Esther is set in a time of decadence and despots. This doesn’t escape the author of the book of Esther. Rather, critiquing the status quo is something of a feature of the text. From the outset, the king is introduced as “Ahasuerus”, which – as we have seen – sounds an awful lot like “king headache” in Hebrew. Calling the monarch “king hangover” reflected the general decadence of the royalty of the day, but also says something specific about this particular king. Esther 1:3 shows that it takes the king just three years to decide that his reign is such an overwhelming success that he must host a six-month-long international banquet for “the army of Persia and Media” as well as his own nobles and provincial governors.
But it doesn’t end there. After this, the king held a seven-day garden party for all the people of Susa (v5). On the one hand this all speaks of lavish generosity – something we would all want to demonstrate. However, taken in the context of the preceding verses (as well as considering what happens later), the king’s actions are also laced with insecurity. The greek word for such a garden shares it’s root with paradise. The king tried to make his own Eden. Indeed, the banquet was decorated with “white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods and marble pillars, and also couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and precious stones” (v6), which even sounds reminiscent of the gold-paved streets of Revelation.
The liberality continues in the way in which refreshments are served. Drinks were served in “golden vessels” and guests could drink as they pleased but “there was no compulsion”. To my ears, this combination of liberality and self-control does appear somewhat heavenly. However, the fallen humanity of this earthly kingdom is also evident and both need to be taken into account. It doesn’t take long for the “no compulsion” to turn into no limits.