I’m going to spend the remainder of this week blogging about the story of Esther!
To set the scene, the captives of Israel are scattered among the Gentiles under the just judgment pronounced by the Prophet Hosea:
Then said God, Call his name Lo-ammi; for you are not My People, and I will not be your God (Hos 1:8 KJV).
“Lo-ammi” means “not My People.” And yet, we see the Hand of Jehovah God still is upon the Jews in their captivity, though He could not publically recognize them. Without revoking the judgment pronounced through Hosea, the LORD secretly watched over them and shaped public affairs in their interest.
Interestingly, the Holy Spirit, with design, is careful not to let the Name of God appear in this Book, though it lies concealed in the Hebrew text. The absence of that Name is a great encouragement to faith in that the lesson which its omission conveys is that, behind the visible events of history, there is an Almighty and Faithful God that protects the broken and scattered Jewish people.
And finally, one disclaimer before I risk the Book of Esther: The moral of this story is not to inspire one to fly off and attempt to join the harem of an Iranian monarch that God might use her for His Divine Purpose! LOL
These events happened in the days of King Xerxes, who reigned over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia. 2 At that time Xerxes ruled his empire from his royal throne at the fortress of Susa. 3 In the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. He invited all the military officers of Persia and Media as well as the princes and nobles of the provinces. 4 The celebration lasted 180 days—a tremendous display of the opulent wealth of his empire and the pomp and splendor of his majesty (Est 1:4 NLT).
This festivity lasted for six months!
When it was all over, the king gave a banquet for all the people, from the greatest to the least, who were in the fortress of Susa. It lasted for seven days and was held in the courtyard of the palace garden. 6 The courtyard was beautifully decorated with white cotton curtains and blue hangings, which were fastened with white linen cords and purple ribbons to silver rings embedded in marble pillars. Gold and silver couches stood on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and other costly stones. 7 Drinks were served in gold goblets of many designs, and there was an abundance of royal wine, reflecting the king’s generosity. 8 By edict of the king, no limits were placed on the drinking, for the king had instructed all his palace officials to serve each man as much as he wanted (Est 1:5-8 NLT).
For this particular feast, the men could drink or not drink. It was their choice.
At the same time, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes. 10 On the seventh day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the seven eunuchs who attended him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas— 11 to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted the nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman. 12 But when they conveyed the king’s order to Queen Vashti, she refused to come. This made the king furious, and he burned with anger (Est 1:9-12 NLT).
Vashti was actually justified in her actions. Had she complied, she would have lost the respect not only of the Persian nation, but of the king himself.
He immediately consulted with his wise advisers, who knew all the Persian laws and customs, for he always asked their advice. 14 The names of these men were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan—seven nobles of Persia and Media. They met with the king regularly and held the highest positions in the empire. 15 “What must be done to Queen Vashti?” the king demanded. “What penalty does the law provide for a queen who refuses to obey the king’s orders, properly sent through his eunuchs?” (Est 1:13-15 NLT).
The angry king consults his advisors as to what, by Persian law, could be done to Vashti.
Memucan answered the king and his nobles, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble and citizen throughout your empire. 17 Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. 18 Before this day is out, the wives of all the king’s nobles throughout Persia and Media will hear what the queen did and will start treating their husbands the same way. There will be no end to their contempt and anger (Est 1:16-18 NLT).
From Memucan (what a name!), we realize that there was no Persian law which provided for a penalty for such as case. So, they made up their own law, which, of course, was unjust. However, the LORD will take advantage of these events, though He most certainly did not cause them to take place.
“So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she. 20 When this decree is published throughout the king’s vast empire, husbands everywhere, whatever their rank, will receive proper respect from their wives!” 21 The king and his nobles thought this made good sense, so he followed Memucan’s counsel. 22 He sent letters to all parts of the empire, to each province in its own script and language, proclaiming that every man should be the ruler of his own home and should say whatever he pleases (Est 1:19-22 NLT).
Charges against Vashti were trumped up that she might be banished. And as well, the king and his advisors used this incident to legislate throughout the kingdom.
But after Xerxes’ anger had subsided, he began thinking about Vashti and what she had done and the decree he had made. 2 So his personal attendants suggested, “Let us search the empire to find beautiful young virgins for the king. 3 Let the king appoint agents in each province to bring these beautiful young women into the royal harem at the fortress of Susa. Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of the harem, will see that they are all given beauty treatments. 4 After that, the young woman who most pleases the king will be made queen instead of Vashti.” This advice was very appealing to the king, so he put the plan into effect (Est 2:1-4 NLT).
The idea is that the king had second thoughts—and perhaps regretted— banishing Vashti. But the dye was now cast, so to speak, and he felt he must follow through.
At that time there was a Jewish man in the fortress of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair. He was from the tribe of Benjamin and was a descendant of Kish and Shimei. 6 His family had been among those who, with King Jehoiachin of Judah, had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. 7 This man had a lovely young cousin, Hadassah, who was also called Esther. When her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her into his family and raised her as his own daughter. 8 As a result of the king’s decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought to the king’s harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai’s care. 9 Hegai was very impressed with Esther and treated her kindly. He quickly ordered a special menu for her and provided her with beauty treatments. He also assigned her seven maids specially chosen from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem (Est 2:5-9 NLT).
“Hadassah” was her Hebrew name, and “Esther” was her Persian name. She was Mordecai’s cousin, but when her parents had died, he had adopted her into his family.
Esther had not told anyone of her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had directed her not to do so. 11 Every day Mordecai would take a walk near the courtyard of the harem to find out about Esther and what was happening to her. 12 Before each young woman was taken to the king’s bed, she was given the prescribed twelve months of beauty treatments—six months with oil of myrrh, followed by six months with special perfumes and ointments. 13 When it was time for her to go to the king’s palace, she was given her choice of whatever clothing or jewelry she wanted to take from the harem. 14 That evening she was taken to the king’s private rooms, and the next morning she was brought to the second harem, where the king’s wives lived. There she would be under the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch in charge of the concubines. She would never go to the king again unless he had especially enjoyed her and requested her by name (Est 2:10-14 NLT).
Because of possible prejudice, Esther did not divulge that she was Jewish. She found favor in the eyes of the king, and after the prescribed year, she entered his harem. Mordecai found ways to keep track of his adopted daughter as much as he could. It must have been a difficult time for him.
Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her. 16 Esther was taken to King Xerxes at the royal palace in early winter of the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther more than any of the other young women. He was so delighted with her that he set the royal crown on her head and declared her queen instead of Vashti. 18 To celebrate the occasion, he gave a great banquet in Esther’s honor for all his nobles and officials, declaring a public holiday for the provinces and giving generous gifts to everyone (Est 2:15-18 NLT).
In the Providence of God and by His overruling of human folly, Esther was seated upon the throne at the very time that Satan made a supreme effort to destroy every member of the Tribe of Judah in particular, and the Israelites in general, so as to make impossible the advent of the promised Redeemer. He was defeated by the hidden—and well-hidden it was!—Hand of God. The judgment threatened in Deut 31:16-18: “I will hide My Face,” came to pass, but though Israel proved faithless to Him, He abode faithful, for He could not deny Himself. So, though He hid Himself, yet was the LORD’s care over them as real as ever.
Even after all the young women had been transferred to the second harem and Mordecai had become a palace official, 20 Esther continued to keep her family background and nationality a secret. She was still following Mordecai’s directions, just as she did when she lived in his home (Est 2:19-20 NLT).
Mordecai was given a place of position and authority in the king’s government. And he made certain that Esther continued to keep her Jewishness a secret. Even while queen, she continued to heed the counsel of Mordecai.
One day as Mordecai was on duty at the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthana and Teresh—who were guards at the door of the king’s private quarters—became angry at King Xerxes and plotted to assassinate him. 22 But Mordecai heard about the plot and gave the information to Queen Esther. She then told the king about it and gave Mordecai credit for the report. 23 When an investigation was made and Mordecai’s story was found to be true, the two men were impaled on a sharpened pole. This was all recorded in The Book of the History of King Xerxes’ Reign (Est 2:21-23 NLT).
The historian Josephus said that a certain man by the name of Pharnabazus, a slave of one of the conspirators, betrayed them to Mordecai. And then Esther revealed to the king that Mordecai had relayed to her this information, which would save the king’s life.
Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Gen 45:5-8 NASB).