Esther Becomes Queen
1After a while, King Xerxes got over being angry. But he kept thinking about what Vashti had done and the law that he had written because of her. 2Then the king's personal servants said:
Your Majesty, a search must be made to find you some beautiful young women. 3You can select officers in every province to bring them to the place where you keep your wives in the capital city of Susa. Put your servant Hegai in charge of them since that is his job. He can see to it that they are given the proper beauty treatments. 4Then let the young woman who pleases you most take Vashti's place as queen.
King Xerxes liked these suggestions, and he followed them.
5At this time a Jew named Mordecai was living in Susa. His father was Jair, and his grandfather Shimei was the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. 6 Kish was one of the people that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem, when he took King Jeconiah of Judah to Babylonia.
7Mordecai had a very beautiful cousin named Esther, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah. He had raised her as his own daughter, after her father and mother died. 8When the king ordered the search for beautiful women, many were taken to the king's palace in Susa, and Esther was one of them.
Hegai was put in charge of all the women, 9and from the first day, Esther was his favorite. He began her beauty treatments at once. He also gave her plenty of food and seven special maids from the king's palace, and they had the best rooms.
10Mordecai had warned Esther not to tell anyone that she was a Jew, and she obeyed him. 11He was anxious to see how Esther was getting along and to learn what had happened to her. So each day he would walk back and forth in front of the court where the women lived.
12The young women were given beauty treatments for one whole year. The first six months their skin was rubbed with olive oil and myrrh, and the last six months it was treated with perfumes and cosmetics. Then each of them spent the night alone with King Xerxes. 13When a young woman went to the king, she could wear whatever clothes or jewelry she chose from the women's living quarters. 14In the evening she would go to the king, and the following morning she would go to the place where his wives stayed after being with him. There a man named Shaashgaz was in charge of the king's wives. Only the ones the king wanted and asked for by name could go back to the king.
15-16Xerxes had been king for seven years when Esther's turn came to go to him during Tebeth, the tenth month of the year. Everyone liked Esther. The king's personal servant Hegai was in charge of the women, and Esther trusted Hegai and asked him what she ought to take with her.
17Xerxes liked Esther more than he did any of the other young women. None of them pleased him as much as she did, and he immediately fell in love with her and crowned her queen in place of Vashti. 18In honor of Esther he gave a big dinner for his leaders and officials. Then he declared a holiday everywhere in his kingdom and gave expensive gifts.
19When the young women were brought together again, Esther's cousin Mordecai had become a palace official. 20He had told Esther never to tell anyone that she was a Jew, and she obeyed him, just as she had always done.
21Bigthana and Teresh were the two men who guarded King Xerxes' rooms, but they got angry with the king and decided to kill him. 22Mordecai found out about their plans and asked Queen Esther to tell the king what he had found out. 23King Xerxes learned that Mordecai's report was true, and he had the two men hanged. Then the king had all of this written down in his record book as he watched.
King Xerxes regrets his hot-headed dismissal of Queen Vashti and, on advice of counsel, authorizes a search for beautiful young women throughout his provinces. They are culled from their families and communities and placed in the royal harem in Susa. Far from home and family, they undergo a year-long regimen of beauty treatments. One by one, they are taken to spend a night with the king, then dismissed back to the royal harem. This is how Xerxes chooses his new Queen.
The royal harem is quite the system and so foreign to Christian and Jewish sensibilities around marriage and sexuality. It renders women into sex objects and reminds us of today’s global sex slavery and trafficking.
The original hearers of the Book of Esther are, like Mordecai the Jew, members of the Jewish diaspora, far from their vanquished kingdom of Judah. Nevertheless, they cling to their identity as God’s covenant people. As a Jew, Mordecai’s deepest allegiance is to Yahweh and to the Torah, the Law of Moses, which provides the Jews with their rule of life.
Mordecai and Esther are models of God’s people living in the world, not in a religious bubble. Even as they adapt to a foreign life, culture, and law, they adhere to their Jewish identity and moral compass. Mordecai and Esther belong to each other through their loyal and loving family. Esther stands out from the other beautiful virgins and is liked by everybody, especially the King, who makes her his new Queen.
While this is morally abhorrent, Esther enters a place of significant influence. When Mordecai discovers a death plot against the King, he tells Esther who ensures Xerxes is delivered from death. When God’s people are obedient, the world and its kings benefit, not for their greatness, but for God’s greater purpose.
God, the King of Heaven, we pray that your will be done on earth, in the families, the communities and nations we live in — as your will is perfectly adhered to in Heaven. Help us to live with allegiance to your Kingship, in the multi-cultural nations we are subject to, learning to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, citizens who strive to be righteous men and women. In Jesus’ name, Amen.