THE VASHTI-ESTHER STORY

BY: KATHARINE C. BUSHNELL

CHAPTERS 1-6

CHAPTERS

TITLE

PAGE

 

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2

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4

5

6

INTRODUCTION

THE MESSAGE OF THE BOOK

THE STORY OF ESTHER

THE STORY OF ESTHER [continued]

THE FIRST ACROSTIC

THE ACROSTICS (2 TO 5)

NULLIFICATION

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2

4

6

8

10

11

 

INTRODUCTION

The author has been very much helped by The Companion Bible’s treatment of the book of Esther and has copied its method of exhibiting the acrostic in Esther as found in Appendix 60 of that valuable help in Bible study. This Companion Bible is not a commentary on the Bible of the ordinary sort, but it brings to light in critical notes much more material which is inaccessible anywhere else, even to Bible scholars of real erudition. As this Bible says of itself in its Preface: “The Work is a self-explanatory Bible designed for the general use of all English readers throughout the world.” Yet I sometimes dissent from the author’s conclusions. 

Should I stop at every occasion to give credit where I have gained help from this Bible and other works, my paper would be less interesting. I will only say that I have made free use of its help, particularly as to five acrostics in the book of Esther, which, so far as I know, have been overlooked by our Bible commentators and are not adequately explained even by the Companion Bible. These acrostics are, of course, in the Hebrew text and not in the English translation.

According to Webster, an acrostic is “A composition…in which one or more sets of letters, as the initial, middle or final letters of the line, when taken in order form words, phrases, etc.” The formed words in Esther are “Jehovah” four times and “I AM” once.  Acrostics using the Hebrew alphabet are present in a number of places in the Bible—notably Psalm 119 where the first section contains eight verses, which begin with “B,” and so on to the end of the Hebrew alphabet.

These acrostics authenticate the inspiration of this book and may have been discovered very long ago.  Certain manuscripts of the Hebrew texts distinguish the acrostic word “Jehovah” and place a circle around its four consonants, “Jhvh,” written in ancient Hebrew without vowels.

Who wrote the book of Esther? No one knows. I agree with those who say it was first written in the Persian language and later translated into Hebrew.  How else do we account for the personal names of Persian men, the names of chamberlains, wise men, and the ten sons of Haman, which have no interest for Jews? Suppose that at the time of the sacking of Shushan by Alexander the Great, 325 B.C. (See an encyclopedia under the name Susa), when, as Zoroastrians claim, many books by Zoaster were lost. Also, the original book of Esther in Hebrew was lost, but the story of Esther as written in state records for the Persian government was found in the Persian tongue?  Suppose, further, a devout Hebrew scribe of several centuries later than Esther’s time discovers this story among old Persian papers that had somehow reached Palestine, having been rescued when Shushan was looted.  Knowing the Persian tongue, he purposes to translate it into Hebrew since any other history no longer exists, except the yearly Feast of Purim to preserve by oral tradition this important account of Esther’s rescue of this nation from annihilation.

Suppose he is guided to make an exact rendering, not adding nor subtracting a word from Chapters 1:1-9:20, and then the translator adds his own notes in recapitulation for emphasis.  While he prayerfully and painstakingly makes his translation, he uses unconsciously and only occasionally a very apt word or phrase not current before the Maccabean age, but of his own age.

According to this conjecture, the name of the Hebrews’ God would not appear in the Persian document, and the translation would betray a tinge of recent composition. Now these two facts have puzzled Bible scholars and stirred up the question.  Is this book inspired, or is it an imposture?  The acrostics set a divine seal of authorization as to its right to a place among His inspired Scriptures, for God wrought with the translator while he worked.

A Persian government document regarding Esther would not give moral lessons like a Scripture narrative would, and the lack of such lessons is supplied to the Hebrew text by the four acrostics of the name “Jehovah.” (The “I AM” acrostic is unique and will be explained later.)

Each of these four “Jehovah” acrostics inform us of God’s attitude toward the event and whether He is for or against it, as well as the action He will take.  These points will be elucidated as we proceed.

CHAPTER ONE

THE MESSAGE OF THE BOOK

The book of Esther stands squarely against any such teaching of the right of one human being to override the conscience of another and against the “law” the seven “wise men” framed and King Ahasuerus proclaimed for his empire.  God set in action social forces that, for the time being, frustrated the operation of that particular law of the “Medes and Persians.”

The book of Esther is in the canon of the sacred Scriptures to teach us the inviolability of the human conscience. So far as the author knows, the message of the book of Esther, as a whole, has been overlooked, as though it were merely meant to account for the origin of the Jewish feast of Purim.  Or, it was simply meant to show how the Israelite nation was at one time saved from annihilation through the activity of a beautiful young queen.

The book informs us on these points and on many other useful ones.  As a whole and beginning with Vashti, it is well reasoned out to its end. Its lesson is the worth of conscience to God, as well as its worth to man. Vashti would not display her charms at a drunken feast. The Bible makes a point of the inebriated condition of the men.  AIl will agree with Dr. Adam Clarke’s eulogy of Vashti’s refusal from this portion of his Bible Commentary.

“Vashti refused to come. And much she should be commended for it. What woman, possessing even a common share of prudence and modesty, could consent to expose herself to the view of such a group of drunken Bacchanalians? Her courage was equal to her modesty; she would resist the royal mandate, rather than violate the rules of chaste decorum.

“Her contempt of worldly grandeur, when brought in competition with what every modest woman holds dear and sacred, is worthy of observation.  Vashti well knew that this act of disobedience would cost her, her crown, if not her life also: but she was regardless of both, as she conceived her virtue and honor were at stake.”

For punishment, Vashti was divorced, and the vast country was made acquainted, as far as possible, with the fact, including further penalties in a decree intended to warn all the wives of the realm (“to every people after their language” hence also Jews), that they must give most precious honor to their husbands, “great or small,” by obedience.  The unusual word translated “honor” means preciousness and implies extreme abasement.

The anger of God was aroused by this attempt to invade His domain, the human conscience. Jehovah wove it into the very fabric of the edict of Ahasuerus.  During the Reformation period of the sixteenth century A.D., Maximillian II gave expression to a truth of great weight in terms of an apt, crisp axiom. 

“To offer to domineer over the conscience is to assault the citadel of heaven.”

The attack was in reality upon the conscience voice of God, which she refused to yield to the king’s pleasure. The king’s counselors sought to reap greater benefits than ever of wifely servility by magnifying Vashti’s offense and proclaiming her punishment as a warning to all the women of the king’s realm.

This assault upon the citadel of heaven met a response by Jehovah, expressed in an acrostic woven into the very fabric of the decree, meaning that He was displeased and would nullify the influence and power of their enactment. And Esther was chosen by Jehovah to be His human instrument of nullification, which was to be wrought out indirectly by her efficient activities to save her nation—the Jews—from annihilation.  Displeased by the treatment of Vashti, God seats side by side the Queen in disgrace, her name defamed throughout the vast realm, another queen of the same realm used of God. 

God would have us understand the contrast of a woman’s life appropriated by man for man’s use with one dedicated to God for God’s use. These two women started the life race from the same base–queens of the same royal consort in the same city and palace, about the same age, trained to the same court customs and etiquette, drilled to please the consort’s taste and whims, and probably equally modest and beautiful. One was a Gentile of clean conscience who may not have known God at all, but He knew her. The other knew God and fled to Him in a three-days’ fast and prayer when in sorest trouble. The outcome shows the difference in the lot of a woman held to man’s use and one used by God through her voluntary consecration to Him. 

Doubtless, God took care of courageous Vashti. His purpose was not to give us her after history but to fix our attention on Esther through whom He attacked that vicious decree that brought divorce to Vashti and blackened her good name. The decree also declared, “all the wives shall give to their husbands most abundant honor, both to great and small.”  These women of Persian men were slaves, not wives, secured by bargain or capture of some kind of appropriation.  Likely, they were never questioned as to their wishes, but we let it pass.  As to their husbands, the literal text reads, “lords,” “masters.”  “Husbands” these men were not if “bands” means binders.  Polygamy and too easy divorce made them house and home violators instead.  Real husbands, as we know them, are different beings.  Why do our translators not make a distinction?  “Wives” were to give their lords “honor,” but not of the ordinary sort. No wonder God was displeased with such an exhibition of extravagant self-worship.

“But,” you say, “the name of God is not mentioned in the whole book of Esther.” True, not in the ordinary reading of the Hebrew text, but it occurs in acrostics. Sufficient reason existed for the omission in the days of Esther, which had never existed before and which has never existed since, and for the obscuring of the name of Israel‘s God. His name does exist in acrostic four times as “Jehovah” and once as “I AM,” the name used as the Emancipator once before and a name that appears nowhere else in the whole Bible but in these two places–Exodus and Esther. He called Himself “I AM” when He “came down to deliver” Israel from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 3:8,14) and a second time (Esther 7:5) when He came down to deliver the women of Medo-Persia from bondage by the measures enacted by Ahasuerus on the advice of his council of wise men.

The good reason why the name of God does not appear in this book to the ordinary reader is because it was a time in the history of the Jews when the entire nation of twelve tribes was in captivity as a punishment for idolatry. Jewish scholars accounted thus for the absence of the name of God from the book of Esther centuries ago and have left marks on ancient manuscripts that show that Jehovah had hidden His face.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy, fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day; and I will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them and they shall be devoured and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.”–Deut. 31:16-18.

Although the Israelites were deprived of “the face of Jehovah” (the sense of His presence and care), yet He had assured them that during His very worst punishments for sin He would still remember the covenant He had made with Abraham and his offspring and repeated with Jacob and Isaac. He would not “cast them away,” nor “abhor them to destroy them utterly” in the land of their captivity (Leviticus 26:42-44). The acrostics prove the promise was kept.

God gives all of this warning to Israel with the assurance of hope in His name “Jehovah,” a covenant-keeping God.  This name, Jehovah, without vowels as it was spelled in those ancient days, JHVH, is woven four times into certain phrases in this story of Vashti and Esther. Such a cluster occurs nowhere else in all the Hebrew Bible.  Just one more occurrence of JHVH in this hidden form turns up in Psalm 96:11, “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.”  Now, we go forward into a detailed study of the meaning of this wonderful story of Esther and its acrostics and their location. 

CHAPTER TWO

THE STORY OF ESTHER

Her name was Hadassah, and her title Esther, “Star.” Ever as a star through the centuries since, she has lighted up Jewish history.  Esther is the bright center of their cheeriest annual festival, the Feast of Purim.  She is ever lifting the hope of her nation for their final and full restoration to their God-given land Palestine.

Esther lived a captive’s life in Persia over two thousand years ago first as a war captive and then additionally for her beauty as a captive wife of the King at Shushan, the royal city and in the palace. We are not told in the Bible how she felt as to her royal captivity.  However, we could never imagine a loyal Jewess loyal to her God and to her people as she was charmed to wear a royal pagan crown. Indeed, tradition dating back well towards the publication of her story, pictures her as disconsolate in this second captivity though her royal husband seems to have loved her most sincerely. “Ahasuerus” is a title.  He is better known in history as  Xerxes. 

Ahasuerus may have been “Darius the Mede” (Daniel 5:31) under whose rule Babylonia fell with the captives of Judah. The Euphrates river, or a branch of it, was diverted from its course under the walls of the city of Babylon; and the Medo-Persian army, marching in the emptied riverbed, entered and took the city.

At the same time Belshazzar the king was slain and the dynasty was changed from Babylonian, or Chaldean, to Medo-Persian, the realm of Ahasuerus enlarged to 127 provinces, extending from India to Ethiopia.  Before this time, Jerusalem had been destroyed by Babylon. Now, Medo-Persia and the inhabitants of Judea were in the same country to which the ten tribes of Israel had been carried 135 years before when the country was under Assyria.  Practically, the whole twelve tribes were together under the rule of Ahasuerus.                        

In the third year of his reign around 460 B.C., the king made a great banquet lasting for half a year to which all the great men of his realm were called to feast and drink without limit. It ended in seven days of feasting to which all employed in service to royalty about the palace were invited. At this time, Vashti, his queen before Esther, made a grand feast for her women friends and disobeyed the king, refusing to display herself at his drunken feast. The king was humiliated to have Vashti disobey his orders in the presence of a crowd. He called a council of his wise men to determine what should be done to the queen.

Knowing well the ferocious, unreasoning disposition of their king in a rage, the counselors could not suggest to him that he had been unwise but turned the event to their own advantage as they conceived it. They counseled that the decree be published to the whole realm, “FOR GREAT IS IT, AND ALL THE WIVES SHALL GIVE” (Acrostic One) to their lords honor, both great and small. The king and all the wise men were “pleased” with the proposal.  So the king sent letters into all his 127 provinces in all languages to the effect that “every man should bear rule in his own house.” (Words in capital letters indicate an acrostic.) 

Mark especially this point. As a rebuke of Vashti’s conduct, the decree proclaimed that no wife had a right to obey her conscience. She must obey her human lord, not her God. And, Jehovah set forces into operation to defeat that “law’s” effect upon the progress of civilization.

Officers were sent soon after into every province to gather in fair virgins and place them in the house of the women at Shushan in order that the king might select from among them a consort to take the place of Vashti.  Esther, the fairest of them all, was chosen.

Esther of Judea was taken as a war captive to Medo-Persia.  Bereaved of both parents, she was adopted by Mordecai, her cousin, and brought up as his daughter.  Mordecai “sat in the king’s gate” and could befriend her if needed. He had no means of preventing her being gathered in with the other victims. “The King’s Gate” meant the lofty and spacious entrance to the royal palace. We are not told how he obtained this high position. Later, from his advantageous position when Esther was queen, Mordecai learned that two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, were planning to assassinate the king. He managed to confide the information to Esther; and she passed the information to the king, saying she had it from Mordecai. Thus, through Mordecai, the king’s life was saved.

The king had a close friend named Haman, who was swelled with importance and arrogance because he was the king’s favorite. Haman hated Mordecai because the latter did not worship him as others did when he passed them in the gate. Mordecai explained to those about him that he was a Jew, and his religion forbade him worshiping any other. In all probability the king, who knew he was a Jew, made him an exception when he instructed all to bow down to Haman.

Haman “thought scorn” to punish Mordecai alone. He would use his influence to get the entire Jewish race exterminated. Haman complained to the king that a certain people in his country did not obey the laws of the king and advised their extermination, saying he would pay for the cost of the decree and its promulgation throughout the kingdom. Be sure Haman did not say it was the whole Jewish nation of millions perhaps, for the king would have known that Haman’s description of the Jews did not fit.  (I have not been able to learn how many Jews were in Medo-Persia. Two million came out of Egypt under Moses.) Royal consent was gained, and the decree was published in every province in all languages needed, saying on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, “to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day…  and to take the spoil of them for a prey.”

As soon as Mordecai heard the horrifying report, in Oriental fashion he “rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes and raised in the city a great cry of lamentation.” This outcry would not have been allowed at the gate of the palace though he came near to reach Esther with the news.  Esther’s maids and chamberlains told her of Mordecai’s strange conduct. She immediately sent him proper clothing, which he would not accept.  Then, she sent a chamberlain to learn what it all meant.  This plan was according to Mordecai’s wishes for Esther to learn the appalling news.

Through the chamberlain, Mordecai sent Esther a copy of the king’s decree and charged her to make supplication to the king to spare her people. She returned reply that, alas, to approach the king unbidden meant death, except to those to whom he held out the golden scepter, and she had not been called to him “these thirty days.” A few more words of stern warning and eager encouragement on the part of Mordecai, and the resolve that was shaping in Esther’s mind and soul became fixed. She returned word to Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”  Brave Esther!

“So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.” When the three days of fasting were spent, Esther stood in the inner court of the king’s house in royal apparel, and the king sat on his royal throne.  Esther was plainly in sight of the king, waiting for him to act.  “Oh what will it be–life or death?” must have been her agonizing thought.  The power of God alone held her so calm and steady while the instant of suspense may have seemed hours.  Smiling, the king with surprised pleasure held out the golden scepter. As she touched it, he inquired, “What wilt thou, Queen Esther? And what is thy request?  It shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.”  (The half of the kingdom meant one-half of the kingdom’s revenue.)  Esther made reply:  “LET THE KING AND HAMAN COME THIS DAY unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.”  (Acrostic Two)

The king consented to come to Esther’s banquet, and Haman was notified.  And as Esther sped to make final preparation for the banquet, she dared not venture delay to receive the heart felt congratulations and welcomes as from the dead of her maidens.  Quickly, the glad news must have spread to the Jews of the city that all was well with Esther. The air was vibrant with joy while she held herself calm and collected for further duty.  She dared not think of herself. 

At the banquet, the king asked Esther for a second time what was her request. Esther replied that she would let him know at a banquet the following day if the king and Haman would come.

Had she lost the courage to attack Haman and wished time for more prayer for steadying power?  What a terrible ordeal she had passed through—the first day of the three-days’ fast. Then, Esther going into the king’s presence uninvited!  What joyous reaction following in the knowledge that her life was safe!  Now came the task of opposing the king’s favorite in order to release her people from his murderous grip—oh, what if she should blunder and fail of its accomplishment.  Esther must have the time to fast and pray to meet the crisis of the next day.

What if, unknown to her, it was the Lord Himself holding her back from hasty action until He eased the heavy burden of her task so that the first feast ended with matters in suspense, and Haman hastened to return home to boast to his wife of the great honor that had been bestowed upon him?  Then, in the gateway, he passed that hated being that stoically refused to bow down to the ground at his approach—gall and bitterness to his soul!  At his home, he began a glowing account to his wife and gathered friends of all that had happened.  However, the erect figure of Mordecai stood out before his memory like a haunting ghost, and he exclaimed:

“Yet, all THIS AVAILETH ME NOTHING as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate!”  (Acrostic Three.)

His wife and friends told him, “Build a gallows fifty cubits [75 feet] high, and tomorrow secure the king’s consent to hang Mordecai there, and “then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet.  And the thing pleased Haman, and he caused the gallows to be made.”

CHAPTER THREE

THE STORY OF ESTHER (continued)

On that night, the king could not sleep as he laid thinking of Esther, doubtless, of her beauty and charming ways and the mystery of her hesitancy to make known her request.  It could not be a trifling one as the two banquets testified against that idea.  Not long before, he remembered she had revealed to him that his life was in danger from two of his chamberlains.  Could it be something like that?  Then, he called for the book that recorded the important events of his life and asked the scribe to read to him the account of the assassination plot.  Who ferreted out the plot?  Mordecai—Esther brought the information to him.  He—Mordecai—and Esther brought the information to him.  Mordecai incurred real peril in getting the facts and warning him.  He chose a trusty channel in Esther, but how did he manage to contact her?  As yet, the king did not know of their relationship to each other.  He could not have divulged such a plot but at the risk of his own life.  If he had not been able to verify his accusations, it would have placed him in peril.  In any way of viewing the matter, Mordecai’s life was imperiled so long as he carried about the secret of the plot he had voluntarily assumed until he conveyed it to the king and put the two men summarily out of the way.

“That Mordecai the Jew saved my life,” mused the king. Then he called, “Who is in the court?”  Haman was there. “Let him come in,” said the king. Haman had come to get the king’s permission to hang Mordecai, but he never got it said.  The king was in haste to have the too long delayed honor paid to the man who had saved his life.  Haman was the very one to help him plan.  “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor?”  Haman, knowing full well how of late the king had honored him, thought the description was his own, and replied in elation:

“Let the royal apparel be brought that the king often wears, and the king’s horse, and the crown royal, and let all this be given into the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man and lead him on horseback through the streets of the city, proclaiming.  Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honor.” And the king said, “Make haste and do even so to Mordecai the, Jew.” And Haman had no choice but to perform this bitterly humbling task,  

The record of the Jews for thrift and aggressive efficiency as well as orderliness was known in Medo-Persia. The fame of Daniel and his three close friends and other Jews must have spread far.  Haman returned home and told his wife and friends of his bitter experience of conducting “Mordecai the Jew” through the streets of Shushan arrayed in royal apparel and crowned.  They said, “If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him.”

While Haman was talking with his friends, the king’s chamberlains came to hasten him to Esther’s second banquet. At the table, the king asked again: “What is thy petition, queen Esther?  And it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed to the half of the kingdom.”

Esther the queen said in calm intensity, “If I have found favor in thy sight, 0 king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish.” (quoting the decree). “But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail (compensate) the king’s damage.”

In bewildered amazement the king exclaimed: “WHO IS, HE, AND WHERE IS HE, THAT durst presume in his heart to do so?” (Acrostic “I AM.”)

Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.” Haman sank in horrible fear. 

The king then saw the awful crime into which Haman had enticed him to give his consent, involving even the life of his queen—misrepresenting the Jewish Nation as insignificant, small, law-breaking riffraff whose destruction was desirable.  The king in his fury would have attempted to tear the wretch into fragments had he remained in the same room.  Seeking composure and self-control, he fled into his garden, forgetting where Esther was.  Quickly, he returned, having summoned men to remove Haman.

Meanwhile, Haman, who “saw that there WAS EVIL DETERMINED AGAINST HIM [Acrostic four] by the king,” sprang up from the banqueting board to plead with Esther for mercy.  Forgetting decent decorum with royalty, he flung himself on the couch where Esther was sitting to urge her intervention, as the king reentered the room.  

What the infuriated king would have done had not officers rushed in to seize Haman and carry him off for execution, we need not imagine. Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, probably pointing to an object seen from the window, said, “Behold the gallows fifty cubits high that Haman erected to hang Mordecai.” Then, the king said, “Hang him thereon.”

The king gave Haman’s estate to Esther, and she set Mordecai there over the house of Haman. The king gave him the ring with the royal seal, which Haman had worn in the days when the king trusted him.

Esther ventured again to go before the king unbidden and was graciously received.  He encouraged Esther to make known her request.  Esther said, “If I have found favor in his sight, and the things seem right before the king, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king’s provinces.”

It seems as though the king in settling Haman’s affairs failed to grasp the fact that the Jews throughout all the provinces of his kingdom were all too rapidly approaching the fateful day of destruction.  Esther said to the king, “How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?”  Then, king Ahasuerus said to Esther the queen and Mordecai the Jew. . .Write ye also for the Jews as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.”

Mordecai called the king’s scribes.  According to the king’s wishes, they wrote out an enactment to be published in every language of the 127 provinces so as to carry its meaning to every inhabitant, instructing the Jews, including women and children, to gather in a group in each place, on the day Haman had appointed for their destruction and defend themselves, killing those that would assault them, “and take the spoil of them for a prey.” But we are told three times over (Esther 9:10, 15, 16) that the Jews “laid not their hand on the prey.”

Toward the close of the day of the assault, the king said to Esther the queen, “The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men” in Shushan the palace, and the ten sons of Haman; what have they done (think what they must have needed to do in self defense) in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is thy petition? And it shall be granted thee, or what is thy request further? And it shall be done.” (Esther 9:12). Esther is no longer the petitioner. The king honors her as lawmaker in these interests of her nation and inquires how he can serve her.

Esther asks for another day of self-defense for the Jews in Shushan and that the dead bodies of Haman’s sons, who had doubtless attacked the Jews, be hanged on the gallows as a warning to assaulters of the Jews.  (This feat could be done by hanging them one below another on the strong beam, which is 75 feet high.)  This request was carried out, yet in spite of this gruesome warning 300 more assaulters were slain.  And throughout the provinces, 75,000 in all were slain in self-defense by the Jews.

After the great crisis was over, the Jews experienced very great rejoicing, feasting and sending of gifts one to another.  And Mordecai proclaimed the 14th and 15h days of Adar memorial feast days—the two days following Haman’s appointed day of slaughter, determined by casting lot.  Therefore, the season is called the Feast of Purim (lots) and observed by the Jews annually to the present time.

Confusion existed at first about which days were to be kept as the Feast of Purim.  Therefore, a second letter was sent throughout the provinces regarding the matter.  “Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to confirm this second letter of Purim.”  (Esther 9:29)  “And the decree of Esther confirmed those matters of Purim, and it was written in the book.” (v. 32)

Mark the sentences in italics.  As revealed in Holy Scripture the history of Queen Esther is a story of constant advancement.  From the humiliating lot of a war captive to the high pinnacle of power, Esther enacted liberating measures of law for the benefit of her race with the sanction and cooperation of her royal captor, the greatest monarch of the world in his age. 

CHAPTER FOUR

THE FIRST ACROSTIC

Now, we will consider the meaning of the acrostics.  The recurrent word in four of them is “Jehovah,” not as we write it in English, but as written in ancient Hebrew, without vowels, JHVH in four consonants.  It corresponds to “Lord” and is translated in small caps in our Bibles.

Bible scholars call this four-letter, Hebrew word the “tetra gram,” a word that means four letters.  This word will be used very frequently.  Remember it is equivalent to “Jehovah.”

The acrostic tetra gram appears four times in the Hebrew text of Esther as either the initial or the final letters of four consecutive words, and nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, with one exception, in Psalm 96:11, “Let-the-heavens rejoice, and let-the-earth be glad.”  Words we join here with hyphens are one word in Hebrew: and so in all the four acrostics. 

We begin with Acrostic One. 

The actual words of the acrostic as found are:

“it,

and-all

the-wives

shall-give,” etc.

1

    2

      3

       4

 

The Hebrew words that furnish the tetra gram are numbered and for clearness make up a corresponding English sentence showing whether the letters are initial or final.

Here is an English equivalent of Acrostic One:                       

Decree,

and-Requiring

Obedience

Lavishly given

1

2

3

       4

 

The four, bold capital letters form the tetra gram, for “Lord,” is its English equivalent.  Note that the tetra gram is formed of initial letters, but spelled backward—DROL.

The first word is “it” and refers to the decree as stated in the Companion Bible, and I agree. In my equivalent English sentence, our first word, “decree,” the noun for which the pronoun “it” stands. Our English Bible places a period, a full stop here, and then omits “and,” the next word, altogether, as though the word were awkwardly out of place. The “and” is unmistakably present in the Hebrew text, and its omission is uncalled for. 

It is an unusual thing to find as here an acrostic word linking two sentences together. The link is made stronger by the “and,” which our English translators omit.  By this linking, the stories of Vashti and Esther are joined together and should be considered as making a whole. It is not as though an interesting beginning point for Esther’s story was sought for and found in Vashti’s divorce, which made room for Esther’s exaltation to royalty. Then, when found, Vashti could be cast away into oblivion. No, indeed! By and in the acrostic name of “Jehovah,” the correct interpretation holds them together. “Let not that which God hath joined be put asunder.”

The decree that divorced Vashti for obeying her instinctive sense of modesty, as warned by God, was so widely published as to constitute a warning to all the wives of the realm against Vashti’s conduct. God’s activity against the decree is signified by the backward reading of the tetra gram: “Backward,” says the Companion Bible, “because Jehovah was turning back and overruling the counsels of man.” And the tetra gram is on initial letters to signify the beginning of measures to annul the evil effects of the decree.

Note: It may be easily and superficially claimed here in criticism that this interpretation is all pure conjecture, an effort to build up a case to the author’s liking, and so forth—“it has no foundation in fact.”  Our reply is that the story of Esther alone is quite sufficient as a “foundation of facts” to sustain the conclusions we shall draw regarding the call and character of Esther. 

As to Acrostic One: Did not Jehovah begin to oppose that Decree to crush the conscience of women that would own any law but their human “lords”? Did He not move at once, as the instrument of His, design, a woman who would dare to defy her “lord’s” will and go unbidden into his presence? Only an initial step to a deeper design, it was an attack on another law promulgated in her “husband’s” name–a law to slaughter all the Jews. In fact, God raised up to great power just at this juncture, in the greatest and grandest nation on earth, not a man but a WOMAN to thwart the will and doings of her husband, and he a very mighty king at that.  There is not a bolder, more independent human creature described in Scripture than strong-minded Esther, “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

The loose and easy way in which Haman secures in the king’s name an edict for the slaughter of the Jews, though monarchs with dictators’ powers have often committed such atrocities, speaks sad words of the character of Ahasuerus, whom Esther sought unbidden twice (5:2 and 8:3) to induce him to alter his decree to slaughter the Jews.

“Ahasuerus” is a title, and many of our commentators—perhaps the majority—hold that he was Xerxes. The commentator Schultz, of Breslau, says in his work on Esther:  Keil very justly makes prominent the point . . . that Greek and Roman authors were unanimous in their portrait of Xerxes and paint him as a very riotous, licentious monarch and an extremely cruel tyrant.  The commentator last cited [Keil] goes on to say: “Xerxes was the despot who, after the wealthy Lydian Pythius, has most richly entertained the Persian army in its march against Greece.”  He offered an immense sum of money as a contribution to the costs of the war while making a petition to have the oldest of his five sons, then in the army, given to him as a solace for his old age.  Xeres became so enraged that he caused the son asked for to be cut in pieces  He then laid the pieces on both sides of the way and ordered his army to march through between them.”  Think of Esther intruding upon this monster to ask favors!

God knew His woman when He chose Esther to overrule this monarch in his weak and bad legislating.  Relying on His strength, she did overrule Xeres.  No speech in diplomatic pleading can excel in tact and wisdom the few words that fell from her lips when she arraigned Haman before his master (7:3, 4).

What have male expounders done with all this intensely interesting scrap of Sacred Literature? I vow I find little in their comments but a drab veil of commonplace toning down the glare of light that might have shone out of sacrificial life and victory.  Then, I find a black place of unconscious resistance against all light of defense for Vashti’s wrongs, lest the truth of God might damage the “doctrine” of male supremacy over their sisters, wives and others.  At chapter 1:20, by a marginal note, they call to their help Paul and Peter, to steer off the track of God’s truth—of liberty for women too in Christ—and plunge into the bramble of thorns they have managed to make for women, which is the “subordination doctrine.”

CHAPTER FIVE

THE ACROSTICS (2 TO 5)

The message of Acrostic One is as though Jehovah speaks to say:  “My first of the Ten Commandments is:   

“I am Jehovah thy God…Thou shalt have no other gods before me [Hebrew, confronting me].”  The realm of conscience is my exclusive field of operation with humanity.  These males shall not be gods over wives without my challenge.  The book of Esther displays, through His use of Esther’s unconscious activities, the nullification of the law while she wrought for another end—the rescue of her people.

  ACROSTIC TWO READS (IN HEBREW):                       

Let-come

the-king

and-Haman

this-day

1

2

3

4

 

These are four compound separate words in Hebrew.)

The tetra gram JHVH reads forward on initial letters.  Illustration:

Let

Our

Royal

Dinner be graced by thy presence, “ etc

    1

2

3

     4  

 

God prompted that banquet. He was the originator of the plan, created the idea and led Esther in it. Therefore, the tetra gram reads forward and is on initial letters.

“NEXT IS ACROSTIC THREE.

“Yet all this availeth me nothing as long as I see Mordecai.” The acrostic Hebrew differs in order of words:  it reads, “Yet all this nothing availeth to me, etc.  We illustrate:     

“Sight of Mordecai 

reduceD

fervoR

tO

NiL”

 

1

2

 3

  4

 

The tetra gram reads backwards on final letters.  Jehovah has turned His back to Haman and denies him joy in his hate.  His loss of joy is final in his compulsory royal parade of Mordecai.

ACROSTIC FOUR’S ENGLISH TRANSLATION varies from the order of the Hebrew words, which order we must keep.

“He saw that 

determined

against-him [was]

evil

  1

2

           3

  

 

The relative position of the acrostic and Hebrew letters appear in this English sentence:

“eviL

nO

longeR

delayeD.”

1

2

3

4

 

The tetra gram reads forward on final letters.  Jehovah forwards Haman’s end and finish by death.  One more four consonant name of Jehovah in Esther in acrostic form.

EH YH

It means, “I AM.”  This name of deity appears once in Esther (5:5) and once in Exodus (3:14) and nowhere else as the name of deity in the Bible.

God instructed Moses to say to the children of Israel that He had sent Moses to lead them out of slavery in Egypt, to free them from bondage.  He was to say that “I AM” had sent him to them.  The name “I AM” was not further explained although it was the name in which God revealed Himself in when He came to emancipate from slavery. Now, once more He reveals Himself in an acrostic as an Emancipator in “I AM.”  

Although in divine counsel it was a certainty, just before the execution of Haman our thought is arrested and centered on the EH YH acrostic.

“Who

is-he

and-where

is-he that presumeth,etc.

1

2

           3

  4

 Illustration:

“wherE

hidetH

bloodthirstY

wretcH that,” etc

1

2

3

     4

 

The tetra grams (the JHVH and the EH YH) both read forward on final letters. The teaching is the same as to words and letters, The JHVH tetra gram forwards the end of Haman; while the “I AM” tetra gram forwards the end, the finish of bondage to Satan through conscience-slavery, the slavery.  The seven wise men devised this slavery, and Ahasuerus decreed for “all the wives” of his realm.  Jehovah initiated this task when He turned His back on the decree of divorce Memucan pronounced as “great,” and likewise against that law for “all wives.”

Jehovah also responds to the king’s demand”  “I AM”–“it is I, and I am everywhere; and I am come down not merely to deliver a nation from a human enemy, though I do that (as I delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery), but to deliver all humanity from bondage of conscience into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

CHAPTER SIX

NULLIFICATION

God placed before Esther the duty of ruling Ahasuerus for the good of his realm and for the saving of the Jews from annihilation. Her conscience bade her to obey God alone, which she did it at the risk of her life. Esther found her first step in obedience to God was a transgression of two laws of the kingdom in which her husband ruled. The most recent law required the resigning of her conscience to his will, which Esther did not do. The other law bore a death penalty for disobedience unless the king offered his golden scepter for a pledge of good faith. She passed successfully through both ordeals.

The next step was to interfere between the king and his dearest friend, Haman. The tie was broken and Haman was hanged shortly after by the king’s order.  The king would have stopped here with the death of Haman, but Esther did not allow it. The king must undo a law of the Medes and Persians, “which is unchangeable” (8: 8), and the law to slaughter the Jews was of that order (3:10,12).

The sixth chapter of Daniel tells us how King Darius became entrapped in his own law of the Medes and Persians, “which altereth not,” and was obliged to allow Daniel to be cast into the den lion’s den. He labored all day to save Daniel, spent a sleepless night while Daniel was in the den, and “very early” in the morning with weeping and lamentation.  By a miracle of God, King Darius found Daniel unharmed after a night with the lions. Esther had to break through this kind of law to deliver her people from annihilation.  Her tears, pleading and pressure (Esther 8:3-6) on the king found a way. Another law was proclaimed as extensively as the law of destruction. The Jews were to be armed in order to defend themselves. Government officials in all places were instructed to assist the Jews to be ready for the attack on the appointed day for their slaughter, and they gave much help. (Esther 9:3)

Ahasuerus had the reputation with historians of being self-indulgent; indolent and careless.  Certainly he showed these qualities in allowing Haman to proclaim such a law in the king’s name.  Esther rendered great service to her king besides saving her people in getting this ill-considered law reversed.

His realm was formed out of all kinds of petty nations tribes and clans—many of them fierce and lawless, living by depredations upon others. Alexander the Great, who conquered Medo-Persia in B.C. 333, neglected the country and allowed it to fall to pieces because he did not prize it.

To be sure, the despots of those early times did not exercise any scruples when occasionally killing off a tribe of a few hundred.  Doubtless, Ahasuerus got this troublesome idea from Haman.

Because the Jews existed in vast numbers throughout the realm, the king was amazed and thrown into a passion.  He saw that his whole country would be thrown into confusion.  With the legalization of killing of prey, quickly no life would be safe, Jew or Gentile after the slaughtering got under way.  But he seems to have thought all was stopped when the mischief-maker Haman was hanged.

Esther’s second risk to go unto the king unbidden secured an antidote law against Haman’s, and yet 800 men in Shushan alone, knowing well the proclamation that the Jews were armed; fell upon the Jews presented swords and spears, hoping to overthrow them for the sake of booty.  Because they were after Jewish prey, 75,000 men throughout the provinces perished for their folly in attacking the Jews.  Thus, the country was ridded of ten thousands of brigands, who fell through their own rashness. 

The law of defense provided for the Jews to take the prey of those they killed, but it is recorded three times that the Jews “laid not their hands to the prey.”  They merely defended themselves.

It does not require a very lively imagination to understand that a situation not unlike civil war had been brought about by Haman’s foolhardy meddling with government, when nearly 76,000 were left dead on the battlefield, not to number the wounded; and the conflict extended all over the realm.  This was not an affair confine to the Jews.  It was non-Jews who suffered death—but the lawless and not the better elements of the population.

All had passed through the real peril of violence from the bandit mob, which was brought into activity by Haman’s law and refused to be assuaged by the antidote law.  Therefore, all rejoiced when order was restored and not the Jews alone but certainly the most.  Their nation has been rescued, and the Feast of Purim was established as a memorial for all time.

But what about that decree that was the result of Vashti’s disobedience, instructing all wives to give honor to their lords, both great and small, lest Vashti’s conduct should, by example, encourage women to despise their lords (“husbands”), and there would arise “too much contempt and wrath?” (1:18)

It was forgotten when it became known throughout the provinces that their king had such a wonderful, as well as most beautiful, queen.  The king was so devoted to her.  Esther had great influence over him for the good of their country.   She influenced him to find a way to combat a vicious law that had been proclaimed to kill and plunder all the Jews.  This mischievous law would have run into indiscriminate plundering.

The women forgot to copy Vashti, alas, even in her modesty and also in her disobedience.  They didn’t heed her case as a warning.  However, we believe they copied everything they could learn about Esther, her style of dress and all that.  Sometimes they said to their husbands, “It’s a wise plan to sometimes listen to and act upon a wife’s opinions as the king does.”  Probably, husbands said, “I do wish women wasted less time in gossip and on their hair and fingernails, and took an interest in the welfare of the nation, like the queen.”

Many people of the land became Jews, “for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.” (8:17). We suppose they said, “Our queen looks well to the interests of her people, and she has great influence over the king.  One might almost think he is a Jew, too.  It won’t do to mistreat a Jew.  I think I will join the Jews and keep myself in their favor—that is the safe side.”

The whole atmosphere of women’s life in Persia must have altered considerably after Jehovah inaugurated His attack through Esther upon that law which placed Jehovah in a position secondary to her husband. The first part of the Ten Commandments should be first in every wife’s life, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”  Vashti and Esther both put conscience, God, first.

When God sent Moses to Pharoah, He armed him with the demand: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.”  The teaching is “they cannot serve me when service is regulated by any other master than Myself.”  No more can a wife render service to a husband lawfully except as god, not the husband, regulates the service.  Otherwise, she serves man and not God and is an idolater to that extent.

Let us repeat:  The second and only other appearance of God as the “I AM” after His revelation of that name to Moses when He came as an Emancipator (Exodus 3:14), is here in Esther 7:5 in the sentence, “Who is he, and where is he”—and it is Jehovah who interrupts, as it were, to give answer, “It is the Emancipator, the I Am: I am here.”

The story of Vashti and Esther does not end with the Jews’ deliverance from death, though that was soon experienced.  It did not begin with, nor does it end, with Esther.   It began with Vashti, and it ends with a broader purpose than Esther’s nation, which it includes—a purpose that includes Gentiles like Vashti.

“Jehovah” was first revealed to Moses (Exodus 6:3), Covenant-Keeper, the One who made the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He included in the Great Covenant Eve whose Seed should bruise the Serpent’s head. (Genesis 3:15).  Although that covenant was spoken to the Serpent, Jehovah has “come down” this time to interrupt the king’s question to say, “I am here to deliver all the seed of the ‘mother of all living,’ out from the bondage and slavery of Satan into ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.’”

 

 

VASHTI-ESTHER STORY, THE, Chapters 1-6 [Katharine C. Bushnell] ~ BIBLE STUDY         1

 

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