In the transliteration of his name between Hebrew and Greek, the translators of the LXX mistook Ahasuerus for Artaxerxes. Therefore the Ahasuerus in Esther and Ezra is in fact Xerxes, not the Ahasuerus of Daniel 9:1. During the reigns of Darius and Xerxes, Persia reached its pinnacle of power. Stretching 3000 miles east to west and 500 to 1500 miles north to south, two million square miles in all, Persia bordered India on the northeast and Ethiopia on the southwest. Susa, Ecbatana and Persepolis all served as the empire’s capitals. In the early 5th century, the Greeks struggled for independence, defeating Darius in the famed battle of Marathon. Darius died while preparing to return to Greece in 486 B.C. Xerxes, his successor, returned to Greece in 480 B.C. but suffered defeat at Salamis. He returned home and left his general Mardonius in charge, whom the Greeks also defeated at Plataea in 479 B.C. Persia then left Europe for good.
Darius appointed Xerxes as his successor in order to please Xerxes’ mother Atossa, Cyrus’s daughter. Though Xerxes possessed superior good looks and physical strength, he lacked military prowess. Despite humiliating defeats by the Greeks, he did manage to quickly bring the Egyptians, who rebelled in 485 B.C., into submission and install his brother Achaemenes over them. Nevertheless he seemed more interested in his building his harem than his empire.
The great feast described in Esther 1 appears to have been held just before Xerxes left for Greece in around 481 B.C. Gathering all of the empire’s beautiful young maidens would have taken months; likely not until after he returned from the defeat at Salamis did he meet Esther and make her his queen. Perhaps his military defeats had prepared him to take out his wrath on any convenient scapegoat, when along came Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews. Had Haman’s nefarious plan been carried out, it would have been in marked contrast to the friendship Persia’s rulers had heretofore had with the Jews. The grace and integrity displayed by Esther and Mordecai helped to re-instate that friendship, smoothing the way for Ezra and Nehemiah. Esther may be numbered with those noble women such as Rahab and Ruth whom God used to accomplish His purposes.
Emerging from Babylon after 70 years, the Jews were less a nation and more a religion. Their spirit could not be crushed, however, and the story of Esther captures that spirit. Like Joseph and Daniel, Esther’s wise judgment, heroic courage, restraint and self-sacrifice allowed her to win the favor of those around her, including the king. Interestingly, God’s name appears nowhere in the book Esther, the only book of the Bible for which this is true. Nevertheless, the Jews’ deliverance clearly comes because of Esther’s faith in God and self-sacrifice. The Jewish Feast of Purim originates from this story; Jews still celebrate it by reading Esther.
Mordecai’s question sums up the story’s prominent theme: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” God regularly uses man to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps you have been placed in your current situation for a specific purpose. With this perspective in mind, standing up for what is right becomes even more important. Sometimes God places us in what appears to be a “secular” situation simply that by standing up for what is right we may unwittingly change the course of history.Artwork for this article courtesy of Sweet Publishing