Verses 1-8 are the introduction to the book. Historically and practically, these verses show the world in its generosity and attractiveness, causing God’s people to forget their true King. With all that glory, their land of Israel falls into oblivion. So it can also happen to us as Christians.
In prophetic and typological respect we see in Ahasuerus a picture of God as the sovereign Ruler Who rules the whole world. As Ruler over the world, God still blesses all people with earthly blessings, without forcing them to make use of them (Acts 14:16-17).
It is about the essential question of authority. Authority comes from God. He grants authority to man in various fields. Subjugation to it means the acknowledgment of God’s authority. Behind the authority of the ruler of a country, the head of state, the husband, father, mother, employer, teacher at school is the authority of God, for He has established these authority relationships.
The rest of Esther 1 is dedicated to the actions of Ahasuerus with Vashti. From a historical and practical point of view we see that God uses the king’s counselors to erect a dam against evil through legislation, so that evil is curbed. This is what the government serves for today (Rom 13:1-5).
Prophetically and typologically, the casting out of Vashti represents the setting aside by God of Israel as His wife. Israel has failed to bear the testimony of Who God is, just as Vashti refuses to show her beauty which she has thanks to her connection with Ahasuerus. For the same reason, Christianity will be cast out just as any Christian who lives in contradiction to His confession. The deposing of Vashti paves the way for the introduction of Esther. It is a picture of the faithful remnant of Israel with which God resumes the history of His people in the future.
1 - 4 A Banquet for Princes and Attendants
1 Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, 2 in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which [was] at the citadel in Susa, 3 in 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. 4 And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days.
The history of this book takes place “in the days of Ahasuerus” (verse 1), the king of the world empire of “Persia and Media” (verse 3). Ahasuerus rules “over 127 provinces”. One of them is the land of Israel. Israel is under foreign rule. We can see that in the dating. We read in verse 3 about “the third year of his reign” – that is the year 483 BC. This means that God no longer dates history to the kings of Judah and Israel, but to the kings of the nations.
After reference to Ahasuerus in verse 1 in connection with the extent of the area over which he reigns, reference is made to him in verse 2 in connection with his position. Here he is emphatically called “King Ahasuerus” and it is emphasized that he sits on “his royal throne”. He is the ruler and commander of an immense empire.
This throne, which in reality is the throne of God, is here “at the citadel in Susa” and not in Jerusalem. This situation is not the way God wants it to be. God originally established His throne in Jerusalem. He is their King, whereby He has had His kingship over His people exercised by people He has appointed for that purpose. We see that in David and the kings that came forth from his lineage. But this kingship, entrusted to men, has failed.
After much patience, God had to take away the kingship of His people and put it into the hands of the nations. The first king to whom God gives this authority is Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Since he, too, is unfaithful to his mandate, his power is taken away from him. God has used the people of the Medes and Persians for this.
The first king of the Medes and Persians, Cyrus, authorizes all the Jews throughout his kingdom to return to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s house, the temple (Ezra 1:1-2). Unfortunately, only a handful of Jews took advantage of this opportunity. Many remained where they ended up after their deportation. In the course of time they have built up their existence in the foreign land and have come to feel at home there. They have begun to miss their homeland less and less and the longing for it has eventually disappeared. This situation applies to the Jews living in Susa.
We also come across the citadel of Susa in Daniel 8. Daniel is there when he gets a vision (Dan 8:2). In this vision he is shown the judgment of the Medo-Persian world empire. He gets this vision when the empire is far from that size. God shows him the downfall of that empire, in the very citadel of Susa, the residence of the kings of Persia. Daniel is shown the rise of the empire and also how it is judged.
This is how God shows us what happens to a world that impresses us so much. The world passes by and its lusts (1Jn 2:17a). The Jews in Susa don’t think about that and many Christians don’t think about that either. The splendor of Susa and the brilliance of the world is in stark contrast to the ruins of Jerusalem. But we allow ourselves to be deceived when we hang on to the world with our hearts.
Ahasuerus is in his third year of government (verse 3) when history begins here. As said, the era is according to the reign of pagan princes and not to that of the kings of Israel and Judah (Est 2:16; 3:7). Jerusalem is no longer central, but a pagan kingdom. The history of salvation has changed. Jerusalem is supposed to be the head, but has become unfaithful and set aside and has become the tail (Deu 28:44b). The time of Israel being the center of God’s actions is over. “The times of the Gentiles “ (Lk 21:24b) began when God in Nebuchadnezzar made the nations the head and gave them power of government (Dan 2:38).
In the third year of his reign, Ahasuerus gives “a banquet for all his princes and attendants”, which are the leaders of his armies and of his provinces. They are with him for 180 days (verse 4). During those days he shows them “the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty”. The occasion of this feast was to get his staff on his hand to carry out his plan to start a war against Greece.
We read the following about that intention in the book Daniel: “Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all [of them]; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole [empire] against the realm of Greece“ (Dan 11:2). This is explained in more detail here in the first chapter of the book of Esther.
The third year of his reign is the year in which the unsuccessful campaign against Greece is decreed. In order to win them over to his battle plans, Ahasuerus invites all the leaders of the 127 provinces to visit him and demonstrates his extraordinary richness and splendor. That is why the feast lasts so long: six months. We don’t read anything about the battle here. God is concerned about His people in the midst of the nations and how they are doing.
5 - 8 A Banquet for the People
5 When 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. 6 [There 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. 7 Drinks were served in golden vessels of various kinds, and the royal wine was plentiful according to the king’s bounty. 8 The 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.
When the feast for the commanders of his army and the rulers of his provinces is over, the king arranges a new banquet (verse 5). This time the guests are “all the people who were present at the citadel in Susa, from the greatest to the least”. The feast lasts seven days and is held “in the court of the garden of the king’s palace”. It is believed that Ahasuerus gives this feast to all the people of Susa as an expression of his joy over the permission to go to war.
The feast is decorated with the most precious rugs and fabrics “linen held by cords of fine purple linen on silver rings and marble columns” (verse 6). Furthermore, there are “couches” which reminds one of coming to rest in the presence of the great ruler. The floor on which the resting beds stand consists of the most precious stones. It indicates that the rest enjoyed is attractive and steady or stable.
There is also plentiful “royal wine according to the king’s bounty”. The fact that it is “royal wine” perhaps means, apart from the fact that the king gives it, that it is wine that the king himself drinks and that he now also gives his subjects to drink. That it is wine “according to the king’s bounty” indicates the rich supply of wine. There need be no fear of lack.
The wine to be drunk is given “in golden vessels” which are all different from each other (verse 7). This is reminiscent of another aspect of a feast organized by the king. Wine is a picture of joy (Psa 104:15; Jdg 9:13) that is experienced by each person in a different, unique way, which is represented by ‘vessels of various kinds’.
We can see Ahasuerus in this scene as a picture of God on His throne, surrounded by all the glory of the first creation. He gives His blessings generously to all, such as sun and rain and fruitful times, food and joy (Mt 5:45b; Acts 14:17). Whoever acknowledges Him as the source of that blessing will find complete rest and true joy.
Nor has God ever forced people to make use of these blessings, for it is all according to the law “no compulsion” (verse 8). However, God, Who can be known from creation, is not honored as God or given thanks by man (Rom 1:20-21). All the goodness that God grants man puts man to the test. Then it turns out that man abuses everything God has given.
9 - 12 Queen Vashti
9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus. 10 On 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, 11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king with [her] royal crown in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes, for she was beautiful. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs. Then the king became very angry and his wrath burned within him.
While Ahasuerus is keeping his meal, Queen Vashti is also addressing a meal (verse 9). She addresses it “to the women in the royal house that belonged to King Ahasuerus”. It is a meal of her own and in the area that belongs to the king. Here we see an example that man uses for himself what has been made available to him by God.
Vashti gives a banquet without the king. It is reminiscent of the eldest son in the parable of the prodigal son. That son also wants to enjoy a meal, but only with his friends, without his father (Lk 15:29). This is how sin came into the world, because Eve wanted to enjoy something without God. Later we see that Esther does make a banquet for the king (Est 5:4).
That Queen Vashti does not take her husband King Ahasuerus into account is shown by what follows. “On the seventh day” (verse 10), the last day of the banquet, when the heart of Ahasuerus is happy because of the wine, he orders seven eunuchs to bring his wife to the banquet. These eunuchs “served in the presence of king Ahasuerus”. They are in his immediate vicinity to obey his command immediately. The fact that there are seven of them indicates their full ability to carry out the mission.
Their mission is to bring Queen Vashti to the king and to do so in a manner befitting the dignity of the king. Therefore, Vashti must come “with [her] royal crown” on her head. The crown will give her outer beauty even more shine. Ahasuerus sends this completely – seven servants – competent company with this command to Vashti because he wants to “in order to display her beauty to the people and the princes”.
Queen Vashti, however, refuses to come. She resists “the king’s command delivered by the eunuchs”. This refusal is, in the first place, disobedience to the king’s command. The command of the king means his authority. As the king’s consort, her refusal is also an outright insult to him. He justifiably becomes “very angry” and about this “his wrath burned within him”. What should have been a climax becomes an anticlimax.
In several commentaries the refusal of Vashti to comply with the king’s request is discussed in an understanding manner. Vashti would be the victim of a capricious, drunken king who would expose her to the abuse of a drunken company. Such a thought would then be sufficiently grounded by what one knows of the relationships and practices at that time. Sometimes background information is useful, but it is doubtful whether this kind of information helps to understand what is happening in this case. In any case, it does not say that Ahasveros is drunk and surrounded by drunken people and in that state gives an excessive command.
In the prophetic and practical application we can draw a parallel between Vashti on the one hand and Israel and Christianity on the other hand. Both Israel and Christianity have failed in their duty to reveal God’s glory. Israel has refused to acknowledge God’s authority and has not made His Name great with respect to the nations. That is why God finally had to reject His people.
The same, and perhaps even more so, applies to Christianity. The church has failed to show her glory, which is that of God, in the world. It has not stuck to the “simplicity … to Christ” (2Cor 11:3), but has committed herself to the world. The church, or Christianity, has moderately glorified herself. We see this fully expressed in Babylon, in which we recognize the roman-catholic church. Babylon imagines that she “sits as a queen” (Rev 18:7), by which she boasts of her own authority, without the recognition of God’s authority over her. She has enriched and praised herself and will be judged by God.
God knows how to use these events for His purpose:
1. By judging apostate Israel, He is paving the way for the true Israel, of whom Esther is a picture.
2. By judging the false bride, the apostate church, He opens the way for the true bride of the Lamb, that is the church.
13 - 22 The Council of Memucan
13 Then 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 14 and 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 Vashti, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus [delivered] by the eunuchs?” 16 In the presence of the king and the princes, Memucan said, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but [also] all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 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.’ 18 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. 19 If 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 Vashti 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. 20 When 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.” 21 [This] word pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. 22 So 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.
That the king is not a plaything of his emotions, but knows what he is doing, is also shown by his reaction to the refusal of Vashti. In any case, he is not the capricious ruler here, who, also mired in drink, without any consultation, immediately passes judgment on Vashti. When later Haman is unmasked, we see that he, rightly so, immediately passes judgment (Est 7:9-10).
The king presents the case to “the wise men” (verse 13). They know “the times” and “the law and justice”. Asking for counsel has also been explained as an indication that Ahasuerus would have been a weak and manipulatable king. It may be so historically, but again this is not apparent from the biblical text here.
Knowing “the times” means having insight into the spirit of the times, the spiritual climate of the time in which the events take place. “The law” refers to the rules that apply to life in the kingdom. “Justice” means that they also have wisdom to apply the law correctly. They see to it that the right takes its course.
Of the seven wise men it is said that they “who had access to the king’s presence and sat in the first place in the kingdom” (verse 14). They have the position of confidants of the king. In this context we can see them as a picture of “the seven Spirits of God” (Rev 4:5), which indicates the fullness of the Holy Spirit. God deliberates, as it were, with the seven Spirits before His throne in order to set aside the failing church. This Spirit is manifested in perfection in the Lord Jesus, God’s King (Isa 11:2-3).
The king’s question is what should happen to queen Vashti according to the law (verse 15). He mentions what he accuses her of: “because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus [delivered] by the eunuchs”.
Both in verse 12 and here in verse 15 it is mentioned that “the eunuchs” convey this command. This is how God works now. He lets His Word be brought to people by His servants. The fact that He uses men does not change the authority of His Word. Everyone to whom His Word comes must obey (Acts 17:30-31). He who does not, will be judged.
When the king has asked his question, Memucan takes the word (verse 16) and paints the state of affairs. Vashti has not only misbehaved against the king, but also against all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces. The motivation is that all women will hear of the queen’s case, encouraging them to despise their own husbands (verse 17). They will justify their contempt by referring to the disobedience of queen Vashti to King Ahasuerus.
What Vashti has done is “like letting out water” (Pro 17:14). The fence is off the dam if no action is taken against it. If no clear position is taken, a revolution will be unleashed in all houses. The king’s answer must put an end to the contempt and annoyance that already exist. These have been enough (verse 18).
After Memucan has made it clear what the situation is like, he comes up with two proposals (verse 19). The first proposal is that the king makes it clear to everyone that his relationship with Vashti is definitely broken. Vashti has misbehaved in such a way that there can be no question of recovery in her high position. This decision must be recorded in writing and as a law of Medes and Persians so that the decision cannot be repealed.
The second proposal is to provide for the vacant place of Queen. The “royal disposition” that Vashti has possessed but lost because of her willfulness must be given “to another” who is described by Memucan as someone “who is more worthy than she”.
In the final setting aside of Vashti we see the final setting aside of the unbelieving Israel as the wife of God. What happens to Vashti is similar to the curse the Lord Jesus pronounces on the barren fig tree which is a picture of the unbelieving Israel: “No longer shall there ever be [any] fruit from you” (Mt 21:19). God has given this apostate woman a letter of divorce, through which she can no longer return to Him (Deu 24:1-4; Jer 3:8).
The vacant place gives God the opportunity to establish a new relationship. This is provided by someone whose name is not yet mentioned, but whose quality is described as “more worthy than she”. It is noteworthy and beautiful that a similar expression occurs again, in connection with David for whom Saul, the king after the flesh, must clear the field.
Saul is disobedient – just like Vashti. He disobeys God’s command to exterminate the Amalekites. Samuel tells Saul that the kingship of Israel will be torn from him – similar to Vashti. Then he says it will be given to someone “who is better than you” (1Sam 15:28) – again just like with Vashti. No name is mentioned to Saul as to who it is. In both cases it is a position that makes someone unworthy and for which God has chosen someone, someone after His heart, to take that position.
We can therefore see this history from the providence of God. God’s purpose is the exaltation of Mordecai to bless His people through him. In this Mordecai is a picture of the Lord Jesus. God begins to prepare for this already in this first chapter. The deposition of Vashti also takes place with this in mind. God acts for a purpose that we know from Scripture. The way in which He acts is not always known to us. We only know it when He has reached that goal and we look back on the way He has gone.
Memucan concludes his plea by suggesting the blessed consequences if the king will issue this command. It is an order that he must issue for his entire kingdom, which is great. If all women in all ranks and positions have respect for their husbands (cf. Eph 5:33), it will promote peace in families. And if there is peace in families, there is also peace in the whole kingdom.
The king and the princes approve of Memucan’s proposal, and Ahasuerus acts accordingly. He sends letters to all the provinces of his kingdom. In doing so, he ensures that each province receives the letter according to its script and to every people according to their language. Everyone must be informed of the decision. In the letter “every man” is addressed as the responsible head of the family. His responsibility has two aspects. He must “be master in his own house”. This is reflected in his position of authority. He must also speak “in the language of his own people”. That concerns his behavior, his example.
The call to actually exercise the authority given by God is desperately needed today. The man is the head of the woman (1Cor 11:3). This means that, following Christ’s example of caring for His church, he gives her everything she needs as head (Eph 5:29). He will also address the members of his family in the language of God’s people, which is the language of God’s Word (cf. Neh 13:23). This ‘language’ is to be spoken throughout the kingdom of God, that is, in families, in society and in the church.
If the authority of God’s Word is acknowledged in families, this will also happen in society and in the church. In families this will be shown by the submissive attitude of the wife towards her husband and by the submissive attitude of the children towards their parents. The men have the main responsibility to take care of the right relationships in their families. The same applies to the relationships and behavior in the church.