The siege of Jerusalem (Jer 32:2-32:2)

“At that time,

The army of

The king of Babylon

Was besieging Jerusalem.

The prophet Jeremiah

Was confined

In the court of the guard

That was in the palace

Of the king of Judah.

King Zedekiah of Judah

Had confined him.”

The time frame is clearly the time of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. However, Jeremiah was imprisoned in the palace jail by King Zedekiah of Judah. King Zedekiah had been installed as king by King Nebuchadnezzar in 598 BCE. However, he revolted against him and sought the aid of King Hophra or Pharaoh Apries (589-570 BCE) of Egypt. This led to the siege that lasted almost 2 years as the Egyptians tried to help King Zedekiah. Eventually, the Babylonians were successful. Meanwhile, King Zedekiah had Jeremiah confined to prison because, as always, Jeremiah was pro-Babylonian.

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The king’s audition (Esth 2:12-2:14)

“The turn came for each girl to go in to King Artaxerxes. This took place after being twelve months under the regulations for the women. The regular period of their beautifying treatment was six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics for women. When the girl went in to the king, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she went in. Then in the morning, she came back to the second harem in the custody of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She did not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.”

The audition with the king was pretty simple. Each girl had to wait a year in the harem in order to be beautiful enough for the king. These girls would spend 6 months with myrrh massage treatments and another 6 months with perfume and cosmetics massage treatments. When the girl went in to visit the king, she could bring whatever she wanted with her. She would then spend the evening with the king. Then in the morning, she would be part of the concubine harem that was under the custody of another eunuch, where she stayed until and if she was called again to be with the king.

Esther joins the king’s harem (Esth 2:8-2:11)

“So when the decree of the king was proclaimed, many girls were gathered in Susa the capital in the custody of Hegai. Esther also was brought to Hegai who had custody of the women in the king’s palace. The girl pleased him and won his favor. He quickly provided her with her ointments and her portion of food, as well as seven maids chosen from the king’s palace. He treated her and her maids with special favor in the harem. Esther had not disclosed her people or kindred country because Mordecai had charged her not to make it known. Every day Mordecai walked around in the courtyard of the harem, to see what would happen to Esther.”

Esther must have made the cut to join the harem of King Artaxerxes. Since she was already in Susa, it was not far for her to go. This may have helped her to adjust since she had already lived in Susa. She was part of the king’s harem preparing to meet him. Although the Greek text says the head of harem was Gai, I prefer the Hebrew Hegai. Esther got along very good with this eunuch, Hegai so that he gave her perfumes, ointments, and plenty of food. He also gave her 7 maids from the king’s palace, which seems odd. She and her maids got special favors and attention. She never revealed her Jewish background, but there was no need to do so since King Artaxerxes had been kind to Nehemiah, a Jewish official cup bearer. Mordecai wanted her to keep that quiet anyway. He also seemed to be in good with the eunuchs since he sometimes slept in the courtyard with them as in preliminaries of the Greek text to this book.

Queen Vashti and her banquet (Esth 1:9-1:11)

“Meanwhile, Queen Vashti also gave a drinking party for the women in the palace of King Artaxerxes. On the seventh day, when the king was in good humor, probably due to the wine, he told Haman, Bazan, Tharra, Boraze, Zastholtha, Abataza, and Tharaba, the seven eunuchs who served King Artaxerxes, to escort the queen to him in order to proclaim her as queen. He wanted to place the diadem on her head. He wanted to have her display her beauty to all the governors and the people of the various nations. She was indeed a beautiful woman.”

Apparently, there were separate drinking parties for men and women. Queen Vashti was giving a party for the women in another part of the palace. On the last day of the drinking festival, the king feeling his wine asked his 7 eunuchs to escort his queen to their party. She would be proclaimed queen with a tiara on her head. He wanted to show her off to the all the governors of the various countries that were there. After all, she was a very beautiful woman. The 7 eunuchs have different names in the Greek and Hebrew texts. Haman may be wrong since he was an official and not a eunuch. Once again, eunuchs were castrated men who were the personal servants of the king and his female companions.

The seven day feast of King Artaxerxes (Esth 1:5-1:8)

“At the end of the festivity, the king gave a drinking party for the people of the various nations who lived in the capital city of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the garden courtyard of the royal king’s palace. The courtyard was adorned with white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. Gold and silver couches were placed on a mosaic floor of emerald, mother-of-pearl, and marble. There were coverings of gauze, embroidered in various colors, with roses arranged around them. The cups were of gold and silver. A miniature cup made of ruby was on display, worth thirty thousand talents. There was abundant sweet wine, such as the king himself drank. The drinking was not according to a restrained fixed rule. The king wanted it this way. Thus he commanded his stewards to comply with his pleasure and that of his guests, as each one desired.

The first gathering was more official. This week long festival seems a little less organized. The participants seem to be local Susa folk who worked in the capitol. Persian kings supposedly gave great feasts. The setting is a beautiful outdoor royal courtyard that is adorned with white, blue, and purple linen cloths tied to marble pillars with silver rings. They had gold and silver couches on a mosaic marble floor, with roses all around. This would indicate a late spring, early summer time frame. They drank from gold and silver drinking cups. He had a miniature cup of ruby worth millions of USA dollars. Everyone got to drink the king’s wine as much as they wanted. The king had given the orders to his wine stewards. This seems like a very happy sumptuous gathering.

Plans about the western campaign (Jdt 2:1-2:3)

“In the eighteenth year, on the twenty-second day of the first month, there was talk in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar of the Assyrians about carrying out his revenge on the whole region, just as he said. He summoned all his ministers and all his nobles. He set before them his secret plan. He recounted fully, with his own lips, all the wickedness of that region. They decided that everyone who had not obeyed his command should be destroyed.”

Now we are at 587 BCE, the 18th year of his reign. King Nebuchadnezzar planned his revenge against the western region. He summoned all his advisors and gave them the secret plan. They all agreed to kill everyone who had not followed his command in this wicked western region.

The visit of the Queen of Sheba (2 Chr 9:1-9:4)

“When the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of King Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions. She came with a very great retinue, camels bearing spices, very much gold, and precious stones. When she came to King Solomon, she discussed with him all that was on her mind. King Solomon answered all her questions. There was nothing hidden from King Solomon that he could not explain to her. When the Queen of Sheba had observed the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, his valets, and their clothing, as well as his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of Yahweh, there was no more spirit in her.”

Based on 1 Kings, chapter 10, this is almost word for word about the visit of the Queen of Sheba, which has a mythical ring to it. Where does this mysterious woman come from? This queen of Sheba does not have a particular name. Some have said that she was a regent mother for her son. Most put her from Ethiopia or the Persian Gulf. Where is Sheba? Sheba was the name of a few people in Genesis, chapter 10, that puts Sheba as a descendant of Ham, Noah’s son, or a descendant of Cush. There is another Sheba mentioned as a brother of Ophir in the same Genesis chapter. So she might have been around the gold mine at Ophir, wherever that might be. This might explain her wealth in spices, gold, and precious stones. Anyway, King Solomon answered all her questions with wisdom. She observed all his wisdom, plus his house, his food, his clothing, his servants, and their clothing. She somehow lost her spirit. King Solomon also offered burnt offerings in the temple.