Esther is first introduced to us in chapter 2:7 as Hadassah the adopted daughter of Mordecai. We are told according to the NIV that she “was lovely in form and features”. What does that mean? These are two separate Hebrew words here that can both be translated “beautiful” and therefore emphasizing her physical beauty, however, the first can also be translated “pleasant” and the second translated “favored”. Both definitions are very important because it points out that not only was she beautiful in form but also in character. These second definitions are also ones repeated often in our story and so must be taken seriously.
When the edict of Xerxes went out many young women were brought to the citadel in Susa, but if you remember Esther already lived there with Mordecai. Therefore, Esther was one of the closest and therefore first to be brought to the harem within the actual palace of the king. She along with many others were entrusted to Hegai the eunuch in charge of the harem and the one responsible for preparing the girls to go into the king. This was a long process that would take a year to accomplish.
It was Esther who first caught the eye of Hegai. She “pleased him and won his favor” and so he immediately began to put her through the purification rites and to provide her with the best food. What is interesting about these two words her is that not only do they mean “pleasing” and “favor”, which they do and you remember these words are important, but both of these words can mean either “pleasing” or “favor” and they can also both mean “best”.
In other words, Hegai thought Esther to be pleasing, pleasing and the best, best and so he showed her favor, favor. I am emphasizing these words because of their importance and also to remind you that when a thought is repeated in Hebrew, either with the exact same word or not, it is done to add weight to the point.
Hegai not only began her purification, but also gave her seven maids from the king’s palace and moved her to the “best” accommodations within the harem. This again is emphasizing what he thought of her and her chances for being the one selected.
Then we find out that she has been commanded by her father, Mordecai, not to reveal who her people are or her homeland. The text makes it clear that she followed this command showing her to be obedient to her father and loyal to her people. She is a young women of character and distinction. She knows who she is and what that means.
We also see the love her father has for her as he goes everyday to inquire of her at the harem courtyard. These two, father and daughter, are very close and loyal to one another. It is not until verse 15 of chapter 2 that we learn that they are actually cousins.
This part of Esther’s biography reminds me of one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 45. It is found it verses 10 and 11 where it says, “Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.” This is the Psalm of a wedding that foreshadows the great wedding in Revelation 19. We are to forget our past focus only on our Lord, our Bridegroom. Here Esther is to do just that, she is to focus on her potential bridegroom. The difference is that Esther is doing it to protect herself and her people. She is also from God’s family, Israel, and it is the king in this case who will be joining through marriage, even though he does not yet know it. Remember, I said in an earlier post he is looking for a home for his heart.
Esther underwent her required twelve months of purification, no doubt having some religious significance within Zoroastrianism. When it was her turn to go to Xerxes, presumably one of the first, she asked for only what Hegai suggested she take.
It is at this point I find the statement in verse 15 quite interesting that states, “Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.”(NIV) I find this interesting because it seems to be out of place or at the least unexpected at this point. We already know she has won the favor of Hegai and it is yet to speak of the favor of Xerxes so who might the text be referring to when it says “everyone”? Possibly, Shaashgaz, the eunuch in charge of the concubines, perhaps the other young women, perhaps her maids,
I can’t help but wonder if there is another important person this may be referring to. My thoughts go to Xerxes mother, Atossa. Remember she is still alive at this point and I find it hard to believe she had nothing to do with the selection process of the next queen, at least in her own mind anyway. If that is the case, this is a huge statement and not one so out of place. Notice though we are once again hearing how Esther won the “favor” of people.
Finally, she is taken to the king in December of 479 B.C. or January of 478 B.C. She would only return to the king if he called for her by name, until then she would remain in the part of the harem where the concubines dwelt under the protection of Shaashgaz.
Yes, this does imply that their night together was a physical one, an intimate one and Scripture gives us no indication that it was not. Regardless, she is now waiting to see if he will call for her again or if the rest of her life will be spent alone in the harem.
Scripture does not leave the reader to the suspense that Esther must have felt at first. Rather, it lets us know very quickly that Xerxes loved Esther more than the others. This love he felt for her was not purely physical, but much deeper than that; even to the point of friendship.
They liked each other in a genuine way that makes for a strong bond and marriage. It is obvious that he not only loved her for her beauty, but that they also enjoyed each others company as well. Esther won the favor of Xerxes, this word “favor” can also be translated “grace”, she found grace with him. She also won his approval, the word “approval” can also be translated “mercy”.
Therefore, with Xerxes, Esther found grace and mercy. He was pleased with her so he made her is wife and queen by setting a crown on her head presumably at their wedding.
Xerxes then throws a banquet and calls it, “Esther’s Banquet”. He is not showing off his own glory, but that of his Queen. She has become a reflection of him and his glory or majesty. He does not keep his bride hidden, but shows her off and once again the officials and nobles of the kingdom, i.e., family, are there. He doesn’t stop there, but declares a holiday in the provinces, which would have included Israel, and lavishly gave out gifts.
The symbolism in this portion of the account is breathtaking.
Remember in an earlier post I said that Xerxes is a type of Christ. Well, here it is obvious and shines through with abundance.
Yeshua our King has found his bride and paid for it all. He paid the bridal price, He paid the cost of the wedding and the banquet. He gives out gifts through His Holy Spirit. He has chosen us to be blameless and holy and made us so through the sanctification or purification of the Holy Spirit. He has made us a part of His family according to His good pleasure and will, by His grace and mercy. He has lavishly poured out His favor or grace upon us.
What an awesome picture of the wedding that is to come. What a glimpse of the fulfillment of the mystery of the Bridegroom and His Bride. It becomes so obvious doesn’t it? Now do you see why I said this book was also prophetic?
Rejoicing in our King,
Esther 2:1 Some time later, when King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes’) rage had cooled down, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what was decided against her. 2 The king’s personal attendants suggested, “Let a search be made for beautiful young women for the king. 3 Let the king appoint commissioners in each province of his kingdom, so that they may assemble all the beautiful young women to the harem at the fortress of Susa. Put them under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women, and give them the required beauty treatments. 4 Then the young woman who pleases the king will become queen instead of Vashti.” This suggestion pleased the king, and he did accordingly.(HCSB)
Remember from earlier that we discussed that between chapters 1 and 2 the Persian Greek War, the war the movie “300″ made famous once again, occurred and that Xerxes came home with his army left behind and losing. Therefore, when it says, “some time later” the “later” it is referring to is after he came home from the war.
After Xerxes comes home we know of one major event in his life from the writings of Herodotus, the Greek historian, his affair with his daughter-in-law. What occurred from this affair, I believe, along with the riggers of war, helped to turn Xerxes mind back to Vashti. You see, Xerxes gave to his daughter-in-law, the wife of his eldest son, a robe that Vashti had given him. She then took the robe and wore it in public, a royal robe of the King. Vashti then has her mother killed (Xerxes sister-in-law and also a former lover). This was a warning. It appeared that the daughter-in-law was seeking to claim power for her father, Xerxes brother and general. This act of Vashti’s may have caused Xerxes to turn his affections toward her and once again think he might be able to trust her. I told you there was a lot of family intrigue in Xerxes’ life. Every where he turns he is looking for someone to love and trust. He is seeking a home for his heart.
It is at this point that Xerxes’ attendants step in and keep him from breaking his own law. Their suggestion pleases the king. But what was it? Basically to collect the young pleasing virgins of the kingdom who could be a potential bride. This collection of young women were to be brought to the eunuch, Hegai, in the palace at Susa. Interestingly, the word for harem can also mean palace or even temple. Considering the meaning for the treatments it is an intriguing thought to think that Esther may have been taken to a temple of Ahura Mazda for this preparation.
Yes, they were to undergo treatments. These treatments, as we learn later in the chapter, were two sets of six month long treatments. Here I believe the King James Bible gets it right. It refers to these treatments as a means of purification. They were to be purified before coming into the presence of the king. It is here that I must begin our look at the prophetic nature of the book of Esther. King Xerxes on some levels is a type of Christ or Messiah. Here is one of these places. Before we, the Bride of Christ, enter His presence we undergo a time of purification. We call it sanctification. We will someday enter His presence pure and blameless, without spot or wrinkle. Again Xerxes is just a type, he by no means is a perfect representation of our Messiah.
Then Xerxes’ attendants speak of Xerxes choosing the one that pleases him, remember Xerxes’ anger toward Vashti was hot displeasure and that he is looking for the exact opposite of her. It would be this one that is most pleasing to him that would receive the crown of the Queen. They have set a plan before Xerxes and it pleases him. It would be this that sends him into the intrigues of the harem, which is also where Herodotus tells us his heart goes. It will be there we meet Esther.
Seeking The Pure Heart,
In Esther 1 we find Xerxes the ruler of 127 Provinces and having a banquet for his officials, staff, military leaders, nobles and the officials of their province’s. It is the fall of 483 B.C. and this banquet will last for 6 months in the winter palace, fortress or citadel of Susa.
This first banquet in the chapter is believed to be more of a war council where Xerxes is planning and garnishing support for the upcoming campaign against Greece the coming year. This strategic, planning council/banquet last until the spring of 482 B.C. and at the end of it another feast is thrown for all those within the citadel of Susa, both small and great. At this time Vashti also gives a feast for the women of the citadel within the palace–many of them wives of the visiting men.
Both of these feasts were designed to last for seven days; excessive drinking was the norm. They were also probably meant to celebrate the men going off to war.
Notice that for the men’s feast we have many more details, describing the surroundings of the courtyard and the location of their feast. The hanging linens were probably meant to block the wind and to also set up private chambers, as well as couches, where they could recline or even sleep during these days.
At the end of these days, when he is high is spirits, Xerxes calls for Vashti to come to him in her crown. He wishes to show her off and to probably fix her image in his own mind before leaving for war. Vashti was either very pregnant, or had just given birth (to Artaxerxes), as well as, probably being high in spirits herself refuses his command.
This refusal sends Xerxes into a hot rage of displeasure. Notice that word ‘displeasure’, it is very important to our study because as he looks for another he will be looking for the opposite. As a matter of fact, both words used for Xerxes’ anger in 1:12 mean a displeasure.
We do not have the reason for Vashti’s refusal, but suffice it to say, do not feel sorry for her. By all accounts, she was an evil woman who worshipped the god of the underworld within the Zoroastrian religion. Her heart leaned toward darkness and death, not one that sought what was best for her husband or his kingdom.
We will discuss in an upcoming post the religion of the Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism, and how it fits into our story.
The men advising Xerxes are most concerned with the influence her attitude would have on the rest of the women in the kingdom.
At this point it is important to note that his advisers are the seven who have greatest access to him, the highest ranking Persian and Median officials in the land.
In other words, his relatives. There is really nowhere Xerxes could go to escape the family and the hold they had over him or the conspiracies that pervaded the family to replace him. His family was everywhere.
So he turns to the seven relatives he has allowed access to him; these are men he trusts. It is one of them that advises him to issue a decree to depose Vashti and to give her position, which would have also included her property, to another. She was never again to enter into the king’s presence, at least not at court. Perhaps she could see him in other capacities, but not in any official capacity or with any position within the kingdom.
Remember it was the influence on their own wives that the nobles were concerned about. Their wives would have been at the banquet with Vashti and again many would have been her relatives.
This family as we saw in Xerxes’ family tree, is very intertwined.
Also keep in mind that the truly most powerful woman in the kingdom would also be at that banquet, Xerxes’ mother, Atossa, who would have still been alive.
This behavior by Vashti, while directed toward Xerxes, could also have been directed toward Atossa in an attempt to replace her as the most powerful woman of the kingdom.
The men wish to make sure that their wives do not get any ideas of overpowering them. They are interested in maintaining the current level of respect and harmony in their homes, if not to also increase it.
Here we go from Xerxes’ displeasure to one of his nobles, Memucan, saying, “If it pleases the king”. He is deliberately working to change the attitude of the king, he does not want that displeasure coming his way.
He makes his suggestion about the decree and Vashti’s loss of the crown, but he does not stop there. He goes on to suggest that another woman, one ‘better’ or ‘more worthy’ be put in her place.
It would not surprise me if he already had someone in mind, perhaps his own daughter or granddaughter. However, this suggestion would not have come as a foreign or unusual concept. After all these men were experts in Persian/Median Law and knew the times, they knew their history.
Remember Xerxe’s father, Darius, was also married before coming to the throne and then afterward married someone ‘more worthy’ of the position of Queen, Xerxes’ mother, Atossa. His own family tree was all the evidence he would have needed to make such a decree and decision.
With that decision, the reign of Vashti ends within the reign of Xerxes. She will see the light of honor again, however, under the reign of her son, Artaxerxes.
Be More Worthy,