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Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, [1831], at

Esther Introduction


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Introduction to the Book of Esther

The son and successor of the famous Persian king Xerxes was Artaxerxes, surnamed Longimanus, or, in Persian, Ardsheer Diraz dest, the long-handed Ardshur. This prince, on coming to the throne, had powerful opponents and competitors in the children of Artabanus, uncle to Xerxes, and in his own brother Hystaspes. The former, and their adherents, he overthrew in a bloody battle; and in the following year obtained a complete victory over his brother, and totally subdued the Bactrians, who had espoused his cause: and thus rendered himself the undisputed possessor of the Persian empire. About his third year, which was 462 before Christ, the history of Esther begins, which, in its connection with the Persian history, is thus ably introduced by Dr. Prideaux: -

"After Artaxerxes had obtained these successes, and thereby firmly settled himself in the peaceable possession of the whole Persian empire, (Esther 1), he appointed a solemn rejoicing on this account: and caused it to be celebrated in the city of Shushan, or Susa, in feastings and shows, for the term of a hundred and eighty days; on the conclusion of which he gave a great feast for all the princes and people that were then in Shushan, for seven days; and Vashti, the queen, at the same time, made a like feast in her apartment for the women. On the seventh day, the king's heart being merry with wine, he commanded the seven chamberlains to bring Queen Vashti before him, with the crown royal on her head, that he might show to the princes and people her beauty. But for her thus to show herself in such an assembly being contrary to the usage of the Persians, and appearing to her, as indeed it was, very indecent, and much unbecoming the modesty of a lady, as well as the dignity of her station, she refused to comply, and would not come; whereon the king, being very much incensed, called his seven counsellors to take advice with them about it, who, fearing this might be a bad example through the whole empire, in encouraging women to contemn and disobey their husbands, advised that the king should put Vashti away for ever from him, and give her royal state to another, that should be better than her; and by his royal edict, give command throughout the whole empire that all wives should pay honor and obedience to their husbands, and that every man should rule absolutely in his own house. Which advice pleasing the king, he commanded it accordingly to be put in execution; and Vashti never more after that came again into the king's presence: for the decree whereby she was removed from him was registered among the laws of the Medes and Persians, and therefore it could never again be altered. After this, orders were given out through the whole empire for the gathering together at the palace at Shushan all the fair virgins in every province, that out of them one might be chosen whom the king should best like to be made queen in her place. At the time when this collection of virgins was made, (Esther 2), there lived in Shushan a certain Jew named Mordecai, who was of the descendants of those who had been carried captive to Babylon with Jeconiah king of Judah, and, by his attendance at the king's gate, seems to have been one of the porters of the royal palace. He, having no children, did bring up Hadassah, his uncle's daughter, and adopted her as his own. This young woman, being very beautiful and fair, was made choice of among other virgins on this occasion; and was carried to the king's palace, and there committed to the care of Hege, the king's chamberlain, who was appointed to have the custody of these virgins; whom she pleased so well by her good carriage, that he showed her favor before all the other virgins under his care; and therefore he assigned her the best apartment of the house, and provided her first with those things that were requisite for her purification: for the custom was, that every virgin thus taken into the palace for thee king's use was to go through a course of purification, by sweet oils and perfumes, for a whole year; and therefore Hadassah, having been, by the favor of the chamberlain, of the earliest provided with these things, was one of the first that was prepared and made ready for the king's bed, and therefore was one of the soonest that was called to it. The term, therefore, of her purification being accomplished, her turn came to go in unto the king; who was so much pleased with her that he often called her by name, which he used not to do but to those only of his women whom he was much delighted with. Esther growing still farther in the king's favor, and gaining his affections beyond all the rest of the women, (Esther 2), he advanced her to higher honor; and on the tenth day of the tenth month, which falls about the end of our year, did put the royal diadem upon her head, and declared her queen in the place of Vashti; and in consequence thereof, made a solemn feast for his princes and servants, which was called Esther's feast; and, in honor of her, at the same time made a release of taxes to the provinces, and gave donatives and presents to all that attended him, according to the grandeur and dignity of his royal estate. Haman, an Amalekite, of the posterity of Agag, who was king of Amalek, in the time of Saul, growing to be the chief favourite of King Artaxerxes, all the king's servants were commanded to pay reverence unto him, and bow before him; and all of them obeyed the king's order but Mordecai the Jew, who, sitting in the king's gate, according to his office, paid not any reverence to Haman at such times as he passed by into the palace, neither bowed he at all to him; at which, being told, he was exceedingly displeased: but scorning to lay hands on one man only, and being informed that he was a Jew, he resolved, in revenge of this affront, to destroy, not only him, but also his whole nation with him; and to this act he was not a little excited by the ancient enmity which was between them and the people of whom he was descended; and therefore, for the accomplishing of this design, on the first day of the first month, that is, in the month Nisan, he called together his diviners, to find out what day would be the most fortunate for the putting this plan into execution: and they having, according to the manner of divination then in use among those Eastern people, cast lots first upon each month, did thereby determine for the thirteenth day of the twelfth month following, called Adar, as the day which they judged would be the most lucky for the accomplishing of what he purposed: whereon he forthwith went in unto the king; and having insinuated to him that there was a certain people dispersed all over his empire who did not keep the king's laws, but followed laws of their own, diverse from the laws of all other people, to the disturbance of the good order of his kingdom, and the breach of that uniformity whereby it ought to be governed; and that, therefore, it was not for the king's profit that they should any longer be suffered; he proposed, and gave counsel that they should be all destroyed and extirpated out of the whole empire of Persia; and urged it as that which was necessary for the establishing of the peace and good order of his government: to which having gained the king's consent, and an order that on the thirteenth day of Adar following, according as was determined by the divination of the lots, it should be put in execution, he called the king's scribes together to write the decree; and it being drawn as he proposed, on the thirteenth day of the same month of Nisan copies thereof were written out, and sent into all the provinces of the empire, commanding the king's lieutenants, governors, and all other his officers in every one of them, to destroy, kill, and cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even on the thirteenth day of Adar following; and to take the spoil of them for a prey: which day was full eleven months after the date of the decree. The lot which seems to have pointed out that day appears to have been directed by the special providence of God, that so long a space intervening, there might be time enough to take such measures as should be proper to prevent the mischief intended. It is hard to find a reason for Mordecai's refusing to pay his respect to Haman, which may be sufficient to excuse him for thus exposing himself and all his nation to that destruction which it had like to have drawn upon them. That which is commonly said is, that it was the same adoration which was made to the king of Persia; and that, consisting in the bowing of the knee, and the prostration of the whole body to the ground, it was avoided by Mordecai, upon a notion which he had of its being idolatrous: but this being the common compliment paid to the kings of Persia, by all that were admitted into their presence, it was no doubt paid to this very king by Ezra and Nehemiah, when they had access to him, and after also by Mordecai himself; for otherwise he could not have obtained that admission into his presence, and that advancement in his palace, which was afterwards there granted unto him; and if it were not idolatrous to pay this adoration to the king, neither was it idolatrous to pay it to Haman. The Greeks would not pay this respect to the kings of Persia out of pride; and excepting Themistocles, and two or three others, none of them could ever be brought to it. I will not say that this was the case with Mordecai in respect to Haman: it seems most probable that it was from a cause that was personal in Haman only. Perhaps it was because Haman, being of the race of the Amalekites, he looked upon him as under the curse which God had denounced against that nation; and therefore thought himself obliged not to give that honor to him. And if all the rest of the Jews thought the same, this might seem reason enough to him to extend his wrath against the whole nation, and to meditate the destruction of them all in revenge. But whatever was the cause that induced Mordecai to refuse the payment of this respect to the king's favourite, this provoked that favourite to procure the decree above mentioned, for the utter extirpation of the whole Jewish nation in revenge for it. When Mordecai heard of this decree, he made great lamentation, as did also all the Jews of Shushan with him; and therefore, putting on sackcloth, he sat in this mournful garb without the king's gate, (for he would not be allowed to enter within it in that dress), which being told Esther, she sent to him to know what the matter was. Whereon Mordecai acquainted her with the whole state of the case; and sent her a copy of the decree, that she might fully see the mischief that was intended her people; to absolutely destroy them, and root them out from the face of the earth: and therefore commanded her forthwith to go in unto the king and make supplication for them. At first she excused herself, because of the law, whereby it was ordained that whosoever, whether man or woman, should come in unto the king in the inner court who was not called for, should be put to death, excepting such only to whom the king should hold out the golden scepter in his hand that he might live; and she was afraid of hazarding her life in this cause. Whereon Mordecai, sending to her, again told her, that the decree extended universally to all of her nation, without any exception, and that, if it came to execution, she must not expect to escape more than any other of her people; that Providence seemed to have advanced her on purpose for this work; but if she refused to act her part in it, then deliverance should come some other way, and she and her father's house should perish; for he was fully persuaded that God would not suffer his people to be thus totally destroyed.

"Whereon Esther, resolving to put her life on the hazard for the safety of her people, desired Mordecai that he and all the Jews then in Shushan should fast three days for her, and offer up prayer and humble supplication that God would prosper her in the undertaking: which being accordingly done, on the third day Esther put on her royal apparel and went in unto the king, while he was sitting upon his throne in the inner part of his palace. And as soon as he saw her standing in the court he showed favor unto her, and held out his golden scepter; and Esther, going near and touching the top of it, had thereby her life secured unto her: and when the king asked her what her petition was, at first she only desired that he and Haman would come to a banquet which she had prepared for him.

"And when Haman was called, and the king and he were at the banquet, he asked her again of her petition, promising it should be granted her to the half of his kingdom: but then she desired only that the king and Haman should come again to the like banquet on the next day, intimating that she would then make known her request unto him. Her intention in claiming thus to entertain the king twice at her banquet before she made known her petition unto him was, that thereby she might the more endear herself unto him, and dispose him the better to grant the request which she had to make unto him.

"Haman, being proud of the honor of being thus admitted alone with the king to the queen's banquet, went home to his house much puffed up: but on his return thither, seeing Mordecai sitting at the gate of the palace, and still refusing to bow unto him; this moved his indignation to such a degree, that on his coming to his house, and calling his friends about him to relate to them the great honor that was done to him by the king and queen, and the high advancement which he had obtained in the kingdom, he could not forbear complaining of the disrespect and affront that was offered him by Mordecai. Whereon they advised him to cause a gallows to be built of fifty cubits in height, and next morning to ask the king to have Mordecai hanged thereon: and accordingly he ordered the gallows immediately to be made; and went early the next morning to the palace, for the obtaining of the grant from the king to have Mordecai hanged on it. But that morning the king awaking sooner than ordinary, and not being able to compose himself again to sleep, he called for the book of the records and chronicles of the kingdom, and caused them to be read unto him; wherein finding an account of the conspiracy of Bigthan and Teresh, and that it was discovered by Mordecai the Jew, the king inquired what honor had been done to him for the same. And being told that nothing had been done for him, he inquired who was in the court; and being told that Haman was standing there, he ordered him to be called in, and asked of him what should be done to the man whom the king delighted to honor: whereon Haman, thinking this honor was intended for himself, gave advice that the royal apparel should be brought which the king used to wear, and the horse which he kept for his own riding, and the crown which used to be set upon his head; and that this apparel and horse should be delivered into the hands of one of the king's most noble princes, that he might array therewith the man whom the king delighted to honor, and bring him on horseback through the whole city, and proclaim before him 'Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor.' Whereon the king commanded him forthwith to take the apparel and horse, and do this to Mordecai the Jew, who sat in the king's gate, in reward for his discovery of the treason of the two eunuchs: all which Haman having been forced to do in obedience to the king's command, he returned with great sorrow to his house, lamenting the disappointment and great mortification he had met with in being thus forced to pay such signal honor to his enemy, whom he had intended to have hanged on the gallows which he had provided for him. And on his relating this to his friends, they all told him, that if this Mordecai were of the seed of the Jews, this bad omen foreboded that he should not prevail against them, but should surely fall before him. While they were thus talking, one of the queen's chamberlains came to Haman's house to hasten him to the banquet: and seeing the gallows which had been set up the night before, fully informed himself of the intent for which it was prepared. On the king's and Haman's sitting down to the banquet, the king asked again of Esther what was her petition, with like promise that it should be granted to her to the half of his kingdom: whereon she humbly prayed the king that her life might be given her on her petition, and her people at her request; for that a design was laid for the destruction of her and all her kindred and nation. At which the king asking, with much anger, who it was that durst do this thing, she told him that Haman then present was the author of the wicked plot; and laid the whole of it open to the king. Whereon the king rose up with much wrath from the banquet, and walked out into the garden adjoining; which Haman perceiving, he fell down before the queen upon the bed on which she was sitting, to supplicate for his life; in which posture the king having found him upon his return, spoke out in great passion, What, will he force the queen before me in the house? At which words the servants present immediately covered his face, as was then the usage to condemned persons; and the chamberlain, who had that day called Haman to the banquet, acquainting the king with the gallows he saw in his house there prepared for Mordecai, who had saved the king's life in detecting the treason of the two eunuchs, the king ordered that he should be forthwith hanged thereon, which was accordingly done; and all his house, goods, and riches, were given to Queen Esther; and she appointed Mordecai to be her steward to manage the same. On the same day the queen made the king acquainted with the relation which Mordecai had unto her; whereon the king took him into his favor, and advanced him to great power, riches, and dignity in the empire; and made him the keeper of his signet, in the same manner as Haman had been before. But still the decree for the destruction of the Jews remaining in its full force, the queen petitioned the king a second time to put away this mischief from them; but, according to the laws of the Medes and Persians, nothing being to be reversed which had been decreed and written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's seal, and the decree procured by Haman against the Jews having been thus written and sealed, it could not be recalled. All therefore that the king could do, in compliance with her request, was, to give the Jews, by a new decrees such a power to defend themselves against such as should assault them, as might render the former decree ineffectual: and for that end he bid Esther and Mordecai draw such a decree in words as strong as could be devised, that so the former might be hindered from being executed, though it could not be annulled. And therefore the king's scribes being again called on the twenty-third day of the third month, a new decree was drawn just two months and ten days after the former; wherein the king granted to the Jews, which were in every city of the Persian empire, full license to gather themselves together and stand for their lives; and to destroy, slay, and cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that should assault them, with their little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey. And this decree being written in the king's hand, and sealed with his seal, copies thereof were drawn out, and especial messengers were despatched with them into all the provinces of the empire.

"The thirteenth day of Adar drawing near, when the decree obtained by Haman for the destruction of the Jews was to be put into execution, their adversaries everywhere prepared to act against them, according to the contents of it: and the Jews, on the other hand, by virtue of the second decree which was obtained in their favor, by Esther and Mordecai, gathered themselves together in every city where they dwelt, throughout all the provinces of King Artaxerxes, to provide for their safety: so that on the said thirteenth of Adar, through the means of these two different and discordant decrees, a war was commenced between the Jews and their enemies throughout the whole Persian empire. But the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, the deputies, and the other officers of the king, knowing with what power Esther and Mordecai were then invested, through fear of them so favored the Jews, that they prevailed everywhere against those that rose against them; and on that day, throughout the whole empire, slew of their enemies seven thousand five hundred persons; and in the city of Shushan, on that day and the next, eight hundred more; among whom were the ten sons of Haman, whom by a special order from the king they caused all to be hanged; perhaps upon the same gallows on which Haman, their father, had been hanged before. These transactions took place in the thirteenth year of Artaxerxes, about four hundred and fifty-two years before Christ." The reader is requested to refer to the notes on all these passages.

"The Jews, being delivered thus from this dangerous design which threatened them with nothing less than total extirpation, made great rejoicings for it on the two days following, that is, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the said month Adar: and by the order of Esther and Mordecai these two days, with the thirteenth that preceded them, were set apart, and consecrated to be annually observed for ever after in commemoration thereof; the thirteenth as a fast, because of the destruction on that day intended to have been brought upon them, and the other two as a feast because of their deliverance from it; and both this fast and feast they constantly observe every year on those days, even to this time. The fast they call the fast of Esther; and the feast, the feast of Purim, from the Persian word Purim, which signifies lots; because it was by the casting of lots that Haman did set out this time for their destruction. This feast is the Bacchanals of the Jews, which they celebrate with all manner of rejoicing, mirth, and jollity; and therein indulge themselves in all manner of luxurious excesses, especially in drinking wine, even to drunkenness; which they think part of the duty of the solemnity, because it was by means of the wine banquet, they say, that Esther made the king's heart merry, and brought him into that good humor which inclined him to grant the request which she made unto him for their deliverance; and therefore they think they ought to make their hearts merry also, when they celebrate the commemoration of it. During this festival the book of Esther is solemnly read in all their synagogues from the beginning to the end; at which they are all to be present, men, women, children, and servants, because all these had their part in this deliverance which Esther obtained for them. And as often as the name of Haman occurs in the reading of this book, the usage is for them all to clap with their hands, and stamp with their feet, and cry out: Let his memory perish.

"This is the last feast of the year among them, for the next that follows is the Passover, which always falls in the middle of the month, which begins the Jewish year."

Next: Esther Chapter 1