Long before he lived, the great Xerxes was seen by the man of God …
11: 2c “and the fourth [Persian King] he will be much richer than all of them; for his strength, for his rich, will stir everyone up against the kingdom of Greece . “ In 486, Xerxes, “he who rules heroes” becomes Emperor # 4. His wealth and military strength go hand in hand. The text confirms that it is force through riches that enables Xerxes to do the one thing he is best known for: the march on Athens. Yes, he built the most glorious monuments in Persepolis, the Persian capital. Yes, his palace was twice the size of his father, Darius. But the money really started pouring in when she made the decision to follow Dad’s dream.
At first he was more interested in taming Egypt, or even staying home. If he had pursued his own dreams, he could not have been Daniel’s man. But Xerxes was “visited.” The first visit was from an ambitious cousin who wanted to be viceroy of Greece after the conquest. Everyone believed that it was only a matter of time before this happened. Xerxes begins to catch the vision. He dreams of a united world, a great nation called “Persia.” Greece will simply be the last challenge for a divided land.
Get on the podiums of your day and start, yeah, shake everything up against the kingdom of Greece. He only finds a man who opposes him. Darius’s brother, Artabano, no less. And publicly, no less. It reminds the new Emperor that Xerxes’ father had cost the kingdom many men who were going against the Scythians. We don’t need this, Xerxes. Stay at home. After all, the Greeks are even stronger than the Scythians. We will be crushed.
Xerxes replies that Uncle Artabano is a coward. It lets you know that therefore you will not be allowed to march with them when they DO go to Greece. We must avenge ourselves. Marathon! Our pride! My father! Their dreams! My dreams!
Later, privately, he doubts his plans and his enthusiasm. But this must happen. The powers that are in the spirit world are reorganizing and Xerxes must go. Herodotus claims that Xerxes sees a recurring vision, spirits telling him that he and Persia will die if he does not invade Greece. Bible students will recall a similar situation with Ahab … And although he has apologized and even reversed himself to his uncle, now he is looking for him again. Artabanus learns of the vision, and volunteers to quench this spirit by sleeping in Xerxes ‘bed with Xerxes’ bedding while the Emperor is away. Feel that the spirit is territorial and will visit you too, if it is in the room. Indeed, the uncle is also visited and terrified. And convinced. More visions are coming. In them, Xerxes owns all the land, and they all bow down to him as his slaves. Once again, he launches into the campaign, stirring up everyone who wants to listen.
Regional leaders who learn of all this start out with great zeal to recruit for Xerxes. The King himself raises multiple taxes. Gifts are given. Its rich rise. His strength increases. Herodotus lists more than 20 Asian nations that want a piece of the action. Hundreds of thousands of men join the army on the march. This is much bigger than Darius had expected. In fact, it was the largest army that had ever been assembled in the ancient world. The nations gave, in addition to men and money, food, weapons and ships. Herodotus adds soldiers and service personnel to this monstrous horde and can think of more than FIVE MILLION Persians. That has been toned down by modern historians. I leave it to you to decide. And while you are deciding, launch 1000 warships that followed the march on the Aegean coast, carrying the army supplies.
Before leaving, a note on how to try to place Xerxes in biblical history. It seems to belong to the Esther of the Bible. Consider the description in Esther 1 of a very rich place and a very exciting gathering. Could this have been one of the summons that preceded Xerxes’ march? Some say yes. Some want to say Ahasuerus is really Artaxerxes, but that breaks down in Ezra 4: 5ff where Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes are mentioned. After the march, when it seems likely that he is more involved with women than with war, we will review this question. It is 480, time to begin the greatest ride in the history of Persia. Xerxes’ contempt for Babylonian and Egyptian aspirations in the early part of his reign has only served as a training ground for this monstrous affair.
Nothing authoritative here, but my measurements put the distance from Susa to Athens at over 2000 miles. How long does it take to walk 2000 miles? Can you go 30 miles a day? twenty? Go figure. It is stretching the mind. The march begins in the spring of the year. As the men go from town to town, they dry up the water sources. For the entire army to pass a point on its journey, it takes a full week. And then comes the boundary between Asia and Europe, and an annoying channel of water that separates them, called the Dardanelles, at the mouth of the Black Sea. It is a mile wide. No bridge. Not yet. But the engineer is waiting. He will soon lose his life for this effort, but his ardor is not questioned. The idea is to unite hundreds of ships, called out of the fleet for this purpose, and simply cross the ships to Europe.
Unfortunately, the engineer is not trained in meteorology and cannot predict the arrival of a major storm that will destroy the bridge. In addition to cursing, whipping, and marking the river, Xerxes has the engineer killed. A second bridge is built with more resistant material, without intervening storms, and the crossing is made towards Thrace.
No one can resist the Persian crowd. On the other hand, everyone seems to know that Persia’s dispute is with Athens, Greece. So be it. Let them pass. Feed them well. Yes, the top 10,000 soldiers, called “Immortals” but definitely not, are sumptuously treated under the command of Xerxes at every rest stop.
When the objective of the march is reached, some Greek cities surrender, but other armies have decided to face the bully. One of these cities is Thermopylae, led by the Spartan general Leonidas. His troops, only a few thousand men, are actually resisting waves of Persian soldiers, when a traitor shows Xerxes another way into the city. Disaster. However, Xerxes must already be a bit shocked when his original thought had been that the Greeks would take a look at their army and ask for conditions for surrender. Too many Persians are already dead. But do not worry. Victory. It’s over. Yes, Xerxes, it surely is.
The people of Athens leave their city. Xerxes burns much of it. Thinking the day is his, he climbs a hillside to watch his army pounce on what remains of Greek power. Instead, he sees Greece’s few but nimble ships, who know the waters around the island of Salamis quite well, crush his mighty armada. The naval battle is a great preview of what is to come: total ruin.
Xerxes rushes back to his headquarters in Asia Minor, leaving the battle to Mardonius. But that battle and all future battles are lost. It is a new day.
Is it at this time, as Herodotus suggests, that Xerxes, at home, is intrigued by the affairs of the harem? Is it then that Esther, who has been preparing for a full year for the legendary beauty pageant mentioned in her book, becomes queen of Persia? Historians tell us that he got rid of his brother’s entire family at the request of a queen. Therefore, it would not be out of place for him to be the one to sign a decree to destroy all the Jews one day, and the destroyers of the Jews the next. The Ahasuerus Bible and the man Xerxes seem to be one and the same.
In 466, Mardonio is defeated in Plataea, west of Athens, to end the Persian dreams. Several other defeats over the years eventually culminate in Eurymedon, on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These defeats, coupled with Xerxes’ national “march” downhill, led to his assassination by Persian nobles, perhaps including his half-brother Sodianus. And that is why the Bible verse that was never written does not speak of the future kings of Persia (there were 7 including, in 465, Artaxerxes I, during whose reign Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi lived). Alexander the great. Three, yes four kings, increase in Persia. The others will head the other way. They have no meaning for our history. We have seen a march to the east. Now the new world power, ruled by celestial powers fighting invisibly, will march west.