Have you ever heard the idiom “the whole megillah”? I was surprised to find that it comes from the fact that the book of Esther is called the Megillah and at the festival of Purim the whole scroll or book of Esther is read hence the congregation is given the “whole megillah”. So the next time a friend who has given you the whole story of their life to make one small point you will know why you might say to them “did you have to give me the whole megillah”? That is a small insignificant tidbit I know but I love fun details like this.
A little background on Esther may give us a little extra flavor to the book. The book doesn’t include any longing for Jerusalem, there is no mention of God or prayer, just some hints that the Jewish people living in Susa may still have some faith. It seems like the Jews are simply living day to day well assimilated into the Persian Empire. But as you will see later all is not ideal for the Jews. At this point in their history the Babylonian exile has ended and Jews that were so inclined have return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and their temple. This account gives us a peek into those that stayed behind. I found it interesting that there are two books in the Protestant Bibles that are named after women Ruth and Esther. Ruth is about a Pagan woman who marries a Jew and Esther is about a Jewish woman who marries a Pagan. Both women are highly praised. Ruth for her faithfulness and kindness to her mother in law Naomi and Esther for her beauty and her gentle way of finding favor with all she met.
The major players in this drama are; King Ahasuerus aka Xerxes, Vashti (a small but not insignificant part), Mordechai (Yay), Haddassah aka Esther and Haman (boo, hiss). When the book of Esther is read at Purim it is tradition to boo and hiss at the name of Haman and to cheer at the name of Mordechai. You will soon find out why.
The book opens with the account of a very lavish party thrown by King Xerxes for the nobles and princes of his provinces said to last 180 days. Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, said that the 180 days were for planning a military campaign and at the end of this time a seven day drinking feast was held-men only. Meanwhile Vashti, the current queen whose name means “one desired, beloved” held her own feast for the women. The King’s party was a drinking free for all where the men drank as much and as often as they wanted so you can imagine the condition of this crowd. At the end of this time the King ordered the eunuchs to bring Vashti to the party “wearing the royal crown”. The King became enraged when she refused. It is not reported why she refused. It is believed she was of royal blood herself. Perhaps she felt it beneath her dignity to appear before a crowd of drunken men. Another thought was that she was ordered to come wearing NOTHING but her crown. Whatever the reason her decision didn’t set well with her drunk husband and after hearing the advice of his advisors he issued an edict banning her from his presence FOREVER. It is important to the rest of the story to remember that in ancient Persia once the king signs onto an edict and makes it official it can not be revoked even by him. If you read the Biblical account you might also come to the conclusion that the ulterior motive for the advice to the king is the fear that the women of the city would follow suit and do whatever they pleased. Part of the edict was that men would rule over their households. Can you imagine how the women of the empire felt?
Chapter one ends with the edict being issued and Vashti being exiled. Next post-Chapter two and the beginning of some very interesting developments. Keep watch for the next installment.