Esther: Introduction Part 2

Study the Times of Esther: Before and After

Studying Esther without the “how it got there” or what is its influence and application today. Let us take a moment and look at some interesting facts that lead up to and followed the time of Queen Esther.

To the right is a look at where Shushan is located. Here it is called SUSA. None-the-less it is just another name for Shushan. It I said that the tomb of Daniel is in this city. Other places claim his tomb but this one is the most likely because scriptures tell us Daniel spent time there as a government official under Darius (appointed ruler over Babylonian territory captured by the Persians and Medes. One may wish to examine the secular history around Daniel and Susa (Shushan). Go to http://www.biblesearchers.com/prophecy/daniel/daniel8-1.shtml for one good website for so doing.

Click on either  Shushan, the capital in the Province of Elam and the River U’lai or Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerses are the same King of the Medes and the Persians according to the Seder Olam Rabbah. One may also wish to click on The Palace at Shushan or The Tomb of Daniel.

We disagree with some of this website’s conclusions, but it is mind tickling and an educational moment or two to read. It began as the capital of Elam. Elam was in the line of Shem (Noah’s son). Esther is from a line of Benjamites taken captive along with Judah. The time of Esther is about 140 years after Nebuchadnezzar dispersed and took captive the Judeans of Judah. Judah was dominated by many Benjamites and a significant population Judeans [Tribe of Judah] with a smattering of members from the other Tribes of Israel.

(Jeremiah 49:34-39) I will shatter Elam before their foes, before those who want to kill them; I will bring disaster on them, even my fierce anger,” declares the Lord. “I will pursue them with the sword until I have made an end of them. I will set my throne in Elam and destroy her king and officials,” declares the Lord. Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam in days to come,” declares the Lord. Remember that one of the capitals of Persia was Susa of Elam.

Alexander the Great died in Babylon “city”. The Babylonian Empire had a second capital in Susa/Shushan. This is the setting of the Book of Esther. The Israelis who were originally Babylonian captives from Judah, but did not return to Judah when released, by choice remained in Babylon and later Persia. This was a significant population of mostly Benjamites and Judeans with some Levites.

AHA MOMENT: The two main Benjamite characters of the Book of Esther are Esther and Mordecai. Their names are corruptions of the Babylonian gods Isthar and Marduk. Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah which interestingly means Myrtle as in the myrtle tree of Zechariah’s vision in his book, chapter 1:1-17.

A 2nd Aha: Go back just a few years, maybe 60 years when Cyrus the Great released the Judean captives in his conquered lands, this included multiple tens-of-thousands of dispersed Northern Kingdom Israelites originally exiled by the Assyrians and living within the other conquered lands of Cyrus.

Why is history before, during, and after the Book of Esther so significant. Why is it even included in the Old Testament? We borrow from Robert Mock’s MD article The Festival of Purim his insightful questions.

“What if Esther did not exist, or she did not respond to the calling of God and be willing to give up her life for her people.  Within eight years, Ahasuerus was assassinated by a courtier, Artabanus.  No doubt, Ezra, the lawyer and scribe, was alive at the time of Esther.  Fifteen years later, under the rule of Artaxerxes I, Ezra leads the second group of Jews back to the Holy Land in 458 BC.  Was Artaxerxes I, the son of Esther and Ahasueras (Xerxes I)?  Without Esther, would Ezra have been killed in the genocide? Without Ezra, would the compilation of the Tanach, the Old Testament, been completed?  Without Esther, would Nehemiah, the governor, have been killed? Would the third migration back to Israel have never occurred?  Maybe there would not have been enough Jews to migrate back to the Land”.

Esther and the Book of Esther may be the common denominator for each of the above scenarios offered by Dr. Robert Mock. There were many Persian kings but only a few have any role in God’s expressed interest in Israelites during the time up to and after Esther. It may be little more than a technicality in our review of whose who in this article but read on. This was a combined empire of the Medes and the Persians when it all began. Eventually the Persians conquered the Medes. When one runs across the name of Astyages, son of Cyaxares, he is NOT a king of the Medo-Persian Empire. He is the last king of the independent Medes in the Mede and Persian alliance. He ruled on his half of the empire 100 years after the time of Esther. This would be the far eastern borders of today’s Iran.

AHA MOMENT: The brother-in-law of Astyages was none other than Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and Daniel’s time. It was his sister who was the queen for which Nebuchadnezzar built the “Hanging Gardens” of Babylon. Talk about family in-fighting, Astyages was dethroned by Cyrus of Persia, his grandson. He lived out his life in Persia.

Another point of aha in the Book of Esther is the villain Haman. He is an Amalekite. He is in the line and Tribe of Amalec the grandson of Esau. A reading of the Book of Esther might leave one thinking that the dispute between Mordecai and Haman was simply personal. If that is so, then why would Haman seek the execution of all “Jews” in Persia even though there is doubt Haman knew Queen Esther was a Jewess? It goes much deeper. It goes all the way back to the feud between Isaac and Esau. They were then and remain today bitter enemies. It was the Amalekites of the Negev north of Egypt that refused Moses and the Israelites from Egyptian captivity of 400+years to pass through their lands in route to the lands of the Canaanites, Israel’s Promised Land.

The author of the Book of Esther is not identified. Most knowledgeable history buffs of the Bible conclude it must have been Mordecai who penned this Bible history. It is logical to conclude that one who was an eyewitness might be the author of greatest knowledge. Besides, Mordecai was significant to this book. His part was as important as was Esther if not a bit more so.

The events in the pages of Esther began around the 3rd year of Xerxes’ reign putting it around 583 B.C. They continued at least up to and after the twelfth year of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) most likely up to 573 B.C. Xerxes was assassinated assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard. (Hmmm? Some bodyguard).

Let us close this part 2 of Esther with a quote from Charles Spurgeon.

Oh! That you studied your Bibles more! Oh! That we all did! How we could plead the promises! How often we should prevail with God when we could hold him to his word, and say, ‘Fulfill this word unto thy servant, whereon thou hast caused me to hope.’ Oh! It is grand praying when our mouth is full of God’s word, for there is no word that can prevail with him like his own.” (Spurgeon)

JIV: This includes seeking wisdom and understanding [Colossians 1:9; NASB]

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”

Rev. Dr. Jstark
2021

Article #22 of the Daniel Series

Belshazzar is slain by the Medes (Persians) and Darius is set to rule of the conquered Babylon. Do not confuse bible facts with nay-sayer historians who claim Cyrus was the ruler. Yes he was at this time; Asian ruler along with the more loosely knit confederation (of sort) Medes. Cyrus ruled the empire. Darius, for a very short time, ruled Babylon. The Bible gives us facts we often miss the reason for why. Things like proper names and places; in this case the Bible specifically gives us the age of Darius in the very last verse of chapter 5. He was 62 years old.

We should ask ourselves since such information is seldom given if it is given for a reason? Darius ruled for a short time then either died or stepped down into retirement. He is NOT the King Darius on the throne of Babylon 40 years later. However, the Book of Esther comes within the next 40 years.

CHAPTER 6
Daniel 6:1

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over the whole kingdom;

As mentioned at the end of our study of chapter 5, there is some debate over the identity of Darius. Critics have pointed to Daniel’s assertion that Darius the Mede was king of Babylon as proof that the book of Daniel was not an eyewitness account, but rather the work of a much later author who was confused about the details of this period. Critics are quick to make bold assertions that are based on biased opinions rather than objective facts. Professor Robert Dick Wilson who spent a lifetime studying these things states: “This confusion is a matter of evidence. With all due deference to the opinion of other scholars, I am firmly convinced that no man today has sufficient evidence to prove that the author of Daniel was confused. There are no records to substantiate the assertions of confusion. Neither is it clear to the critics nor can they make it clear to others, that the author of Daniel either did not understand the facts with regard to Darius the Mede, or clearly express himself about them.” (Studies in Daniel)

Among the various opinions put forward, the ones favored by most scholars are as follows:

  1. Darius was not the name of a person but simply a title meaning “holder of the scepter”. Certainly there are five later Persian rulers with the same name, which lends some support to this argument.
  2. Donald J Wiseman of the British Museum puts forward the idea that Darius was indeed a title and our character in question was in fact Cyrus himself. Scholars have noted that the closing verse of this chapter could also be translated in such a way as to imply that Darius is Cyrus. (JIV: It is translated this way in the footnotes of the N.I.V.)
  3. Another view is that Darius was Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, although his age as revealed at the end of chapter 5 would seem to discount this; as would the fact that this would then leave a gap of approximately four months with no king over Babylon from the death of Belshazzar until Cambyses was eventually appointed as king of Babylon in 538 BC. However, it is wise to take note that Daniel even mentions his age at his ascension to the throne of Babylon. There is often a reason why God leads writers of scripture to make such statements.
  4. Finally, the view that seems most consistent with what we know from the Bible and history is that Darius the Mede was Gubaru, the general of Cyrus’ Mede army who had taken Babylon on the night of Belshazzar’s feast, aged about 62. Cyrus rewarded Gubaru with a regional governorship for capturing the capital of the Babylonian Empire. What we do know from the ‘Nabonidus Chronicle’ and Josephus is that on October 12th 539BC, Gubaru entered Babylon at night, killing Belshazzar and conquering the city without a fight since the Babylonian army was not even there.

On October 29th Cyrus entered the city, being met at the gates by Daniel with a scroll of Isaiah in his hand. Over 150 years earlier Isaiah had prophesied:

Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof: *That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: **even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of (Belshazzar) kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel….” (Isaiah 44:24 – 45:6)

Note that Isaiah even mentions the access of the Medes and Persians into Babyloon; the river that has been dried up (diverted) so the troops simply walked in under the water gates of the river that flowed into Babylon.

**This is the prophecy of Isaiah almost 200 years earlier that the “captive” Judeans would be released to return to Jerusalem by a king named Cyrus.


Only a few weeks before, Cyrus had instructed Gubaru to take the ‘impenetrable’ city of Babylon by diverting the river Euphrates into a canal upriver so that the water level dropped “to the height of the middle of a man’s thigh” (Herodotus). Thus the city’s flood defenses were rendered useless and the Persian army was able to march right into the city through the river bed. As Cyrus is now reading this portion of Isaiah he must have been ‘blown away’. Not only does this Jewish prophet, who had been dead for 150 years, mention him by name, but the passage describes how the city would be taken and the fact that Belshazzar’s loins were loosened – something that was no doubt common knowledge by now.

Cyrus, approximately one and a half years later in 537 BC, went on to sign a decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple all by Daniel’s beckoning of him. This decree is recorded at the end of 2 Chronicles and at the beginning of Ezra: “Now in the first year of *Cyrus king of Persia [NB: 539 to 538 = Ascension year, therefore 538 to 537 = first year of reign], that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled [see Jer 29:10], the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? His God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourned, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” (Ezra 1:1-4)

*King of the Persian Empire therefore over the appointed King Darius of Babylon.

In addition to this decree recorded in the Bible the above is a cylinder, now known as the ‘Stele of Cyrus’, which now resides in the British Museum. On the cylinder are the words:

“…without any battle, he entered the town, sparing any calamity:…I returned to sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris [river], the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time… and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations”

The ‘Stele of Cyrus’ – British Museum, London

Returning to the ‘who is Darius?’ question: From archaeological discoveries we know that Cyrus was known as ‘king of lands’ (i.e. ruler of the empire), and because the empire was so vast, it was normal to appoint kings over districts or regions. Thus it is reasonable that Cyrus would have appointed someone he trusted to be king of Babylon, and who better than his trusted general Gubaru who had just taken the city for his king? This starts out as a plausible theory but is soon confirmed by rereading the closing verse of chapter 5:“And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.” Initially we read ‘and Darius became king…’ but that is not what this verse states. What we are told is that ‘Darius the Median took the kingdom…’ The word translated ‘took’ is ‘qebal’ (Aramaic) meaning ‘to acquire’, also translated elsewhere as ‘receive’ or ‘take’. As we have already mentioned, it was Gubaru (AKA: Darius) who acquired the kingdom on behalf of Cyrus, thus this verse would seem to identify Darius the Mede as Gubaru. This is also consistent with Daniel 9:1 where we are told that Darius was ‘made king over the realm of the Chaldeans’ (made = ‘malak’ (Aramaic) ‘to induct into royalty’).

(Gubaru is also sometimes written as Ugbaru or Gobryas [Greek])

Daniel 6:2

And over these, three governors of whom Daniel was first: that the satraps might give accounts unto them, and the king should have no damage.

Continuing from verse one, Darius had 120 governors with three presidents or governors overseeing everything. Daniel was the chief president, second to the king himself.

Daniel 6:3

Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes….

Not only did Daniel outrank all the other government officials, we are told that he was preferred above them all. Now, human nature being what it is, you can almost hear the murmuring in the background already ‘who does he think he is…?. He was just a captive Jew from Judah.’ Daniel continued his government ranking from Nebuchadnezzar to Darius.

…because an excellent spirit was in him;

Daniel’s whole life seems to be an example of what God can do in a life that is yielded to Him. We are called to be salt and light in this world, that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven (Matt 5:13-16). We are to be an example in word, conversation, charity (love), spirit, faith, purity and work (1 Tim 4:12). We are to work hard for our employers (Colossians 3:23) so that the name of our God and His doctrine are not blasphemed (1 Tim 6:1). We are to allow no corrupt communication to proceed from our mouths, but only that which is helpful and will build others up (Ephesians 4:29).

…..and the king thought to set him (Daniel) over the whole realm.

This did not go down well with the other non-Judean [Jews] officials. No doubt Darius had enlisted some of the best men of Babylon and added them to his own Persian staff, probably people that had served with him in the army. Now this ageing Jewish exile is almost being made king! This hate for the local, once captive Judeans reveals itself once again in the Book of Esther some 40 years later. Mordecai was set up for death as he was a Jew hated by the royal court; Haman. (King Ahasuerus, commonly identified as Xerxes I, reined 486–465 BCE). Esther was his queen.

Daniel 6:4

Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.

Jealousy is a powerful motivator. It overrides common sense and logical thought.

Proverbs 6:34-35 says: “For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. He will not regard any ransom; neither will he rest content, though thou givest many gifts.”

Once the ‘ball of jealousy’ is rolling, nothing will stop it. But notice again, despite trying to find fault in Daniel there was nothing in his life that he had to hide, no secret sins, nothing to regret.

Next article we discover the events that followed. It picks up in verse 5 of Daniel 6. This reminds me of a gospel Chorus/Song back in the 60’ with words that go something like this…

IF YOU WERE ARRESTED FOR BEING A CHRISTIAN;

WOULD THERE BE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO CONVICT YOU?