of the Amalekites, whom God had told Saul to kill (I Samuel 15:7-9, 32-33).
Esther 3:2 - to bow and do reverence implied worship, which a good Jew reserved for God alone.
Esther 3:7 - the verse describes the process of casting lots to determine which would be a lucky day for Haman's purposes. ("Pur" is Hebrew for "lot", the plural is "Purim".
Esther 3:8 - the Jews kept their own religious and dietary laws, and so were different from their neighbors who had been assimilated into the Persian empire. Haman used this as an excuse for anti-Semitism and accusations of disloyalty.
Esther 3:11 - Ahasuerus took Haman's word for the situation and didn't bother to check the facts
Esther 4:11 - No-one, not even the queen, was allowed to enter the royal throne room unless the king called for him. Anyone who did so would be put to death unless the king signalled his pardon by pointing to the person with his sceptre. Esther was going to risk her death by going to Ahasuerus without being called.
Esther 7:8 - At such banquets, people often reclined on couches rather than sat on chairs for the meal.
Esther 9:1-16 - according to the law of the Medes and Persians Haman's original message to kill the Jews was still legal because it had been signed by the king. So Mordecai and Esther had asked king Ahasuerus to sign the second message, in which the Jews were given permission to defend themsleves against anyone who attacked them.
Esther 9:26-28 - Purim is still kept as a joyous feast by modern Jews. During the festivities the story of Esther is read, and whenever the name of Haman is mentioned everyone shouts and makes loud noises to drown out his name. A special type of cookie is made, of pastry folded over into a triangle (usually with an apricot filling) which is supposed to look like the hat that Haman wore, called Hamantaschen "Haman's pockets".

Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved

Dr. Rollinson

Department of Religion
Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: April 9, 2008

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