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,
Today I want to start with the book of Esther.
The book itself was written between 470 and 430 B.C. making it one of the last Old Testament books written. It was written either at the end of Xerxes reign or during the reign of his son Artaxerxes who ruled from 465 to 424 B.C. It documents the only other festival given in Old Testament outside the books of Moses, the Festival of Purim. It had been 1000 years since God gave the original seven festivals to the Israelites. The record of Hanukkah is not found in the Old Testament although we do see it referred to in the New Testament as a festival that Jesus attended, called the feast of Dedication in John 10:22.
All we know about the life of Xerxes from the Greek Persian War on comes from two primary sources: 1) Heroddutus, the Greek historian, who wrote his histories between 431 and 425 B.C. These writings included accounts of Xerxes part in the Greek Persian War, his affairs before he met Esther, the fact he allowed others to rule for him (in other words, he had Prime Ministers), and that after returning from the war he became involved in the intrigues of the harem; 2) The book of Esther. We do not have any Persian sources from this time period of Xerxes life largely because his son Artaxerxes took power in a cue, a cue largely instigated by his mother and the religious leaders in the kingdom.
In the study of Esther by Beth Moore she says, “Biblical narratives commonly begin with ‘it happened’ but omit ‘in the days of’. On the other hand, prophetic writings are often introduced as having occurred ‘in the days of King…’. The Book of Esther unfolds, however, with the two intertwining.” I firmly believe this is a historical account of this part of Esther and Xerxes’ life, but I also believe it is a book of prophecy. Due to this we will approach the book from both perspectives.
We will begin with the historical background of the book. I feel fairly confident in saying that most of us know the history and background of Esther and her people and how they came to be in Persia. To sum it up quickly the people of Judah rebelled against God and God sent the Babylonians under Nebechanezar to defeat them and send them into exile. After being in exile in the Babylonian lands for 70 years the Persian King, Cyrus, conquered Babylon. He then gives the peoples who were taken in captivity by the Babylonians an opportunity to go home, this included the Jews. However, many did not return to their homeland and stayed in the places where they had been carried off to. This was the case for Esther’s family and her cousin Mordecai.
With that said, have you ever wondered about the other half of the story of Esther, Xerxes’ past. His past is full on intrigue itself and one would be well served by knowing it. The first readers of the book of Esther would have known the past of both Esther and her family and Xerxes and his family. I would like to unfold his past for you today because I am confident that it will make this man’s life with Esther so much more clear and we will refer back to it time and time again in our study.
The history of Xerxes is the history of the Persian Empire. Please excuse the chart, but is the easiest way for you to see the connections.
History of the Persian Empire
Kings of Persia
Achaemenes of Anshan @700 B.C.
Teispes of Anshan
Cyrus I of Anshan Ariaramnes of Persia
Cambyses I Arsames
Cyrus the Great Hystraspes
Darius the Great
Kings of Media
Darius the Mede Mandane
Persia and Media Come Together
Cambyses I marries Mandane
Cyrus the Great
Becomes king in 559 B.C.
Becomes king of Media in 550 B.C. when he is crowned by his cousin Cassandane and then marries her.
Conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.
Cyrus the Great marries his First Cousin Cassandane
Cambyses II Smerdis Atossa Artystone
Cambyses II marries his sister Atossa – They have no children
Cambyses II is king from 530 B.C. to 522 B.C. – He dies on his way back from a campaign in Egypt. Before he left for that campaign in Egypt he secretly killed his brother, Smerdis. Since it was done in secret a usurper who looked a great deal like his brother, Gaumata, is able to take the throne when Cambyses dies. To solidify his position as Smerdis, Gaumata marries Atossa (daughter of Cyrus and wife/sister of Cambyses), he also married another widow of Cambyses, Phaedymia (daughter of Otanes, Cambyses first cousin). Gaumata feared Atossa and kept her prisoner in the harem, but Phaedymia was able to get word out to her father that Gaumata was a fake Smerdis.
Seven conspirators decide to take things into their own hands and reclaim the throne of the kingdom. The two most powerful men of these seven were Darius, son of Hystraspes, and Otanes, son of Darius the Mede (you may recognize his name from the book of Daniel). Darius was 28 at the time a general in the military, as well as a distant cousin of Cambyses II in the Achaemenid Dynasty line. Otanes, being a Mede, allowed Darius to take the throne, but did get some concessions in exchange.
Darius killed Gaumata in 522 B.C. and took the throne. Upon coming to the throne he solidifies his right to it through a series of marriages. He was already married and a father at the time.
1. Atossa – Daughter of Cyrus the Great, widow/sister of Cambyses, widow of Gaumata. She agrees to the marriage and is the most powerful woman in the kingdom.
2. Artystone – younger daughter of Cyrus the Great
3. Parmys – daughter of real Smerdis
4. Phaedymia – Daughter of Otanes, widow of Cambyses II and Gaumata
5. Daughter of Gobryas – Daughter of another co-conspirator
Therefore, Darius ends up with six wives, but only one is given the title of Queen, Atossa.
The other concession that Otanes received was not only the marriage of his daughter to Darius, but he also gets a wife. Otanes receives in marriage a sister of Darius. Therefore, Otanes becomes Darius’ father-in-law and brother-in-law.
Otanes marries Darius’ Sister
Darius marries Atossa – Queen
Their Eldest Son
Xerxes and Vashti are first cousins through his father and second cousins through his mother (in other words, his mother, Atossa, and Vashti are also first cousins). When Xerxes becomes king in 486 B.C. at the age of 35 he is already married to Vashti and a father.
Xerxes marries Vashti
Like I said we will be referring back to this family tree of Xerxes as we go along. I hope it is already making some bells ring for you, but if not don’t worry we will talk about where all this fits in as we go.