Esther 1-2: A Courageous Story of Providence: A Jewish Girl Becomes Queen

Providence. Esther was a “fish out of water”. This historical account takes place in 478 BC. That’s over 100 years since the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and took all the Jews away. Since then, some went back to start rebuilding — we’ll get to those stories in Ezra and Nehemiah next — however, many stayed. This is where our story starts. Let’s dig in…

Esther 1 – The King’s Banquet

Map of Medes and Persians Empire c. 480 BC. Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Map of Medes and Persians Empire c. 480 BC. Image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

These events happened in the days of King Xerxes, who reigned over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia. At that time Xerxes ruled his empire from his royal throne at the fortress of Susa. In the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. He invited all the military officers of Persia and Media as well as the princes and nobles of the provinces. The celebration lasted 180 days—a tremendous display of the opulent wealth of his empire and the pomp and splendor of his majesty.

When it was all over, the king gave a banquet for all the people, from the greatest to the least, who were in the fortress of Susa. It lasted for seven days and was held in the courtyard of the palace garden. The courtyard was beautifully decorated with white cotton curtains and blue hangings, which were fastened with white linen cords and purple ribbons to silver rings embedded in marble pillars. Gold and silver couches stood on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and other costly stones.

Drinks were served in gold goblets of many designs, and there was an abundance of royal wine, reflecting the king’s generosity. By edict of the king, no limits were placed on the drinking, for the king had instructed all his palace officials to serve each man as much as he wanted.

At the same time, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

Queen Vashti Deposed

10 On the seventh day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine, he told the seven eunuchs who attended him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas— 11 to bring Queen Vashti to him with the royal crown on her head. He wanted the nobles and all the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman. 12 But when they conveyed the king’s order to Queen Vashti, she refused to come. This made the king furious, and he burned with anger.

13 He immediately consulted with his wise advisers, who knew all the Persian laws and customs, for he always asked their advice. 14 The names of these men were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan—seven nobles of Persia and Media. They met with the king regularly and held the highest positions in the empire.

15 “What must be done to Queen Vashti?” the king demanded. “What penalty does the law provide for a queen who refuses to obey the king’s orders, properly sent through his eunuchs?”

16 Memucan answered the king and his nobles, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble and citizen throughout your empire. 17 Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. 18 Before this day is out, the wives of all the king’s nobles throughout Persia and Media will hear what the queen did and will start treating their husbands the same way. There will be no end to their contempt and anger.

19 “So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she. 20 When this decree is published throughout the king’s vast empire, husbands everywhere, whatever their rank, will receive proper respect from their wives!”

21 The king and his nobles thought this made good sense, so he followed Memucan’s counsel. 22 He sent letters to all parts of the empire, to each province in its own script and language, proclaiming that every man should be the ruler of his own home and should say whatever he pleases.

Esther 1 NLT

Esther 2

(4 years later)

But after Xerxes’ anger had subsided, he began thinking about Vashti and what she had done and the decree he had made. So his personal attendants suggested, “Let us search the empire to find beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint agents in each province to bring these beautiful young women into the royal harem at the fortress of Susa. Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of the harem, will see that they are all given beauty treatments. After that, the young woman who most pleases the king will be made queen instead of Vashti.” This advice was very appealing to the king, so he put the plan into effect.

At that time there was a Jewish man in the fortress of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair. He was from the tribe of Benjamin and was a descendant of Kish and Shimei. His family had been among those who, with King Jehoiachin of Judah, had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. This man had a very beautiful and lovely young cousin, Hadassah, who was also called Esther. When her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her into his family and raised her as his own daughter.

As a result of the king’s decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought to the king’s harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai’s care. Hegai was very impressed with Esther and treated her kindly. He quickly ordered a special menu for her and provided her with beauty treatments. He also assigned her seven maids specially chosen from the king’s palace, and he moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.

10 Esther had not told anyone of her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had directed her not to do so. 11 Every day Mordecai would take a walk near the courtyard of the harem to find out about Esther and what was happening to her.

12 Before each young woman was taken to the king’s bed, she was given the prescribed twelve months of beauty treatments—six months with oil of myrrh, followed by six months with special perfumes and ointments. 13 When it was time for her to go to the king’s palace, she was given her choice of whatever clothing or jewelry she wanted to take from the harem. 14 That evening she was taken to the king’s private rooms, and the next morning she was brought to the second harem, where the king’s wives lived. There she would be under the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch in charge of the concubines. She would never go to the king again unless he had especially enjoyed her and requested her by name.

15 Esther was the daughter of Abihail, who was Mordecai’s uncle. (Mordecai had adopted his younger cousin Esther.) When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she accepted the advice of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem. She asked for nothing except what he suggested, and she was admired by everyone who saw her.

16 Esther was taken to King Xerxes at the royal palace in early winter of the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther more than any of the other young women. He was so delighted with her that he set the royal crown on her head and declared her queen instead of Vashti. 18 To celebrate the occasion, he gave a great banquet in Esther’s honor for all his nobles and officials, declaring a public holiday for the provinces and giving generous gifts to everyone.

19 Even after all the young women had been transferred to the second harem and Mordecai had become a palace official, 20 Esther continued to keep her family background and nationality a secret. She was still following Mordecai’s directions, just as she did when she lived in his home.

Mordecai’s Loyalty to the King

21 One day as Mordecai was on duty at the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthana and Teresh—who were guards at the door of the king’s private quarters—became angry at King Xerxes and plotted to assassinate him. 22 But Mordecai heard about the plot and gave the information to Queen Esther. She then told the king about it and gave Mordecai credit for the report. 23 When an investigation was made and Mordecai’s story was found to be true, the two men were impaled on a sharpened pole. This was all recorded in The Book of the History of King Xerxes’ Reign.

Esther 2 NLT

Providential Events

Recently, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in over 6 years at the supermarket. He used to go to my church, where we sang in the choir and were in a small group together for years. He seemed lost and I told him he should come back. Turns out he stopped in a few Sunday’s ago. I didn’t see him, but the pastor did. Was our store encounter providential? Was running into him what he needed to come back to church? We’ll see. It’s in God’s hands and we know that God is in control.

Esther’s story is a story of providence. It’s shows God’s hand in people’s lives and how He places people in the right place at the right time. Let’s get to know our characters…

King Xerxes

King Xerxes liked to show off his wealth. Yes, he had a pride and vanity problem as well as a drinking problem. Put that all together and things do not go well. Pastor Sandy Adams comments…

Xerxes was famous for his wars with Greece. His father, Darius, had died in battle at the hands of the Greeks and he wanted to avenge his death. His army numbered 2 million men, and his navy consisted of 1200 warships. He fought the Spartans and launched an attack on Athens. After several initial victories, Xerxes was ultimately defeated and returned to Persia.

John Phillips provides an unflattering summation of Xerxes’ life. “(He was) a tyrannical despot, domineering in temper, ruthless in the exercise of his power, grandiose in his schemes and ambitions, derelict in his sensuality.”

The Greek historian, Herodotus, called Xerxes “incompetent and corrupt.”

Sandy Adams

Queen Vashti

She had a party of her own and was suddenly summoned to the king’s feast at his whim. He wants to show off her beauty. That would mean she’d have to go in unveiled, which was against their custom of modesty. She held her ground and declined. It’s also possible that she was pregnant, which would have made the situation worse. Her son was Artaxerxes, the king who we’ll meet in the Book of Nehemiah. Subscribe so you don’t miss out.

Esther — Hadassah

Next we have the Persian version of the Bachelor. Hadassah was her Jewish name. She didn’t have a choice, but she progressed quickly through the “pageant”. Historical accounts suggest that there may have been up to 400 women competing for the chance to be queen. Imagine, too, the ultimate spa and beauty treatments for several months. Nevertheless, her beauty was not just external, but from the heart. The king fell for her and made her queen.

Mordecai

This is Esther’s cousin with whom she lived with since her parents died. Mordecai was a relative of King Saul from the tribe of Benjamin. Esther was his uncle’s daughter, whom he adopted when her parents died. He told her to use the Persian name, “Esther” and not reveal her true heritage. He kept a eye on her.

Upstanding guy that he is, Mordecai, overhears a plot against the king and foils it. This is written in the historical books. Set this little tidbit of information aside for now.

God’s Providence Amidst Disobedience

Esther, as a good Jewish girl, should not have married a pagan. Unfortunately, she did not have a choice. Had she refused, more than likely, she would have been killed or at least enslaved. Pastor Sandy Adams explains…

As we move through the story we also find that Esther fails to keep the Jewish dietary laws, the Sabbath, the feast days. She felt none of the moral conflicts with the pagan practices that upset Daniel in Babylon. Queen Esther was quick to compromise. Rather than be a witness, she covered up her godly heritage. Understand Esther represents the Jews of the Diaspora – both then and now.

At the time, backslidden Jews lived all over Persia, but God providentially protected them. And for the last 2000 years this has been the plight of Jewry. For the most part, the Jewish people have lived compromised lifestyles in foreign lands – yet God has been faithful to insure their survival.

It’s interesting, the word “God” never appears in the book of Esther. This is the only book in the Bible void of the name “God”. Yet, that sums up the lives of Esther and Mordecai, and many of the Diaspora Jews. They were Jewish, but their Jewishness was more ethnic and racial – than religious and practical.

This describes most Jews today. They hold to their Jewishness with a patriotic fondness and fervor, without trying to keep the Law – or even a belief in God. Bible commentator, Alexander MacClaren, writes along this line, “Patriotism is more evident than religion in the book of Esther… To the Jews in Persia, national feeling was stronger than devotion…” They were what we’d call “secular Jews”.

And what better description of the modern Jewish state of Israel… they’re patriotic, but not pious. They’re loyal to their race, but not to their religion. The book of Esther is a blueprint for how God has dealt with the Jews for the last 2000 years… and with how He’s dealing with Israel at this moment.

Even though they’ve been unfaithful to Him, He’s still faithful to them… He’s caused the land of Israel to prosper – turning a desert into a bread basket. In numerous wars with the Arabs, God has provided supernatural protection. Most Israelis today fail to recognize their Savior, but that doesn’t mean their Savior isn’t watching out for them… just as He was in the days of Esther. The survival of the Jews, to this day, is evidence of God’s wonderful providence.

Sandy Adams

Do YOU Trust God’s Providence?

It would really help if you had a personal relationship with YOUR Savior. You can, you know! It’s really rather simple….

Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart -- let Him in!
Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart — let Him in!

What are you waiting for?!

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace and Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

God is in Control


Child of Love


Top image by Sweet Publishing from FreeBibleImages.org, (CC BY-SA 3.0)


Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!