Reference: Book of Esther
Heart of the Story: A beautiful Jewish girl who became the wife of Xerxes (Ahasuerus), king of Persia (486-465 BC). Esther saved the lives of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire and initiated the Festival of Purim,
Backstory: The story of Esther began with King Xerxes giving an elaborate banquet for his nobles and officials. The banquet was held in the palace’s enclosed garden. His queen, Vashti, gave a banquet for the women in another part of the palace. Feeling merry from wine, Ahasuerus commanded that Vashti come before his banquet to display her beauty. Vashti refused. Because of her disobedience, Xerxes divorced Vashti. Subsequently, Xerxes went to war with the Greeks. When he came back to Susa after an unsuccessful campaign, he was lonely.
With the king’s approval, his attendants initiated a search to bring the most beautiful virgins in the Persian Empire to Susa. After 12 months of beauty treatments and learning the proper way to conduct themselves in a royal court, a girl would spend a night with King Xerxes. From this group of lovely virgins, King Xerxes planned to select his next queen.
Mordecai was a Jew who lived in Susa. Possibly He was a civil servant for the Empire. Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin. Nebuchadnezzar took Mordecai into captivity at the same time as King Jehoiachin of Judah. When Esther’s parents died, Mordecai reared Esther. Mordecai and Esther were cousins, but Mordecai treated Esther as a daughter. The Bible described Esther as lovely in form and features.
Story Line: When Esther was taken from Mordecai’s home into the Susa palace, Mordecai instructed Esther to tell no one that she was a Jew. Esther obeyed him. During her year-long preparation, the Bible recorded that Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. What did this teen-ager do? How did she act that caused the author of Esther to conclude that everyone in the palace viewed her favorably? True, Esther was beautiful, but so were all the girls in the harem—this was a beauty contest where the criterion for admission was physical beauty. Esther must have done something to set her apart from the other beautiful virgins.
First. Esther exhibited the norms of Susa, Persia. It is doubtful that she adhered to any of her Jewish roots. She didn’t keep the week-long festival of Passover or hold to the Jewish Sabbath which began on the sixth day of the week at dusk and continued to dusk on the seventh day. Probably, if shell fish or pork were served at meals, she ate them. Esther asked for nothing peculiar to a home province where she originated. Esther’s customs were those of Hegai and of the city of Susa. Esther fit in.
Second. Esther didn’t cry from homesickness as some girls may have. The Bible gives no indication that she resented being in a harem and her possible fate of going to a concubine harem if King Xerxes didn’t select her as queen. She wasn’t despondent that she may never be a wife, mother, or manager a household. She exhibited no resentment that she may have to marry a Persian, someone outside of her nationality. Esther was low maintenance for Hegai.
Third. Likely, Esther socialized with the other girls brought to the palace. She listened to their fears, help alleviate their despondency, and reduced their demands; thus, Esther built an alliance with Hegai as he attempted to deal with these diverse young women. Esther role modeled how a young woman selected for the honor of being the king’s chief wife should act.
Pondering Relationships: On the night a virgin went to the king, the virgin could take with her anything she desired. Possibly some virgins took cosmetics and perfume; others may have taken beautiful night gowns and jewelry. Some may have taken the Persian equivalent of a toothbrush and mouth wash. The Bible didn’t identify what Esther took with her to King Xerxes’s chamber. We are told only that Esther took what Hegai recommended. Perhaps Esther perceived that Hegai knew what appealed to King Xerxes. Esther trusted Hegai to provide her with the best advice available. The outcome of the night Esther spent with King Xerxes was that she became Queen of Persia (circa 479 BC).
In this initial narrative of Esther becoming Queen of Persia, we see a young girl who was beautiful and had an attractive personality. Her elderly cousin, Mordecai, loved her deeply and tried to protect her. In the Susa royal palace, Hegai favored her. Perhaps, Esther knew she had attraction power and capitalized on it to get special treatment. On the other hand, the Bible painted a picture of a young woman who obeyed the men in her life, first Mordecai, than Hegai. There is no evidence that Esther did anything proactive or pushed back by disagreeing with either Mordecai or Hegai’s instructions. She was more influenced by others, than a source of influence.
Reflection: Who is remembered most: A person who is influenced by others or a person who influences others? If Esther’s story ended at this point, would she be in the Bible?
Copyright: March 15, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth; All rights reserved.
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