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The Cautionary Tale of Xerxes

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In “Setting the Stage for Purim” I discussed the book of Esther’s background, including the massive wealth and power which the Persian King Xerxes possessed. After learning of Xerxes’ extreme affluence and authority, we are informed of two banquets which he held in his palace, one lasting 180 days and the other lasting seven.

In the opening chapter, the book of Esther details the king’s palace, as well as his excessive partying. Every type of delicacy, wine, and perversion was available, so that no guest would leave without his every desire and pleasure having been met.

And so on the last day of the second banquet, the drunken King Xerxes ordered his wife to appear before the throne wearing nothing but the crown on her head. When Queen Vashti refused, Xerxes flew into a violent rage and ordered his own wife’s death.

At that time, the Persian Empire had reached its peak. Persia was the world’s sole superpower, but after successive kings had achieved unprecedented advancements in engineering and architecture, the kingdom was beginning to collapse.

Xerxes, unlike his illustrious predecessors, did not have to fight his way to the top – he was the king’s son, destined to the throne by birth. He grew up in the lap of luxury, and the massive empire was handed to him without the need for hard work and sacrifice.

Who throws a 180-day party? Certainly not a king whose chief concern is building an empire, but rather a spoiled boy-king whose reign began the decline and collapse of the empire.

I see a correlation between the self-seeking materialistic culture that brought down the Persian Empire and the decline we are witnessing in the Western world today. Traditional morals and values, with faith in God as their backbone, have been lost. Work ethic, modesty, and morality have been forgotten.

The book of Esther begins with a king who inherited an empire, and whose power and prestige had no precedent. But historians note that by the end of King Xerxes’ reign he left a kingdom in ruin, one that would be easily overtaken by the expanding Greek empire.

As we read the story of Esther and Xerxes this Purim, we must learn from history, for otherwise we are doomed to suffer the same consequences.

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