What ambitions did you have for yourself when you were younger? Were they guided by personal choice or by what others thought you might be good at? Were they realised, or did your life take a different direction?
Esther made queen
2 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.
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. 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.
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. 9 She pleased him and won his favour. 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 to and fro near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.
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. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: anything she wanted was given to 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.
This passage gives us a little background to Esther’s personal story. Her cousin Mordecai had acted in loco parentis after her own parents’ death (v 7). We can presume she accompanied him into exile, and she was a beautiful young woman (vs 5–7). We can also assume that they were a family of reasonable standing (2 Kings 24:14), and that they had done what the prophet Jeremiah advised the exiles to do in his letter to them (Jeremiah 29:4–7) – to carry on with life in the community in which they found themselves.
On one hand Mordecai clearly had ambition for Esther (v 8). On the other, he was aware of how dangerous it could be for her if her identity became known, given they were living under foreign rule (v 10). Her own wishes are not made clear. She cannot have dreamed of being in the position where she found herself, and once she is, she has to conceal a highly significant fact about herself. Despite the pampering, living with the tension of that can’t have been easy (vs 12–14).
Consider Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 10:16. Pray that whatever your own present circumstances, you are enabled by God’s Spirit to live authentically, with wisdom and gentleness, in Christ’s name.
Deeper Bible study
‘Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’1
I don’t know about you, but I struggle now to read these verses without wanting to weep. What saddens me most, I think, is that I have read them before, many times, without really noticing what an absolutely appalling situation of government sponsored abuse is pictured here. I read it with an ‘Oh yes, this happened’ mentality, without thinking what it meant for those young girls and their families. As with so much people-trafficking around today’s world, families were probably told this was a huge opportunity for them, and it may be they were paid lots of money for their daughters to join the apparently large group of girls for the ‘privilege’ of experiencing a one-night stand with this decadent older man. If not ‘chosen’ they were virtually imprisoned for the rest of their lives with no opportunity for marriage and family. One might think it unrealistic if we hadn’t seen similar things happening across the world in our own times. I always thought it incredible that ordinary people in Germany did not speak out against Hitler’s policies in the 1930s and 40s, but maybe I wouldn’t have noticed either. I strongly recommend Elaine Storkey’s book, Scars Across Humanity – not easy reading, but helping us to realise what goes on today.
So why did God want this awful practice to be described in his Word? We can’t just excuse the behaviour by saying ‘the culture was different then’. Nobody could have read the Law and the Prophets – at least with their eyes open – without realising how far this situation was from God’s intention for life and leadership at any time in history. Surely this chapter is calling us to notice and be appalled by what happened then and by similar corruption and decadence in our world today.
Think about things in your society which you might have excused as ‘part of our culture’ but should actually be recognised as appallingly corrupt: should you be taking any action?
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Jeremiah 9,10; John 4
Pray for Scripture Union
Wayne Dixon of local mission partner Christian Connections in Schools is on sabbatical until 3 November, having been working in schools for 31 years. Pray for a time of rest, reflection, learning and evaluating, for wisdom for the future and for possible Christian groups starting at three schools after Illuminate with LZ7 last October.