Read Esther 2
Esther Made Queen
Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. 2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. 3 Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.
5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. 7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.
8 When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. 9 She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.
10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.
12 Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.
15 When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.
Mordecai Uncovers a Conspiracy
19 When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.
21 During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. 22 But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. 23 And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.
If Esther 2 were a movie, parental guidance would definitely be advised. King Xerxes is now lonely and missing his queen, so his advisors suggest he choose a queen by having hundreds of virgins from all the provinces of his kingdom parade in front of him. It is implied that he sleeps with each of them (v. 13-14), and then the king gets to choose who he would like to crown as his new wife and queen. If this sounds like an ungodly and even pagan practice, it’s because it was.
Before we become appalled by the fact that stories like this are in the Bible, we need to remember that King Xerxes, also known as King Ahasuerus (depending on your translation of Scripture), was not a godly man. Historically, he is often referred to as a pagan king. His behavior in chapter one, in which he threw lavish parties, got drunk, and participated in lewd behavior, seems to confirm this descriptor. Evil abounded in Xerxes’ kingdom.
Despite the darkness, though, God is at work. Even though there is no mention of the name of God in Esther 2, we see God’s providence bring light to even the darkest of situations. Esther is one of the hundreds of young women groomed to be part of King Xerxes’ beauty pageant to choose his queen. Unlike most of the other women, though, Esther is not a native to the land and is a Jewish exile. In addition, she is an orphan. Based on her pedigree and background, Esther would be near the very bottom of the list of women likely to be chosen as queen.
However, from the very beginning, Esther impresses Hegai, the person in charge of the harem. Verse 2:9 says, “She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food.” The most unlikely of women makes an impression on the palace administration and is given food, seven maidservants, an apartment, and beauty treatments galore! When the King finally meets Esther in verse 17, we learn “the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight” (ESV). Amidst a pagan culture ruled by a pagan king who enforces pagan practices, God is not deterred.
We must wait to read the rest of the story to know exactly what God is up to, but for the time being, we can rest in the fact that not only is God protecting Esther, but He is silently working to bring about His will and save His people. It also gives us the assurance that no matter how bad, how evil, or how dark a situation seems, God’s plans cannot be defeated.
- Esther found herself in a palace by the sovereign will of God. Where has God placed you?
- Has your obedience to God ever landed you in an uncomfortable situation? How can we respond in faith when we can’t see how God is moving in our lives?
- Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Spend some time in reflection of God’s providential hand in your own life.
By the Way
As you read the story of Esther, notice the parallels between her story and the story of Joseph (in Genesis) and Exodus. Keep a running list of the similarities you see between all of these different narratives!
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