Esther 2

Esther Chapter 2

Esther is Chosen to be Queen

    • Some time later, when King Ahasuerus’s rage had subsided, he remembered Vashti, what she had done, and what he had decreed about her. So the king’s personal attendants suggested, “Let’s make a search for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint officials in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful, young virgins to the harem at the citadel of Susa. Place them under the care of the king’s eunuch, Hegai, who oversees the women, and have him provide all the beauty treatments. Then, let the young woman who pleases the king the most be queen instead of Vashti.” This sounded like a good idea to the king, so he followed this advice.

      • NET Bible points out, “Heb ‘after these things’ (so KJV, NASB, NRSV). The expression is very vague from a temporal standpoint, not indicating precisely just how much time might have elapsed…There may be a tinge of regret expressed in the king’s remembrance of Vashti. There is perhaps a hint that he wished for her presence once again, although that was not feasible from a practical standpoint. The suggestions by the king’s attendants concerning a replacement seem to be an effort to overcome this nostalgia. Certainly it was to their advantage to seek the betterment of the king’s outlook. Those around him the most were probably the most likely to suffer the effects of his ire.”

      • ESV Study Bible writes, “…In line with normal practice, a eunuch (see 1:10-11) is in charge of the king’s women (his harem). Hegai may be the same officer of Xerxes (Ahasuerus) that Herodotus refers to in Greek as ‘Hegias.’”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds the following:

        • This method of procuring a queen is unprecedented in the ancient world. Usually, the queen was of noble rank, chosen for family or political connections, not simply for her beauty. But that does not rule out the possibility that a beautiful woman might catch the king’s eye and rise to a position of power, as in the case of Bathsheba, wife of King David (2 Sam 11).”

        • On the mention of “virgins,” the same source continues, “The word here does not necessarily mean those who have never had sexual intercourse, but only young women of marriageable age still under the authority of their fathers. Nonetheless, in the ancient Near East, it would have been unlikely that the king would have taken married or sexually active women into his harem. While there were cases when a king might take another man’s wife, such cases were usually politically motivated- as when David took Michal, daughter of the former king Saul, from her current husband in order to solidify his association with the royal house (2 Sam 3:13-15)- or were regarded as examples of tyranny (as with David and Bathsheba, 2 Sam 11). There is no reason to assume that married women were taken into Xerxes’ harem.”

        • The text clearly indicates that the candidates for queen were to be taken from all the different ethnic groups in Xerxes’ kingdom. While it would not have been unusual for the king’s harem to include women of various nationalities, it may have been exceptional for the queen to be non-Persian. But there were documented exceptions to the tradition, including Artaxerxes I and Darius II, both of whom had Babylonian queens.”

        • Harem literally means, “’House of women,’ a special quarters reserved for the king’s wives and concubines.”

    • A Jewish man of the tribe of Benjamin was in the citadel of Susa. His name was Mordecai, and his father was Jair, whose father was Shimei, whose father was Kish, who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been taken away with King Jehoiachin of Judah, whom Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile. He was acting as the guardian of Hadassah, who was his uncle’s daughter, because neither her father or mother were alive. This young women, who was also known as Esther, was very attractive and had a beautiful figure. Mordecai had adopted her and raised her as if she were his own daughter when her parents died.

      • NET Bible includes these interesting notes on the names, “Mordecai is a pagan name that reflects the name of the Babylonian deity Marduk. Probably many Jews of the period had two names, one for secular use and the other for use especially within the Jewish community. Mordecai’s Jewish name is not recorded in the biblical text…Jeconiah is an alternative name for Jehoiachin. A number of modern English versions use the latter name to avoid confusion (e.g., NIV, NCV, TEV, NLT)…Hadassah is a Jewish name that probably means “myrtle”; the name Esther probably derives from the Persian word for “star,” although some scholars derive it from the name of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Esther is not the only biblical character for whom two different names were used. Daniel (renamed Belteshazzar) and his three friends Hananiah (renamed Shadrach), Mishael (renamed Meshach), and Azariah (renamed Abednego) were also given different names by their captors.”

      • ESV Study Bible writes, “The Mordecai of the book of Esther has a genealogy that links him to King Saul, who lived 500 years earlier. He belongs to the same tribe (a Benjaminite), and his great-grandfather, Kish, has the same name as Saul’s father (1 Sam 9:1-2)…”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “The allusion to Saul…is probably deliberate given Mordecai’s antagonism to Haman, who is identified as an Agagite- the known opponent of Saul…”

      • HCSB points out, “Critics looking for evidence of historical inaccuracies often cite this passage as evidence. They contend that the text says Mordecai is the one who had been carried into exile with Jeconiah. If this were so, then Mordecai would have been about 119 years old when Esther became queen. While this cannot be ruled completely out of the realm of possibility, there is another possible explanation. The Hebrew text of v. 6 actually begins with a relative pronoun, asher. The immediate antecedent is ‘Kish,’ not ‘Mordecai.’ So the pronoun may be referring to Kish, Mordecai’s great-grandfather, as the person who had been taken into exile.”

    • When the king’s command and edict had become public knowledge, Esther, along with many other young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and placed under the care of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. Esther pleased him and won his favor. He quickly provided her with her beauty treatments and her ration of food. He also assigned her with seven, specially-selected women from the king’s palace, and transferred her and her servants to the best quarters in the harem.

      • ESV Study Bible writes, “It was presumably an honor to be chosen from the harem, though it is unclear from the word taken whether she went willingly or unwillingly. Given the king’s order, she presumably had no choice in the matter. Once there, however, she appears to have been fully compliant, quickly winning the favor of Hegai, who provided her with the finest of everything and promoted her to the best place in the harem. The seven chosen young women, her personal maids-in-waiting, already hint at her royal bearing and destiny.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible includes the following notes:

        • Although only one woman would be chosen to replace Vashti, the other women would not be able to return to their homes. Rather, they would all become wives of the king, even if only of ‘concubine’ status…They remained in the harem even after one was selected to be queen. So Esther did not commit fornication when she finally slept with the king, as some commentators have suggested. Rather, she was fulfilling her conjugal duties as one of the king’s wives.”

      • …Unlike Daniel and his companions (Da 1), Esther seems to have had no qualms about accepting food from the royal household. Indeed, the fact that she had not revealed her nationality (v. 10) implies that she ate the same food as the rest of the women in the harem, since demanding a kosher diet would have betrayed her nationality.”

    • Now Esther had not disclosed her nationality or lineage, because Mordecai had instructed her not to do so. Everyday he walked back and forth near the harem courtyard to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible says, “Mordecai’s instruction to Esther not to reveal her people or her kindred is the first hint of the anti-Semitism that will surface in the next chapter.”

      • Guzik points out, “Normally, there is never a good reason for hiding the fact that we are Christians. Far too many Christians act as if they are ‘secret agents’ – and they always conceal who they are in the Lord. We must take the warning Jesus gave in Matthew 10:32-33 seriously: Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. We can’t live a life of denial and expect God to recognize us. However, we do recognize that there are situations where God may have us be reticent about our Christian identity – not for the purposes of permanently concealing it, but waiting for the opportune moment to reveal it. Apparently, this is what Mordecai sensed was right to do in this circumstance, and Esther agreed.”

    • Before each woman was taken to King Ahasuerus, she was given the prescribed 12 months of beauty treatments: 6 months with oil of myrrh, followed by 6 months with perfumes and various ointments for women. When it was her turn to go to the king, she was given whatever she requested to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. She would go in the evening, and in the morning she would return to a separate part of the harem which was under the supervision of Shaashgaz, who was the king’s eunuch responsible for overseeing the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and requested her by name.

      • ESV Study Bible writes, “Both the time involved and the cosmetics used indicate the elaborate nature of the beauty treatment the chosen woman received… Myrrh [is] an expensive perfume obtained from trees native to Africa and southern Asia…”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “Women officially recognized as the king’s mistresses were housed separately, in the second harem, under the care of Shaashgaz, presumably corresponding to Hegai. Each woman’s first night with the king was her initiation as a concubine. Presumably for most, there would be no other such night. Much is known about harem administration from ancient records, particularly from Assyria.”

      • NIV Cultural Study Bible provides additional details, “According to Greek sources, the royal concubines were expected to entertain the king in various ways throughout the night, ready to provide sexual companionship when requested. We can assume that the women were given items that would help them with their diversions, including musical instruments (harps and flutes), musicians to accompany their singing, and perhaps other types of entertainment. We know much about the administration of ancient harems from records found primarily in Assyria. These documents demonstrate that harem life was well regulated and under the watchful eye of trusted eunuchs. There were frequent conflicts among the women, as they would sometimes scheme and plot for favors for themselves and any children they had borne. The eunuchs were charged to ensure that such conflicts did not erupt in violence.”

    • Esther’s father was Abihail, and Abihail was Mordecai’s uncle. Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter. When it was Esther’s turn to go to the king, she didn’t ask for anything other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch in charge of overseeing the women, had recommended. She won the favor of everyone who saw her. Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus at his royal palace in the 10th month, which is Tebeth, of the 7th year of his reign. The king loved Esther more than any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. He placed the royal crown on her head, and declared her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king held a large banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He also declared a holiday throughout the provinces, and distributed gifts with royal generosity.

      • The Septaugint reads a little differently than the MT, and the NET Bible points out those discrepancies. Rather than the 10th month, “The Greek MSS Codex Alexandrinus (A) and Codex Vaticanus (B) read ‘twelfth…’” Rather than the 7th year of his reign, the Syriac Peshitta, “reads ‘fourth’ here.” LXX also omits the phrases “more than all the other young women” and “distributed gifts with royal generosity.”

      • ESV Study Bible notes, “Tebeth, in midwinter, was the tenth month of the Jewish religious calendar. [The] seventh year [was] four years after the events recounted in ch 1.”

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds that the 7th year would have been “in 479/478 BC, after his return from the military campaign in Greece.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains that the phrase “He proclaimed a holiday,” is literally, “He caused a rest to take place.” And, “The phrase is ambiguous and has been interpreted as a release from work, from military service or from taxation.”

Haman’s Plot to Destroy the Jews (2:19-3:15)

Mordecai’s Loyalty to the King

    • When the young women were gathered again for a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Esther still had not revealed her lineage or her nationality, just as Mordecai had instructed her. She continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions just as she had when he was raising her.

      • NET Bible writes, “The LXX does not include the words “Now when the young women were being gathered again.” The Hebrew word… (shenit, ‘a second time’) is difficult in v. 19, but apparently it refers to a subsequent regathering of the women to the harem. That Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate apparently means that he was a high-ranking government official. It was at the city gate where important business was transacted. Being in this position afforded Mordecai an opportunity to become aware of the plot against the king’s life, although the author does not include the particular details of how this information first came to Mordecai’s attention. That Esther was able so effectively to conceal her Jewish heritage suggests that she was not consistently observing Jewish dietary and religious requirements. As C. A. Moore observes, ‘In order for Esther to have concealed her ethnic and religious identity…in the harem, she must have eaten…, dressed, and lived like a Persian rather than an observant Jewess’ (Esther [AB], 28.) In this regard her public behavior stands in contrast to that of Daniel, for example.”

    • In those days while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the king’s entrance, Bigthan and Teresh, became furious and conspired to assassinate King Ahasuerus. But when Mordecai found out about the plot, he reported it to Queen Esther, and she informed the king, giving credit to Mordecai. When the report was investigated and verified, both men were hanged on a gallows. It was then recorded in the court record of daily events in the king’s presence.

      • NET Bible says, “The LXX does not include the names ‘Bigthan and Teresh’ here…The text of Esther does not disclose exactly how Mordecai learned about the plot against the king’s life. Ancient Jewish traditions state that Mordecai overheard conspiratorial conversation, or that an informant brought this information to him, or that it came to him as a result of divine prompting. These conjectures are all without adequate support from the biblical text. The author simply does not tell the source of Mordecai’s insight into this momentous event.”

      • Some translations say that the two conspirators were impaled on poles rather than hanged on a gallows, for example, the NIV. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains in the following note, “The Hebrew word translated ‘poles’ literally means ‘tree’ or ‘wooden object.’ The text refers to the common practice of impaling victims on wooden stakes. The Code of Hammurapi and Assyrian law codes sometimes prescribe impaling as an actual method of execution…But more often, malefactors were executed by other methods, and their dead bodies were impaled for a public display. Also, it has been demonstrated that the Persians practiced crucifixion, and the punishment spoken of here might refer to that practice: impaling people alive on wooden posts and allowing them to die of exposure.”

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