Bible Studies in the Book of Esther

Esther Chapter 1: The Invitation of the King

 

By I Gordon

Introduction


When I wrote my study on the book of Ruth[1], I started by saying that it was a fantastic book that ‘had it all – well, apart from a nasty villain, but we can’t ask for everything.’ Well, I can now tell you that I have found you the particularly nasty villain you have been desperate for. You asked for him... and now you’ve got him! His dastardly deeds are very prominent within this book of Esther as we shall soon see. Now, in many ways this is that study series I never thought I would write! Not because it is not worthy of study... Not at all! But mainly because Major Ian Thomas’ book ‘If I perish, I perish’ basically wrecked this book for me. ‘Wrecked’ in a very good way I should add. You see, after reading Thomas’ book, it is near on impossible, in my humble view, to get anything better and if you have limited time feel free to put this study down and go and find that one![2] If you are still with me however, I had better say a little in this introduction about this unique book and the way I will present the study.

 

Let me say at the start that the book of Esther is unique. One very noticeable aspect is that it is the only book in the Bible that doesn’t mention God![3] Now that is rather odd wouldn’t you agree? Especially for a book that is God-breathed! And yet in the events of this book we see the workings of the invisible God as He acts in providence on behalf of His people. Not only that, but we see some remarkable types and illustrations of both gospel and prophetic truth that are the signature of the Almighty God upon the books in the Old Testament. So that is what I will be concentrating on in these studies. Both the events and characters in the book of Esther will provide useful insight into the Christian life as well as the things to come. A most interesting little book indeed![4]

 

The background to the book

 

Esther 1:1-2  Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces, in those days as King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne which was at the citadel in Susa…

 

While the author of the book of Esther is uncertain, some have suggested that it may have been written by Mordecai (a character we will become acquainted with later in the book) somewhere around 465 BC. According to the Ryrie Study Bible the events of this book cover a 10 year period (483-473 BC) during the reign of Xerxes I (486-465 BC). Ahasuerus, mentioned above in Bible quotation above is the Hebrew form of his name. For more background info check out the fine print.[5]     

 

 

Party time... Persian style

 

Esther 1:3-8  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.  (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.

 

So the King of Medo-Persia decided to give a banquet. Now obviously this was just a small humble affair with a few guests because the king didn’t want to flaunt his wealth and power in the people noses right? Well... not exactly. Actually, not at all! He wanted to flaunt his power and wealth and ‘display the glory of his riches’ so he gave a couple of banquets... the first of which lasted a mere 180 days. This one was for the ‘upper class’ and included the princes, nobles and army offices. Had you lived 2500 years ago in Susa, there is a good chance that you, like me, would have waited in vain for the invitation to this party. But we would have made the second one! This was a 7 day banquet for everyone and involved the finest of what the king could display – ‘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.’ Plus a fair amount of wine.    

 

It is worth pausing at this stage to think about our King - The King of kings that is. In what ways does He display ‘the riches of His glory’? Have you read about that term in the New Testament? Do you know what it relates to? In contrast to the king of Medo-Persia, God, in this age, displays the riches of His glory in what He does in and through our lives. His glory is His grace, character and nature and these riches are encapsulated in a person – Jesus Christ – whom God has given to all that believe in Him. That is why Paul wrote:

 

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among

the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

 

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in

your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Eph 3:16-17)[6]

   

Just as all were invited to the kings banquet in Esther’s day, so all are invited to receive of the riches of God’s glory today. Though most refuse the invitation it is still open to all. It is an invitation to participate in a banquet feast and a kingdom where even creation itself shall be ‘free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ (Rom 8:21). And the true extent of the riches of the glory of God will be displayed through God’s people, those that have accepted His invitation in this age and are fellow heirs with the Son, for we know that ‘when Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.’ (Col 3:4)  

 

The third banquet

 

Esther 1:9-12  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.

 

The third banquet was one held by Queen Vashti. She held a banquet for the women of the palace and it seems that they were pretty keen to keep some distance from the drunken party the men were having. Fair enough too! Some say it was the custom of the day to have separate banquets and given the events of the men’s party I can see why! And yet a problem arose on the last day when the drunken king called for the queen to come and display ‘her beauty’ before all these men! Would you want to be ‘gawked’ at by a room full of men who had been drinking for 7 days? Rightly or wrongly (and I can understand why she would NOT want to go!) Vasti refused. People, even queens, don’t tend to refuse the kings of Medo-Persia and get away with it. Oh dear. There’s trouble a-brewin’.  

 

The female-rights movement is quickly squashed

  

Esther 1:13-22  Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times..."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 ... (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.

 

So the furious king asks his ‘wise men’ what should be done to the queen for refusing his invitation. And Memucan, seizing upon the opportunity[7], suggests that this may not be an isolated incident and if left unchecked, wives throughout the kingdom will rise up and rebel against their husbands! He is possibly being a little bit melodramatic there with that conclusion but the king isn’t in the mood for mercy and agrees. So Vashti, because of her refusal to go to the kings’ banquet feast, is striped of her position as queen, she is refused entry into the king’s presence, and letters are sent to each of the kings providences advising that it is the man that is master in the household! And note that this decree, written in the laws of Persia and Media cannot be altered or repealed.

 

An illustration of this is given to us in the New Testament for the true King, the God of heaven and earth, is now inviting all that will come to his banquet feast to honour His Son. Those that accept find the richest of God’s grace and blessing upon their lives just the inhabitants of the Persian kingdom who came to the banquet found an abundance of the king’s provision. And yet those that refuse will in like manner be banished from His presence in an act that cannot be overturned or repealed.[8] Some believe that those who reject God in this life will be given another chance in the next. The Bible does not teach that. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of grace! If a person dies having refused God’s invitation to come then they will be sent from His presence on the day of judgement, never to return.

 

Matthew 7:21-23  "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

 

Now the above verse has been known to scare even true Christians. It shouldn’t for it concerns those that Jesus ‘NEVER knew’. This is not true believers of whom Jesus says ‘I KNOW my sheep... and they shall NEVER perish!’ But it should act as a clear warning to those who trust in the things they do and not in what Jesus DID. Those that do the will of God will enter heaven and the Bible tells us what the ultimate will of the Father is for mankind. We do not have to be unsure concerning this. It was the very thing that the disciples wanted to know and asked of the Lord Jesus and was answered emphatically:

 

John 6:27-29  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."  Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

 

 

Conclusion  

 

Chapter 1 is about the invitation to the banquet and the refusal of Vashti to come. The queen is banished and a new bride will have to be found. And that is the context of the next chapter for it involves the selection and preparation of the one who shall be queen! It too gives us insight into gospel truths surrounding our preparation as the bride of Christ. But that’s next time!    

 

Bible Studies in the Book of Esther Series


Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 1 - The invitation of the King
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 2 - The preparation for the King
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 3 - Haman the Madman
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 4 - If I perish, I perish
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 5 - Prayer and the power of the third day
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 6 - The sleepless king and the providence of God
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 7 - The downfall of Haman the wicked!
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 8 - The two eternal laws
Book of Esther Bible Study Chapter 9 & 10 - A victory to win and a day to celebrate!

 





[1] Apart from Esther, Ruth is the only other book in the Bible named after a female. Not sure what you can do with that fact though and it is fair to say that this particular footnote isn’t going to change much in your life! 

 

[2] You can download a pdf copy here: http://www.amcbryan.btinternet.co.uk/perish.pdf

 

[3] J. Vernon McGee, in his introduction to this book writes: ‘The Book of Esther in one sense is the most remarkable in the Bible, and that is because the name of God is not mentioned in this book at all. There is not even a divine title or pronoun that refers to God. Yet the heathen king is mentioned 192 times. Prayer is not mentioned—it wouldn't be, since God is omitted. The Book of Esther is never quoted in the New Testament. There's not even a casual reference to it. But the superstition of the heathen is mentioned, and lucky days, and we'll be introduced into a pagan, heathen court of a great world monarch who ruled over the then-known world. This is indeed an unusual book.’


[4] Boy... The fourth footnote already and I haven’t even got out of the introduction! Ooops. But I did want to acknowledge from the start some useful resources that have helped in my study of Esther. First and foremost, as already mentioned, is ‘If I perish, I perish’. This looks at the book of Esther as an allegory of the Christian life where Haman stands for the flesh, Mordecai the Holy Spirit, Esther the human spirit and King Ahazuerus as the soul of man. Brilliant. Some of the prophetic insights in this study have been drawn from notes in ‘the Annotated Bible’ by A Gaebelin and the outline presented by J. Sidlow Baxter in Explore the Book.  

[5] The Believers Bible Commentary says the following concerning the Background and theme to the book:
“The events in this book took place between the sixth and seventh chapters of Ezra, during the reign of Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of Persia. The book is concerned with those Jews who decided to remain in Babylon rather than go back to Jerusalem with the small remnant that returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel (Ezra 2). It derives its name from its principal character, Esther, the orphan girl who became queen. Esther, her Persian name, means "star" and may have been derived from the goddess Ishtar. Hadassah, her Hebrew name, means "myrtle." Ahasuerus held court in Shushan (Susa, NKJV marg.), one of three principal capital cities in Persia, the others being Achmetha (Ecbatana, NASB), and Babylon. Shushan is the Hebrew name and means "lily." The Prophet Daniel spent time there (Dan. 8). Nehemiah served there after Esther's day (Neh. 1). It is there that our story takes place, beginning in the year 483 BC. (Xerxes came to power in 486 BC; chapter 1 opens in the third year of his reign—v. 3.)”

 

[6] For other references check out Psalm 145:5 which tells us to meditate on God’s glory, majesty and splendour. See also Eph 1:18 and Phil 4:19

 

[7] McGee writes: “There is also the story about the man who told the people in his office that his wife said that he was a model husband. He told this to a hard-boiled secretary and she did not commend him. Instead she said, "Why don't you look up the word model in the dictionary, and you won't be so proud of it." He took her advice. A "model," he found out, was a small imitation of the real thing. That is what Memucan was. He was henpecked; he was Mr. Milquetoast. He said loud and clear, "Something must be done to protect our homes in this matter." And actually it was a real crisis because the king and queen set an example for the kingdom.”

 

[8] Gaebelin writes: ‘The Persian king claimed the title King of Kings, which belongs only to the Lord Himself. The great feast which he made reminds us of another feast which the Lord has spread... As Ahasuerus invited all to come to his feast, with no other conditions, but to come, so God wants all men to be saved and offers the riches of His grace without money and without price. While the Persian king displayed the glories of his great kingdom,

God displays the glory of His grace. In Vashti we see a type of the refusal of the invitation. She had been invited to come and grace the feast with her presence; she would not come. It reminds us of the parable of our Lord, in which He speaks of the great supper, a symbol of the gospel, and the bidden guests who made excuses for not coming. She had her own feast, which she probably would not leave. How many there are who refuse the gospel invitation because they love their own things best. And Vashti is banished. She is put away. And this is the sinner's fate who refuses to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ.’