Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Elevation of Esther to the Throne - Esther 2
Service Rendered by Mordochai to the King
When the wrath of King Ahashverosh was appeased, and he remembered his harsh treatment of Vashti, his courtiers proposed that he should send to fetch fair young virgins from all parts of his realm to the house of the women in Susa, that he might choose a new queen from among them. This proposal pleasing the king, was acted upon (Est 2:1-4). In the fortress of Susa, however, there dwelt one of the Jews who had been carried into captivity from Jerusalem, and whose name was Mordochai. This man had brought up Esther, his uncle's daughter, as his own child (Est 2:5-7). When, then, in pursuance with the king's commands, many maidens were gathered together in Susa, Esther also was brought into the king's house, and found favour with the keeper of the women while, according to order, she was going through a course of purification and anointing (Est 2:8-14). Then her turn came to be brought before the king, she found favour in his sight above all the other maidens, and was chosen by him to be queen in the place of Vashti. By Mordochai's command, however, she disclosed her race and lineage to no one (Est 2:15-20). At the same time two courtiers conspired against the life of the sovereign. Their conspiracy being discovered by Mordochai, was by him revealed to Esther, who gave information of it to the king, whereupon the matter was investigated, and found to have been correctly stated. The offenders were punished, and the event duly registered in the chronicles of the kingdom.
When, after these things, the wrath of King Ahashverosh was laid (שׁך, from שׁכך, to be sunk, spoken of wrath to be laid), he remembered Vashti and what she had done, and what was decreed against her (גּזר, to determine, to decree irrevocably; comp. גּזרה, Dan 4:14); a desire for reunion with her evidently making itself felt, accompanied perhaps by the thought that she might have been too harshly treated. To prevent, then, a return of affection for his rejected wife ensuing, - a circumstance which might greatly endanger all who had concurred in effecting her repudiation, - the servants of the king, i.e., the court officials who were about him, said: "Let there be young maidens, virgins fair to look on, sought for the king." בּתוּלות, virgins, is added to נערות, the latter word signifying merely young women of marriageable age. Est 2:3. "And let the king appoint (ויפקד is the continuation of יבקּשׁוּ) officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together every virgin who is fair to look on to the citadel of Susa, to the house of the women, unto the hand of Hega the king's eunuch, the keeper of the women, and let them appoint their things for purification; and let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti." To the hand of Hega, i.e., to his care and superintendence, under which, as appears from Est 2:12, every maiden received into the house of the women had to pass a year before she was brought before the king. Hega (called Hegai, Est 2:8 and Est 2:15) was an eunuch, the keeper of the women, i.e., superintendent of the royal harem. ונתון is the infin. abs., used instead of the verb. fin. to give prominence to the matter: let them appoint. תּמרקום, from מרק, to rub, to polish, signifies purification and adornment with all kind of precious ointments; comp. Est 2:12. This speech pleased the king, and he acted accordingly.
Before relating how this matter was carried into execution, the historian introduces us to the two persons who play the chief parts in the following narrative. Est 2:5. There was (dwelt) in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the name of Mordochai (מרדּכי, in more correct editions מרדכי), the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite (ימיני אישׁ like Sa1 9:1). Jair, Shimei, and Kish can hardly mean the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of Mordochai. On the contrary, if Jair were perhaps his father, Shimei and Kish may have been the names of renowned ancestors. Shimei was probably the son of Gera, well known to us from the history of David, Sa2 16:5. and Kg1 2:8, Kg1 2:36., and Kish the father of Saul, Ch1 8:33; Sa1 9:1; for in genealogical series only a few noted names are generally given; comp., e.g., Ch1 9:19; Ch1 6:24. Upon the ground of this explanation, Josephus (Ant. xi. 6) makes Esther of royal descent, viz., of the line of Saul, king of Israel; and the Targum regards Shimei as the Benjamite who cursed David. The name Mordochai occurs in Ezr 2:2 and Neh 7:7 as that of some other individual among those who returned from captivity with Zerubbabel, but can hardly be connected with the Persian mrdky, little man. Aben Ezra, Lightfoot, and others, indeed, are of opinion that the Mordochai of the present book really came up with Zerubbabel, but subsequently returned to Babylon. Identity of name is not, however, a sufficient proof of identity of person. The chronological statement, Est 2:6 : who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been carried away with Jeconiah, king of Judah, etc., offers some difficulty. For from the captivity of Jeconiah in the year 599 to the beginning of the reign of Xerxes (in the year 486) is a period of 113 years; hence, if the אשׁר is referred to Mordochai, he would, even if carried into captivity as a child by then, have reached the age of from 120 to 130 years, and as Esther was not made queen till the seventh year of Xerxes (Est 2:16), would have become prime minister of that monarch at about the age of 125. Rambach, indeed, does not find this age incredible, though we cannot regard it as probable that Mordochai should have become minister at so advanced an age.
(Note: Baumg. aptly remarks, l.c., p. 125: Etsi concedendum est, non esse contra naturam, si Mordechaeus ad illam aetatem pervenerit, et summa hac constitutus senectute gravissimis negotiis perficiendis par fuerit, tamen est hoc rarissimum et nisi accedit certum testimonium, difficile ad credendum.)
On this account Clericus, Baumgarten, and others refer the relative אשׁר to the last name, Kish, and understand that he was carried away with Jeconiah, while his great-grandson Mordochai was born in captivity. In this case Kish and Shimei must be regarded as the great-grandfather and grandfather of Mordochai. We grant the possibility of this view; nevertheless it is more in accordance with the Hebrew narrative style to refer אשׁר to the chief person of the sentence preceding it, viz., Mordochai, who also continues to be spoken of in Est 2:7. Hence we prefer this reference, without, however, attributing to Mordochai more than 120 years of age. For the relative clause: who had been carried away, need not be so strictly understood as to assert that Mordochai himself was carried away; but the object being to give merely his origin and lineage, and not his history, it involves only the notion that he belonged to those Jews who were carried to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar with Jeconiah, so that he, though born in captivity, was carried to Babylon in the persons of his forefathers. This view of the passage corresponds with that formerly presented by the list of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Jacob who went down with him to Egypt; see the explanation of the passage in question.
(Note: Baumgarten also considers this view admissible, rightly remarking, p. 127: Scriptoribus sacris admodum familiare est singulos homines non per se et sepositos spectare, sed familias et gentes ut corpora quasi individua complecti, ita ut posteri majorum personis quasi contenti et inclusi, majores vero in posteris ipsi subsistere et vivere existimentur. Ex hac ratione Mordechaeus captus esse dici potest, quamvis ipse satis diu post Jechoniae tempora ex iis, qui a Nebucadnezaro abducti sunt, natus fuerit.)
Est 2:7. Mordochai was אמן, keeper, bringer up, i.e., foster-father, to Hadassh (אמן constructed as a participle with את). הדסּה means a myrtle (הדס in the Shemitish), like the Greek name Μυρτία, Μυῤῥίνη. "That is Esther," the queen known by the name of Esther. The name אסתּר is the Old-Persian stara with א prosthetic, and corresponds with the Greek ἀστήρ, star, in modern Persian sitareh. She was בּת־דּדו, daughter of his father's brother, and adopted by Mordochai after the death of her parents; we are told, moreover, that she had a fine figure and beautiful countenance. Her father, whose name, according to Est 2:15, was Abihail, was uncle to Mordochai, and hence Esther was his cousin.
When, then, the king's commandment and decree was heard, i.e., proclaimed throughout the kingdom, and many maidens gathered together in Susa, Esther also was received into the royal harem, under the keeping of Hegai. The maiden pleased him and won his favour (חסד נשׂא, to bear away love, i.e., to obtain favour, synonymous with חן נשׂא, Est 2:15 and Est 5:2). וגו ויבהל, and he hastened to give her her ointments for purification, and the seven maidens appointed to her from the king's house. The infinitives להּ לתת are, according to the Aramaean idiom, placed after their objects and dependent on יבהל. On תּמרוּקים, see on Est 2:3. מנות, portions, are here portions of food, as in Est 9:19, Est 9:22, and Sa1 1:4. The seven maidens (הנּערות with the article) are the maids appointed to wait upon a young virgin selected for the king. The participle ראיּות: chosen for a particular purpose-in the Talmud and rabbinical Hebrew ראוּי, dignus, decens, conveniens, - occurs only here. ישׁנּה, he changed her and her maids into the best of the house of the women, i.e., he took them out of the ordinary rooms and placed them in the best apartments, probably in the state-rooms, where those who were accustomed to be brought to the king used to dwell.
Est 2:10 contains a supplementary remark. This kind and respectful treatment was shown to Esther, because, in obedience to Mordochai's command, she had not shown her people nor her kindred, i.e., her Jewish extraction; for a Jewish maiden would hardly have experienced such friendly usage. Est 2:11 also contains an additional notice, prefixed here to enable what follows to be rightly understood, and repeated in another connection Est 2:19, and on several other occasions: Mordochai walked every day before the court or enclosure of the women's house, to know the welfare (שׁלום) of Esther and what became of her (בּה יעשׂה, properly, what was done to her). Hence Mordochai was in constant communication with Esther. How this communication was effected is not more particularly stated; probably by means of the maids appointed to wait on her. Jewish expositors are of opinion, that Mordochai held high office, and that having consequently free access to the royal palace, he could easily find the means of communicating with his relative.
Before relating the appearance of Esther before the king, the narrator more particularly describes in Est 2:12-14 the preparations for this event, and how Esther behaved with respect to them.
"When every maid's turn came (i.e., at every time that any maid's turn came) to go in to King Ahashverosh, after the time when it had been done to her twelve months according to the law of the women - for thus were the days of their purification accomplished: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with balsam and ointments of purification for women - and the maiden came to the king, all that she desired was given her to go with her out of the women's house unto the king's house." תּור, turn in succession, used only here and Est 2:15. The turn to go in unto the king did not come to any maid until וגו היות מקּץ, at the end of the time when it had been done to her according to the law ... This time lasted twelve months after her reception into the house of the women; and the law of the women, according to which it was done to her, was, that she should be purified for six months with oil of myrrh, and as long with בּשׂמים, sweet odours and other ointments. בּאה הנּערה וּבזה (Est 2:13) forms the continuation of the antecedent clause commencing with כּהנּיע, or, to speak more correctly, of a second antedecent with which the conclusion כּל־אשׁר את is connected. Some expositors understand בּזה, with the lxx, of the time: illo sc. tempore; others of the condition: hoc modo ornata or ea lege (Cler.), and therefore as parallel in meaning with the כּן of Est 4:16. Either view is admissible and suits the sense, but the latter is more in harmony with the parallel passage Est 4:16, and therefore preferable. All that was to be given her, can only relate to ornaments and jewels, which were to be given that each might appear before the king adorned and dressed after her own taste.
In the evening she went (to the king), and on the morrow she returned to the women's house, a second (time) to the hand (under the keeping of) Shaashgaz, the king's chamberlain, who kept the concubines; she came no more to the king, except the king delighted in her and she were called by name, i.e., specially. שׁני instead of שׁנית, like Neh 3:30.
When Esther's turn came to go in unto the king, she required nothing (to take with her, see Est 2:13) but what Hegai the king's chamberlain appointed (hence as not concerned to please the king by special adornment), and she obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her, namely, by her modesty and humility. On חן נשׂא, see remarks on Est 2:9.
She was taken into the king's house (מלכוּת בּית instead of המּלך בּית, the palace of the kingdom, the royal residence) in the tenth month, i.e., the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; and he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. The meaning evidently is, that the king, immediately after their first meeting, bestowed his affections upon Esther in preference to all the women and maidens, and chose her queen.
To celebrate Esther's elevation to the crown, the king made a great feast, called Esther's feast, to all his princes and servants, and granted release to the provinces. The verbale Hiph. הנחה is translated in the lxx ἄφεσις, Vulg. requies, and understood either of a remission of taxes or a remission of labour, a holiday. Although the Chald. understands it of a remission of taxes, yet the use of the verb עשׂה rather favours the latter meaning, viz., the appointment of a holiday, on which there would be arresting from labour. Finally, he gave gifts with royal munificence משׂאת like Amo 5:11; Jer 40:5; המּלך כּיד like Est 1:7. - It seems strange that a period of four years should intervene between the repudiation of Vashti in the third year of Ahashverosh and the elevation of Esther in the seventh, an interval whose length cannot be adequately accounted for by the statements of the present book. Only a few days could have elapsed between the disgrace of Vashti and the time when the king remembered her; for this took place, we are told, when the king's wrath was appeased. The proposal to collect virgins from all parts of his kingdom to Susa was then immediately made. Now, if the carrying out of this proposal took half a year, and the preparation of the virgins by anointing, etc., lasted a year, Esther, even if her turn to go in unto the king had not come for six months, might have been made queen two years after the repudiation of Vashti. As she obtained the favour of Hegai immediately upon her reception into the women's house, so that he hastened her purifications (Est 2:9), she would not be brought before the king among the last, but would rather be one of the first to go in. The long interval which elapsed between the repudiation of Vashti and the elevation of Esther, can only be satisfactorily explained by the history of the reign of Xerxes; in fact, by the circumstance that his campaign against Greece took place during this time.
Est 2:19-23 relate the intervention of an incident of great importance in the subsequent development of the narrative. When virgins were for the second time gathered together, two courtiers were incensed with the king, and sought to lay hands upon him. This thing was known to Mordochai, who sat in the gate of the palace and kept up a constant communication with Esther even after she became queen, and by him communicated to her, that she might bring it to the knowledge of the king. The matter being investigated and found to have been truly reported, the offenders were punished, and an entry of the particulars made in the chronicles of the kingdom. The words "when virgins were assembled for the second time," which serve to define the time when the conspiracy of the two courtiers took place, as is obvious from the circumstance that ההם בּיּמים, Est 2:21, refers to בת בּהקּבץ, Est 2:19, are obscure. The obscurity lies in the fact that no reason for assembling virgins can be perceived, after the choice of Ahashverosh had fallen upon Esther. The sentence שׁנית בּתוּלות וּבהקּבץ unmistakeably corresponds with נערות וּבהקּבץ of v. 8. This was already rightly perceived by Grotius, who, however, wrongly infers: est ἐπάνοδος (retrogressio), referendum enim hoc ad illa quae supra, ii. 2. This is, however, not only incompatible with שׁנית, but also with the circumstance that, according to the correct understanding of the sentences in Est 2:21 and Est 2:22, Esther was then already queen, and Mordochai was sitting in the gate of the king's palace, and thence keeping up communication with her; while as long as Esther was in the women's house preparing for her interview with the king, under the guardianship of Hegai, he walked day by day before the court of the women's house (Est 2:11). Still less admissible is the view of Drusius, received by Bertheau, that the gathering of the virgins for the second time is to be understood from the circumstance, that after going in to the king, they had to go into the second house of the women, under the stricter guardianship of Shaashgaz (Est 2:14). For, being no longer בּתוּלות, but פּילגשׁים (Est 2:14), their reception into the house of the concubines could not be called a second gathering together, since as virgins they were formerly in a different house. The only explanation of the שׁנית left us is the view, that even after the choice of Esther to be queen, a second gathering together of virgins actually took place; for this, as C. a Lapide remarks, is what the words undoubtedly declare. The matter itself was in accordance with the prevailing custom of polygamy, which kings carried to such an extent, that, as C. a Lapide points out, Solomon, e.g., had 700 wives and 300 concubines, i.e., secondarias uxores. From וּמרדּכי, Est 2:19, onwards, explanatory circumstantial clauses follow: "The Mordochai sat in the king's gate" introduces the parenthetical sentence, "Esther had not yet showed her kindred and her people (comp. Est 2:10), as Mordochai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordochai as when she was under his care;" i.e., Esther obeyed, after her elevation to be queen, the command of Mordochai not to make her Jewish descent known, as she had formerly done while she was yet his foster-daughter. אמנה, care, education, is a substantive derived from אמן.
The definition of time in Est 2:19 is again take up by the words: in those days; then the explanatory clause, Est 2:20, is repeated; and after this we are informed what it was that had then occurred. In those days Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's courtiers, who were the threshold-keepers (palace-watchers, lxx ἀρχισωματοφύλακες), were wroth, and sought to lay hands on King Ahashverosh, i.e., to slay him. Est 2:22. This thing was known to Mordochai, and by him communicated to Esther, who told it, in Mordochai's name, to the king. Est 2:23. The matter was investigated (sc. by the king), and found out, sc. as Mordochai had testified. The two criminals were hanged on a tree, i.e., impaled on a stake, a sort of crucifixion, - see rem. on Est 6:11, - and the circumstance entered in the book of the chronicles, i.e., the chronicles of the kingdom. המּלך לפני, before the king, i.e., in his presence, immediately after sentence had been passed by a court over which the monarch presided.