Ester 2: 1 – 23
Beautiful Inside And Out
1 After these things, when the wrath of King Ahasuerus subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king’s servants who attended him said: “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king; 3 and let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather all the beautiful young virgins to Shushan the citadel, into the women’s quarters, under the custody of Hegai the king’s eunuch, custodian of the women. And let beauty preparations be given them. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This thing pleased the king, and he did so. 5 In Shushan the citadel there was a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite. 6 Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been captured with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 7 And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. 8 So it was, when the king’s command and decree were heard, and when many young women were gathered at Shushan the citadel, under the custody of Hegai, that Esther also was taken to the king’s palace, into the care of Hegai the custodian of the women. 9 Now the young woman pleased him, and she obtained his favor; so he readily gave beauty preparations to her, besides her allowance. Then seven choice maidservants were provided for her from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maidservants to the best place in the house of the women. 10 Esther had not revealed her people or family, for Mordecai had charged her not to reveal it. 11 And every day Mordecai paced in front of the court of the women’s quarters, to learn of Esther’s welfare and what was happening to her. 12 Each young woman’s turn came to go in to King Ahasuerus after she had completed twelve months’ preparation, according to the regulations for the women, for thus were the days of their preparation apportioned: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and preparations for beautifying women. 13 Thus prepared, each young woman went to the king, and she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the women’s quarters to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who kept the concubines. She would not go in to the king again unless the king delighted in her and called for her by name. 15 Now when the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his daughter, to go in to the king, she requested nothing but what Hegai the king’s eunuch, the custodian of the women, advised. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all who saw her. 16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king. 19 When virgins were gathered together a second time, Mordecai sat within the king’s gate. 20 Now Esther had not revealed her family and her people, just as Mordecai had charged her, for Esther obeyed the command of Mordecai as when she was brought up by him. 21 In those days, while Mordecai sat within the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, doorkeepers, became furious and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 So the matter became known to Mordecai, who told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. 23 And when an inquiry was made into the matter, it was confirmed, and both were hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king.
I am sure you have heard this famous quote – ‘Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”
But here is a better way to think about this statement, ‘The beauty on the inside, will determine the ugly on the outside.”
We are going to see in our study today about a woman who was beautiful inside in and out. It doesn’t get better than that. In this chapter we learn how our Great God, Jehovah Elyon, The Lord Most High, determines the means by which Esther became Queen of Persia, and thus able to influence the king in his dealing with her people, the Jews.
There has recently been a new movie called ‘A night with the king’. Have you seen it? Oh, you have? Then if you can try to forget about everything you saw. It is not correct. You see Ahasuerus, which his real name was Xerxes, was not such a nice guy as the movie shows.
Four years have passed since the all the previous information that chapter 1 has brought out. During these years Ahasuerus (Xerxes) conducted his Greek campaign, and in view of Vashti’s demotion, took with him an older wife, Amestris, the daughter of one of his most loyal supporters. We know from Herodotus that he was a licentious man, and he would require someone officially to ‘service’ him while he was campaigning, even though he would also have at his disposal many women. But she was a hard and cruel woman, and on returning to Susa he thought about Vashti with regret. Consequently his officials came up with the idea that a replacement for Vashti should be found. Herodotus tells us that meanwhile he had been satisfying his lusts in various ways. He was not a man to be held back by tradition.
2.1 ‘After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was pacified, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.’
‘After these things’ is a vague time note and in this case indicated a gap of a few years. By this time Ahasuerus’ anger against Vashti had diminished, and he appears to have had some regrets. She had after all been a very beautiful woman. But he also recognized that he was bound by his own decree.
2.2 ‘Then the king’s servants (high officials), who ministered to him, said “Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king,”
He clearly made known his dissatisfaction for his high officials came up with a plan to satisfy his needs. Ahasuerus would already have had a harem, but it seems that the women in it no longer satisfied him any more than Amestris did, and especially that there was no woman who ‘stood out’. So they suggested that a new search be instigated for fair young virgins who could be incorporated into the harem.
2.3 “And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, into the custody of Hegai the king’s officer, keeper of the women, and let their things for purification be given them,”
They suggested that the king appoint officers throughout the empire whose responsibility it would be to find the choicest virgins for the king. These ‘fair young virgins’ were to be introduced into the palace at Susa, into ‘the house of the women’ where his harem were housed, and placed in the care of Hegai, the king’s officer who had responsibility for the women in the harem. And there they were to go through the rites of purification and beautification necessary in order to be made ready for the king’s attention.
It is made clear by this that Ahasuerus already had a ‘house of the women’ in which his harem were housed. It was not that he lacked women. It was that he lacked someone who could compare with Vashti.
2.4 “And let the maiden who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” And the thing pleased the king, and he did so.’
The result of the search was to be that the woman who finally pleased the king would be made queen instead of Vashti. The king found this idea very satisfying, and he consequently did what was suggested.
How does all this make you fell ladies? If you lived during this time and heard about what an empire that had forced its control over your country was doing, what would you do to avoid being taken? Where could you run to? I remember watching the history channel and as the Russians were marching to Berlin the program showed women who would try to make themselves ugly or repulsive so the Russian soldiers would leave them alone.
2.5-6 ‘There was a certain Jew in Shushan the palace, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives who had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away.’
At this point Mordecai is introduced, because he was Esther’s guardian. He was a Jew living in the palace, and appears to have been able to move around as he pleased. This suggests that he held some high official position, something later confirmed by his attitude towards Haman, and indeed Haman’s restraint in dealing with him. He was able to trace his ancestry back to Kish, a Benjamite who had been carried away into captivity from Jerusalem along with Jehoiachin, as we learn from the book of 2 Kings 24.8-12, when they were taken by Nebuchadnezzar. This suggests that he came from an aristocratic family.
2.7 ‘And he reared Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother, and the maiden was fair of form and beautiful to look on, and when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter.’
Mordecai had reared a young maiden named Hadassah, which was a Jewish name meaning ‘myrtle’. The myrtle tree is associated with deliverance in our bibles as Isaiah 41.19; 55.13 and Zechariah 1.8-11 explains. She was the daughter of his uncle, and when she was orphaned he took her as his own daughter. We learn here that she was ‘fair of form and beautiful to look on’. We are not told when she took the name Esther (‘star’). It may well have been when she was summoned to the palace. Or it may have been given to her by Mordecai for the benefit of Persian neighbors
2.8 ‘So it came about, when the king’s command and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together to Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken into the king’s house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.’
As a consequence of the king’s command and decree ‘many maidens were gathered together to Shushan the palace’. We are not told what procedures were followed in order to bring this about, but there would clearly be a selection process. However, as Esther was connected with the palace, and was very beautiful, her being summoned was probably only a matter of course. Neither Mordecai nor Esther would have had any option in the matter. All those who were summoned were committed to the care of Hegai, the ‘keeper of the women’, in the king’s house, that is, in the house of the women (verse 3). It was his responsibility to prepare them for presentation to the king. And they would all be very good-looking.
2.9 ‘And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness from him, and he speedily gave to her her things for purification, with her portions, and the seven maidens who were meet to be given to her out of the king’s house, and he removed her and her maidens to the best place of the house of the women.’
Our Precious Holy Spirit tells us in the book of Proverbs chapter 16 verse 7 this, “When a man's ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ Hegai was clearly impressed by Esther. He saw her as having good potential with the king. And so he behaved kindly towards her, and saw to it that she was speedily provided with her things for purification, and began her process of purification and beautification quickly. Along with this, as a prospective consort of the king, she was treated with all due ceremony, being provided with seven suitable maidens to attend to her needs, taken from the king’s house. This would no doubt have been done for all the candidates. ‘Seven’ would have been seen as a suitable number for a king’s woman. But because he was especially impressed by her, he placed her and her maidens in the best place in the house of the women. He would be a man who knew the king’s tastes, and so this augured well for Esther.
2.10 ‘Esther had not made known her people nor her kindred, for Mordecai had charged her that she should not make it known.’
It would, of course, be clear to all that Esther was a foreigner, thus what was being hidden was the fact that she was a Jewess. This is an important verse, for it gives some indication as to how the Jews were seen in the Persian Empire. As often they were tolerated but frowned upon, something which helps to explain later events. Furthermore such feelings must have been pretty deep for Mordecai to act as he did. And this silence of Esther went along with her change of name, which would disguise her Jewish identity. Nevertheless, while it may have been seen as expedient in the circumstances, (once selected Esther would have had no choice), it would certainly have been frowned on by committed Jews. And they too would have felt that the Name of God could not have been associated with such a situation. It was true that deliverance was being accomplished, but it was through deceit and covenant disobedience. How then, could God be directly involved?
2.11 ‘And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did, and what would become of her.’
Whatever his failings Mordecai remained faithful to his guardianship responsibilities. He did not just leave Esther to the care of the harem. Every day he came near to the court of the house of the women in order to learn how Esther was going on, and what might become of her. This again suggests that he was an important official. To approach the court of the women would have been dangerous for anyone less. He clearly had good security clearance. And it would appear he also had influential contacts, for he was seemingly able to enquire about Esther without being frowned on.
Before women could be considered as suitable for ‘going into the king’ the selected maidens had to go through a process of ‘purifying’. Through this process Esther also went, and was shown favor by Hegai so that her turn would come early. In consequence she pleased the king and became not just his concubine, but his queen. Thus we have the second ‘coincidence’ in that at the deposing of Vashti a Jewish woman would replace her just at the vital time when needed.
2.12 ‘Now when the turn of every maiden was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after it had been done to her according to the law for the women twelve months (for so were the days of their purifications accomplished, to wit, six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet odours and with the things for the purifying of the women),’
Each maiden in turn, prior to going into the king, had to go through a twelve moon period course of rendering them suitable. For the first six moon periods this was by means of oil of myrrh, and for the second by perfumes and scents, and whatever else was felt necessary for their purification, which would include the choicest of foods. We could translate, ‘even with the things for the purifying of the women’, with it thus referring back to the oil of myrrh and the sweet odors.
2.13 ‘Then in this way came the maiden to the king Whatever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women to the king’s house.’
After she had gone through the twelve moon period course of purifying, each maiden would be brought to the king, presumably in an order determined by Hegai, although there may have been some means by which the king could himself initially scrutinize the maidens and make his choice. And in the process she could ask for anything which she thought might please the king and make him look with favor on her, which would, of course, include expensive jewelry. Such a vulgar thing as cost would not, of course, be taken into account. But what was chosen would undoubtedly reveal something about each of the maidens, especially as each of them would no doubt be able to retain what they had chosen.
2.14 ‘In the evening she went, and on the next day she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chief officer, who looked after the concubines. She came in unto the king no more, unless the king delighted in her, and she was called by name.’
So each night one of the maidens would go in to the king, and once the maiden had spent the night with the king she was transferred to the second house of the women, under the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chief officer, the maiden now being a concubine. She would not be called again unless the king chose to send for her by name. Thus it is clear that the king had a large number of concubines, and that many of them would only be with the king once. They thus lived unfulfilled lives,.
2.15 ‘Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her for his daughter, was come to go in to the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king’s chief officer, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all those who looked upon her.’
Eventually the time came for Esther to be summoned into the king’s presence. She was, we are informed, the daughter of Abihail, who was uncle to Mordecai. Abihail had died, and Mordecai had thus taken over guardianship of Esther. And when she went into the king she allowed herself to be guided by Hegai as to what she should use for adornments. Hegai, being the king’s chief officer and keeper of the women prior to their going in to the king, would be well versed as to what would please the king. But the aim of the writer was undoubtedly to demonstrate her humble attitude and willing obedience (seen as virtues in women). She sought no special adornments for herself. Indeed he stresses that she found favor in the eyes of all who looked on her.
2.16 ‘So Esther was taken to king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.’
The night in question was in the tenth month, that is the month Tebet, in the seventh year of Ahasuerus’ reign. In other words it was following his return from his Greek campaign. There had thus been a gap of about four years since the degrading of Vashti. The tenth month was in midwinter. The indicating of moon periods by a number probably commenced during the exile. After the exile the names began to be named after the Babylonian moon periods, of which Tebet was one.
2.17 ‘And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained favour and kindness in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.’
The king was stricken by Ester ‘above all the women’, and she obtained favor and kindness in his sight. He preferred her over all the other women, and set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Amestris had apparently never been declared queen. Herodotus only refers to her as the king’s wife.
2.18 ‘Then the king made a great feast for all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast; and he made a release (or ‘rest’) to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the bounty of the king.’
Then to celebrate the occasion the king made a great feast for all his princes and servants, naming it Esther’s feast, and at the same time gave a certain amount of release from taxes and provided gifts out of his royal bounty.
One thing I have learned in life is that there are no coincidences. We now come to the third ‘coincidence’ in that Mordecai discovers a plot against the king, which will eventually lead to him being shown royal honors, at the very time when his downfall is being plotted.
2.19 ‘ And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai was sitting in the king’s gate.’
The reference to virgins being gathered together a second time probably has in mind those transferred to the second house of the women, the idea being that a good number of the new batch of maidens had been so transferred when the situation described took place. It was at this time that Mordecai was ‘sitting in the king’s gate. The fact that he was sitting in the king’s gate suggests that he had an important judicial role, for it was in the gate that justice was rendered, and it was there that appointed judges sat in order to carry out their functions. The more we learn of Mordecai, the more we recognize that he was in a position of authority.
2.20 ‘Esther had not yet made known her relations nor her people, as Mordecai had charged her. For Esther did the what Mordecai said (the commandment of Mordecai), in the same way as when she was brought up with him.’
Once again it is stressed that Esther had not made known the fact that she was a Jewess. And that she had done it out of obedience to Mordecai. This may well have been because Mordecai feared that if it was discovered that Esther was a Jewess she would be in disgrace, as someone unsuitable to be the king’s wife, or even to be in the harem. This again suggests a general antipathy against Jews. Esther is presented in a good light as one who obeyed her guardian ‘in the same way as when she was brought up with him’, just as she had obeyed Hegai. Such obedience would be seen by Jews in a good light. She was thus seen as modest and obedient.
I find this statement very interesting -‘The commandment of Mordecai’. ‘Commandment’ is a rare word. There may well here be intended a contrast between Vashti who did not obey ‘the commandment’ of the king, and Esther who did obey ‘the commandment’ of her guardian.
2.21 ‘In those days, while Mordecai was sitting in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chief officers, Bigthan and Teresh, of those who kept the threshold, were angry, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus.’
It was around this time that two of the king’s chief officials, who ‘kept the threshold’, became disgruntled, and determined to assassinate the king. ‘Keeping the threshold’ probably refers to their guarding the very entrance into the king’s private quarters. They would thus have been in a very favorable position to carry out their plot.
2.22 ‘And the thing became known to Mordecai, who showed it to Esther the queen, and Esther told the king in Mordecai’s name.’
We are not told how the plot became known to Mordecai, but he clearly learned of it and informed Esther. Esther then informed the king, giving due credit to Mordecai.
2.23 ‘And when enquiries were made concerning the matter, and it was found to be so, they were both hung on a tree, and it was recorded in the book of the chronicles before the king.’
Enquiries were then instituted and when the matter was examined (probably by torture) the two officials were found guilty. As a consequence they were ‘hung on a tree’, that is either crucified or impaled (probably the latter). Impalement was a common Persian punishment. Meanwhile the details of the whole were entered into the official book of records. Herodotus tells us that historiographers were attached to the court of Ahasuerus, and moved about with him from place to place. ‘Before the king’ probably simply indicates that they were recorded ‘as in the king’s presence’. Whether it was actually done in front of him we do not know. The writer is thus seen as having access to ‘the book of chronicles’ that is of day to day events.
We will later discover that it was fortuitous that Mordecai’s service was overlooked, for it will later play an important part in the narrative. Meanwhile Esther was in place ready for the events that would follow. We are left to recognize that God was at work. Thus, we see the hand print of God in this entire story.