2 After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king’s attendants, who served him, said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. 3 Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their cosmetics be given them. 4 Then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti.” And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.
Vashti, despite her beauty, wasn’t good enough for the king, nor was the harem that he already possessed. He used this opportunity, once his anger had subsided, to appoint people throughout the land for the express purpose of seeking out the most beautiful young women of the land and bringing them into his harem in Susa. The young women were to be put into the custody of Hegai, a servant of the king, who actually appears to have “being in charge of the palace women” as a job description. Being in the custody of a person is not the same as being cared for by a caretaker. The women were treated clearly as lesser, as more like property than persons, and as trinkets to be used by the king as he desired. The women were to be given cosmetics so that they could make themselves as fancy and visibly perfect as possible. The focus of the king was purely on externals and who would best submit, not on true love for the whole person and being equal partners in ruling the kingdom. Whoever pleased the king according to his standards would take the place of Vashti and become queen.
5 Now there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, 6 who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled. 7 He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.
The account of Esther is less about Persia and the king, and it is far more about God and His working to preserve His chosen nation, the Jews. Mordecai had been taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Mordecai was responsible for taking care of Esther, his cousin, because her father and mother had died. Esther was extremely good-looking. Both the features of her face and the form of her body was beautiful. If she hadn’t been, the king, given his fixation on purely external physical beauty, would never have considered choosing her. Even down to the last physical detail, God had a plan and purpose for Esther. The question was whether or not she would use the opportunity that she had been given with her God-given beauty to be used as an instrument for God’s glory in His plan of saving his nation in this time.
8 So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king’s palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. 9 Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem. 10 Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known. 11 Every day Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.
Esther was chosen on account of her physical beauty to be part of the king’s recruitment process. She was taken to be part of this beauty pageant of sorts. Whether she objected to the idea or not is not given, but the impression given by Scripture when it talks of her being taken and put into custody seem to represent that there really wasn’t a choice to be made. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not she should go, but, given that she was going, the question was regarding how she would respond and conduct herself. Esther found favor with Hegai, and he provided her quickly with foods and cosmetics as well as seven maids to help her. He even transferred her to the best place in the harem. Surely Hegai recognized that she was attractive, but so were the other women. Thus receiving his favor seems to imply that there was something different, special, and particularly attractive and winsome in terms of Esther’s personality and character. Perhaps she found a way to be respectful in a culture of male dominance without also compromising her own dignity. However, receiving favor ultimately involves the sovereign caretaking of God Who allows His servants to find favor because of His favor upon them, just as He did with Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 39:4, 21), Nehemiah before King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 2:8), and Daniel in Babylon (Daniel 1:9). God’s plan and hand was all over the events of Esther’s life from beginning to end. This is because He knows beforehand what good works each of His children will be called to do, and He empowers them to do it (Ephesians 2:10). Esther did not disclose that she was of Jewish descent as Mordecai had advised her. There would be a time for that, but it was not in her best interest to do that at the start. She wouldn’t be given a fair opportunity to advance, survive, and prosper otherwise. Mordecai came by the place where Esther was kept day after day to make sure that she was alright and to stay in touch with her. A godly support and influence is a great encouragement and benefit especially when one is in a hostile environment and a corrupt one at that.
12 Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women— 13 the young lady would go in to the king in this way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.
Each young lady was given twelve months of time to attend to her external beauty, six months with various oils and skin treatments followed by six months of various perfumes and makeups. This was vanity to the max, twelve months of preparation for a one time visit with the king to see if he approved. Each young lady could bring in whatever she wanted from the harem to the king, perhaps a particular wardrobe item, dancing apparatus, or something else to highlight her beauty and even her seductive prowess if she so desired. Whether actual sexual acts happened is not given, but it could well have been an interview tactic. But what would win the king’s heart? It is not like he was lacking for sex given his harem and concubines. What would make him choose a queen? Each interview happened in the evening, and the next morning the “contestant” would be returned to a second harem under the care of Shaasghaz who was in charge of the king’s concubines. There was no guarantee of a second chance, but the king could summon one of them a second time as he was trying to narrow his options and settle on one final choice for queen.
15 Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
When Esther’s turn to go in to the king arrived, she didn’t take anything in with her except what Hegai advised her. Hegai would have been around long enough to know what the king enjoyed as well as what annoyed him. Having his advice had to be a great advantage. This is again a sign of God’s favor resting upon Esther, and she received favor and approval of all who saw her. The king picked Esther above all the rest, and she was brought to his palace in the seventh year of his reign. Esther, a Jew, would become the next queen of Persia. Even with His people in captivity on account of their wickedness and rebellion, God still had a plan, He still made a name for Himself, and He was still on the throne.
17 The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his princes and his servants; he also made a holiday for the provinces and gave gifts according to the king’s bounty.
The king loved Esther more than all the women. He had many to choose from on any given day to spend time with, but it was Esther whom he enjoyed and adored more than any other. He actually showed her favor and kindness, a side of him that hadn’t been evident before. External beauty alone would not bring this out of the king, but there had to be something about Esther’s inner beauty and character qualities that had this effect and influence upon the king (Proverbs 31:30). Esther was given the royal crown as Queen of all Persia. A Jew was given this honored position with the mightiest man on the earth at the time. God was showing Himself powerful and faithful to His people even in the midst of difficult circumstances, circumstances which they had brought upon themselves on account of their rebellion and disobedience to Him. The king threw a special banquet for Esther so that all knew that it was done in her name, and he even declared a national holiday on account of his love for her and gave lavish gifts throughout the land.
19 When the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her; for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care.
Mordecai continued to stay in touch with Esther and to look after as best as he could from the king’s gate. Esther still had not disclosed that she was a Jew as Mordecai had instructed her. When she lived with Mordecai, she listened to him and did what he told her to do (Exodus 20:12). Being able to honor and respect this loving father figure in Mordecai probably served her well in seeking to gain the favor of the king. In a land which favored male dominance, being able to be respectful had to be a great advantage to her in helping her get the king’s favor, something she would need in the future on account of her people.
21 In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s officials from those who guarded the door, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 But the plot became known to Mordecai and he told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. 23 Now when the plot was investigated and found to be so, they were both hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king’s presence.
A significantly important event transpired that would shape future events by putting Mordecai’s name in Persian history for good. Mordecai was in his usual place at the king’s gate hoping to check up on Esther. Two of the king’s officials who guarded the door became angry with the king and plotted to kill him. Mordecai, in respect for the king (Romans 13:1-6) and his law (Esther 4:2), not condoning murder, and caring about the well-being of Esther (who knows what could happen to her if the king was attacked), informed Esther of the plot. Esther then warned the king, and he investigated the plot. It was found out to be true, and the conspirators were hanged. Importantly, the event was documented and logged in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Persia. This event was sovereignly orchestrated by God, and it would play a major role in the unfolding of God’s plan in the lives of Esther and Mordecai.