A Discreet Woman Displays Her Unselfishness
1, 2. (a) What dramatic events of the fifth century B.C.E. are we about to consider, and where are they recorded? (b) Who was Ahasuerus? (c) Why will this venture into the past be rewarding?
THERE it stood in the city of Shushan (Susa). The structure was a magnificent palace! Its builders? Likely, Persian King Darius I and his son Xerxes I. Decorative materials for the building had been brought from distant places. For instance, an inscription of Darius states that the cedar timber was brought from Lebanon, the gold from Sardis and Bactria, the silver and copper from Egypt, and the ivory from such lands as Ethiopia and India.
2 Today only meager ruins remain of that once-splendid palace. But through the Bible book of Esther, doubtless written by the devout Hebrew Mordecai, we can “visit” that royal residence during the early fifth century before the Common Era. We can relive the dramatic events of a decade (from about 484 to 474 B.C.E.) when God’s people faced probable genocide throughout the Persian Empire. Those were the days of Ahasuerus (evidently Xerxes I). Our venture into the distant past will be very rewarding, for such Biblical accounts were written for the instruction of godly persons, that ‘through our endurance and comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.’—Rom. 15:4.
SELFISHNESS LEADS TO HUMILIATION
3-5. What is Shushan the castle, and what kind of gathering is held there in the third year of the reign of King Ahasuerus?
3 Persian King Ahasuerus, whose domain embraces 127 jurisdictional districts from India to Ethiopia, is occupying the throne at his part-time residence Shushan the castle, a complex of royal buildings within a fortified area. It is now the third year of his reign and he has called a conference of his princes, servants, military men and nobles. The gathering spans 180 days, possibly to accommodate the numerous officials whose duties prevent their presence all at the same time. (A military purpose may have been involved, for the Greek historian Herodotus reported that in the third year of Xerxes’ reign the king held an assembly to plan for warfare against Greece.)—Esther 1:1-4.
4 In concluding this notable gathering, the king holds a seven-day banquet for all the people in Shushan the castle. This feast is held in the courtyard of the palace garden. Just look at the surroundings! Why, decorative articles include linen, cotton, blue material held fast in ropes of fine fabric, and reddish-purple wool in silver rings. Here are marble pillars and couches of gold and silver on a pavement of porphyry, marble, pearl and black marble.—Esther 1:5, 6.
5 At this banquet wine is being drunk from golden vessels of various kinds. The Persians are renowned for their drinking. But the custom of obligating guests to drink a specific amount is not being followed at this banquet.—Esther 1:7, 8.
6. Vashti is what kind of woman, and how is this made evident?
6 Elsewhere in the royal complex, Persian Queen Vashti is holding a banquet for the women. It is now the seventh day of the king’s feast and his heart is in a merry mood with wine. He tells seven court officials to bring beautiful Vashti before him and his guests. But, what is this? She keeps refusing to heed the king’s word. Enraged, Ahasuerus seeks the advice of seven of his closest princes, a council of wise men well versed in legal matters. “According to law,” asks the monarch, “what is to be done with Queen Vashti?” This selfish woman is guilty of insubordination!—Esther 1:9-15.
7, 8. (a) Vashti has wronged whom, and to what does her course lead? (b) What do you think we can learn from Vashti’s conduct?
7 Listen! As chief spokesman of the seven princes, Memucan contends that Vashti has wronged, not only the king, but also the princes and people of the entire empire. Her conduct will become known and all the wives, even princesses, will despise their husbands. So, Memucan suggests, let the king decree that Vashti may not come in before him and that her royal dignity be given to a better woman. Then all the married women will honor their husbands.—Esther 1:16-20.
8 This recommendation pleases Ahasuerus. Soon documents are dispatched to all the jurisdictional districts, to each people in its own language. Now written among the unchangeable laws of the Medes and the Persians, this decree provides “for every husband to be continually acting as prince in his own house.” (Esther 1:21, 22) Vashti’s insubordination and selfishness have cost her the royal crown. They have led to her humiliation.
A SUBMISSIVE WOMAN GAINS FAVOR
9. How will a queen be selected to replace Vashti?
9 Some time passes before the rage of Ahasuerus subsides. Then, in keeping with the recommendations of the king’s ministers, appointed commissioners locate beautiful young virgins in all the jurisdictional districts. These women are brought to Shushan the castle and are placed in the charge of the eunuch Hegai. The selected virgins are to be given massages, and, finally, the young woman most pleasing to Ahasuerus will be made queen instead of Vashti. (About four years elapsed between the deposing of Vashti and the choosing of her replacement, the delay apparently resulting from the king’s absence while prosecuting war against the Greeks.)—Esther 2:1-4, 16, 17.
10. (a) Who is Mordecai? (b) Who is Esther?
10 Very interested in this search for a new queen is the king’s servant Mordecai. This devout Jew of the tribe of Benjamin is a descendant of a certain Kish, whom the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar took into exile from Jerusalem along with King Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) and others (in 617 B.C.E.). Some time ago, Mordecai became the guardian of the Jewish orphan girl Hadassah, whose name means “myrtle.” Otherwise known as Esther (meaning “fresh myrtle”), she is the daughter of Mordecai’s deceased uncle Abihail. And what a lovely young woman she has become! Why, she is “pretty in form and beautiful in appearance.” It is not surprising that, as a replacement for Vashti is sought, Esther should be among the young women collected together at Shushan the castle and placed in the charge of Hegai.—Esther 2:5-8, 15.
11. How does Hegai deal with Esther, and, in compliance with Mordecai’s instructions, what fact does she not reveal?
11 Esther is pleasing to Hegai, who hastens to give her the prescribed massages and appropriate food. In fact, seven young women are chosen to attend her in the best area of the house of the women. Esther does not reveal that she is a Jewess, thus complying with the instructions of her older cousin Mordecai. For six months, the selected virgins receive massages with oil of myrrh, followed by six months of massaging with balsam oil. Then each woman goes in to Ahasuerus, thereafter returning to “the second house of the women” in the charge of Shaashgaz, the guardian of the king’s concubines.—Esther 2:9-14.
12. What traits does Esther possess, how does Ahasuerus view her, and with what result?
12 Esther is unselfish, does not rely on showy adornment, and therefore requests nothing that Hegai does not mention. All along, she has been gaining favor in the eyes of everyone seeing her. It is now Tebeth (December-January), the 10th month in Ahasuerus’ seventh year. Tension runs high as Esther is taken before the king. Is he pleased with her? Indeed he is! The Persian ruler comes to love Esther more than all the other women and makes her queen instead of Vashti. For all his princes and servants the happy king holds a great feast, “the banquet of Esther.” Moreover, he grants an amnesty for the jurisdictional districts (perhaps remission of tribute, a release from military service or prison, or a combination of these). Ahasuerus keeps giving presents that only a monarch’s wealth would make possible. What a time of joy!—Esther 2:15-18.
13. (a) What was Esther’s principal adornment? (b) How can 20th-century Christian women profit from considering the conduct of Vashti and Esther?
13 A truly submissive woman has gained favor. Although Esther now sits as Persian queen, she complies with Mordecai’s instructions. (Esther 2:19, 20) Looking back, we may well visualize Esther as a beautiful woman in royal attire. But her principal ‘adornment was the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible apparel of a quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in God’s eyes.’ (1 Pet. 3:3, 4) Twentieth-century Christian women have good reason to shun the selfishness of deposed Vashti and imitate the submissive, unselfish qualities of godly Esther.
14. Why would Mordecai especially be joyful at Esther’s becoming queen?
14 It is also noteworthy that when Esther was made queen, there was great joy, in which Mordecai, her older cousin, surely shared wholeheartedly. He must have felt that this would work out finally for the benefit of all the Jews in the Persian provinces.
LOYAL, BUT UNCOMPROMISING
15. What plot does Mordecai report, and what happens to the traitors?
15 Esther has been keeping in touch with Mordecai and following his instructions. While he sits in the king’s gate, court officials Bigthan and Teresh (who seemingly guard the door of the king’s private apartment) become indignant and keep seeking to lay hand on Ahasuerus. Learning of the plot, Mordecai immediately tells Esther, who speaks to the king in his name. Her statements launch an investigation. Soon the two traitors are executed and their dead bodies are publicly exposed on a stake or post because their crimes have been offenses against the king. Even though Mordecai then goes unrewarded, his act of loyalty is recorded in the current book of affairs.—Esther 2:21-23.
16, 17. (a) Who is Haman? (b) Why does Mordecai refuse to prostrate himself before Haman?
16 Although Mordecai is loyal and has proper regard for governmental authority, he is uncompromising. Time passes and for some reason Ahasuerus appoints a certain wealthy Haman as prime minister. Also, by royal command all the monarch’s servants at the gateway of the palace grounds are bowing low and prostrating themselves to Haman. But look at Mordecai! He persistently refuses to prostrate himself before the newly appointed prime minister. This fills Haman with rage.—Esther 3:1-5.
17 Why has Mordecai taken such a resolute position? Well, Haman is an Agagite, probably a royal Amalekite. Jehovah had decreed the eventual extermination of the Amalekites because they showed hatred of God and his people by attacking the Israelites in the wilderness. (Ex. 17:8, 14-16; Deut. 25:17-19; 1 Sam. 15:1-33) Hence, godly Mordecai staunchly refuses to prostrate himself before Haman. Bowing would denote, not just respect, but peace and possibly homage toward this Amalekite. Mordecai is unyielding because this is a matter of maintaining integrity to God.
18. Enraged Haman plans to do what to Mordecai and the Jews throughout the Persian Empire?
18 Enraged Haman begins seeking to annihilate both Mordecai and his people, the Jews throughout the empire. To that end, during Nisan, the first month in Ahasuerus’ 12th year, the unscrupulous Agagite resorts to divination. He has “someone [evidently an astrologer] cast Pur, that is, the Lot.” This is done to determine the most favorable day to exterminate Jehovah’s people.—Esther 3:6, 7.
19, 20. What does Haman lyingly say to Ahasuerus about the Jews, and so what is done?
19 Speaking now to King Ahasuerus, Haman lyingly paints the Jews as undesirables, as lawbreakers. Adding an economic appeal, the Agagite says: “Let there be a writing that they be destroyed; and ten thousand silver talents [worth millions of dollars] I shall pay into the hands of those doing the work by bringing it into the king’s treasury.”—Esther 3:8, 9.
20 Does Ahasuerus believe the false charges? He does! Removing his signet ring, used to seal official documents, the king gives it to Haman. “The silver is given to you, also the people, to do with them according to what is good in your own eyes,” says the Persian ruler. Soon, under Haman’s direction, royal secretaries are penning letters containing a decree for the destruction of the Jews. In turn, the wicked Agagite uses the signet ring bearing the monarch’s distinctive symbol. Haman presses the ring into wax or some other soft substance on these documents so as to authenticate them.—Esther 3:10-12.
21. By royal decree, what is to happen to the Jews on Adar 13 in the 12th year of Ahasuerus’ reign?
21 Soon the letters are in the hands of couriers riding speedy post horses. The decree, published in various languages and carried throughout the empire, authorizes the plundering and annihilation of the Jews. When? On the 13th day of the winter month Adar (February-March). Understandably, then, while Ahasuerus and Haman sit and drink, there is confusion in the city of Shushan, where there are many Jews.—Esther 3:13-15; 9:18.
A TIME FOR COURAGE
22. How do Mordecai and the other Jews react when learning about the genocide scheme?
22 As Mordecai learns of the genocide scheme, he rips his garments apart, puts on coarse sackcloth and ashes in symbol of mourning, and makes a loud and bitter outcry. Similarly, the imminence of calamity produces great mourning among the Jews in all the jurisdictional districts. However, there also is fasting—and surely many prayers are ascending to Jehovah God.—Esther 4:1-3.
23. Mordecai commands Esther to do what, but what could happen if she went in to the king uninvited?
23 Esther, too, is greatly pained. She sends Mordecai garments to replace his sackcloth, but he does not accept them. In answer to an inquiry, he sends the queen a copy of the law just issued and commands her to go before the king to implore favor for her people. Her response? ‘Everyone knows that any man or woman coming in to the king when not called will be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter will a person stay alive. As for me, I have not been called in to him now for thirty days.’ (Esther 4:4-11) Yes, Esther would lose her life unless King Ahasuerus specifically approved of her presence by extending to her his scepter, the rod he carries as an emblem of his royal authority. It certainly would take courage and faith in Jehovah to go before the monarch uninvited.
24. What faith does Mordecai express regarding Esther’s being brought to royal dignity?
24 Nevertheless, Mordecai replies: “Do not imagine within your own soul that the king’s household will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you are altogether silent at this time, relief and deliverance themselves will stand up for the Jews from another place; but as for you and your father’s house, you people will perish. And who is there knowing whether it is for a time like this that you have attained to royal dignity?” (Esther 4:12-14) Mordecai has faith that Esther has been brought to royal dignity at this very time for a special purpose—the deliverance of God’s people. But will she display unselfishness, courage and faith?
25. In fasting, what do Esther, Mordecai and the Jews at Shushan do?
25 In reply, Esther urges Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Shushan and fast in her behalf. “I shall fast likewise,” she says, “and upon that I shall come in to the king, which is not according to the law; and in case I must perish, I must perish.” Esther is about to jeopardize her very life, but this discreet woman is determined to act with courage and unselfishness in behalf of her people. So it is that Esther, Mordecai and the Jews at Shushan couple prayers with fasting and look to Jehovah God for their deliverance.—Esther 4:15-17.
26. Today, what may enemies of God’s people be permitted to do, but, in view of this, what should be done by anointed Christians and their dedicated associates?
26 In modern times, too, spirit-anointed followers of Jesus Christ, who are spiritual Jews, and their associates must bravely face trials and foes. (Rom. 2:28, 29) The ruling King, Jesus Christ, may allow the enemies of God’s people to go to the limit in their efforts to destroy them. How vital it is, then, that anointed Christians and their dedicated associates act courageously, praying for divine wisdom and manifesting victorious faith! But will Jehovah continue to uphold his people? Judge for yourself, as the dramatic events of Esther’s day continue to unfold before us.
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“In case I must perish, I must perish.”—Esther 4:16.