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Esther 1-5 Common English Bible (CEB)

Queen Vashti

This is what happened back when Ahasuerus lived, the very Ahasuerus who ruled from India to Cush—one hundred twenty-seven provinces in all. At that time, Ahasuerus ruled the kingdom from his royal throne in the fortified part of Susa. In the third year of his rule he hosted a feast for all his officials and courtiers. The leaders of Persia and Media attended, along with his provincial officials and officers. He showed off the awesome riches of his kingdom and beautiful treasures as mirrors of how very great he was. The event lasted a long time—six whole months, to be exact! After that the king held a seven-day feast for everyone in the fortified part of Susa. Whether they were important people in the town or not, they all met in the walled garden of the royal palace. White linen curtains and purple hangings were held up by shining white and red-purple ropes tied to silver rings and marble posts. Gold and silver couches sat on a mosaic floor made of gleaming purple crystal, marble, and mother-of-pearl. They served the drinks in cups made of gold, and each cup was different. The king made sure there was plenty of royal wine. The rule about the drinks was “No limits!” The king had ordered everyone serving wine in the palace to offer as much as each guest wanted. At the same time, Queen Vashti held a feast for women in King Ahasuerus’ palace.

10 On the seventh day, when wine had put the king in high spirits, he gave an order to Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs who served King Ahasuerus personally. 11 They were to bring Queen Vashti before him wearing the royal crown. She was gorgeous, and he wanted to show off her beauty both to the general public and to his important guests. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come as the king had ordered through the eunuchs. The king was furious, his anger boiling inside. 13 Now, when a need arose, the king would often talk with certain very smart people about the best way to handle it. They were people who knew both the kingdom’s written laws and what judges had decided about cases in the past. 14 The ones he talked with most often were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan. They were seven very important people in Persia and Media who, as the kingdom’s highest leaders, were in the king’s inner circle. So the king said to them, 15 “According to the law, what should I do with Queen Vashti since she didn’t do what King Ahasuerus ordered her through the eunuchs?”

16 Then Memucan spoke up in front of the king and the officials. “Queen Vashti,” he said, “has done something wrong not just to the king himself. She has also done wrong to all the officials and the peoples in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 17 This is the reason: News of what the queen did will reach all women, making them look down on their husbands. They will say, ‘King Ahasuerus ordered servants to bring Queen Vashti before him, but she refused to come.’ 18 This very day, the important women of Persia and Media who hear about the queen will tell the royal officials the same thing. There will be no end of put-downs and arguments. 19 Now, if the king wishes, let him send out a royal order and have it written into the laws of Persia and Media, laws no one can ever change. It should say that Vashti will never again come before King Ahasuerus. It should also say that the king will give her royal place to someone better than she. 20 When the order becomes public through the whole empire, vast as it is, all women will treat their husbands properly. The rule should touch everyone, whether from an important family or not.”

21 The king liked the plan, as did the other men, and he did just what Memucan said. 22 He sent written orders to all the king’s provinces. Each province received it written in its own alphabet and each people received it in its own language. It said that each husband should rule over his own house.

Finding a new queen

Sometime later when King Ahasuerus was less angry, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what he had decided about her. So his young male servants said, “Let the king have a search made for beautiful young women who haven’t yet married. And let the king choose certain people in all the royal provinces to lead the search. Have them bring all the beautiful young women together to the fortified part of Susa, to the women’s house, to the care of Hegai the king’s eunuch in charge of the women so that he might provide beauty treatments for them. Let the young woman who pleases you the most take Vashti’s place as queen.” The king liked the plan and implemented it.

Now there was a Jew in the fortified part of Susa whose name was Mordecai, Jair’s son. He came from the family line of Shimei and Kish; he was a Benjaminite. (Benjaminites had been taken into exile away from Jerusalem along with the group, which included Judah’s King Jeconiah, whom Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar exiled to Babylon.) Mordecai had been a father to Hadassah (that is, Esther), though she was really his cousin, because she had neither father nor mother. The girl had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at. When her parents died, Mordecai had taken her to be his daughter. When the king’s order and his new law became public, many young women were gathered into the fortified part of Susa under the care of Hegai. Esther was also taken to the palace to the care of Hegai, the one in charge of the women. The young woman pleased him and won his kindness. He quickly began her beauty treatments and gave her carefully chosen foods. He also gave her seven servants selected from among the palace servants and moved her and her servants into the nicest rooms in the women’s house. (10 Esther hadn’t told anyone her race and family background because Mordecai had ordered her not to.) 11 Each day found Mordecai pacing back and forth along the wall in front of the women’s house to learn how Esther was doing and what they were doing with her. 12 According to the rules for women, the moment for each young woman to go to King Ahasuerus came at the end of twelve months. (She had six months of treatment with pleasant-smelling creams and six months with fragrant oils and other treatments for women.) 13 So this is how the young woman would go to the king: They gave her anything that she asked to take with her from the women’s house to the palace. 14 In the evening she would go in, and the next morning she would return to the second women’s house under the care of Shaashgaz. He was the king’s eunuch in charge of the secondary wives. She would never go to the king again unless he was so pleased that he called for her by name. 15 Soon the moment came for Esther daughter of Mordecai’s uncle Abihail, whom Mordecai had taken as his own daughter, to go to the king. But she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch in charge of the women told her. (Esther kept winning the favor of everyone who saw her.)

16 Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, to his own palace, in the tenth month (that is, the month of Tevet)[a] in the seventh year of his rule. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women; she had won his love and his favor more than all the others. He placed the royal crown on her head and made her ruler in place of Vashti. 18 The king held a magnificent, lavish feast, “the feast of Esther,” for all his officials and courtiers. He declared a public holiday[b] for the provinces and gave out gifts with royal generosity. 19 When they gathered the young women to the second women’s house,[c] Mordecai was working for the king at the King’s Gate. 20 Esther still wasn’t telling anyone her family background and race, just as Mordecai had ordered her. She continued to do what Mordecai said, just as she did when she was in his care.

Mordecai saves the king

21 At that time, as Mordecai continued to work at the King’s Gate, two royal eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, became angry with King Ahasuerus. They were among the guards protecting the doorway to the king, but they secretly planned to kill him. 22 When Mordecai got wind of it, he reported it to Queen Esther. She spoke to the king about it, saying the information came from Mordecai. 23 The matter was investigated and found to be true, so the two men were impaled on pointed poles.[d] A report about the event was written in the royal record with the king present.

Haman plans to destroy Mordecai

Sometime later, King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, Hammedatha the Agagite’s son,[e] by promoting him above all the officials who worked with him. All the royal workers at the King’s Gate would kneel and bow facedown to Haman because the king had so ordered. But Mordecai didn’t kneel or bow down. So the royal workers at the King’s Gate said to Mordecai, “Why don’t you obey the king’s order?” Day after day they questioned him, but he paid no attention to them. So they let Haman know about it just to see whether or not Mordecai’s words would hold true.[f] (He had told them that he was a Jew.) When Haman himself saw that Mordecai didn’t kneel or bow down to him, he became very angry. But he decided not to kill only Mordecai, for people had told him Mordecai’s race. Instead, he planned to wipe out all the Jews, Mordecai’s people, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. In the first month (that is, the month of Nisan)[g] in the twelfth year of the rule of King Ahasuerus, servants threw pur, namely, dice, in front of Haman to find the best day for his plan. They tried every day and every month, and the dice chose the thirteenth[h] day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).

Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “A certain group of people exist in pockets among the other peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of everyone else, and they refuse to obey the king’s laws. There’s no good reason for the king to put up with them any longer. If the king wishes, let a written order be sent out to destroy them, and I will hand over ten thousand kikkars of silver[i] to those in charge of the king’s business. The silver can go into the king’s treasuries.”

10 The king removed his royal ring from his finger and handed it to Haman, Hammedatha the Agagite’s son, enemy of the Jews. 11 The king said to Haman, “Both the money and the people are under your power. Do as you like with them.” 12 So in the first month, on the thirteenth day, royal scribes were summoned to write down everything that Haman ordered. The orders were for the king’s rulers and the governors in charge of each province, as well as for the officials of each people. They wrote in the alphabet of each province and in the language of each people. They wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed the order with the king’s royal ring. 13 Fast runners were to take the order to all the provinces of the king. The order commanded people to wipe out, kill, and destroy all the Jews, both young and old, even women and little children. This was to happen on a single day—the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month of Adar).[j] They were also to seize their property. 14 A copy of the order was to become law in each province and to be posted in public for all peoples to read. The people were to be ready for this day to do as the order commanded. 15 Driven by the king’s order, the runners left Susa just as the law became public in the fortified part of Susa. While the king and Haman sat down to have a drink, the city of Susa was in total shock.

A crisis for the Jews

When Mordecai learned what had been done, he tore his clothes, dressed in mourning clothes, and put ashes on his head. Then he went out into the heart of the city and cried out loudly and bitterly. He went only as far as the King’s Gate because it was against the law for anyone to pass through it wearing mourning clothes. At the same time, in every province and place where the king’s order and his new law arrived, a very great sadness came over the Jews. They gave up eating and spent whole days weeping and crying out loudly in pain. Many Jews lay on the ground in mourning clothes and ashes. When Esther’s female servants and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, the queen’s whole body showed how upset she was. She sent everyday clothes for Mordecai to wear instead of mourning clothes, but he rejected them.

Esther then sent for Hathach, one of the royal eunuchs whose job it was to wait on her. She ordered him to go to Mordecai and find out what was going on and why he was acting this way. Hathach went out to Mordecai, to the city square in front of the King’s Gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him. He spelled out the exact amount of silver that Haman promised to pay into the royal treasury. It was in exchange for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave Hathach a copy of the law made public in Susa concerning the Jews’ destruction so that Hathach could show it to Esther and report it to her. Through him Mordecai ordered her to go to the king to seek his kindness and his help for her people. Hathach came back and told Esther what Mordecai had said.

10 In reply Esther ordered Hathach to tell Mordecai: 11 “All the king’s officials and the people in his provinces know that there’s a single law in a case like this. Any man or woman who comes to the king in the inner courtyard without being called is to be put to death. Only the person to whom the king holds out the gold scepter may live. In my case, I haven’t been called to come to the king for the past thirty days.”

12 When they told Mordecai Esther’s words, 13 he had them respond to Esther: “Don’t think for one minute that, unlike all the other Jews, you’ll come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. 14 In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.”

15 Esther sent back this word to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather all the Jews who are in Susa and tell them to give up eating to help me be brave. They aren’t to eat or drink anything for three whole days, and I myself will do the same, along with my female servants. Then, even though it’s against the law, I will go to the king; and if I am to die, then die I will.” 17 So Mordecai left where he was and did exactly what Esther had ordered him.

Esther acts

Three days later, Esther put on royal clothes and stood in the inner courtyard of the palace, facing the palace itself. At that moment the king was inside sitting on his royal throne and facing the palace doorway. When the king noticed Queen Esther standing in the entry court, he was pleased. The king held out to Esther the gold scepter in his hand, and she came forward and touched the scepter’s tip.

Then the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What do you want? I’ll give you anything—even half the kingdom.”

Esther answered, “If the king wishes, please come today with Haman for the feast that I have prepared for him.”

“Hurry, get Haman,” the king ordered, “so we can do what Esther says.” So the king and Haman came to the feast that Esther had prepared. As they sipped wine, the king asked, “Now what is it you wish? I’ll give it to you. What do you want? I’ll do anything—even give you half the kingdom.”

Esther answered, “This is my wish and this is what I want: If I please the king, and if the king wishes to grant my wish and my desire, I’d like the king and Haman to come to another feast that I will prepare for them. Tomorrow I will answer the king’s questions.”

Haman boasts, complains, and acts

That day Haman left Esther’s place happy, his spirits high, but then he saw Mordecai in the King’s Gate. Mordecai neither stood up nor seemed the least bit nervous around him, so Haman suddenly felt great rage toward Mordecai. 10 But Haman held himself back and went on home. He sent word that his friends and his wife Zeresh should join him there. 11 Haman boasted to them about his great wealth and his many sons. He told all about how the king had honored him by promoting him over the officials and high royal workers. 12 “Best of all,” Haman said, “Queen Esther has invited no one else but me to join the king for food and drinks that she has prepared. In fact, I’ve been called to join the king at her place tomorrow! 13 But all this loses its meaning every time I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the King’s Gate.”

14 So his wife Zeresh and all his friends told him: “Have people prepare a pointed pole seventy-five feet high. In the morning, tell the king to have Mordecai impaled on it. Then you can go with the king to the feast in a happy mood.” Haman liked the idea and had the pole prepared.

Footnotes:

  1. Esther 2:16 December–January
  2. Esther 2:18 Or remission of taxes
  3. Esther 2:19 Or to the women’s house a second time
  4. Esther 2:23 Or hanged the two men on gallows
  5. Esther 3:1 Or the braggart
  6. Esther 3:4 Or stand
  7. Esther 3:7 March–April
  8. Esther 3:7 See LXX and 3:13.
  9. Esther 3:9 A kikkar weighed approximately seventy-five pounds.
  10. Esther 3:13 February–March
Common English Bible (CEB)

Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

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