Those of you who have been talking with me about Esther know that this has been a very perplexing study. I thought it was going to be an easy book to preach on, but I instantly ran into numerous controversies, not the least of which is: "when was it written?" Most modern study Bibles and commentaries favor a date in Xerxes reign. However, when you read the Scriptural time references, too many things just do not seem to fit. And I am a person who cannot rest until all the little parts fit together. So I just kept studying. And most of the materials I have been reading have been boring chronology books trying to find some hints of how it fits together. It wasn't until I finished reading the modern establishment scholars and began reading some revisionist histories that it all beautifully began to come together. And then I discovered that some of these modern revisionists have actually picked up the views of older writers like Anstey, Bishop Usher (who was an incredibly brilliant theologian), Bishop Lloyd and Sir Isaac Newton. You probably didn't realize that Sir Isaac Newton wrote theology books, but he did. He is known as one of the most brilliant scientists to ever live, but he had an incredibly brilliant mind historically and theologically as well. And so, he was a help. Two modern writers that I also agree with when it comes to the chronology of Esther are James Jordan and to a far greater degree Floyd Nolan Jones (who wrote a fascinating book on chronologies in 1999). I don't agree with everything that he says, but I found Jones to be extremely helpful in understanding Esther and he got me doing some further research on my own.
This is rather unusual for a sermon, but I don't know of any other way of preaching on this book than to start by setting the context, and as we go through, by bringing up some of the controversies. And the first controversy that I need to settle is: "Who is the Ahasuerus that is mentioned in verse 1?" (See the handout attached at the end of this sermon for more discussion.) You can find authors who argue for six different plausible answers. Actually, there are other candidates both before Astyages and Artaxerxes but they are so unlikely that we are not even going to deal with them. And you are going to have to bear with me on this because it makes a huge difference on how you understand the book as to which king you place it under. And obviously the inspired author of this book in verse 1 thinks it is very important that we know which Ahasuerus he is talking about. I thought I would show you an abbreviated version of how I finally systematically ruled out possibilities.
Anyway, let me list the candidates first. The first candidate is Astyages, the uncle of Cyrus. E. W. Faulstich has a fascinating defense of this man as being both Darius the Mede in Daniel and the husband of Esther. I think he is wrong on both points, but he definitely was a stimulating thinker and has dug up some fascinating information.
The next candidate is Cyrus, then Cambyses, then Darius Hystaspes, then Xerxes and then Artaxerxes. I don't know of any serious scholar who would place it any later than Artaxerxes. Currently, Xerxes is the most popular candidate. If you take a look in the margin of the New King James Version you will see that it says, "Generally identified with Xerxes I (485-464 B.C.)", and you will by the overhead that there are differences by a year or two. I used to hold to this view simply because it was all that I was taught.
Here's what we are going to do. We are going to cross out any candidates if a reason is sufficient to rule him out. We will put an "x" beside the name if it casts doubt on the candidate and we will put a checkmark beside the candidate if the evidence favors him strongly. The first three verses of chapter 1 give a wealth of information to help determine his identity. And I will start with the strongest argument for Xerxes.
Verse 1 says, Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus…
the first hint that we have is this name (or if some people are right – this title) Ahasuerus. And for some people, that settles the identification. This really is by far the strongest argument for this being Xerxes. This is an argument from etymology – the way a word is made. Georg Friedrich Grotefend in the early 1800's was able to figure out the Persian characters on an artifact that was found in the ruins of Persepolis. And on that artifact was written either the title or the name of the son of Darius Hystaspis . It was deciphered as Khshayarsha, which is old Persian. Grotefend translated this into Greek as Xerxes. When khshayarsha is transposed into Hebrew, it becomes almost letter for letter Akhashverosh, which is rendered Ahasuerus in English. The problem with this is that Ahasuerus is made up of two words "aha" which means "mighty" and Suerus" which means "king. Mighty king. By the wya, Artaxerxes is the Greek for of the title, "mighty king". So in translating it into Xerxes it leaves out the ‘aha' or the ‘mighty.' Jones says that it should have literally been translated as "artaxerxes." This could be a reference to Darius's grandson ("Artaxerxes") or could simply be one of several titles for Xerxes or some other king.
Now I would have been content to accept the establishment position that this is Xerxes. But I want you to notice that verse 1 implies that there was more than one Ahasuerus, and the author of the book was identifying which "artaxerxes" he was referring to. And so the name by itself is not a strong argument. Look at verse 1. Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces)… We will get to the second part of that verse in a moment, but I just want you to notice that the title Ahasuerus is not enough to identify this man according to the writer of Esther. We need to know that this Ahasuerus also meets other criterion. And one of the things that I discovered is that there were actually other kings called Ahasuerus. Daniel 9:1 clearly calls the father of Darius the Mede: Ahasuerus. Furthermore, two ancient books (the Septuagint and the first book of Esdras) call Darius Ahasuerus. Now many people believe that it is simply a throne title, but even if it is a proper name, we have two on this list that meet the criterion. I'll put check marks beside each one. I don't think we can rule out any of the others based on this argument, because that's an argument from silence. But advocates of Xerxes definitely want to press this one hard. So I will give a check mark for each one. I'll look at a couple of other arguments for Xerxes in a bit, but let's deal with them in the order they appear in the text here. Let's be systematic about it.
The second clue given in verse 1 is that the particular Ahasuerus he is talking about reigned over India.
This rules out candidates 1-3 since India wasn't conquered until Darius Hystaspis took it over in 506 B.C. So we are going to cross out these first three candidates.
The third clue is that he reigned over Ethiopia.
This rules out candidates 1-2 because it wasn't until Cambyses that Ethiopia and Egypt were conquered.
The fourth clue is that he reigned over 127 provinces.
There is only one candidate that fits this evidence. The only ancient historical reference to any of these kings having 127 provinces or satrapies is 1 Esdras (written in the second century BC) and it says that Darius had 127 satrapies. Now it is true that advocates for some of the other positions will plea bargain on this one. For example, Faulstich admits that there were only 120 provinces or satrapies in his rendition of Astyages. But he says that's pretty close, and perhaps Astyages added more later. But we have no historical record that this was the case, and the writer of the book of Esther wants the readers to be able to easily tell which Ahasuerus this is. Verse 1 shows that he obviously believes there is only one possibility. Daniel 6:1 says that during the time of Darius/Cyrus, there were only 120 satrapies or provinces. So, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, we will cross both of those candidates off on the overhead here. Cambyses added two provinces: Ethiopia and Egypt. But that's not enough, so we are going to cross him out. Darius added five during his conquests. Guess what? That brings us up to 127. So we have several independent witnesses that Darius fits the evidence.
Therefore we are going to put a check mark beside his name. But Xerxes lost some provinces right at the very beginning of his reign and never regained the number that were under his father's rule. In fact, the only historical mentions that we have of provinces under Xerxes is far below the 127 figure. Some commentators leave this in the air as unverifiable information or silence, but it really is not. We have clear testimony to the fact that Xerxes lost provinces. So this is a strike against all but Darius. (Let's put a strike beside his name and the name of Artaxerxes.) The writer of Esther obviously believes there is only one candidate who reigned over 127 provinces including Ethiopia and India. Well, we have that candidate: it is clearly Darius. We have ancient testimony that he did reign over 127 and everyone agrees that he reigned over Ethiopia and India.
Verse 2 gives another clue:
in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shusan the citadel. Commentaries are generally agreed that Darius was the first one to build a palace in Shushan. Certainly the ancient author Pliny says that he was the one who built it. So this rules out anyone before Darius and it rules out anyone after Artaxerxes since the citadel burned down in his reign. Only Xerxes, Darius and Artaxerxes fit this evidence. So let's strike the rest off. And let me put a checkmark beside Darius.
But I'm not going to put a checkmark besides Xerxes and Artaxerxes,and I'll tell you why.
Commentators all agree that kings after Darius never summered in Sushan because it was too hot, and later in his reign, Darius didn't either. They spent their summers in a palace that Darius built in his later years in Persepolis. But during the history covered in this book (in other words, the first thirteen years of his reign), Darius didn't have a palace in Persepolis. It wasn't built yet. And it's true that most of the time references in the book of Esther are winter or spring, but chapter 8 shows scribes working with the king in Shushan in verse 15 and the date given in verse 9 is the 23rd day of Sivan, which is June 25 if it is Xerxes and somewhere in late June or early July if it is anyone else. So again, the evidence, while not ruling out Xerxes (because it is circumstantial), definitely favors Darius. So I'm going to put a checkmark here. According to everything we know about Xerxes, his retinue should not have been in Shushan at this time. It really deserves a strike, but we're going to be kind.
Another hint which is not definitive, but which favors Darius is that verses 2-3 seem to imply that King Ahasuerus was king before he sat on the throne of his kingdom, and that he so sat in his third year.
Very odd language. Notice that the word "that" in the beginning of verse 3 is in italics, meaning that it isn't in the Hebrew. So if we take the word ‘that' out and remove the parenthetical statement of where the throne was, it would read, "he sat on the throne of his kingdom in the third year of his reign… " I'm not going to mark anyone out on this one, but if that is what is implied, then it only fits Darius whose whole kingdom was in revolt from the moment he became king, and he spent his first two years reconquering the whole kingdom. He didn't actually get to sit on the throne in Shushan to rule until year three. To be fair to Xerxes, though he sat on the throne during the first three years, this third year fits him very well as the year before he goes to battle with Greece, and commentators say that he may have been trying to raise support for his war. So it is kind of a wash that could give a check mark to both.
Verse 3 gives another hint.
It speaks of the power of Persia and Media. Notice the order of Persia being placed first. And this is consistent in this book with one exception (in chapter 10): which speaks of the ancient chronicles of Media and Persia since the Medes came historically first. But apart from that, it is always this order. For example, look at verse 14: It refers to Persia and Media. Same with verse 18. The reason this is significant is that when Media was the dominant power (as in Daniel 6 and following) you have the reverse order. Daniel consistently speaks of Media and Persia (8:20) or Medes and Persians (5:28; 6:8,12,15). To me this is only circumstantial, so I won't mark out any names, but I will put a minus beside Astyages.
This may seem tedious, but because Xerxes is the dominant position, I need to marshal plenty of evidence or many of my conclusions will be in doubt.
You'll see how important this is later. I'm going to skip over some proofs of Darius and focus on a few that clearly rule others out. Look down at verse 14. It says, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king's presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom. This rules out anyone before Darius since this custom began with him. I have no evidence that it continued after him, but in order to gain the country he had to enter into an agreement with seven noblemen, and as part of the pact, they were his advisors and shared power. So another checkmark for Darius.
Look at chapter 10:1.
It says, And King Ahasuerus imposed tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. This clearly rules out everyone before Darius because historical records indicate that he was the first to exact tribute.
But this verse also rules out Xerxes.
It is clearly some time after the 12th year of Ahasuerus (whoever he is) that he is said to impose or begin tribute on the islands. But Xerxes doesn't fit any of this evidence. First, he didn't impose tribute or begin it. He just continued receiving tribute during the first few years of his reign. Secondly, Xerxes not could not collect any tribute from them after the twelfth year, he lost those islands completely. One commentator said that we lack historical evidence that he collected tribute so he claims that we are in the dark. But that is not true. The historical records don't leave us in the dark. They say that he lost the islands and their revenue. They were gone. But this phrase does perfectly fit Darius. We have secular historical sources that say this was exactly the time frame and the tribute that he imposed. So we are going to rule out everyone else based on this verse. Let's make several strike outs here.
But there is much more against Xerxes.
Let me read to you from an ancient history book called Esdras written in the second century BC, not too far removed from this time period. And as I read this, I want you to look at Esther 1:1. This is remarkably similar language. Here it is: "Now King Darius [notice the identification here. Not Xerxes, but "king Darius"] gave a great banquet for all that were under him and all that were born in his house and all the nobles of Media and Persia and all the satraps and generals and governors that were under him in the 127 satrapies from India to Ethiopia." I hope you are becoming convinced that Darius has overwhelming evidence in favor of him. In fact, the more I have studied chronologies, the more I have become convinced that the older writers are more reliable than the modern scholars because they were driven by Biblical evidence rather than simply by secular histories. It seems nowadays that even inth conservatives that secular chronologies are treated with more respect than the Bible.
But there is much more against Xerxes. Turn to chapter 2:5-7.
Now in Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite. The NKJV puts a period there, but most versions carry on as one sentence. And most versions don't start verse 6 with Kish as this one unfortunately does, but they put the literal Greek in the text (which, if you look in the margin is "who"). So it should read, …a Benjamite who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconoiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. Even the strongest Xerxes advocate will admit that the Hebrew here favors the idea that it was Mordecai who was taken into captivity, not his ancestor Kish. But they can't buy that because they are stuck on Xerxes, and if Ahasuerus is Xerxes, then even if Mordecai was an infant when he was carried into exile, he would still be a minimum of 113 years old at the beginning of the story and 125 years old when he is promoted to the position of prime minister. But think of how old Esther would be. Even if she was 65 years younger than her uncle, which could in rare circumstances be possible, she would still be a minumum of 55 years old when she won the beauty contest. It is only the absurdity of her age that makes this translation mandated by Xerxes advocates. Otherwise no one would have even come up with it. This was the first thing that I struggled with. The Hebrew seemed very forced. Listen to what some commentators say about such a translation: Jones says, "Only by a tortured, forced grammatical construction could this sentence ever be applied to his Great Grandfather Kish." And not only that, the "he" in verse 7 would naturally in the Hebrew refer to the same "who" of verse 6. So if they are right, then this would make Kish the one who brought up Hadassah. But they have to change the Hebrew on that and insert the words "Mordecai." One author after summarizing the age problems says,
"Thus, most commentators argue that it is not Mordecai but Kish who was taken into captivity. This is, however, impossible grammatically." I am not enough of a Hebrew scholar to say it is impossible, but almost all commentators acknowledge that the Hebrew is most naturally translated as Mordecai being in the exile under Jeconiah. Thus, age alone would militate against Xerxes. On the Darius view, using the same generous figures we gave to Xerxes, Esther would be 17 years old. You tell me which candidate fits better. I'm going to use this as a strike against both Xerxes and Artaxerxes because the Bible translation should drive our understanding of the world rather than making our understanding of history driving the Bible.
I've got other evidence that I won't bore you with, but one last item that every Xerxes advocate wrestles with is, "Who in the world is Vashti and Esther?
Vashti's deposition seems to contradict every known history of Xerxes' queen, and Esther just doesn't seem to fit at all.
Every Xerxes advocate admits that there is one point that just doesn't seem to fit. Amestris, Xerxes wife seems to be queen longer than Scripture allows Vashti to live. Some have said that Vashti/Amestris is divorced for a while and later replaces Esther. Others have said that Esther is Amestris. But not only is Amestris a debauched, cruel and sadistic woman, she is a Persian, not a Jewess, and Amestris was around before the 7th year. I think this is a major problem for Xerxes and warrants a strike. Actually, on this point, this point could fit since Artaxerxes is known to have had a Jewish wife. But Darius fits the wife chronology as well. Not only does he have many wives and concubines, but he started with his brother's wife, but after the death of Xerxes replaced her with a woman who resembles Esther in
She was loved by Darius more than all his wives
She replaces former queen
Esther's name Hadassah is virtually the same as the one Herodotus gives to the first queen, but Broseus' book on the woman of this period says that Herodotes messed up on women's names, and other scholars concur.
Finally, intensive studies show that all traces of Darius' first wife were removed from Persian records and only survive in Greek records.
This fits with the character and actions of Darius in Chapter 1. So I think his is definitely a fit. Many scholars assume she died before 515 which is before Esther becomes queen.
There is no question in my mind that the Ahasuerus in this book was Darius, and therefore I won't use any more "ifs" at this point), then we have a hand in glove connection to the ministries of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra and Nehemiah. The prophecies of those two minor prophets open up the book in a marvelous way. In fact, they began their prophecies two years before the events of this book. And Ezra and Nehemiah fill out the details. By the way, many puzzles in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are solved if it is recognized that Darius is called Ahasuerus by both secular and sacred literature. The older writers saw the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as covering the same ground, but with Ezra focusing on the temple, and Nehemiah focusing on the city wall. Many newer writers separate them by 90 years, based not on Biblical chronology, but on Ptolemy's use of names hundreds of years later. Once you realize that the Ahasuerus of Esther is Darius, a huge problem that has plagued chronologists in Ezra/Nehemiah is solved. On modern establishment views, there is a 90 year gap between Ezra and Nehemiah which means that there are two different Nehemiahs who were civil leaders, two Ezras who were priests, and numerous names on the genealogies that just happen to correlate but aren't the same people. You can see why I was puzzled when I first began to dig into this book.
Finally, the purpose for this book is opened up in a magnificent way. It shows the fulfillment of some prophecies by Haggai and Zechariah of the expansion of the kingdom among the Gentiles, and at the same time it gave hope and encouragement to Jews in Israel who had political opposition to their work, and would continue to have such opposition. This book shows that even apparent set-backs are God's purposes being fully displayed and that even mighty kings and leaders cannot hold back God's will. What a marvelous encouragement this book would have been to Ezra, Nehemiah and later Jews. I believe the feast of Purim is a prophetic foreshadowing of the last days of the New Testament kingdom that perfectly jumps off from the events of the book as well as the prophecies of these two minor prophets. We will start to look at the details next week, but let me for now read through the entire book and give key events that are interlaced. And it's a fun story, so sit back and enjoy.
By the way, I should have mentioned that both Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 tell us that Mordecai had accompanied Ezra and Nehemiah to Israel 17 years before these events. Some commentaries say that they were in sinful rebellion by not going back to Israel, but both Ezra and Nehemiah say that Mordecai had already been in Israel. One author thought that either he had to go back to Persia for business or perhaps he himself carried the petition of the Jews to the king of Persia. So both Nehemiah and Mordecai have been to Israel and back by the beginning of this book, and Nehemiah has yet to make two more trips. But let's read.
Esther 1:1 ¶ Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia),
Esther 1:2 in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel,
Esther 1:3 that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants — the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him —
[that would be 519 BC – the year that Xerxes was born. Maybe this was a birthday party. We aren't told. But Xerxes was the first son to be born to him after he came to the throne, and was the heir apparent. Anyway, going on: "in the third year of his reign"]
Esther 1:4 when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all.
Esther 1:5 And when these days were completed, the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king's palace.
Esther 1:6 There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble.
Esther 1:7 And they served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king.
Esther 1:8 In accordance with the law, the drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had ordered all the officers of his household, that they should do according to each man's pleasure.
Esther 1:9 Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus.
Esther 1:10 ¶ On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus,
Esther 1:11 to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold.
Esther 1:12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him.
Esther 1:13 ¶ Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king's manner toward all who knew law and justice,
Esther 1:14 those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king's presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom):
Esther 1:15 "What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?"
Esther 1:16 And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: "Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus.
Esther 1:17 "For the queen's behavior will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.'
Esther 1:18 "This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king's officials that they have heard of the behavior of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath.
Esther 1:19 "If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.
Esther 1:20 "When the king's decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honor their husbands, both great and small."
Esther 1:21 And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan.
Esther 1:22 Then he sent letters to all the king's provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.
[There is now a break of three years during which Darius was out fighting Egypt. When he came back from his campaigns, he was able to devote time to home. But there is no wife. Chapter 2]
Esther 2:1 After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her.
Esther 2:2 Then the king's servants who attended him said: "Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king;
Esther 2:3 "and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women's quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king's eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them.
Esther 2:4 "Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti." This thing pleased the king, and he did so.
Esther 2:5 ¶ In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.
[you can turn the period to a comma like most versions, and replace the name Kish with the literal rendering "who." So it reads, "a Benjamite who..]
Kishhad been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.
Esther 2:7 And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.
[It is possible that he adopted her while in Israel or at some point after his return from Israel. We are not told. But verse 7 goes on to say]
Esther 2:8 ¶ So it was, when the king's command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king's palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women.
[I will at a later date address the controversy of whether she willingly went or whether she was taken like Sarah was taken from Abraham. But a year later, Ezra makes a big point of rebuking Israelites in Israel for voluntarily marrying pagans. Verse 9]
Esther 2:9 Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance. Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king's palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women.
Esther 2:10 Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it.
Esther 2:11 And every day Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women's quarters, to learn of Esther's welfare and what was happening to her.
Esther 2:12 ¶ Each young woman's turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months' preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women.
Esther 2:13 Thus prepared, each young woman went to the king, and she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the women's quarters to the king's palace.
Esther 2:14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who kept the concubines. She would not go in to the king again unless the king delighted in her and called for her by name.
Esther 2:15 ¶ Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king's eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her.
Esther 2:16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
Esther 2:17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Esther 2:18 Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king.
[This is in 515 BC. It is a few months later that Ezra leaves for Israel according to Ezra 7:8-9]
Esther 2:19 ¶ When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king's gate.
Esther 2:20 Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him.
Esther 2:21 ¶ In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king's gate, two of the king's eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.
Esther 2:22 So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai's name.
Esther 2:23 And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.
[One of the things that you will notice in this book is that there are no extraneous details for God. He was in control of everything and was using it to work together for the good of His people. He made sure that Mordecai's good deed was not rewarded and that Haman was. As frustrating as that must have been to Mordecai, it served God's purposes and it served Mordecai's own good far better. Chapter 3:1]
Esther 3:1 After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him.
Esther 3:2 And all the king's servants who were within the king's gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage.
Esther 3:3 Then the king's servants who were within the king's gate said to Mordecai, "Why do you transgress the king's command?"
Esther 3:4 Now it happened, when they spoke to him daily and he would not listen to them, that they told it to Haman, to see whether Mordecai's words would stand; for Mordecai had told them that he was a Jew.
Esther 3:5 When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath.
Esther 3:6 But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus — the people of Mordecai.
Esther 3:7 ¶ In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, the lot), before Haman to determine the day and the month, until it fell on the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.
Esther 3:8 ¶ Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people's, and they do not keep the king's laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain.
Esther 3:9 "If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king's treasuries."
Esther 3:10 So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.
Esther 3:11 And the king said to Haman, "The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you."
Esther 3:12 ¶ Then the king's scribes were called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and a decree was written according to all that Haman commanded — to the king's satraps, to the governors who were over each province, to the officials of all people, to every province according to its script, and to every people in their language. In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written, and sealed with the king's signet ring.
[Notice that last phrase. It was written in the name of Ahasuerus and sealed with his ring. It appears that during this period of Haman's promotion, he was so trusted by Darius that the king let Haman send letters as if written by him without him having to even seal it or look at it. This may be the situation of the letter in Ezra 4 where king Darius stopped the building of the temple and yet later fully supports it. Secular history tells us that Darius was very favorable to the Jews. He was a monotheist (a Zoroastrian) and he felt closer to their views than to the polytheists. But this period of time was one of utmost opposition to Israel. Daniel prophesied of these troubling times. Verse 13]
Esther 3:13 And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.
Esther 3:14 A copy of the document was to be issued as law in every province, being published for all people, that they should be ready for that day.
[James Jordan believes that this is the context of the Gog and Magog passage where all nations were prophesied in Ezekiel to gather against the Jews to kill them, and yet they end up being killed themselves. But whether that is true or not, it is definitely a universal danger to Jews. Verse 15]
Esther 3:15 The couriers went out, hastened by the king's command; and the decree was proclaimed in Shushan the citadel. So the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed.
[One of the reasons why they were perplexed is that it seemed so uncharacteristic of Darius. Like Darius the Mede many years before in Daniel, advisors hoodwinked him into doing something foolish; in fact, into doing something contrary to his desires. Chapter 4]
Esther 4:1 When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.
Esther 4:2 He went as far as the front of the king's gate, for no one might enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.
Esther 4:3 And in every province where the king's command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
Esther 4:4 ¶ So Esther's maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them.
Esther 4:5 Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was.
Esther 4:6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king's gate.
Esther 4:7 And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasuries to destroy the Jews.
Esther 4:8 He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.
Esther 4:9 So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
Esther 4:10 ¶ Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai:
Esther 4:11 "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days."
[This may not have beeng so much because of arrogance, but because of the incredible paranoia the king had. Darius has experienced enormous unrest in his kingdom, including the rule of the magoi that he overthrew. There have been intrigues, attempted assassinations, and he believes it best to make sure that people who come are well screened. Verse 12]
Esther 4:12 So they told Mordecai Esther's words.
Esther 4:13 ¶ And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews.
Esther 4:14 "For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Esther 4:15 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai:
Esther 4:16 "Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!"
Esther 4:17 So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.
Esther 5:1 Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, across from the king's house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.
Esther 5:2 So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter.
Esther 5:3 And the king said to her, "What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you — up to half the kingdom!"
Esther 5:4 So Esther answered, "If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him."
Esther 5:5 Then the king said, "Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said." So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared.
Esther 5:6 ¶ At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, "What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!"
Esther 5:7 Then Esther answered and said, "My petition and request is this:
Esther 5:8 "If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said."
Esther 5:9 ¶ So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai.
Esther 5:10 Nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh.
Esther 5:11 Then Haman told them of his great riches, the multitude of his children, everything in which the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and servants of the king.
Esther 5:12 Moreover Haman said, "Besides, Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to the banquet that she prepared; and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king.
Esther 5:13 "Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."
Esther 5:14 Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet." And the thing pleased Haman; so he had the gallows made.
Esther 6:1 That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.
Esther 6:2 And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus.
Esther 6:3 Then the king said, "What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?" And the king's servants who attended him said, "Nothing has been done for him."
Esther 6:4 ¶ So the king said, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the king's palace to suggest that the king hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.
[I just love the Lord's irony here.]
Esther 6:5 The king's servants said to him, "Haman is there, standing in the court." And the king said, "Let him come in."
Esther 6:6 So Haman came in, and the king asked him, "What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?" Now Haman thought in his heart, "Whom would the king delight to honor more than me?"
Esther 6:7 And Haman answered the king, "For the man whom the king delights to honor,
Esther 6:8 "let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head.
Esther 6:9 "Then let this robe and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that he may array the man whom the king delights to honor. Then parade him on horseback through the city square, and proclaim before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!' "
Esther 6:10 Then the king said to Haman, "Hurry, take the robe and the horse, as you have suggested, and do so for Mordecai the Jew who sits within the king's gate! Leave nothing undone of all that you have spoken."
Esther 6:11 So Haman took the robe and the horse, arrayed Mordecai and led him on horseback through the city square, and proclaimed before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!"
Esther 6:12 ¶ Afterward Mordecai went back to the king's gate. But Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered.
Esther 6:13 When Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him, his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, "If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him but will surely fall before him."
Esther 6:14 While they were still talking with him, the king's eunuchs came, and hastened to bring Haman to the banquet which Esther had prepared.
Esther 7:1 So the king and Haman went to dine with Queen Esther.
Esther 7:2 And on the second day, at the banquet of wine, the king again said to Esther, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!"
Esther 7:3 Then Queen Esther answered and said, "If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request.
Esther 7:4 "For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king's loss."
Esther 7:5 ¶ So King Ahasuerus answered and said to Queen Esther, "Who is he, and where is he, who would dare presume in his heart to do such a thing?"
Esther 7:6 And Esther said, "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman!" So Haman was terrified before the king and queen.
Esther 7:7 ¶ Then the king arose in his wrath from the banquet of wine and went into the palace garden; but Haman stood before Queen Esther, pleading for his life, for he saw that evil was determined against him by the king.
Esther 7:8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the place of the banquet of wine, Haman had fallen across the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, "Will he also assault the queen while I am in the house?" As the word left the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.
Esther 7:9 Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, "Look! The gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king's behalf, is standing at the house of Haman." Then the king said, "Hang him on it!"
Esther 7:10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king's wrath subsided.
Esther 8:1 On that day King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her.
Esther 8:2 So the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai; and Esther appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman.
Esther 8:3 ¶ Now Esther spoke again to the king, fell down at his feet, and implored him with tears to counteract the evil of Haman the Agagite, and the scheme which he had devised against the Jews.
Esther 8:4 And the king held out the golden scepter toward Esther. So Esther arose and stood before the king,
Esther 8:5 and said, "If it pleases the king, and if I have found favor in his sight and the thing seems right to the king and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to annihilate the Jews who are in all the king's provinces.
Esther 8:6 "For how can I endure to see the evil that will come to my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my countrymen?"
Esther 8:7 ¶ Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew, "Indeed, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows because he tried to lay his hand on the Jews.
Esther 8:8 "You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's signet ring; for whatever is written in the king's name and sealed with the king's signet ring no one can revoke."
[By the way, this is in 508 BC.]
Esther 8:9 ¶ So the king's scribes were called at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and it was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all, to every province in its own script, to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language.
Esther 8:10 And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed it with the king's signet ring, and sent letters by couriers on horseback, riding on royal horses bred from swift steeds.
Esther 8:11 By these letters the king permitted the Jews who were in every city to gather together and protect their lives — to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them, both little children and women, and to plunder their possessions,
Esther 8:12 on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.
Esther 8:13 A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province and published for all people, so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.
Esther 8:14 The couriers who rode on royal horses went out, hastened and pressed on by the king's command. And the decree was issued in Shushan the citadel.
Esther 8:15 ¶ So Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.
Esther 8:16 The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor.
Esther 8:17 And in every province and city, wherever the king's command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.
Esther 9:1 Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king's command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.
Esther 9:2 The Jews gathered together in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could withstand them, because fear of them fell upon all people.
Esther 9:3 And all the officials of the provinces, the satraps, the governors, and all those doing the king's work, helped the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai fell upon them.
Esther 9:4 For Mordecai was great in the king's palace, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces; for this man Mordecai became increasingly prominent.
Esther 9:5 Thus the Jews defeated all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, with slaughter and destruction, and did what they pleased with those who hated them.
Esther 9:6 And in Shushan the citadel the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men.
Esther 9:7 Also Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha,
Esther 9:8 Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha,
Esther 9:9 Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vajezatha —
Esther 9:10 the ten sons of Haman the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews — they killed; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.
Esther 9:11 ¶ On that day the number of those who were killed in Shushan the citadel was brought to the king.
Esther 9:12 And the king said to Queen Esther, "The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the citadel, and the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king's provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted to you. Or what is your further request? It shall be done."
Esther 9:13 Then Esther said, "If it pleases the king, let it be granted to the Jews who are in Shushan to do again tomorrow according to today's decree, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged on the gallows."
Esther 9:14 So the king commanded this to be done; the decree was issued in Shushan, and they hanged Haman's ten sons.
Esther 9:15 ¶ And the Jews who were in Shushan gathered together again on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and killed three hundred men at Shushan; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.
Esther 9:16 ¶ The remainder of the Jews in the king's provinces gathered together and protected their lives, had rest from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of their enemies; but they did not lay a hand on the plunder.
Esther 9:17 This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. And on the fourteenth day of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9:18 ¶ But the Jews who were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day, as well as on the fourteenth; and on the fifteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9:19 Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.
Esther 9:20 ¶ And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus,
Esther 9:21 to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar,
Esther 9:22 as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.
Esther 9:23 So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,
Esther 9:24 because Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot), to consume them and destroy them;
Esther 9:25 but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.
Esther 9:26 ¶ So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them,
Esther 9:27 the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time,
Esther 9:28 that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants.
Esther 9:29 ¶ Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim.
Esther 9:30 And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth,
Esther 9:31 to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had prescribed for them, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants concerning matters of their fasting and lamenting.
Esther 9:32 So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book.*
Esther 10:1 And King Ahasuerus imposed tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea.
Esther 10:2 Now all the acts of his power and his might, and the account of the greatness of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?
Esther 10:3 For Mordecai the Jew was second to King Ahasuerus, and was great among the Jews and well received by the multitude of his brethren, seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.
This sets the context for Nehemiah's request to go to Israel in 502. And Nehemiah 2:6 probably gives the last reference to Esther in the bible when Nehemiah records: Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), "How long will your journey be? And when will you return?" So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
Marvelous providence of God! There are no mistakes. We can trust Him. I know this has been a lot to swallow in one day, and it has been a rather odd sermon, but I hope it will whet your appetite for what God has in store for us from this marvelous book on Providence. Amen. Let's pray.
This sermon has the disadvantages of lacking polished homiletical form. However, it was necessary to establish the background for the rest of the series. It is offered ‘as is' with the hopes that it will stir up a desire to study this great book of Esther.
Which Ahasuerus Reigns in Esther?
© 2002 by Phillip G. Kayser
Most modern scholars identify the Ahasuerus of Esther as Xerxes I based on three evidences: 1) the similarity of a Persian name/title found on an inscription in Persepolis and said to be the "son of Darius." 2) Xerxes was present in Persia during the third and seventh years, and his need to gain support for his war against Greece could easily explain the need for such a massive feast in his third year. 3) His personality (such as his temper, womanizing, flamboyance) seems to meet the personality of the man in this book. However, as will be seen by the following evidence, only Darius Hystaspes meets all of the evidence presented in Esther.
The following kings have all been placed as candidates for the Ahasuerus of Esther by various scholars.
1. Astyages (575-540 B.C.)
2. Cyrus (539-530 B.C.)
3. Cambyses (530-522 B.C.)
4. Darius Hystaspes (522-486 B.C.)
5. Xerxes (486-464 B.C.)
6. Artaxerxes Longimanus (464-423 B.C.)
As we look at the Biblical descriptions of Ahasuerus, it can be helpful to strike through a name when solid evidence against him is found, to put an "x" ()beside the name if there is strong evidence against him (but not conclusive) and to put a checkmark ()beside the name if there is strong evidence in favor of a given candidate. In this way, the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates can be seen visually on the chart at the end of the study.
Biblical Criteria Which Must Be Met
###1. There must be evidence that the candidate is called "Ahasuerus." Verse 1 says, Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus… This is perhaps the strongest argument for Xerxes, and we will spend more time discussing this point. Georg Friedrich Grotefend in the early 1800's was able to decipher the Persian characters on an artifact that was found in the ruins of Persepolis. And on that artifact was written either the title or the name of the "son" of Darius. It was deciphered as Khshayarsha, which is old Persian. Since Darius' son was Xerxes, Grotefend transposed this into Greek as Xerxes. When khshayarsha is transposed into Hebrew, it becomes almost letter for letter Akhashverosh, which is rendered Ahasuerus in English. Therefore (based on this ancient artifact) Ahasuerus is identified as Xerxes.
However, there are three problems with this theory. First, the writer of Esther obviously believed that there was more than one Ahasuerus in this general time period and he therefore felt compelled to give additional identifiers to narrow down the candidates to one ("this was the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia, over one hundred and twenty seven provinces"). The author obviously does not believe the title Ahasuerus settles the identity by itself. Nor should we.
The second problem with this theory is that the Persian and Hebrew for Ahasuerus is made up of two words represented by the English "aha" (which means "mighty") and "suerus" (which means "king" or "Shaw"). So in translating it into the Greek name "Xerxes" it leaves out the "aha" or the "mighty." Therefore other scholars have advanced an alternate theory that I believe is far more plausible: that the Persian should be translated as "artaxerxes" or "mighty king." This alternate theory is supported by the fact that the Greek Septuagint translation of Esther consistently uses the term "Artaxerxes" to translate "Ahasuerus." The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, also translated Ahasuerus as "Artaxerxes." This ancient artifact could therefore have been referring to Darius's grandson, Artaxerxes (which meets the ancient useage of "son") or could simply have been one of several titles for Xerxes. (We will therefore give a checkmark to both Xerxes and Artaxerxes.)
A third problem with making Xerxes the only possible fit is that other kings are clearly called "Ahasuerus." (For example, Daniel 9:1 clearly calls the father of Darius the Mede "Ahasuerus.") But more to the point, Darius deserves a checkmark since he is identified in ancient literature as Ahasuerus (1 Esdras 3:1-2). I don't think we can rule out any of the other names based on this argument, because that is an argument from silence.
The second clue given in verse 1 is that the particular Ahasuerus he is talking about reigned over India (1:1). This rules out candidates 1-3 since India wasn't conquered until Darius Hystaspis took it over in 506 B.C. This is one strike against each of the first three candidates (Astyages, Cyrus, Cambyses).
The third clue is that he reigned over Ethiopia (1:1). This rules out candidates 1-2 because it wasn't until Cambyses that Ethiopia and Egypt were conquered.
The fourth clue is that he reigned over 127 provinces. The only ancient historical reference to any of these kings having 127 provinces or satrapies is 1 Esdras 3:1-2 (written in the second century BC), and the emperor there is clearly identified as "Darius." The most Faulstich can establish for Astyages is 120 (based on his reconstruction of Darius the Mede in Daniel 5:30ff). Daniel 6:1 says that during the time of Darius/Cyrus, there were only 120 satrapies or provinces. Cambyses added two provinces: Ethiopia and Egypt. Darius added five during his conquests which brings it up to the 127 satrapies ascribed to Darius in Esdras. But Xerxes lost some provinces at the very beginning of his reign and never regained the number that were under his father's rule. In fact, the only historical mentions that we have of provinces under Xerxes and Artaxerxes is far below the 127 figure. Since the writer of Esther clearly believes that only one "Ahasuerus" fits the profile he has painted, it is not an argument from silence to strike all other contenders. Only Darius fits. Even Xerxes advocates admit that "the empire reached its peak organization and power under Darius I."
###5. Verse 2 gives another clue: in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shusan the citadel. Commentaries are generally agreed that Darius was the first one to build a palace in Shushan. Certainly the ancient author Pliny says that he was the one who built it. So this rules out anyone before Darius and it rules out anyone after Artaxerxes since the citadel burned down in his reign within 30 years of Esther. Only Xerxes, Darius and Artaxerxes fit this evidence.
###6. But I'm not going to put a checkmark besides Xerxes and Artaxerxes because they do not fit the profile for the useage of this palace. Kings after Darius never summered in Sushan because it was too hot, and later in his reign (once the palace in Persepolis was built), Darius didn't either. But during regnal years 1-12 (the history of this book) Darius was in Shushan rather than Persepolis. Though most time references in the book of Esther are winter or spring (and thus would fit Xerxes and Artaxerxes habit of only wintering in Susa), chapter 8 shows an ongoing presence in Shushan during the summer months (8:9,15). While this evidence is only circumstantial and therefore does not rule out Xerxes, it definitely deserves a check mark in favor of Darius.
###7. Another hint which is not definitive, but which favors Darius is that verses 2-3 seem to imply that King Ahasuerus was king before he sat on the throne of his kingdom, and that he so sat in Shushan only in his third year. There are two possible explanations to this language. a) This may simply be a reference to the fact that the palace was being built during his first two years, and so it wasn't ready to be a place of business until year three. b) It may also be a reference to his being away in battle. Notice that the word "that" in the beginning of verse 3 is in italics, meaning that it isn't in the Hebrew. So if we take the "that" out and remove the parenthetical statement of where the throne was, it would read, "he sat on the throne of his kingdom in the third year of his reign… " This also fits Darius whose whole kingdom was in revolt from the moment he became king. He spent his first two years reconquering the whole kingdom. He didn't actually get to sit on the throne in Shushan to rule until year three. On either interpretation, the year three is significant because history tells us that he only "sat on the throne… in Shushan… in the third year of his reign."
###8. However, to be fair to Xerxes, though he was in Shushan during the first three years, both the third and the seventh year presence in Shushan fits Xerxes' chronology very well. Both Darius and Xerxes were on campaigns immediately after each event. Therefore another checkmark to both based on time table.
###9. Verse 3 gives another hint. It speaks of the power of Persia and Media (see also 1:14,18,19). This indicates a time when the Persians were dominant (i.e, Cyrus and later). Earlier, when the Medes were dominant, they were referred to as the Medes and the Persians or Media and Persia (see Daniel 5:28; 6:8,12,15; 8:20). This would rule against Astyages (a Mede). (If it is objected that Esther 10:1 reverses this order, it should be remembered that this is a reference to the ancient chronicles of the "kings of Media and Persia" and the chronicles would reflect the fact that Media came first. To me this is only circumstantial, so I won't mark out any names, but I will put an "x" beside Astyages.
###10. Esther 1:14 refers to seven princes who ruled with Ahasuerus and were in his presence. It says, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king's presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom. This rules out anyone before Darius since this custom began with him. In order to gain the country he had to enter into an agreement with seven noblemen, and as part of the pact, they were his advisors and shared power. So another checkmark for Darius.
###10. Esther 10:1 says, And King Ahasuerus imposed tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. This clearly rules out everyone before Darius because historical records indicate that he was the first to exact tribute.
###11. But this verse also rules out Xerxes since this imposition of tribute is clearly some time after the 12th year of Ahasuerus. First, Xerxes didn't impose tribute or begin it. He just continued receiving tribute that started with his father. Secondly, Xerxes could not collect any tribute from the islands after the twelfth year because he lost those islands completely before his twelfth year. This is a strike against all candidates since only Clazomene and Cyprus held these islands after Xerxes.
###12. The king of Esther reigns at least 12-13 years (see 3:7), though chapter 10 implies a long period after the twelfth year. This rules out Cyrus who only ruled for 9 years (11 if he is also Darius the Mede). It also rules out Cambyses since he only ruled 8 years. The only candidates who meet this criterion are Darius Hystaspes (a reign of 36 years), Xerxes (a reign of 21 years) and Artaxerxes (a reign of 41 years).
###13. 1 Esdras 3:1-2 has a close parallel with Esther 1:1 and identifies the king as Darius. Though written as background to a different story, this ancient historical record says, "Now King Darius gave a great banquet for all that were under him and all that were born in his house and all the nobles of Media and Persia and all the satraps and generals and governors that were under him in the 127 satrapies from India to Ethiopia." This is striking testimony to the identity of Ahasuerus
###14. Esther 2:5-7. Now in Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconoiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. Even the strongest Xerxes advocate will admit that the Hebrew here favors the idea that it was Mordecai who was taken into captivity, not his ancestor Kish. However, this is impossible on a Xerxes interpretation because of the age of Esther. Even if Mordecai was an infant when he was carried into exile, he would still be a minimum of 113 years old at the beginning of the story and 125 years old when he is promoted to the position of prime minister. But think of how old Esther would be! Even if she was 65 years younger than her uncle, (not impossible), she would still be a minumum of 55 years old when she won the beauty contest. It is only the absurdity of her age that makes this translation mandated by Xerxes advocates. Floyd Nolan Jones says, "Only by a tortured, forced grammatical construction could this sentence ever be applied to his Great Grandfather Kish." Furthermore, the "he" in verse 7 would naturally in the Hebrew refer to the same "who" of verse 6. So if they are right, then this would make Kish the one who brought up Hadassah. So the pronouns in both verses 6 and 7 have to be changed from what one would expect to fit a Xerxes interpretation. James Jordan says, "Thus, most commentators argue that it is not Mordecai but Kish who was taken into captivity. This is, however, impossible grammatically." I am not enough of a Hebrew scholar to say it is impossible, but almost all commentators acknowledge that the Hebrew is most naturally translated as Mordecai being in the exile under Jeconiah. Thus, age alone would militate against Xerxes. On the Darius view, using the same generous figures we gave to Xerxes, Esther would be 17 years old. This warrants a strike against Xerxes and Artaxerxes.
###15. If Xerxes were the Ahasuerus of Esther, it is hard to see how Vashti and Esther fit in. Xerxes queen was Amestris. According to Herodotus, Amestris was Xerxes' Queen before his third year (which rules out her being Esther) and she continued in that role after the third year – even accompanying him for the three year campaign against the Greeks (which rules out her being Esther). Furthermore, it is hard to see how Amestris (a debauched, cruel and sadistic woman) could be Esther either in time frame or in personality. This has been acknowledged as a major weakness for the Xerxes view.
Artaxerxes has evidence of a Jewish concubine, but not of a queen. It must be admitted that there is no external evidence of a Jewish queen with any of the candidates.
However, Darius fits the evidence much better than Xerxes does: 1) First, Brosius demonstrates that after Darius, the Archemenid kings no longer married women of other nationalities, but restricted their choices to the Persian nobility. While Esther's nationality was not known, she would not have been confused with the Persian nobility, and it is hard to believe that they wouldn't have inquired into her nationality from Xerxes on. 2) Second, according to Herodotus, Darius had two wives that meet the time requirements of Esther: Atossa and Artystone. 3) Third, according to Herodotus, Artystone replaces Atossa (though Brosius has questions about Herodotus' accuracy on names and times). 4) Fourth, the second queen was loved by Darius more than all the other wives and concubines that he had. He even built a solid gold statue of her. (On Ahasuerus' love for Esther, see Esther 2:17.) 5) Fifth, Esther's first name "Hadassah" is very similar in spelling to the first queen's name which could be rendered "Hatossah." This may be sheer coincidence, as the order of queens is not right. However, Brosius points out that Herodotus (who was not in Persia) tended to get the women's names and times mixed up. It is possible that he reversed the names. 6) Sixth, intensive studies of the literature found at the ruins of Persepolis show that there is no trace of the first queen. The Greek's alone mention her. Is it possible that her name and existence was expunged from records because of the anger of the King against Vashti? Jona Lendering says, "Atossa is conspicuously absent from all tablets found at Persepolis, which suggests that she died before 515." This fits the biblical evidence perfectly since the seventh year of king Darius (2:16) would be 515 B.C. While the evidence for Hadassah/Esther is not conclusive, it definitely favors Darius. However, despite the four favorable points, I will give an "x" against Darius based on the testimony of Herodotus that the second queen was a daughter of Cyrus.
###16. Though there are personality evidences that fit Xerxes (tyrant, anger, womanizing, flamboyance) these characteristics were in some measure in Darius as well. Furthermore, Darius had a reputation as a "huckster… for Darius looked to make a gain in everything." This fits Haman's appeal to place 10,000 talents of silver into Darius' coffers (3:9), and Esther's appeal that if the Jews are killed "the enemy could never compensate for the king's loss" (7:4). However, personality issues are too subjective and easily manipulated, so I don't give credit to anyone on this point. Probably any candidate could fit this evidence.
###17. The large banquet in year three can easily be explained by both a Xerxes advocate and a Darius advocate. Both needed support for their campaigns in the next year, Xerxes against the Greeks and Darius against the Egyptians. But there are two additional facts about Darius that make the third year fascinating: 1) Darius has been reconquering the kingdom for the first two years, so this may also be a celebration of having established his throne. 2) Darius' third year (519 BC) was the year that Xerxes, the heir apparent, was born. This party may have also been a huge birth party for Xerxes. 3) This was a new palace that was being built during his first two years. This is the first year that events could be orchestrated out of Sushan anyway. So there are three reasons why year three fits Darius perfectly. A checkmark for both Xerxes and Darius.
###18. If Darius is Ahasuerus (1 Esdras 3:1-2), and if Ahasuerus is equivalent to the Greek Artaxerxes (see point 1), then (as Anstey, Sir Isaac Newton, Bishop Usher, James Jordan and others point out), the Artaxerxes of Ezra/Nehemiah could be Darius. This identification solves a major problem that has plagued establishment chronologies of Ezra/Nehemiah. Instead of there being two priests by the name of Ezra separated by 90 years, and two Nehemiah's who were civil leaders separated by 90 years, and several names of other individuals in the genealogies that are separated by 90 years, there would be one Ezra and one Nehemiah at the same time period and a beautiful harmony of the geneaologies. Furthermore, it would be likely that Mordecai had already returned to Israel along with Nehemiah in the first year of Cyrus (Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah 7:7). This would make Mordecai 61 years old when he first came to Israel. It is possible that during this time he adopted Hadassah. And Mordecai would then parallel Nehemiah in a number of ways.
- Both worked for the Persian government and therefore had connections.
- Both had permission to go to Israel to help establish that fledgling state. 3) Both had to return to Persia to work for another Persian king.
- Both continued to have an intense interest in the state of Israel and God's people worldwide. 5) Both had a prophetic gift and wrote a book of the bible. On the authorship of Esther, see separate handout.
###19. A. Ungnad published an inscription from Borsippa written in cuneiform text that refers to a Mordecai (Marduka) who lived in the royal court in Susa during the reigns of Darius and at least into the third year of Xerxes. Stafford Wright and Yamauchi believe that the evidence strongly favors the Biblical Mordecai since it would be unlikely two people with the same name would appear without some distinction being made. Both archeology and strong rabbinic tradition would place Mordecai as living throughout the reign of Darius and dying part way into the reign of Xerxes. Checkmark for Darius.
Some people may question whether I was too hard on other candidates on a couple of issues. That is possible. On other points, some people may question whether I was too generous to the other candidates. That too is possible. The graphical chart that follows is simply my attempt to come to conclusions as I was sorting through the enormous amount of material on the subject. I started as a Xerxes advocate, quickly became convinced that he did not fit, began to be interested in other alternatives as I read Faulstich's intriguing defence of Asytages, and from that point on simply let the evidence dictate where I would land. For most of my study I had no idea where I would land. I am now convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that Darius is the Ahasuerus of Esther. I hope the reader can see that the evidence overwhelmingly favors him. But even if the reader is not so convinced, perhaps this exercise that I went through can aid him or her in their own studies. Amen.
##Relative Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Candidate
Astyages (575-540 B.C.)
Cyrus (539-530 B.C.)
Cambyses (530-522 B.C.)
Darius Hystaspes (522-486 B.C.)
(1 out of 5 evidences on queen don't fit – name & ancestry given by Herodotus to 2nd queen)
Xerxes (486-464 B.C.)
Artaxerxes Longimanus (464-423 B.C.)
Arguments for Darius being Ahasuerus of Esther
Esther 1:14 mentions "the seven princes of Persia and Media." Darius began the custom of having seven counselors. Mark against 1-3.
Esther 1:14. Notice the order of "Persia and Media" (cf. 1:3,18,19). Before Cyrus the Medes were dominant and the Scripture refers to them as "the Medes and the Persians" (cf. And. 6). Not until Cyrus' first year did the Persians gain ascendancy over the Medes. Mark against 1.
Esther 1:1 says this king reigned over Ethiopia. This marks out 1-2 because it wasn't until Cambyses that Ethiopia and Egypt were conquered.
Same passage also says that he ruled over India. This rules out 1-3 because India wasn't conquered until Darius Hystaspis (506).
Under Darius the Mede there were 120 satrapies (Dan. 6:1), and under this king there are 127 (Est 1:1). Between the two kings the satrapies increased, but it was not until the twelfth year of Darius that all 127 were in place. For sure this is a strike against 1 & 5. Under Xerxes the number of provinces controlled by Persia began to decrease.
Esther 10:1 says that this king laid tribute upon the land and upon the Isles of the Sea. Rules out 1-3 since Darius was the first to exact tribute.
It also rules out 5-6 since Xerxes actually lost the isles by his 12th year. Esther 10 says that it was in the 13th year that tribute began.
Chose the city of Susa or Shushan to build his palace according to Pliny. This rules out anyone before Darius. Mark against 1-3.
Though there are character traits that could fit Xerxes, they could equally well fit Darius. For example, Darius was known for his greed. Heroduts called Darius a "huckster" "for Darius looked to make a gain in everything. This fits with Haman offering to pay the Monarch 10,000 talents of silver and fits Esther appealing to the loss of revenue to the kingdom should the Israelites be killed.
In the reliable historical book, 1 Esdras 3:1-2, we have the following account of Darius: "Now King Darius gave a great banquet for all that were under him and all that were born in his house and all the nobles of Media and Persia and all the satraps and generals and governors that were under him in the 127 satrapies from India to Ethiopia."
The age of Mordecai and Esther rules out anyone later than Darius. Conservatives have recognized the problem and have tried a difficult translation such as the NKJV has – that it was Kish, not Mordecai who was taken captive under Jeconiah. Quotes. Jones says, "Only by a tortured, forced grammatical construction could this sentence ever be applied to his Great Grandfather Kish." If Mordecai was taken into exile, he would have been 78 in the first chapter of Esther and 87 at the end rather than 125 years old when promoted to the position of prime minister.
This chronology solves major problems in Ezra and Nehemiah where both are either made to be incredibly old or where (as most say) there are two different Ezras and two different Nehemiahs
He has to be available in the third year for a half year feast. This rules out Astyages who only ruled in Persia for two years, though he did rule in Media.
The only good argument for Xerxes comes from Georg Friedrich Grotefend's decipheration of the Persian characters found in the ruins of Persepolis. The name of the son of Darius Hystaspis was deciphered as Khshayarsha, which is old Persian. Grotefend translated this into Greek as Xerxes. When khshayarsha is transposed into Hebrew, it becomes almost letter for letter Akhashverosh, which is rendered Ahasuerus in English. The problem with this is that Ahasuerus is made up of two words "aha" which means "mighty" and Suerus" which means "king. Mighty king. So in translating it into Xerxes it leaves out the aha or the mighty. Jones says that it should have literally been translated as "artaxerxes." This could be a reference to Darius's grandson, artaxerxes and had nothing to do with Xerxes.
There was something special going on in the third year of this king's reign. Xerxes fits this beautifully in that he was gearing up for a campaign against the Greeks and he needed the support of his princes. But it fits the chronology of Darius as well. Darius spent the first two years of his reign putting down rebellions, and a feast in the third year fits perfectly. It would have finally been a celebration of having put down nine attempted overthrows of the kingdom and numerous rebellions in the empire. Once it was consolidated, it was time to celebrate and show forth his power.
Likewise waiting till the seventh year for the wedding search fits Xerxes. He had come home wasted in his war with Greece. He lost badly and could have been comforting himself during this time.
James Jordan says, "we have seen that Darius is called Artaxerxes in Ezra-Nehemiah. In the apocraphyl additions to Esther, and in the Greek Septuagint throughout, Esther's king is called Artaxerxes.
Xerxes queen according to secular history absolutely does not fit into the chronology or the description of this book. This has been a lingering mystery to many conservative scholars. Amestris was the daughter of a nobleman, not in any way a Jewess. If she was Amestris, then Esther was a cruel and sadistic woman who personally mutilated and humiliated other women. Furthermore, unless Esther only lived for a few years and Amestris came back into power, it doesn't fit the chronology well.
Khshayarsha = Akhashverosh [Ahasuerus] = Xerxes
(Persian) (Hebrew letters) [English letters] (Greek)
Khsha yarsha = Akha shverosh [Aha Suerus] = Arta Xerxes
(Mighty King) = (Mighty King) [Mighty King] = Mighty King
(Persian) (Hebrew letters) [English letters] (Greek) ↩
Herodotus, the Histories, 4 vols., Loeb Classical Library, III & IV. ↩
Herodotus, III. ↩
Herodotus, III ↩
Jordan, Biblical Chronology Newsletter, #8/07, p 3 says, "Darius's fleet took the islands of Samos, Chios, and Lesbos, and the rest of the islands in 496 B.C. (Herodotus, Book 6). In 3:89-97, Herodotus states that these islands paid tribute to Darius. Herodotus adds, ‘Later on in his reign the sum was increased by the tribute from the Islands and of the nations of Europe as far as Thessaly (3:96). Thucydides (Book 1) and Plato (Menexenus) say that Darius subdued all the islands in the Aegean Sea, and Diodorus Siculus (Book 12) says that these were all lost again by his son Xerxes before the 12th year of his reign, which eliminates the possibility that Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of Esther." ↩
Mervin Breneman, the New American Commetary, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, p. 278 ↩
Pliny, Natural History, Vol. XX, Loeb Classical Library, VI, p.
See G. L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: University Pres, 1948), p. 168. ↩
Sivan 23 would have been June 25 if this was Xerxes reign, and would have been late June or early July in the reigns of any of the other kings. ↩
Polyaenus, Stratagematum, (Chicago, IL. Arest Pub., 1974), Book 7,11 as cited by Floyd Nolan Jones, p. 212. ↩
See Anstey, The Romance of Bible Chronology, p. 242 ↩
Xenophon, Hellenica, Vol. I, Loeb Classical Library, Book V. ↩
Brosius, Maria, Women in Ancient Persia, Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996 . Lynn E. Roller (University of California) says, "Darius's successors, who ruled a stable empire which was no longer expanding, made their marriage alliances with families of Persian nobles only; the kings no longer contracted marriages with non-Persian women, even noble women, but kept these women only as concubines." ↩
Jona Leverding, Livius, under "Atossa." ↩
Herodotus, the Histories, III., 89, ↩
Though see the reservations of Carey A. Moore (ed), Studies in the Book of Esther, (KTAV Publishing House: New York, 1982), p. L. ↩
On the rabbinic evidence, see the article in the Jewish Encyclopedia under "Mordecai." The authors say, "But all the Rabbis agree that Mordecai was a prophet and that he prophesied in the second year of Darius (Meg. 10b, 15a; ?ul. 139b)." On the archeological Mordecai, see Von A. Ungnad, "Keilinshchriftliche Beitrage zum Buch Esra und Ester," as reprinted in Carey A. Moore, Studies in the Book of Esther, (KTAV Publishing Houzse: New York, 1982), pp. 356-3609. ↩