Book of Esther
Chapter 2 Part 3
April 15, 2012
“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. Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king: 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: And let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti. And the thing pleased the king; and he did so” (Esther 2:1-4). Once the party was over and everyone went home, the king then sobered up and realized what he had done. He began to miss his former queen, Vashti, and to regret his hasty agreement to dethrone her. Vashti was beautiful and the king longed for her. He now realized that Vashti didn’t deserve the harshness of the punishment she received and would have called her back to him. But those who had advised that the king should banish her from the palace knew they had to change his mind. If Vashti was allowed to return to the throne, their very lives were in danger. So, they devised a plan to distract Ahasuerus from his grief over Vashti.
The “wise men” told Ahasuerus to charge the governors of the 127 provinces of the kingdom to seek out the “fair” young virgins, meaning the most beautiful, and have them sent to the palace, Shushan. Once they arrived, they would be placed in the care of Hege, the eunuch in charge of the king’s harem. It seems there were two rooms in the harem. One was for the concubines whom the king had already used. The other was for the virgins who were in preparation before their debut with the king. Hege was in charge over all the women in both rooms.
Of “their things for purification,” John Gill said they were “such as oil of myrrh, spices, to remove all impurity and ill scent from them, and make them look smooth and beautiful.” Myrrh was a perfume made from a tree resin. It is reputed to be bitter to the taste, yet have a lovely fragrance. Myrrh was also used for its antibiotic effects in healing sores and purifying the skin. The women who would be brought before the king had to be clean and free of blemishes. Marcia Hoehne in her study, The Miracle of Marrying the King, said, “Myrrh removed the smell of flesh from Esther.”
Women now are blessed to have fragrant soaps, shampoos and perfumes that can easily be purchased at any department store or drug store. We never have to smell sour or dirty, unless we choose to. The women of Esther’s day didn’t have things like this available, and only the rich could own perfumed oils.
The wise men then suggested that after their purification, the women participate in a “Miss Shushan Pageant” so the king could choose a wife to replace Vashti. Whichever woman the king chose would receive the throne, the royal diadem (crown) that Vashti had worn, and the respect of all in the kingdom.
“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; 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” (verses 5, 6). Mordecai, we remember, is Esther’s older cousin who adopted her after her parents died. Mordecai wasn’t of the tribe of Judah. We will see later that he is called a Benjaminite. He was called a Jew because he came from the kingdom of Judah.
Don’t allow these verses to confuse you. It was not Mordecai who was carried away in the captivity; it was his great-grandfather, Kish. If we understand it to be Mordecai, it means when the events in the Book of Esther occurred, Mordecai would have been 115 years old, and Esther 80 years old. She surely would not have been a “fair young” virgin by then. It’s better to understand that both Esther and Mordecai were born in Babylon during the exile.
“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” (verse 7). This verse establishes the relationship between Esther and Mordecai. Esther (meaning “star” in Persian) was first given the name Hadassah (meaning “myrtle”) at birth by her mother. According to one of the commentaries I read, Hadassah’s father died (no cause given) when her mother was pregnant with her. This same commentary said that her mother died shortly after her birth. Mordecai was probably the only living relative Hadassah had, and he took her as his daughter. Mordecai loved Esther as his own child and protected her. He raised her in the faith and taught her to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob only. He instructed her in how to be a covenant daughter of God.
“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” (verse 8). It is conjectured that 400 young women were brought to the palace from all over the kingdom. Hadassah was one of the women who was taken to Hegai (called Hege in verse 3) to be prepared for the king.
“And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her the things for her 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” (verse 9). “And the maiden pleased him…” means that Esther found favor with Hagai. It wasn’t just her outward beauty that captivated this eunuch. It was her gentleness and peaceful attitude that made her stand out from the other women there. I’m sure each one had determined to become queen in place of Vashti and that there was bickering and discord among them. Hadassah, as we would say, “kept her cool” and Hagai was impressed.
Watch this now!
Because of her serene countenance, Hadassah and the seven maids given to her care were moved to the best apartment in the harem. Hagai took them away from the in-fighting and set them apart. The apartment is said to have had large, airy rooms and most likely had sun coming in to please her. This is such a marvelous lesson for us women! No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in, if we will maintain our faith, walk in love, and give more than receive, and treat others with dignity, we will walk in the favor of God and nothing will be too much to ask of Him. Fiery tempered women who blow up under pressure do not impress God. Fighting amongst ourselves (family or friends) doesn’t capture God’s attention. Faith in the midst of trials does. Calm peacefulness speaks louder in God’s ear and His heart than all the yelling we can do about our unfair circumstances.
The Bible tells us that, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1), and that, “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). We want healthy bones, Lord. Please teach us to speak to each other in love.
Hagai quickly gave Hadassh the oils and spices she would be bathed in and treated with for the next year. He wanted her preparation to begin soon as possible so that she could be brought out before the king in better condition than anyone else before he could select his queen.
Hadassah was also given the best and healthiest foods. We all know that if we eat fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs correctly, our bodies detoxify and our skin takes on a new healthy glow. Hagai wanted this young maiden to have all the best advantages. He wanted her to rise above the rest in the king’s memory.
It’s like when Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego respectively) asked to be fed, not from the abundance from the king’s table, but fresh vegetables and herbs and grains that had not been offered to idols. Daniel asked Melzar to allow him and his three friends to eat the good stuff for 10 days then compare them to the boys who ate from the king’s table. After ten days, Melzar looked at them, and, “And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. The same was true for Esther. After her year of preparation, she looked better than all the other women.
“Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it” (verse 10). From this verse on we will refer to Hadassah as Esther. Before she entered the palace as part of the group of women who would be readied for the King’s viewing, Mordecai changed her name to Esther, which we saw above is a Persian name meaning “star” for the goddess Ishtar. When Esther left her home and went into the palace, she was warned by Mordecai not to mention the fact that she was a Jewess. She was not to tell anyone about her heritage and that her ancestors had been taken in the captivity.
Even during their time, there was a prejudice against Jews. For her safety and to assure her an equal chance to be chosen by the king, she had to keep her heritage quiet. As long as no one asked for Esther’s background, she was not required to give them the information. Probably one of the reasons God caused Hegai to set Esther in a private apartment was orchestrated by God so that Esther could continue worshipping the Lord, praying and giving Him honor without endangering her life.
Book of Esther
Chapter 2 Part 4
April 22, 2012
“And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her” (Esther 2:11). Mordecai was like a pacing father of the bride. He loved this young woman dearly and I’m sure he was very concerned about what she was preparing to do. He checked on Esther’s health and welfare. He wanted to know every detail of what was taking place in her preparation. He wanted to know if the date had been set for her appearance before Ahasuerus.
“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;) 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” (verse 12). The women who were brought to the palace came from many miles away so they were not all there at the same time to begin the preparation. As each one arrived, she was given what she needed for the preparation and started using the products soon after.
In an article I read about myrrh, the writer states that myrrh is an, “Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antitumoral (Counteracting or preventing the formation of malignant tumors), analgesic, anti-infectious, antiviral, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, astringent and tonic. Myrrh was also used as a sedative to relieve fear, stress, anxiety and depression. In other words, myrrh is an all-around good resin. I’m sure some of the women who came to the palace were homesick, and the myrrh would have calmed them.
Myrrh was given as a gift to Jesus by one of the Wise Men, and it’s said it was as a symbol of His coming death. The soldiers in charge of crucifying Jesus tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh before they pounded the nails in Him to take away His fear. “And they tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it" (Mark 15:23). Jesus knew what had to be done and that He had to be in His right mind to accomplish it. Myrrh was also used as a component of embalming spices the women applied to Jesus before He was buried so He would not stink when they came to do a proper job of embalming after the Sabbath.
The oil of myrrh was most likely used in body message oils to soften the skin. The massaging also caused the skin to be supple and radiant. The “sweet odors” were to remove any and all offensive odors from the body of the women before they went in to lay with the king. It also relaxed and calmed them as they inhaled the fragrance.
Another reason the women were given 1 year to prepare was to be sure she was not already pregnant by someone else.
“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” (verse 13). After one year of this type of treatments, the women were brought before the king, each in her own time according to when she arrived at the palace. Before leaving the harem to see the king, each woman was given opportunity to select anything from the house that would help her make a good impression on the king. She could take any jewelry, clothing, or perfume etc… that she thought might help her become the next queen.
“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” (verse 14). This verse implies that each one of the virgins had to sleep with the king overnight before he made his choice of which one would be queen. Among the heathens this was no problem, but for Esther it sure was. Remember, she lived by the Levitical Law that a man finds out his wife slept with someone before him, and he could prove it, they would take her out and stone her to death.
How do we know she slept with the king? ‘…on the morrow she returned into the second house of the women” tells us so. Remember, the virgins were on one side of the palace and the concubines on the other. When the women returned after pleasing the king, she became a concubine for life. Some would have the one night with the king, others would be used more often, but only if the king called her by name. Only one would be queen.
“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” (verse 15). Here we once again see the relationship between Esther and Mordecai. Mordecai was Esther’s cousin, not her father or even her uncle. Most of what I read says Mordecai was 15 when he took Esther as his own daughter.
The women could request of Hegai whatever they thought would help them appeal to the king and it was granted to them. Some took the best dress, anklets, bracelets, necklaces etc… Esther once again set herself apart from the other women when she took only what was offered her by her attendant, Hegai. In his commentary, Adam Clarke said, “She required nothing - She left this entirely to her friend Hege, who seems to have been intent on her success. She therefore left her decorations to his judgment alone, and went in that dress and in those ornaments which he deemed most suitable.”
Watch this! She was neither greedy nor petulant about things. Hegai was in charge, he was her friend, and Esther placed herself under his authority. She was aware that Hegai knew more what was to the king’s liking and she was satisfied to trust his discernment. Her natural beauty and her basic adornments Hegai had decked her out in made a great impression on all who saw her.
“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” (verse 16). That would be sometime in the latter part of our December or the beginning of our January.
“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” (verse 17). The king was smitten! He saw Esther and his heart did a summersault. Here is one place I believe God’s hand is involved. He opened Ahasuerus’ eyes to Esther’s beauty and her purity of heart. The king didn’t need to see or test one more woman.
Ahasuerus knew Esther was exactly what he’d been looking for. He crowned her and made her queen right off so she never went in to the apartment of the concubines. The king set her in an apartment that was suitable to her new title and set her up with many attendants and provided all she needed to live as queen. All the women of the kingdom, especially those living in the palace would give Esther respect.
Esther wasn’t the only biblical character to come from a lowly background and achieve greatness. In his sermon in Esther 2:1-17, Pastor Chuck LaPorte said, “Joseph went from prisoner to prince, Aaron went from slave (Egypt) to High Priest, Saul went from obscurity to the Throne of Israel. David went from Shepherd to Monarch, and Daniel went from captive (Babylon) to Premier over Babylon.” This should give us all hope. Anyone who has a heart toward God and who reaches for Him will find Him and He will use him/her in magnificent ways. No one, no matter what their social, financial or physical status is should ever doubt the ability of God to use them in even the highest positions in man’s world. If we can set our hearts, minds, and eyes on God alone, we can become whatever He wishes to make of us. Nothing the world considers a defect in people will hinder God’s plans for us if we are willing and eager to please Him.
How does one please God? “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). We must walk by faith and not by sight. As we dig further into the Book of Esther, we will find out the depth and sagacity of Esther’s faith. She knew her God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob personally. She knew how to discern His will for her life. And she was not afraid to move forward wherever God led her.
Ahasuerus, on the other hand, made the mistake of going to man for his answer about Vashti. He didn’t ask God what He thought he should do about her or how he should handle her rejection. He immediately looked to his advisors, his human counselors, and he lost Vashti whom he loved in the process.
Book of Esther
Chapter 2 Part 5
April 29, 2012
“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” (verse 18). To celebrate his precious find, the king made a feast. Some say the feast lasted 7 days, others 1 month. Like the other feast, this one was given for his kingdom leaders, those who were in attendance on the king, cabinet ministers and such. Most of these men would already have been at the palace because they spent much of the year there doing kingdom business and trying to gain favor with the king. If only they could have known, and the people today would know that God’s favor is all we need. The rest comes to us through that.
Do you wonder why Esther married a divorced man when she was under the Law? In her day, God tolerated marriage and divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. It was still not the right thing to do, but according to the culture of the day, it was not wrong.
Do you wonder why she married someone outside the Israelite nation when God strictly forbad such marriages? In his commentary on Esther, David E. Pratte said, “The proper explanation appears to be that the Old Testament prohibited inter-marriage, not with people of all other nations, but only with people of the nations that had dwelt in and around Canaan. Those nations were known to be excessively idolatrous. God cast them out of the land and gave it to Israel because the iniquity of those nations was “full.” They surrounded Israel and so would be a continual temptation to them. These reasons did not apply to other nations, and the prohibition is nowhere stated regarding them.”
So - the restriction against marrying into other nations was for the nations that lived around Israel whom the Lord had dispossessed when He moved Israel in. These were nations of high idolatry and God did not want His people to be lost to such heathen worshipping. Yes, the Persians worshipped idols as well, but they did not come under the marriage ban.
As part of the celebration, the king cancelled the taxes that the people had to pay into the kingdom’s repository for a period of time. We don’t know for how long the tax was lifted, but for sure it was a relief for the people who bore the financial burden in the kingdom. It would be like announcing to us in the States, “No taxes for a year.” We would definitely celebrate that! He also gave gifts, most likely to his noblemen, but definitely to Esther. It was the practice of kings to give their queens cities, jewelry and clothes of the finest fabrics.
Another thing was that the king called for the release of many prisoners who were in jail for minor offenses. The charges against them were dropped and they were allowed to return to society.
This was still a practice in Jerusalem on the Passover as we saw in the story of Jesus last days on earth. Normally the prisoner that was released would be one jailed for minor infractions. Pilate, who knew this tradition, thought to give a choice to the people between Jesus, King of the Jews, and Barabbas, the rioter and murderer. He was sure they would pick the less fearsome one, but they chose Barabbas. His plan backfired and he washed his hands of Jesus’ Blood, and had Him hanged.
“And when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king's gate” (verse 19). This “gathering” of virgins was separate from the one Esther took part in. This assembly of virgins was not to seek out a new queen, but to increase the king’s harem. Ahasuerasus’ insatiable craving for many virgins was not unique to him. Many kings in the Old Testament had multiple wives. For example, we know that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
“Esther had not yet shewed her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her: for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him” (verse 20). Esther’s respect and love for Mordecai was still strong even though she was the queen. He had cautioned her not to reveal her Jewish roots and she did not. This “secret” will soon become significant as we move on into the story.
“In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus” (verse 21). “Wroth” means to be angry, indignant, irate. We are not specifically told why they were angry with the king, although many speculate on this or that reason. I figure it was good enough to God not to tell us, it’s good for us not to try to make up reasons. They were angry and wanted the king dead; that’s what we know for sure.
In the introduction to Esther, I explained why Mordecai sat in the king’s gate. I said, “Mordecai was a member of the Great Sanhedrin, the highest court of Torah law, which sat in the king’s gate where important legal and business transactions were made. He spoke all 70 languages of the nations of the sons of Noah. This fact becomes important to the story in that it was his knowledge of the language the eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, spoke that revealed the plot against King Ahasuerus.”
Mordecai was also an officer of the court of the king. If not, when he disobeyed Haman’s command to bow down and pay him homage, Haman could have removed him from the gate, permanently. We are not told if Mordecai was in the gate that day on business as a member of the Great Sanhedrin, or on government business for the king. What we do know is, it was a time appointed by God. Right man, right place, right time, plot foiled. This is the favor of God on His faithful servant.
Bigthan and Teresh were doorkeepers in the palace. In other words, they were the chief bodyguards for the king. Their job was to be vigilant while guarding the king. They stood outside the bed chamber doors while the king was inside to assure no one went in without a summons from the king. This position gave them the access to the king they needed to carry out their plan.
“And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai's name. And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king” (verses 22, 23). Again, we are not specifically told how Mordecai gained knowledge of their plot. One explanation I read for this was that these eunuchs were loyal to former queen, Vashti, and she put them up to trying to kill him. To me it would seem feasible that Mordecai overheard them talking which is why his knowledge of the 70 languages was so important.
The first thing Mordecai did with the information about the plot to kill the king was tell it to Esther. Esther in turn “certified” it, or declared it to the king in Mordecai’s name. This is another fact that will become important to the story.
One lesson we can learn from all this is that what we do is secret is always found out. Scripture makes it clear, too.
“For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come into the open” (Mark 4:22).
“For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).
"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Matthew 10:26).
Bigthan and Teresh were traitors seeking to kill the king. They planned the assassination in the quiet of night, but it came into common knowledge in the light of day as Mordecai uncovered their plan.
When Esther warned the king about the plot, he had Bigthan and Teresh investigated. When it was discovered to be the truth, the king had the two eunuchs hanged from a tree.
The incident was important enough that it was registered in the king book of chronicles. Although the king should have honored Mordecai for his diligence in reporting the conspiracy, it didn’t happen at that time. I believe this was another intervention from God. We will see this event come up again. And it will be what God uses to write history for the Jews.