Ahasuerus the King
Ezra 4:6 “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, wrote they an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.”
One of the challenges to the Bible is for the reader to identify the difference between a person and a title. Many times a title is used in referring to a person, and his actual name is not noted. There can be some confusion in understanding when the title is used, while the events referred to span more than 100 years in time.
Here in the book of Ezra we have a reference to Ahasuerus, but this is a title, and there is actually more than one person who carried that title in the Bible, and in history.
The purpose of this article is to clear up the confusion and help you understand the meaning and origin of the title and look at the people who were called by that name. I will first deal with the title: its meaning and usage. Then I will list the recipients of the title and discuss the events and times to which the Bible links these individuals.
According to the International Bible Encyclopedia, “the name in the Persepolitan arrow-headed inscriptions is Kshershe. Xerxes is explained by Herodotus as meaning “martial”; the modern title “Shah” comes from ksahya, “a king,” which forms the latter part of the name; the former part is akin to shir, a lion. The Semitic Ahashverosh equates to the Persian Khshayarsha, a common title of many Medo-Persian kings.”
Those of you who are old enough will remember the leader of modern day Persia, now called Iran, was the Shah, a king.
The reputation of these rulers was implicit in the title, Lion Kings. They were known for their cruelty to those they conquered and those who lived in perpetual slavery under them.
Recipients of the Title.
There were three persons who carried that title:
- First of these in chronological order is Cyaxares, (634 B.C.) the son of Astyges’ daughter, and Cambyses, first king of Persia.
- The second is Cambyses, Cyrus’ son. (529 B.C.) named after his grandfather.
- The third is Xerxes, (485 B.C.), the son of Darius Hystaspis.
Look at the dates approximating the beginning of their reign; there are 95 years from Cyrus to Cambyses, and 44 years to Xerxes.
Our attention however is drawn to the three Ahasuerus’, or ‘Lion Kings’ because their lives impacted the people of God’s Covenant, Israel.
So let us look at these three in order of their appearance on the stage of world history.
The first of the Lion Kings was Cyaxares (634 B.C.).
The Graecised form is Cyaxares; the first king of Media. He gathered an army, and with the assistance of the Babylonians mounted attacks on northern Assyria. Now if you have read the book of Jonah in the Bible, you may remember that God sent Jonah to Nineveh, to preach repentance to these people and their king. This was in the time of the reign of Jeroboam II and Joash, so this was within the time frame of 823 – 780 B.C.. The King and the nation repented, and God spared them. By the year 612 B.C., about 185 years had passed when Nineveh was finally destroyed. That equates to several generations. This was the King who finally fulfilled the prophecy of Jonah, after the nation of Assyria turned away to their earlier practices.
The prophet Nahum predicted the destruction of Nineveh in the book that bears his name. The following items were to be a part of the destruction of that great city: An “overflowing flood” would “make an utter end of its place” (Nahum 1:8) Nineveh would be destroyed while her inhabitants were “drunken like drunkards” (Nahum 1:10) Nineveh would be unprotected because “fire shall devour the bars of your gates” The downfall of Nineveh would come with remarkable ease, like figs falling when the tree is shaken (Nahum 3:12-13). Nineveh would never recover, for their “injury has no healing” (Nahum 3:19).
A famous oracle had been given that: “Nineveh should never be taken until the river became its enemy.”
After a three month siege: “rain fell in such abundance that the waters of the Tigris inundated part of the city and overturned one of its walls for a distance of twenty stades. Then the King, convinced that the oracle was accomplished and despairing of any means of escape, to avoid falling alive into the enemy’s hands constructed in his palace an immense funeral pyre, placed on it his gold and silver and his royal robes, and then, shutting himself up with his wives and eunuchs in a chamber formed in the midst of the pile, disappeared in the flames. Nineveh opened its gates to the besiegers, but this tardy submission did not save the proud city. It was pillaged and burned, and then razed to the ground so completely as to evidence the implacable hatred enkindled in the minds of subject nations by the fierce and cruel Assyrian government.” (Lenormant and E. Chevallier, The Rise and Fall of Assyria).
The second of the Lion Kings was Ahasuerus II – Cambyses (529 B.C.)
This was the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6. The enemies of the Jews tried to stop the building of the temple by sending a letter of accusation to Cambyses, Ahasuerus II. He took no action on the matter, probably knowing the true facts of the case, he viewed it as an invalid accusation. He however only reigned for 7 ½ years.
Our third and final Lion King was Ahasuerus III – Xerxes. (485-465 B.C.)
I found an interesting quotation in Fausett’s Bible Dictionary concerning this Xerxes.
“Xerxes in his third year held an assembly to prepare for invading Greece. In his seventh year Ahasuerus replaced Vashti by marrying Esther (Est_2:16), after gathering all the fair young virgins to Shushan: so Xerxes in his seventh year, on his defeat and return from Greece, consoled himself with the pleasures of the harem, and offered a reward for the inventor of a new pleasure (Herodotus 9:108). The “tribute” which he “laid upon the land and upon the isles of the sea” (Est_10:1) was probably to replenish his treasury, exhausted by the Grecian expedition.”
This was the king who allowed the decree to destroy the entire Jewish people at the suggestion of Haman the Agagite, and then to prevent this irrevocable decree, permitted the Jews to kill thousands of his subjects in self defense. A cruel king whose history is documented by Herodotus, and who really earned the title of ‘Lion King’.
Around the world today we are witnessing the arrogance of ‘Lion Kings’ of this ilk.
There is a passage that the followers of Jesus can hold dear.
It is found in Psalm 2:9-11: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear, And rejoice with trembling.”
Study the Bible, and look up, for your day of redemption is close at hand!