Read Esther 1
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Years later when Xerxes began his reign, the enemies of Judah wrote a letter of accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.” (Ezra 4:6 NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 116: Ahasuerus. “Eat well because this night we’re gonna dine in hades,” King Leonidas of Sparta shouted to his men. The time to defend all of Greece from Persian invasion had come, and the fate of Leonidas’ men had been sealed. They were to meet the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae and hopefully block them from entering Greece. There was just one problem, they only had 300 men, 300 Spartans, and the Persian army had anywhere between 120,000 and 300,000 men, including an elite group of fighters known to the Greeks as the Immortals.
Well, there were only 300 Spartans, that is for sure; however, modern historians estimate that there were about 7,000 Greeks there that day, inlcuding 900 Helots, 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans. Still, an army of 7,000 against an army of hundreds of thousands is doomed to lose, right? For sure. They did lose.
Prior to the invasion, the Spartan known as Ephialtes of Trachis, betrayed the Spartans and let Xerxes know about this pass and it’s strategic advantages in terms of invading Greece. The Greeks fought valiantly. When inevitable loss was before them, Leonidas with his 300 Spartans formed a rear guard to allow for the rest of the army to retreat and successfully held the Persians off long enought for that retreat to happen. By the time that Leonidas’ dead body was discovered by the Persians and brought back to King Xerxes, he was so enraged he had Leonidas’ corpse decapitated and crucified. This was out of character for the Persians, who typically showed respect to brave warriors they had defeated.
All of that aside, you may be wondering, “why on God’s green earth is Todd writing about the 300 Spartans’ valiant fight against King Xerxes of Persia? What does this have to do with Scripture, since that battle was not mentioned anywhere in the Bible? The truth is, I write of this battle as a way of pointing to how history and the Bible so often intersect. Like a giddy schoolboy, I am ever amazed and excited by the historicity of the Bible. That’s not to say that everything in the Bible is historical, but certainly it is exciting when history and the Bible intersect.
Esther is such an example. In the book we learn of Esther (aka Hadassah), Mordecai, Haman, and other characters. One of the main characters is King Ahasuerus, who exiled his wife, gathered young women throughout the land, and made one of them (Esther) queen of all of Persia. It is believed by most scholars and Biblical translators that Ahasuerus was, in actuality, King Xerxes. That’s right, the same King Xerxes who fought against King Leonidas at Thermopylae was the same King that took Esther to be his queen.
As it turns out, Xerxes is the Greek rendering of the Persian name Xšayārša. This actually makes sense, when one pauses to think about it. What we know of Leonidas and his last stand against Xerxes at Thermopylae all comes from Greek sources who later recorded it down. Thus, they were referring to the ruler as Xerxes in their native language, which was Greek. The Babylonian name for Xšayārša was Aḥšiyaršu. Transliterated into Hebrew, Aḥšiyaršu became ʼĂḥašəwērôš. When the Bible was translated much later on into Latin, it became Ahasuerus.
Thus, the Bible actually records the Hebrew translitertation of the Babylonian name for the PERSIAN King Xšayārša. This was the same king, known by the Greeks as Xerxes, that King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans defended Greece against. Crazy awesome, right?!?! It’s kind of ironic how people will read Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 (about the 300 Spartans) and be captivated by it, and yet many of those same people think the Bible is boring and are ignorant that some of the characters they are reading about are actually written about in the Bible.
To conclude, here’s the point in all of this. The Bible is a book that is filled with such a wealth of information. In it one finds poetry, history, law, narrative mythology, theology, prophecy, and the overarching plan of God to redeem this broken world. What we also find is that in some of the world’s most powerful rulers, God worked that plan of salvation into the world. For instance, the same king who brutally crushed the 300 Spartans and had Leonidas’ dead body decapitated and crucified, is the same king who fell in love with a Jewish woman named Esther and made her his queen. This same king who crushed the Greeks, God worked through to save the Jews from genocidal annihilation.
It is always amazing to me how, despite us, God works salvation into the world. Whether someone appears to be one of “God’s people” or not, we are truly ALL God’s people, for God created us all. Thus, unbeknownst to the person, God can and often does work through people to bring about hope, healing and wholeness. This could be seen in Nebudchanezzar, in Darius the Mede, in Cyrus, in Darius the Great, and in Xerxes. Each of these men were polytheists who did not worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet God worked through them to bring about redemption for God’s people and for the world. This should, and hopefully it does, challenge you to remove your trust in human leaders and place all of your trust in whom it properly belongs: God.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” —Jesus of Nazareth
Lord, I surrender my life to you and place all my trust in you as opposed to humans. Amen.