It was no ordinary beauty contest. Probably hundreds of young, beautiful virgins had been brought from all over the empire out of every province to king Ahasuerus, to the palace at Shushan, in order for him to select a replacement for fair Vashti, whom he had rejected as queen because of her refusal to obey his commands (2:8). A certain beautiful, young, Jewish woman was among those women brought there and her name was Hadassah, a name meaning “myrtle,” a fragrant evergreen shrub or small tree with star shaped flower.
Hadassah was an orphan, “for she had neither father or mother,” and her cousin Mordecai raised her as his own daughter when her parents died (2:7). Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin and of the family of Kish, which had been carried away into captivity in 597 B. C., about eight years after Daniel was taken into captivity (Dan. 1:1; II Kings 24:15). He apparently had some role “in Shushan the palace” (2:5) and in this capacity he could keep an eye on his adopted daughter Hadassah, who had been taken from him and given to the custody of one Hegai, keeper of the women (2:8,10).
While Hadassah was Jewish, under the counsel of Mordecai, she had concealed this fact to everyone. Her name had been changed from Hadassah to Esther, a Persian name which meant “star.” The keeper of the women was instantly taken with Esther and he carefully chose seven maidens to attend to her needs and gave her special and preferred treatment. Each of the other virgins which had been taken were allowed to go into the king and were provided with whatever they might need to make them desirable to him. Esther, however, required nothing but what Hegai had already provided (2:15).
All that laid eyes on Esther were immediately smitten with her beauty and character (2:15). Ahasuerus, or Xerxes, was no different. “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” (2:17). And so a Jewess was placed in a strategic position in the palace and she had the king’s ear.
Now Esther was always obedient to her adopted father Mordecai, even after she had been made queen (2:20). When Mordecai uncovered a plot to kill Ahasuerus, he was able to warn the king through Esther and save his life (2:21-23). These events and how they transpired were dutifully recorded in the chronicles of the Persian king (2:23). But while Mordecai was kind to the king, there were those in the kingdom who sought his destruction.
Haman’s particularly intense hatred for, not only Mordecai, who refused to bow down to Haman (3:1-4), but for all of the Jews, manifested itself in an attempt to exterminate the Jewish race (3:8). By moving the king to agree to this extermination, Haman was advancing his own interests, not the King’s. His own pride, however, would let him see neither the forces developing against him nor the God he would be fighting. In his blind arrogance, he also prepared a gallows upon which he intended to hang Mordecai.
The crux of this historical account of this part of Esther’s life is found in Mordecai’s reminder to Esther: You may well have been brought to this position for just this purpose–the salvation of God’s people (4:13,14). Esther takes these words to heart and delicately approaches the king and invites him and Haman to a banquet of her own making the next evening, intending to contravene Haman’s pernicious plot, even at the risk of her own life (4:16).
The night before the banquet, however, the king becomes curiously restless and reads from the royal chronicles, and reads of Mordecai’s actions in saving the king’s life. Ironically, and with justice poetic, just as Haman would speak to the king about hanging Mordecai, the king has Haman bestow upon Mordecai the blessing Haman thought he should receive (6:4-13).
The next evening, at the queen’s banquet, Haman is outed as the perpetrator of great crimes against Mordecai, Esther and the Jewish people. The Jews were given authority to defend themselves and Haman was hanged upon his own gallows (7:10). Through a series of Providential actions, God had used this young lady to save the Jews from extermination. “God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.” If God can use Esther (and Mordecai and Joseph and Moses, etc., etc.), then He can use you and me. Who knows if you were brought into the Kingdom for such a time as this? God does. Let Him use you.
Eric L. Padgett