Esther 1:3
In the third year of his reign, he made a feast to all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him:
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(3) In the third year of his reign.—Assuming, as we do, the identity of Ahasuerus and Xerxes, this will be 483 B.C., when Xerxes held a meeting at Susa of his princes to make arrangements for invading Greece. At so important a gathering, the feasting was a very obvious adjunct; and besides the coming campaign, a successful war had just been concluded in Egypt, and rejoicings for the past might have mingled with high hopes for the future, when the whole strength of the empire should be put forth to crush the presumptuous foe who had dared to measure swords with the “king of kings.”

Nobles.—The word in the Hebrew, partemim, occurring here, in Esther 6:9. and Daniel 1:3. is a Persian word, literally meaning “first.” The Greek protos and Latin primus are evidently akin to it.

Esther 1:3. Made a feast unto all his princes and his servants — By his servants are meant his subjects, who were called servants in the eastern countries. And it was the manner of the Roman emperors, sometimes to feast all the people of Rome, as well as the senate. The power of Persia and Media — The mighty men, the chief officers of state, and commanders of all his forces; whom, by this splendid entertainment, he endeavoured to oblige, and assure to himself. What the occasion of this feast was, is variously conjectured. Some think it was begun on his birth-day; but the next words seem to inform us, that it was to show his magnificent greatness to all his subjects; for in those countries they delighted much in making great feasts, as we read afterward that Alexander, when he was there, entertained four hundred captains, or great commanders, who all sat in silver chairs, &c.1:1-9 The pride of Ahasuerus's heart rising with the grandeur of his kingdom, he made an extravagant feast. This was vain glory. Better is a dinner of herbs with quietness, than this banquet of wine, with all the noise and tumult that must have attended it. But except grace prevails in the heart, self-exaltation and self-indulgence, in one form or another, will be the ruling principle. Yet none did compel; so that if any drank to excess, it was their own fault. This caution of a heathen prince, even when he would show his generosity, may shame many called Christians, who, under pretence of sending the health round, send sin round, and death with it. There is a woe to them that do so; let them read it, and tremble, Hab 2:15,16.In the third year - In this year, 483 B.C., Xerxes assembled the governors of provinces at Susa, in connection with his contemplated expedition against Greece.

The nobles - literally, "the first men." The Hebrew word used is one adopted from the Persian.

3. made a feast unto all his princes and his servants—Banquets on so grand a scale, and extending over so great a period, have been frequently provided by the luxurious monarchs of Eastern countries, both in ancient and modern times. The early portion of this festive season, however, seems to have been dedicated to amusement, particularly an exhibition of the magnificence and treasures of the court, and it was closed by a special feast of seven days' continuance, given within the gardens of the royal palace. The ancient palace of Susa has been recently disinterred from an incumbent mass of earth and ruins; and in that palace, which is, beyond all doubt, the actual edifice referred to in this passage, there is a great hall of marble pillars. "The position of the great colonnade corresponds with the account here given. It stands on an elevation in the center of the mound, the remainder of which we may well imagine to have been occupied, after the Persian fashion, with a garden and fountains. Thus the colonnade would represent the 'court of the garden of the king's palace' with its 'pillars of marble.' I am even inclined to believe the expression, 'Shushan the palace,' applies especially to this portion of the existing ruins, in contradistinction to the citadel and the city of Shushan" [Loftus, Chaldaea and Susiana]. The power of Persia, i.e. the mighty men; the chief officers of state, and commanders of all his forces; whom by this splendid entertainment he endeavoured to oblige and assure to himself. In the third year of his reign he made a feast unto all his princes, and his servants,.... The nobles and officers in his court; on what account this was cannot be said with certainty, whether the first day of it was his birthday, or the day of his coming to the throne, on which day Xerxes used to make a feast annually, as Herodotus relates (f):

the power of Persia and Media; the mighty men therein, the potentates thereof; or the "army", the principal officers of it:

the nobles and princes of the provinces being with him. The first word Aben Ezra declares his ignorance of, whether it is Hebrew or Persian; Jarchi interprets it governors; and the persons intended by both seem to be the deputy governors of the one hundred and twenty seven provinces who were present at this feast. Xerxes, having reduced Egypt, meditated a war with Greece, to which he was pressed by Mardonius, a relation of his; upon which he summoned the chief men of his kingdom, to have their advice about it (g), which perhaps was taken at this time; for it was in the third year of his reign he resolved upon the war, and began to make preparations for it; and it was usual, at banquets and feasts, that the Persians debated their most important affairs (h).

(f) lb. (Herodot.) Calliope, sive, l. 9. c. 109. (g) Ib. l. 7. c. 8. (h) lb. Clio, sive, l. 1. c. 133.

In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him:
3. in the third year of his reign] probably b.c. 483.

unto all his princes and his servants] The ruins at Persepolis and at Susa shew that there was abundant accommodation for the exercise of royal hospitality. Besides the palace built by Darius, Persepolis also contains one erected by Xerxes himself. Herodotus (i. 126) mentions the feasts given by the Persian kings. But the amplitude of the entertainments provided was doubtless much exaggerated in the statement of the Greek historian, Ctesias[56] (a contemporary of Herodotus, but an untrustworthy historian), to the effect that no less than fifteen thousand persons were ordinarily feasted at the table of Persian monarchs, and that 400 talents were spent upon a feast.

[56] Fragment xxxvii. ed. A. Lion, Göttingen, 1823. Ctesias was physician to Artaxerxes Mnemon, who reigned b.c. 405–359.

the power of Persia and Media] The Medes were governed by a number of independent chiefs (the ‘kings of the Medes’ referred to in Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:28). They were united with the Persians under the sway of Cyrus, and he, as well as subsequent kings of Persia, treated them as the most favoured nation of those under their rule. This was especially the case in respect to the exercise of the Persian king’s patronage as to important governorships.

the nobles] lit. the first men. The Heb. is a modification of the old Persian word fratama.

princes of the provinces] i.e. satraps, each having (see above) a plurality of provinces under his rule, and being in the position of a tributary king.


(on chap. Esther 1:3 ff.)

In the third year of Ahasuerus’s reign he made a feast for all his great men and ministers who were set over the peoples of Persia and Media, the governors and great men, who were in charge of districts, arrayed in woollen robes, clothed in purple, eating and drinking and making merry before him.

The Scripture does not say that he displayed his riches, but it says, ‘when he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom’ (Esther 1:2), and that means that what he displayed to them was taken from the Holy House; for mortals [lit. flesh and blood] have no riches. All riches come from the Holy One, blessed be He, according as it is written, ‘The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Haggai 2:8). Six treasuries did he shew them daily for one hundred and eighty days, as it is written, ‘the riches of the glory of his kingdom and the honour of the excellence of his majesty’ (Esther 1:4): here we have six descriptive words. But when Israel saw there the vessels of the Holy House, they refused to take their seats at the feast [lit. in his presence]. And it was told the king that the Jews refused to take their seats, because they saw the vessels of the Holy House. And the king said, Then prepare another place for them to sit by themselves. And when these days were ended the king said, Now I will make a feast for the people of my city, and I will bring them to the court of the garden, which is planted with trees bearing fruit and spices. How did he prepare for them? He bent one tree towards another and made arches, and broke away spice-trees and made them into seats, and they strewed in front of them goodly stones and pearls, and placed shady trees. And they drank of vessels of gold and cups of gold, and when one had drunk of a cup, he did not drink of the same a second time, but they took the cup away from him and brought another; and there were wine-coolers there, and the cups did not match one another, since it is written, ‘the vessels being diverse one from another’ (Esther 1:7). But when they brought out the vessels of the Holy House, and the heathen poured wine into them, their lustre was changed, and therefore it is thus written, ‘the vessels being diverse one from another.’ ‘And royal wine old’ (Esther 1:7), i.e. older than the person who drank it.[90] And why (do we say) than the person who drank it? Because, suppose the man was asked, How old art thou? and answered, I am forty years old, then he was given wine to drink forty years old. And in like manner they did for every one. And for this reason it is written, ‘royal wine old’ according to the bounty of the king. ‘And the drinking was according to the law’; no one was injured by it. And why did it injure no one? Because a drinking custom prevailed among the Persians that when they brought them a large cup which held four or five Hemins[91]—the measure was called a Pithka[92]—every one was made to drink it at one draught, and they did not leave him alone till he had drunk it at one draught. And the butler [lit. mixer] who mixed wine for the Persians used to acquire great wealth. And how used he to acquire it? He used to mix wine for the guest, and when he could not drink it, he used to beckon to the butler, saying, Take it away, and thou shalt have some money; because he was not able to drink it. But king Ahasuerus said, These cups shall not be brought for drinking; according as each man desires, he shall drink. Accordingly it is written, ‘And the drinking was according to the law’ (Esther 1:8).

[90] This interpretation is deduced by the Targum from the double sense of the Heb. word רָב which means either great in quantity, abundant (its real sense here), or great in age, old.

[91] ἡμίνα, liquid measure.

[92] Probably the Persian βατιακή, a kind of cup, mentioned by Diphilus, a comic poet, who flourished in the latter part of the 4th cent. b.c. See Meinecke’s Comic Fragments, iv. 414.

Vashti the queen prepared a feast apart for the women, and mixed for them dark-coloured wine, and she seated them in the palace in order to shew them the king’s riches. And they asked her, Where does the king sleep? And she explained to all the women who requested her to do so, that they might know all particulars; and she told them the king’s arrangements, that he ate here and drank there and slept there; and because of this it is written, ‘in the royal house’ (Esther 1:9).Verse 3. - In the third year of his reign. In B.C. 483, probably in the early spring, when the court, having spent the winter at Babylon (Xenophon), returned to Susa to enjoy the most charming season of the year. He made a feast unto all his princes and his servants. Persian kings, according to Ctesias and Duris, ordinarily entertained at their table 15,000 persons! This is of course an exaggeration; but there can be no doubt that their hospitality was on a scale unexampled in modern times. The vast pillared halls of the Persepelitan and Susan palaces could accommodate many hundreds, if not thousands. The power of Persia and Media. The empire of the Achaemenian kings was Perso-Medic rather than simply Persian. The Medes were not only the most favoured of the conquered nations, but were really placed nearly on a par with their conquerors. Many of the highest offices were conferred on them, and they formed no doubt a considerable section of the courtiers. The nobles. Literally, "the first men," ha-partemim. The word used is a Persian term Hebraised. It occurs only in this place. And princes of the provinces. i.e. satraps. The presence of such persons at the great gathering at Susa preparatory to the Grecian war is witnessed to by Herodotus (7:19). Nehemiah acted with greater severity towards one of the sons of Joiada the high priest, and son-in-law of Sanballat. He drove him from him (מעלי, that he might not be a burden to me). The reason for this is not expressly stated, but is involved in the fact that he was son-in-law to Sanballat, i.e., had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite (Nehemiah 2:10), who was so hostile to Nehemiah and to the Jewish community in general, and would not comply with the demand of Nehemiah that he should dismiss this wife. In this case, Nehemiah was obliged to interfere with authority. For this marriage was a pollution of the priesthood, and a breach of the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Hence he closes the narrative of this occurrence with the wish, Nehemiah 13:29, that God would be mindful of them (להם, of those who had done such evil) on account of this pollution, etc., i.e., would punish or chastise them for it. גּאלי, stat. constr. pl. from גּאל, pollution (plurale tant.). It was a pollution of the priesthood to marry a heathen woman, such marriage being opposed to the sacredness of the priestly office, which a priest was to consider even in the choice of a wife, and because of which he might marry neither a whore, nor a feeble nor a divorced woman, while the high priest mighty marry only a virgin of his own people (Leviticus 21:7, Leviticus 21:14). The son of Joiada who had married a daughter of Sanballat was not indeed his presumptive successor (Johanan, Nehemiah 12:11), for then he would have been spoken of by name, but a younger son, and therefore a simple priest; he was, however, so nearly related to the high priest, that by his marriage with a heathen woman the holiness of the high-priestly house was polluted, and therewith also "the covenant of the priesthood," i.e., not the covenant of the everlasting priesthood which God granted to Phinehas for his zeal (Numbers 25:13), but the covenant which God concluded with the tribe of Levi, the priesthood, and the Levites, by choosing the tribe of Levi, and of that tribe Aaron and his descendants, to be His priest (לו לכהנו, Exodus 28:1). This covenant required, on the part of the priests, that they should be "holy to the Lord" (Leviticus 21:6, Leviticus 21:8), who had chosen them to be ministers of His sanctuary and stewards of His grace.

Josephus (Ant. xi. 7. 2) relates the similar fact, that Manasseh, a brother of the high priest Jaddua, married Nikaso, a daughter of the satrap Sanballat, a Cuthite; that when the Jewish authorities on that account excluded him from the priesthood, he established, by the assistant of his father-in-law, the temple and worship on Mount Gerizim (xi. 8. 2-4), and that many priests made common cause with him. Now, though Josephus calls this Manasseh a brother of Jaddua, thus making him a grandson of Joiada, and transposing the establishment of the Samaritan worship on Gerizim to the last years of Darius Codomannus and the first of Alexander of Macedon, it can scarcely be misunderstood that, notwithstanding these discrepancies, the same occurrence which Nehemiah relates in the present verses is intended by Josephus. The view of older theologians, to which also Petermann (art. Samaria in Herzog's Realenc. xiii. p. 366f.) assents, that there were two Sanballats, one in the days of Nehemiah, the other in the time of Alexander the Great, and that both had sons-in-law belonging to the high-priestly family, is very improbable; and the transposition of the fact by Josephus to the times of Darius Codomannus and Alexander accords with the usual and universally acknowledged incorrectness of his chronological combinations. He makes, e.g., Nehemiah arrive at Jerusalem in the twenty-fifth year of Xerxes, instead of the twentieth of Artaxerxes, while Xerxes reigned only twenty years.

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