Devotional: Esther Chapter 2 – A Life-Changing Event 

Esther is made Queen

 1) Later, when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her.

2) Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king.

3) Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them.

4) Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.

The New American Commentary points out that this passage doesn’t say how much later this was. Later in this chapter, it says Esther saw King Xerxes in the seventh year of his reign and that the woman prepared for a year before seeing him. So this could have been soon after or as much as three years after the events of Vashti, depending on how long the search for the women took. 

 5) Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish,

6) who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah.

This is probably saying that Mordecai’s grandfather, Kish, was carried into exile from Jerusalem because these events happen a hundred years before this story’s events. The grammar is vague, so some translators make it sound like Mordecai witnessed the exile, but that would make Mordecai 120 years old. It is more likely he and his father had been living in exile all their lives. This would also mean that Esther and her father (Mordecai’s Uncle) were also born in exile.

 7) Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.

This passage indicates that Esther lost her parents when she was very young because Mordecai brought her up. There is no indication that he ever married or that any other family was around to help him raise her. Later Mordecai tells Esther to hide her Jewish heritage. This also shows that even born in the land, they were still not welcome and seen as foreigners. Esther was probably between 14 to 18 years old when she was taken to the palace, which would have been the prime age for marriage at that time. It seems to me that they had a tough time up to this point. They still had their hope in God during this time of struggle and fostered good character. Often the only control we have in a life-changing event like that which is about to happen is how we react to it. These life-changing events often act as a magnifying glass to reveal the deepest darkest areas of our lives, both our good character and the bad character. More often, it is the character flaws that show up more. Did they become greedy and self-centered when either good or bad happened in their lives? Or will they seek wisdom and listen to wise counsel? Sometimes, previous life-changing events have prepared us for the current life-changing event we experience. Esther’s loss of her parents may have helped her see life differently from the other girls at the harem and allowed her to act with good character. It may have also helped her value Mordecai as a father more dearly than most girls do their birth father. Mordecai’s family loses and raising a little girl by himself may have equipped him to be the virtuous leader and guide he became. Have you recently had a life-changing event? How has that changed you? 

8) When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem.

When I was a child, I had thought all the girls would be eager to be part of this beauty contest. That then diminished with the idea that this may have been more like the TV show “the Bachelor.” The commentary indicates that this would have been a sad thing for these women because they would have been forcibly removed from their families, isolated in a harem, and potentially living in perpetual widowhood if the King never called on them. I had also thought this would be a terrible thing to lose one’s dreams of marriage, children, and a stable home. The more I researched, though, the more I am returning to the idea that this was a good thing for many of these women and their families. In ancient times, life was precarious, and the main goal was survival and safety. Women didn’t expect to fall in love and get married because arranged marriages were more common. To be even just a concubine to the King meant an easy life, needs met, and high social standing for both the woman and their families. An orphan, foreigner like Esther, would have little chance for a good marriage. She had no desirable family connections, and we have no idea if Mordecai was poor or rich. Even wealthy families would have benefited from having their daughters in the palace to have the potential favor of the King and officials. So even though the girls may have had no choice in the matter, they were still winning the lottery!

Josephus said that there were 400 girls taken to the palace. That is a lot of stunning women to compete against!

 9) She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.

10) Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so.

11) Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.

Esther won Hegai and the palace staff’s favor, but it seems to me, with a bunch of teenage girls competing for the attention of a single man, Esther just became a prime candidate for jealousy among her peers. I wonder about what life was like for her in the palace. 

Mordecai continually shows his care and concern for Esther beyond his “duty” as a near male relative. Mordecai truly acts like a father. Considering how much Esther had to endure in her life, she probably needed this tremendously.

 12) Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.

These beauty treatments were not just cosmetic. Myrrh was a disinfectant that would have cured any skin ailments. The foods given would have brought them to optimal health. These women were brought to perfect health before seeing the King to not contaminate him or make him sick.

13) And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace.

14) In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.

15) When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.

We already see Esther’s wisdom and humility here. She is willing to take advice and listen. She didn’t add anything to what was advised. She was not greedy to take as much as she could or to cover herself with jewels and elaborate decadence. I have often noticed how women, especially those from poor backgrounds, love to ornament themselves to the level of gaudiness and silliness. This does happen among the wealthy too, but in my limited experience in fashion and art, those who have been in need the most tend to swing towards excess as soon as they have unlimited means. There is a desire to have everything you have ever wanted all at the same time. Those who grew up in wealth, such as the King, would have taken luxury for granted and prefer things to be beautiful (colors match, limited ornamentation, balanced shapes) rather than piled on random luxuries. The poor often see the luxuries as beautiful just because they are expensive. The rich are willing to spend more because of the item’s quality, which then makes that item expensive. This takes restraint, knowledge, and experience that a newly rich person often does not have. This tendency towards excess is also why lottery winners often go bankrupt very soon after winning. Esther’s willingness to put aside the temporary luxuries to follow the path of wisdom laid the foundation for her success. The palace staff would have known what was the best quality and what the king liked. How often are we willing to give up our desires and wants for the sake of God’s direction and wisdom? Has this happened to you recently?

 16) She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.

This would have been in Dec or Jan of 479BC.

 17) Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

18) And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.

What made Esther stand out from the other women in the harem, according to the passage?

Mordecai Uncovers a Conspiracy

 19) When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate.

20) But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.

21) During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.

22) But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.

23) And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were impaled on poles. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.

It appears that Mordecai has some governmental powers at this point. The gate was where the issues of the city government were dealt with. The passage does not say if he had this position before Esther’s crowning or because of it. The commentaries I looked at seem to think he got this job because of Esther’s success, but I question that. No one was supposed to know she was Jewish, and everyone knew Mordecai was Jewish. So if this was the case, it was one secretly. Even so, Mordecai is still looking out for Esther at this point. A plot to overthrow the King would have put Esther’s life and safety in jeopardy as well. He reveals it to Esther, who is immediately able to tell the king. Apparently, she is in better contact with the king at this point in the story than later on. She also returns her loyalty to Mordecai to make sure he gets the credit. She didn’t have to do that, but it shows that she is aware and grateful for Mordecai’s care of her. At this point, it would have been easy for them just to have their own lives and look out for themselves, but this shows their godly character.

Both Esther and Mordecai remind me of the book of Proverbs. The following passage from Proverbs seems to me to describe their character in this chapter in the book of Esther.

Proverbs 3:3-6

 3) Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

bind them around your neck,

write them on the tablet of your heart.

4) Then you will win favor and a good name

in the sight of God and man.

 5) Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

6) in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.

7) Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord and shun evil.

How do you think we can be more like Esther and Mordecai in our daily lives? Post your opinion in the comments below!