Esther 2
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.
Chap. Esther 2:1-18. Esther’s elevation to be queen

1. After these things] Two years elapsed between the council of leading men held at Susa (see on Esther 1:1) and Xerxes’ actual departure on his expedition against Greece (b.c. 481). If we were to accept the historical character of the story, we should have to suppose that the search for an eligible consort would go on during his absence. But the writer in all probability does not contemplate any such interval, or recognise in his own mind the war of that date.

he remembered Vashti] This and the words which follow suggest that the king was inclined to relent if the decree had not been irrevocable. The LXX., he no longer remembered Vashti, has no claim to be regarded as the right reading.



(on chap. Esther 2:1 ff.).

[The following extracts may be of interest, as serving to exhibit the character of the paraphrastic translations of Old Testament Books into Aramaic. These Versions seem to have had their origin in a religious necessity, when the use of the Hebrew language was dying out as the speech of ordinary life. But the Targums on Esther and the other Megilloth (Rolls) are thought, unlike earlier ones, not to have been intended for public use. They were composed after the need for Aramaic translations had passed away, but, inasmuch as these came to be permanently cherished, the later ones were modelled upon them, and thus present us in the main with the same features.[89]]

[89] See further in Hastings’ Dict. of the Bible, Art. Targum.

After these things, when he had recovered and calmed down from his excessive potations, and when the violence of king Ahasuerus’s rage had abated, he began to remember Vashti. His great men answered him and spake thus, Art thou not he that passed sentence upon her, that she should die for what she did? The king said to them, I did not command that she should be put to death, but that she should present herself before me, and when she did not present herself, I commanded that she should be deprived of her queenly rank. They said to him, It is not so, but thou didst pronounce sentence of death upon her at the instance of the seven princes. Forthwith he was violently enraged, and ordered that the seven princes should be hung upon the gibbet. And the king’s young men who ministered to him said, Let there be sought out for the king’s needs young virgins, fair to look upon, and let the king appoint officers in every province of his kingdom, and let them assemble all young virgins that are fair to look upon unto Shushan the palace to the house of the women where there are baths and washing places, and where Hegai, the king’s chief eunuch, custodian of the women, holds office, and let it be decreed that unguents for their anointing be furnished to them, and let the young woman who finds favour in the eyes of the king be raised to the rank of queen in the place of Vashti. And the thing was pleasing in the king’s sight, and he did thus.

Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king:
2. Then said the king’s servants] naturally alarmed at their sovereign’s incipient change of disposition, which might bring disaster upon themselves.

And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them:
3. to the house of the women] the harem, which must have been of large dimensions, and was made up, as we see from Esther 2:14, of more than one building. It most likely consisted of three portions, viz. the house of the queen, such as Solomon built for Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 7:8), the house of the virgins (Esther 2:9), and that of the concubines (Esther 2:14).

Hegai] It is best, for the sake of uniformity, to spell thus throughout (cp. Esther 2:8; Esther 2:15). The A.V. follows the Heb., which is inconsistent, giving in this verse Hege, and elsewhere Hegai.

their things for purification] See Esther 2:12. The Heb. word for ‘purification’ means properly scraping or rubbing, for the purpose of cleansing or polishing.

And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.
Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite;
5. There was a certain Jew] The grammatical form in the original may be intended to emphasize the abruptness with which Mordecai is brought upon the scene. The influence which he, a Jew, is to have upon the history is thus placed in significant contrast with the brilliancy of the court of Susa.

Mordecai] It may surprise us that a name which properly means a votary of the Babylonian god Marduk, another form of Merodach (Jupiter), should be borne by a Jew.[64] It has been suggested that it may have been given to the son in compliment to a Babylonian friend or master, and without any reference to its derivation, just as, in later days, the name Martin, e.g. St Martin of Tours, is completely devoid of associations with its etymological source, Mars. Mordecai, the cousin and adoptive father of Esther, is to be distinguished from the Mordecai who was a companion of Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:2; Nehemiah 7:7). He has, without justification, been identified with Matacas, described by Ctesias[65] as a powerful favourite of Xerxes.

[64] But see Sayce (The Higher Criticism and the Monuments, p. 470), who points out that “in the contract tablets which have been discovered under the soil of Babylonia we occasionally find the names of Jews, and in some instances these Jews are associated with persons evidently of the same nationality, but who have adopted, if not the beliefs, at all events the divine names of the Babylonian religion.” He adds instances.

[65] Persica, xxvii.

the son of Jair etc.] These names may denote respectively Mordecai’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It is better, however, to consider Shimei and Kish to be the well-known members of the tribe of Benjamin, the former appearing in the history of David (2 Samuel 16:5 ff.; 1 Kings 2:8; 1 Kings 2:36-46), and the latter as father of Saul (1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Samuel 14:51; 1 Chronicles 8:33). Thus only these prominent links are mentioned in tracing the descent, it being a frequent practice among the Jews to omit less important members of a genealogy. Jewish tradition, accordingly, as expressed in the Targum on this passage, identifies Shimei with the enemy of David. Josephus takes the same view, as is shewn by his statement that Esther, Mordecai’s cousin, was of royal descent, thus referring to Kish in his relationship to Saul. See further in note on Esther 3:1.

Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.
6. who had been carried away] According to Heb. grammar, the relative pronoun should refer to Mordecai. If, however, he was even as a boy one of the captives in the time of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin, 2 Kings 24:6), b.c. 598, and if, as we have seen, Ahasuerus is to be identified with Xerxes, Mordecai’s age would be something like 120 years, while his cousin Esther must also have been much too old. To get rid of this difficulty (which would only be diminished, not removed, if we were to adopt the otherwise very improbable view that an earlier ruler than Xerxes is intended), it has been sought, in contravention of the grammatical usage of the original, to make the antecedent to be not Mordecai but Kish, taken as the name of the great-grandfather of the former, and as otherwise unknown. But the true explanation doubtless is that the chronological difficulty never occurred to the framer of the story, nor, probably, to his earliest readers, and that he simply meant to represent Mordecai as one of the Jews in exile.

whom Nebuchadnezzar etc.] See 2 Kings 24:10 ff.

And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.
7. brought up] Heb. was foster-father to Hadassah. The word is rendered ‘nursing-father’ in Numbers 11:12; Isaiah 49:23.

Hadassah, that is, Esther] Hadassah, from the Heb. hădas, ‘myrtle.[66]’ For this was substituted, either on her becoming queen or earlier, the name Esther, from the Persian Sitareh, a star, or from Istar, the Assyrio-Babylonian equivalent of Ashtoreth. For the attempt to identify her with Amestris, the wife of Xerxes, see Introduction, p. xiv. The fact that Mordecai took Esther to be as his own daughter is given as accounting for the familiarity between them.

[66] Cp. the Greek names Μυρτία, Μυῤῥίνη, Μύρτις.

The Targum Shçnî expounds, from the Jewish point of view, the significance of the name Hadassah. She was so called “because as the myrtle spreads fragrance in the world, so did she spread good works. And for this cause she was called in the Hebrew language Hadassah, because the righteous are likened to myrtle.” The same commentary adds, “She was also called Hadassah because, as the myrtle does not dry up either in summer or in winter, so the righteous have a share in this world and in the world to come.” (Cassel, Comm. pp. 299 f.)

his uncle’s daughter] The Heb. which properly means uncle, viz. a father’s brother, has also sometimes a wider sense, beloved one, friend. We gather from the story that the writer considered Esther to be much younger than her cousin Mordecai.

So it came to pass, when the king's commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.
8. the king’s commandment and his decree] the former substantive referring to his orally expressed order, the latter being the same word as that used for ‘the laws of the Persians and the Medes’ (Esther 1:19).

Hegai] See Esther 2:3.

was taken] The Targum Shçnî says that Esther was hidden by Mordecai, before being removed from his custody by the exercise of the king’s authority.

And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king's house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women.
9. she obtained kindness of him] This or a synonymous expression is a favourite one with the author (Esther 2:15; Esther 2:17, Esther 5:2).

speedily] In order that the prescribed period of twelve months’ preparation (see Esther 2:12) might be accomplished as soon as possible in Esther’s case, Hegai gave her precedence over others in its commencement.

her things for purification] See on Esther 2:3.

with her portions] A.V. has more vaguely, with such things as belonged to her. The reference is not to unguents of any kind, but to special food given as part of the preparation of those who were to be admitted to the king. So Nebuchadnezzar appointed for the youths who were to ‘stand before the king’ (Daniel 1:5) a daily portion of the king’s dainties and of the wine which he drank.

and the seven maidens] The article (wrongly omitted in the A.V.) indicates that it was the custom to assign seven attendants or maids of honour to persons in Esther’s position as candidates for the king’s favour.

which were meet to be given her] suitable to her exceptional claims on the ground of her beauty.

and he removed etc.] A.V. has and he preferred etc. In this sense, viz. to advance, promote, the verb (occurring also in A.V. of Daniel 6:3; John 1:15; John 1:27) is now but little used, although the substantive preferment has held its ground in common parlance. The Heb. verb simply denotes change, and it is the remainder of the clause which expresses the fact that the change was for the better.

and her maidens] The word in the LXX. (ἅβρα) is employed to denote female attendants of the choicer kind, like the French fille d’honneur. If it be an actual Greek word, it properly means graceful, delicate, but in the sense in which it is here used, it may be of foreign origin. Elsewhere it is used of the attendants upon Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:5), also of Judith’s maid (Jdg 8:33), and again in this Book (Esther 4:4; Esther 4:16) and so in the apocryphal Additions (Esther 15:2, 7).

Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it.
10. Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred] We must suppose that it would easily be discovered that she, like many of her companions (see Esther 2:3), was not Persian by nation. Thus what she desired to conceal was not simply that she was a foreigner, but that she was a Jewess. Nevertheless we have no knowledge from any other source that there was a special antipathy to her people on the part of the Persians. The concealment of her nationality must, one would think, have involved her in various acts both connected with food (cp. Daniel 1:8 etc.) and otherwise, which were inconsistent with Judaism. According to the Targum Shçnî the king on one occasion said to her, “Pray, tell me, who are thy people, and what is thy family?” She replied, “I am ignorant both concerning my people and concerning my family, because, when I was quite a child, my father and mother died and left me.” (Cassel, Comm. p. 302.)

And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.
11. walked every day before the court of the women’s house] In later times it would have been impossible for one in Mordecai’s position, even though holding some post of humble character about the palace, to approach the harem. We cannot, however, say with certainty that the rule was equally stringent in the days of Xerxes. Mordecai was clearly allowed at this time personal intercourse with his adopted daughter, whether in the presence of a third person or otherwise: not so at a later stage of the narrative (Esther 4:2).

Now when every maid's turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours, and with other things for the purifying of the women;)
12. after that it had been done to her according to the law for the women, twelve months] More accurate than A.V. after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women.

sweet odours] spices or balsam. The Hebrew and English words for myrrh (môr) and balsam (bôsem) are etymologically identical. These spices came to us from the East, and retained their Eastern names in European languages.

the things for the purifying] a general designation including the two items just mentioned. The A.V. less accurately has other things for the purifying.

Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king's house.
13. then in this wise] better than then thus of A.V., as marking more forcibly the commencement of the apodosis, answering to the somewhat distant ‘Now when’ at the beginning of Esther 2:12.

In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king's chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.
Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her.
15. Abihail] Esther’s father is mentioned again in Esther 9:29. In both places the LXX. reads Aminadab, which is its equivalent for Abinadab. The object of introducing again at this point the description of Esther’s connexion with Mordecai seems to be to call attention to the contrast between the modesty of her requirements and those of her companions on an occasion on which so much depended, and which would in all likelihood prove unique for each one. Her ‘requiring nothing’ served to emphasize the attractions of her person, and thus was intended to be reckoned to the credit of the Jewish nation.

So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
16. the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth] In the time of the Babylonish exile the months ceased to be called by the old Canaanitish names which the Jews had previously given them, e.g. Abib (Exodus 13:4), Ziv (1 Kings 6:1), and were denoted by numbers only. After the exile the new Babylonish names, of which Tebeth is one, began to come into use. The name does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament. It corresponded to the latter part of December and earlier part of January, and is derived from a Babylonian root tebu, which appears also in Hebrew, and means to sink or dip, referring to the rainfall by which it is characterised.

in the seventh year of his reign] probably in January, b.c. 479. Xerxes had at that time lately returned from his ill-starred expedition against Greece.

And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.
17. the royal crown] See on Esther 1:11.

Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.
18. a release] Heb. a rest, an exemption for a certain time from taxation and from military service. Such e.g. had been granted by the Pseudo-Smerdis on his usurpation (Herod. iii. 67).

gifts] The Heb. word was used in older times for a portion of food sent from the table (Genesis 43:34; 2 Samuel 11:8), and afterwards for a contribution or tax imposed for sacred purposes (2 Chronicles 24:6), or a present such as largess from a superior (Jeremiah 40:5 and here).

according to the bounty of the king] See on Esther 1:7.

And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king's gate.
19–23. Mordecai’s discovery of the plot against the king’s life

19. And when the virgins were gathered together the second time] Render, Now when maidens were being gathered together a second time. There is no article attached to the word ‘virgins’ in the original, and we have no means of knowing what kind of occasion is referred to here. It is merely a conjecture that the reference is to an effort made by the officials to supplant Esther in the king’s affections by introducing to his notice such as would better support their influence. The clause is omitted in the LXX.

then Mordecai sat etc.] better, perhaps, and when Mordecai was sitting etc. In this way we have another circumstantial clause, which is added to the first, and resumed in Esther 2:21. Mordecai occupied a place at the gate of the palace properly so called, or of that division of the women’s apartments which was assigned to the queen herself (see on Esther 2:3), that he might utilise any opportunity which presented itself of communicating with his ward. His occupation of this subordinate position is accounted for in Esther 2:20, which is of the nature of a parenthesis.

Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him.
20. Esther had not yet shewed etc.] In the East, when persons rise in rank, it is expected that their relatives will rise with them. But the connexion between Esther and Mordecai had not been disclosed, the queen having been faithful in carrying out the direction of her foster-father to that effect. There is no great improbability of a secret of this sort having been kept under the circumstances of the story.

In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus.
21. In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate] The main course of the story is thus resumed from Esther 2:19.

chamberlains] eunuchs.

Bigthan and Teresh] The former is possibly the Bigtha of Esther 1:10. In Esther 6:2 he is called Bigthana.

of those which kept the door] who guarded the entrance to the room where the king slept. It was a position in which the strictest fidelity was obviously needed, and which gave a conspirator who could attain it a great prospect of success. In point of fact Xerxes himself in the end fell a victim to a murderous attack by an officer of this kind (Diodor. xi. 69. 1), and such too was the fate of one of his successors, Artaxerxes III (Ochus), in b.c. 338.

And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai's name.
22. And the thing was known to Mordecai] The Targum states that Mordecai was indebted for his discovery to extraordinary linguistic powers, as understanding no fewer than seventy languages! Josephus (Ant. xi. 6. 4) less extravagantly attributes it to information obtained from a Jewish slave of the conspirators named Barnabazus.

told] simpler than ‘certified’ of A.V. and more in consonance with the original.

in Mordecai’s name] but without mentioning his relationship.

And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king.
23. And when inquisition … on a tree] The LXX. have more briefly, ‘And the king examined the two eunuchs and hung them.’ The word ‘examined’ probably means by torture.

hanged on a tree] crucified or impaled. Such was the form of capital punishment inflicted upon political offenders in Persia (Herod. iii. 159, iv. 43).

the book of the chronicles] Herodotus (viii. 90) tells us that historiographers were attached to Xerxes’ court, and moved with it from place to place. Thus these chronicles recorded facts and events of State importance. Doubtless they were written on materials more perishable than the burnt clay tablets, which have been found in the vicinity of Babylon and elsewhere, and which have fortunately transmitted to us public occurrences of their time. Ctesias (see on Esther 1:2) pretended that records set down by Persian chroniclers were the sources from which he drew his information. We may compare the acta diurna of the Roman Empire, referred to in Tacitus (Ann. xiii. 31). The ‘chronicles’ mentioned in the text here are referred to again in Esther 6:1, Esther 10:2. Cp. Ezra 4:15.

before the king] under his supervision, if not actually in his presence.

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