As we begin this Esther 2 sermon we need to remember, the king issued this edict when he was very angry. I wonder what happens when he cools off. Let’s read 2:1-4.
What happens when the king cools off
2:1 ¶ After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her. 2 Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king: 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, unto the custody of Hege the king’s chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them: 4 And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so.
It’s almost as if Ahasuerus was having second thoughts. That’s kind of surprising to me. He’s such a superlative man – extreme and extravagant. But it seems like he almost regrets what he decreed in his burning anger. And yet he did issue a decree. So Vashti could not come into his presence again. Because we all know that a law of the Medes and Persians cannot be revoked. So while the king is hesitating, his attendants encourage him to follow-through on his decree. And that idea pleases the somewhat forlorn king. So the king had officers throughout the kingdom collect all the young beautiful women and bring them to the royal harem in Shushan. And verse 4 states the main objective – “let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti.” So the search is on. Who will be the lucky one to take Vashti’s place? I’m glad you asked. Because in the next section we’re introduced to a really good candidate. Let’s read 2:5-8.
Who will take Vashti’s place?
2:5 ¶ Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; 6 Who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. 7 And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter. 8 So it came to pass, when the king’s commandment and his decree was heard, and when many maidens were gathered together unto Shushan the palace, to the custody of Hegai, that Esther was brought also unto the king’s house, to the custody of Hegai, keeper of the women.
Who’s the first character we’re introduced to? Mordecai the Jew. For some reason a number of commentators think everyone knew that he was a Jew. I don’t think they did. We are told he’s a Jew, but I don’t think that was common knowledge. At any rate he’s from the tribe of Benjamin. And his ancestor Jair was taken in the exile with king Jeconiah. And we’re supposed to love this man Mordecai. He’s a selfless father figure. He’s raising his deceased uncle’s daughter – his cousin – whose name is Hadassah. Well, that’s her Jewish name. But that’s a secret to everyone. She goes by Esther, a nice Persian name. And this girl is beautiful. So, with this royal decree to collect beautiful young women, Esther was chosen to go to the harem for a chance to be the new queen of Persia. So she’s placed in the custody of Hegai. What happens to her while she’s there? Let’s read 2:9-11.
What happens to Esther under Hegai’s watch
2:9 And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women. 10 Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it. 11 And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.
So Esther really finds favor with Hegai. He treats her very well. And all the while she’s managing to keep her identity hidden. Is that OK? Sometimes you read through a biblical story and you wonder if whatever’s being described is good or bad. Why are we left to wonder? Because the writer often doesn’t come out and tell you plainly whether it’s right or not. But this is when you need to think of the rest of Scripture and come up with a conclusion. So in this case, does the rest of the Bible commend identifying with God’s people? Or does it seem OK to deny your association with them? Daniel was commended for not eating the king’s un-kosher food because he was Jewish. His three friends wouldn’t bow to the idol because they were Jewish. Moses forsook his Egyptian upbringing to experience suffering with God’s people. So I think we’re supposed to look at Esther’s conduct and be a little uneasy about it. How does a godly girl fit in so well with the godless culture around her? How is it that her Jewish identity, which would certainly include moral norms as well as a number of ceremonial practices, how does that go unidentified for very long?
Now, we’re not supposed to get too upset with Esther. I mean, the text states that she was just doing what she was told. And I think a little contrast to Vashti is intended here. But Esther’s just obeying her adopted father Mordecai. OK, so let’s get angry at him. Well, I think verse 11 is meant to soften us even further to him. He was so concerned with Esther. He walked by the harem daily to see how his adopted daughter was doing. He loved her. He wanted the best for her. Was his love a little misguided? Should he have told her to reveal her identity? It’s easy for me to say yes. And yet, this is what happened – Esther obeyed Mordecai and concealed her identity.
Alright, so there was a pretty involved vetting process in this beauty pageant. Read about it in 2:12-14.
The beauty pageant
2:12 ¶ Now when every maid’s turn was come to go in to king Ahasuerus, after that she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women, (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 other things for the purifying of the women;) 13 Then thus came every maiden unto the king; whatsoever she desired was given her to go with her out of the house of the women unto the king’s house. 14 In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came in unto the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.
So, true to Ahasuerus’ superlative nature, these girls all underwent a full year of purification with oils and perfumes. There are probably some health benefits to these practices and we could probably explain them and such, but I think the point is again that this is over-the-top and very much in keeping with Ahasuerus’ character. So when the 12 months was done the girl would take whatever she needed with her to the king’s room for her one night with him. It’s nice that the Bible doesn’t say much more about that. And then in the morning the girl would go into the harem for the concubines. So she didn’t go home. She was an unofficial wife of the king. Unless, of course, he chose her to be queen.
And one day Esther had her turn with the king. Let’s read about that in 2:15-18.
Esther’s night with the king
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 unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai the king’s chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed. And Esther obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her. 16 So Esther was taken unto king Ahasuerus into his house royal in the tenth month, which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.
Esther was so beautiful she didn’t need to bring anything with her. But she did take the advice of Hegai – again we see her submissive spirit in opposition to Vashti. The text says Esther found favor with everyone who looked at her. And that included the king. He loved her and made her his queen. Now what would you expect Ahasuerus to do in response to the crowning of his new queen? Yep, he had a feast! I’m not sure how long it lasted this time, but it was lavish as usual.
So, Esther is queen. Esther, the lowly Jewish girl. The former orphan. Providentially placed by the God who is unusually silent throughout this book to be queen of the most powerful opulent empire in the world. What an unlikely turn of events. If you think that’s unlikely, you should see what happens next. We won’t read the details, but in verses 19-23 we see Mordecai in the gate. Yes, he was in the gate – the place where official business was conducted and judicial verdicts rendered. How did he get there? I’m thinking that Esther appointed him. At any rate, he’s there and it puts him in the position to overhear two of the king’s servants plotting to assassinate the king. And Mordecai, the law-abiding Jew reports this plot against his new in-law the king to his adopted daughter, Esther. Then Esther reports it to her new husband, Ahasuerus. And Ahasuerus investigates and discovers that Mordecai was right. The king hangs the perpetrators. And Mordecai’s heroic deed is written in a book… and promptly forgotten. What a story!
So in these first 2 chapters we’ve seen God Providentially Placing His People. He removed one queen in order to allow another queen – Esther – to take her place. He allowed Mordecai to be in Shushan to begin with and then to be in the gate to uncover the plot and have his name written down in a book. And we’ll see as the story unfolds in the next few weeks that these placements were crucial for the survival of the Jews. So, God Providentially Places His People.