Who was Xerxes in the Bible?

Author: BibleAsk Team


The name Xerxes is not found in the Hebrew text of Scripture but appears as Ahasuerus. In Greek Khshayârshâ became Xerxes, and in Latin, Assuerus. The names Xerxes and Ahasuerus are therefore equivalent, the one coming from the Persian through the Greek, and the other through both Hebrew and Latin. Bible commentators associate Esther’s king with Xerxes I (485–465 BC), son of Darius I, the fourth emperor of the Achaemenid Empire.

The Bible records that King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), the son of Darius I (Ezra 4:24; 5:5–7; 6:1–15; Daniel 6:1, 25; Haggai 1:15; 2:10) made a feast for all the officials of Persia and Media and displayed the glory of his rule for 180 days (Esther 1:1-4). At the end of the feast days, the king commanded to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles (verse 11).

But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him (verse 11, 12). Then, the king asked his wise men, what shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law? The counselors advised him that because Queen Vashti disobeyed him, she should never again enter his presence and that he should dethrone her (verse 19). This action would teach the woman of Persia and Media not to despise and disobey their husbands.

Queen Esther

After that, Xerxes’ attendants looked for beautiful virgins throughout the land to find a new queen for the king.  Josephus, recorded that the king chose 400 women as candidates (Esther 2:1–4). These virgins were prepared with the oils and perfumes for 12 months (verse 12,13) before meeting the king.

Esther was selected as one of the virgins (verse 8) about 483 BC. Before that, she lived in Susa, with her cousin Mordecai, who had adopted her as his own daughter when her parents died. Mordecai was an official in the Persian government (verse 19). He taught Esther not to reveal her Jewish identity (verse 10) and visited the king’s harem every day to check on her (verse 11).

All the virgins were kept in the harem under the care of Hegai (Esther 2:8). But after being with the king, they were moved to the house of concubines where they were put under care of the eunuch Shaashgaz (verse 14). Esther won favor in the eyes of all who saw her (verse 15). When her turn came to be with the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch, directed. And, the king “loved Esther more than all the women.” Therefore, he crowned her queen (verse 17).

One day, while Mordecai was at the king’s gate, he overheard of a plan to assassinate the king. So, he reported it at once to Queen Esther who in turn informed the king in Mordecai’s name. So, the king hanged the evil men. And this act was recorded in the book of the royal chronicles (verses 21–23).

Haman’s Death Decree

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him higher than all the other nobles. And all the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor (Esther 3:1-4) because of his Jewish faith. When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down to him, he was enraged and he looked for a way to destroy not only Mordecai but also all his people – the Jews – throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes (verses 5, 6).

So, Haman lied to the king and convinced him that the Jews were not loyal citizens and asked him to pass a decree that his citizens would annihilate the Jews. And to that end, he offered ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury. Then, the king told him keep the money and do as you please (verses 8-10).

The Risk of Esther

When Queen Esther heard about the decree, she was troubled and she inquired from Mordecai as to what she should do. So, he asked her “to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people” (Esther 4:8). Esther informed her uncle that she had not been invited by the king for the past thirty days. And the Persian law forbade anyone from appearing before the king without invitation. Anyone that violated this law would face death (verses 10, 11).

But Mordecai told Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4: 13–14).

Esther decided to obey her uncle and risk her life to save her people. So, she requested the Jews to fast for her for three days while she and her maids would also fast. And she added, then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4: 16).

After the fast, Esther appeared before the king. And God gave her favor in the king’s eyes and he “held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand” as a sign of acceptance (Esther 5:2). Then, he asked her what was her request. So, she invited him and Haman to a banquet in her house. At the banquet, the king inquired about Esther’s reason for the invitation. Again, Esther invited the king and Haman to a second banquet the following day and added then she will reveal her request (verse 8).

God’s Providence

After the banquet, Haman was bragging to his wife and friends in a gathering about the great honors that the king had shown to him and how Queen Esther invited him with the king to her house. And he added, “Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 5:13). So, his wife and friends said to him, set up a pole and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai impaled on it, then, go to the banquet and enjoy yourself. This suggestion pleased Haman, and he had the pole set up (veses 9-14).

That same night the king could not sleep. So, he asked his servants to read to him the royal chronicles. Providentially, the section that was read was about how Mordecai saved the king’s life by exposing an assassination against him (Esther 6:1).

The Honoring of Mordecai

After reading the account of Mordecai saving his life, King Xerxes asked, “What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this? And the king’s servants who attended him said, “Nothing has been done for him” (Esther 6:3). At this time, Haman appeared before the king. So, the king asked him, “What shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” (verse 6).

Haman, thinking it was him whom the king wanted to honor, answered “let a royal robe be brought which the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, which has a royal crest placed on its head” (Esther 6: 8). And he added, let the most noble prince proclaim before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor” (verse 9). So, the king ordered Haman do what he said to Mordecai. And Haman had no choice but to obey.

When Haman informed his wife and friends of what happened to him, they said, “‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him’” (Esther 6: 13).

The Exposure of Haman

After that, the king’s servants came to take Haman to Esther’s banquet (Esther 6:14). When the king asked Esther of her request, she finally revealed it and said, “let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed” (Esther 7:3). So, the king answered and said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would dare to do such a thing?” Esther answered, it is the wicked Haman!” (verses 5, 6).

The king was enraged and he left the banquet room to think of what was said to him. When he came back, he saw that “Haman had fallen across the couch where Esther was. Then the king said, “Will he also assault the queen while I am in the house?” (verses 7, 8). Then, the king’s servants hanged Haman on the same gallows that he set for Mordecai (verse 9).

The Jews’ Deliverance

Then, King Xerxes allotted to Esther all of Haman’s estate and gave to Mordecai his signet ring, granting him the authority that Haman had (Esther 8:1,2). But because the King’s first decree to destroy the Jews, that was originally suggested by Haman, couldn’t be altered, he said to Queen Esther and Mordecai, “You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke” (verse 8). And they did.

Then, the king signed the new decree written by Esther and Mordecai. This decree granted the Jews the right to “protect their lives—to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the forces of any people or province that would assault them” (Esther 8:11). As a result, in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Therefore, many of the people of the land became Jews, because the fear of the Jews fell upon them (verse 17). And the Jews annually celebrated this great story of deliverance in the Jewish Feast of Purim on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar (Esther 9:20).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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