“God is preparing His heroes,” said A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, “and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment, and the world will wonder where they came from.” Dr. Simpson might have added that God also prepares His heroines, for certainly Esther was divinely prepared for her role as the new queen. God is never surprised by circumstances or at a loss for prepared servants. He had Joseph ready in Egypt, Ezekiel and Daniel in Babylon, and Nehemiah in Susa; and He had Esther ready for her ministry to the Jews in the Persian Empire.
As we read this chapter, we will see at two evidences of the hand of God at work in the affairs of the people.
- God Positions the King (Est. 2:1-4)
Nearly four years have passed since Vashti was deposed. During that time, Xerxes directed his ill-fated Greek campaign and came home in humiliation instead of honor. As he considered his rash actions toward his wife, his affection for Vashti rekindled; and though he had a harem full of concubines, he missed his queen. There is a difference between love and sex. The passing excitement of the moment is not the same as the lasting enrichment of a lifetime relationship.
The king’s advisers were concerned that Vashti not be restored to royal favor; for if she regained her throne, their own lives would be in danger. After all, it was they who had told the king to remove her! But more was involved than the lives of the king’s counselors, for the survival of the Jewish nation was also at stake. Queen Vashti would certainly not intercede on behalf of the Jews. She probably would have cooperated with Haman.
Knowing the king’s strong sensual appetite, the counselors suggested that he assemble a new harem composed of the most beautiful young virgins in the empire. This was not a “beauty contest” where the winners were rewarded by having a chance for the throne. These young women were conscripted against their will and made a part of the royal harem. Every night, the king had a new partner; and the next morning, she joined the rest of the concubines. The one that pleased the king the most would become his new queen. It sounds like something out of Taken.
I wonder how many beautiful girls hid when the king’s officers showed up to abduct them? Heartbroken mothers and fathers no doubt lied to the officers and denied that they had any virgin daughters. Perhaps some of the girls married any available man rather than spend a hopeless life shut up in the king’s harem. Once they had been with the king, they belonged to him and could not marry. If the king ignored them, they were destined for a life of loneliness, shut up in a royal harem.
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” Prov. 21:1, nkjv. This doesn’t mean that God forced Xerxes to accept the plan, or that God approved of the king’s harems or of his sensual abuse of women. It simply means that, without being the author of their sin, God so directed the people in this situation that decisions were made that accomplished God’s purposes.
The decisions made today in the high places of government and finance seem remote from the everyday lives of God’s people, but they affect us and God’s work in many ways. It’s good to know that God is on His throne and that no decision is made that can thwart His purposes. “He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: ‘What have You done?'” Dan. 4:35, niv
“There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of divine sovereignty,” said Charles Haddon Spurgeon. While we confess that many things involved in this doctrine are shrouded in mystery, it’s unthinkable that Almighty God should not be Master of His own universe. Even in the affairs of a pagan empire, God is in control.
- God Puts Esther in Place (Est. 2:5-18)
We are now introduced to Mordecai and his cousin Esther, who, along with Haman, are the principal players in this drama. Once again, we see the hand of God at work in the life of this lovely Jewess. Consider the factors involved.
The influence of Mordecai (Est. 2:5-7). Mordecai is named fifty-eight times in this book, and seven times he is identified as “a Jew” (2:5; 5:13; 6:10; 8:7; 9:29, 31; 10:3). His ancestor, Kish, was among the Jews taken to Babylon from Jerusalem in the second deportation in 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24). Cyrus, King of Persia, entered Babylon in 539 and the next year gave the Jews permission to return to their land. About 50,000 responded (Ezra 1-2). In subsequent years, other Jews returned to Israel; but Mordecai chose to remain in the Persian capital.
While the Babylonians made life difficult for the Jews, the Persians were more lenient to aliens; and many Jews prospered in the land of their captors. Mordecai eventually held an official position in the government and sat at the king’s gate (Est. 2:21). It’s likely that he was given this position after Esther’s coronation, because he had to walk back and forth in front of the house of the women in order to find out how his adopted daughter was doing (v. 11). If he were an officer of the king, he would have had access to inside information.
Esther was Mordecai’s cousin and adopted daughter (v. 15). Her Persian name Esther means “star,” and her Hebrew name Hadassah means “myrtle.” (It’s interesting that the myrtle tree bears a flower that looks like a star.) A beautiful woman, she was one of those taken into the king’s harem.
One of the key elements in this story is the fact that the people in Shushan didn’t know that Mordecai and Esther were Jews. The palace personnel found out about Mordecai when he told them (3:4), and the king learned about Esther at the second banquet she hosted for him and Haman (chap. 7).
This fact presents us with some problems. For one thing, if Mordecai and Esther were passing themselves off as Persians, they certainly weren’t keeping a kosher home and obeying the laws of Moses. Had they been following even the dietary laws, let alone the rules for separation and worship, their true nationality would have quickly been discovered. Had Esther practiced her Jewish faith during her year of preparation (2:12), or during the four years she had been queen (2:16 with 3:7), the disguise would have come off.
Anyone has the right to conceal his or her true nationality, and this is not a sin. As long as nobody asked them, Mordecai and Esther had every right to conceal their racial origin. If people thought that the two cousins were Gentiles, well, that was their own conclusion. Nobody lied to them. “All truths are not to be spoken at all times,” wrote Matthew Henry, “though an untruth is not to be spoken at any time.” Nevertheless, that Esther and Mordecai did not acknowledge the God of Israel in the midst of that pagan society is unfortunate.
So much for their subterfuge. What about their non-kosher lifestyle? Even though the Law of Moses was temporary, and it would be ended with the death of Christ on the cross, that law was still in effect; and the Jews were expected to obey it. Daniel and his friends were careful to obey the law while they lived in Babylon, and the Lord blessed them for their faithfulness (Dan. 1). Why would He overlook the unfaithfulness of Mordecai and Esther and still use them to accomplish His purposes?
But even more serious than their lifestyle is the problem of a Jewess in a harem and ultimately marrying a Gentile. The Law of Moses prohibited all kinds of illicit sex as well as mixed marriages (Ex. 20:14; 34:16; Lev. 18; Deut. 7:1-4), and both Ezra and Nehemiah had to deal with the problem of Jews marrying Gentiles (Ezra 9-10; Neh. 10:30; 13:23-27). Yet, God allowed a pure Jewish girl to become the wife of a lustful Gentile pagan king, a worshiper of Zoroaster!
Some Bible students see this whole enterprise as an empire-wide “beauty contest” and Esther as a contestant who probably shouldn’t have entered. They also assert that Mordecai encouraged her because he wanted to have a Jew in a place of influence in the empire in case there was trouble. Perhaps that interpretation is true. However, other students feel that the women were not volunteers but were selected and assembled by the king’s special officers. The girls were not kidnapped, but everybody knew that the will of an Eastern monarch could not successfully be opposed. In this case I don’t think we should condemn Esther for what happened to her since these circumstances were, for the most part, out of her control; and God did not overrule them for the good of her people.
The encouragement of Hegai (Est. 2:8-9). Just as Joseph found favor in Egypt (Gen. 39:21) and Daniel in Babylon (Dan. 1:9), so Esther found favor in Shushan. God is so great that He can work even in the heart and mind of the keeper of a harem! Hegai was a Gentile. His job was to provide pleasure for the king, and he didn’t know the true God of Israel. Nevertheless, he played an important role in the plan that God was working out for His people. Even today, God is working in places where you and I might think He is absent.
Hegai had a year-long “beauty treatment” to prepare each woman for the king. It included a prescribed diet, the application of special perfumes and cosmetics, and probably a course on court etiquette. They were being trained to do one thing—satisfy the desires of the king. The one who pleased him the most would become his wife. Because of the providence of God, Hegai gave Esther “special treatment” and the best place in the house for her and her maids.
The nationality of Esther (Est. 2:10-11). Had Esther not been born into the Jewish race, she could never have saved the nation from slaughter. It would appear that the two cousins’ silence about their nationality was directed by God because He had a special work for them to accomplish. There was plenty of anti-Semitism in the Gentile world, and Mordecai’s motive was probably their own personal safety, but God had something greater in mind. Mordecai and Esther wanted to live in peace, but God used them to keep the Jewish people alive.
The approval of the king (Est. 2:12-18). Each night, a new maiden was brought to the king; and in the morning, she was sent to the house of the concubines, never again to be with the king unless he remembered her and called for her. Such unbridled sensuality eventually would have so bored Xerxes that he was probably unable to distinguish one maiden from another. This was not love. It was faceless, anonymous lust that craved more and more; and the more the king indulged, the less he was satisfied.
Esther had won the favor of everybody who saw her; and when the king saw her, he responded to her with greater enthusiasm than he had to any of the other women. At last he had found someone to replace Vashti! The phrase “the king loved Esther” (kjv) must not be interpreted to mean that Xerxes had suddenly fallen in love with Esther with pure and devoted affection. The niv rendering is best: “Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women” (v. 17). This response was from the Lord who wanted Esther in the royal palace where she could intercede for her people. “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18, nkjv).
It’s worth noting that Esther put herself into the hands of Hegai and did what she was told to do. Hegai knew what the king liked, and, being partial to Esther, he attired her accordingly. Because she possessed such great beauty “in form and features” (Est. 2:7, niv), Esther didn’t require the “extras” that the other women needed.
The king personally crowned Esther and named her the new queen of the empire. Then he summoned his officials and hosted a great banquet. (This is the fourth banquet in the book. The Persian kings used every opportunity to celebrate!) But the king’s generosity even touched the common people, for he proclaimed a national holiday throughout his realm and distributed gifts to the people. This holiday may have been similar to the Hebrew “Year of Jubilee.” It’s likely that taxes were canceled, servants set free, and workers given a vacation from their jobs. Xerxes wanted everybody to feel good about his new queen.
In chapter one, we have a glimpse into Xerxes’s palace with his parties and excess. We have been introduced to the happenings there for a specific purpose. It explains how Esther came to the throne. Because she became queen, she was able to intervene and intercede in behalf of God’s people. An evil plan was being hatched to exterminate God’s people, but God was three step ahead. Even though God is not mentioned, we cannot deny His hand in placing His people in place!
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