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My wife is one of the few people I confide in.
She, in particular, knows things about me no one else does, things that may make you laugh your head off, and some that may make you cry. There are days when I can’t wait to head home and share with her some profoundly insightful lesson I just learned about God, about myself, or a juicy rumor … uh … story I just heard. I’m deeply grateful to God for blessing me with a wife who gets me, loves me, and is often times my buddy.
I start part two of this series through the Old Testament book of Esther with that tidbit about relational intimacy because our man, Xerxes is desperately in need of not only a wife, but a leading lady who’s also his buddy.
When chapter two opens up (after he’s signed a decree in a drunken state that kicked his queen, Vashti off her royal throne), we find the king alone and lonely. It’s why Esther 2:1 starts by saying, “…After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus [Xerxes] had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.”
There’s plenty going on in that one verse. First off, the phrase, “After these things…” is hugely significant. It is significant because four years have passed between the first verse of chapter two and the last verse of chapter one. If you recall in the first blog post [“Straight Outta Persia”], I explained that Xerxes threw an extravagant shindig in the third year of his reign in an effort to garner support for his invasion of Greece. Well, according to Esther 2:16, the events of chapter two take place during the seventh year of his reign. So, if you do the math, four years have passed since the end of chapter one.
What is more important, however, than the duration of time that has passed is the events that have transpired during that period. Basically, the movie, 300 happened. History tells us that Xerxes led his armies into Greece but failed militarily. The collective defense mounted by the Greek states succeeded in not only pushing back the Persian army but also in liberating several Greek city-states on the fringe of Persia itself. So, Xerxes is forced to return to his capital city of Susa in shame and with great losses.
Therefore, when we meet him in Esther 2:1, there’s a heavy gloominess about him. This dude seriously needs a hug. Specifically, he really misses Vashti, because let’s face it, she was an amazing woman! That's what the passage is telling us when it says, “he remembered Vashti…”. His anger at her has subsided, he’s no longer drunk and he’s come to his senses and realizes he had a gemstone on his hands. (We will discover later in the story that once a decree is passed in Persia, it can’t be overturned. So, reinstating Vashti isn’t a feasible option). Though as king, he could have any woman he wants, he’s not looking for a quick fling to drown his sorrows. Xerxes is looking for a wife, a friend, a buddy, someone he can share his bed with, as well as his wins and especially now, his losses with.
It’s in this brokenhearted state that his personal attendants find him and it’s why they suggest that a national search be made for Persia’s next top model who will fill the role Vashti once did. They suggest in verse 2, “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.”
We’ll come back to that little statement about beauty treatments shortly [because it’s important to the narrative], but for now, it’s time to finally meet our leading lady, Esther. Esther 2:5-9 introduces us to her, “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, 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. 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. 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.”
Here are four things we immediately know about Esther based on that introduction:
- She is a Jew, one of the several thousand exiled Jews living in Persia
- She was orphaned at a young age
- She was adopted and raised by her uncle, Mordecia
- And she is drop dead gorgeous. When the scripture goes out of its way to point out that a person is “beautiful of form and face”, that’s a whole other level of hotness! (Don’t think me shallow for pointing that out. The scripture itself highlights it. Besides, it’s an important detail because it plays no small role in her selection to be one of the many women competing for the king’s affection and queen’s throne).
Another important detail worth pointing out is the fact that, as a Jew, Esther worships the one true God, Jehovah. As a result, it’s highly likely that she has no real desire to live out her days in the palace of the Persians (who DON’T worship her God, but are in fact, pagans). I say all that to point out that Esther is more than likely not too eager to be selected for this beauty pageant. Though she willingly goes with the plan ["was taken"], we can safely assume that she is doing so reluctantly and more than likely hopes she doesn’t end up winning the stupid thing. The secret she hides in verse 10 makes my speculation even more plausible.
Something else that is not immediately obvious about her is what I like to describe as her humble winsomeness. In other words, aside of her beauty and attractiveness, there was something else about her presence and character that drew people to her. I say so because at least on three separate occasions, we’re told that people were favorably disposed towards her.
- The first time is in verse 9 when she meets Hegai (the head eunuch). He is so impressed with her at their first meet that he immediately hooks her up with the executive suite and accompanying maid services.
- The second time is in verse 15 where it says “Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.” So, not only was Hegai impressed with her, but even the palace staff thought she was a great person to be/have around.
- The third time is when she meets Xerxes himself, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Lest you read that and attempt to argue that she was well favored only because she was beautiful, I would remind you that there were several hundred other women in that same palace who were just as pretty as Esther was. Physical beauty was one of the sole criteria for being selected to be in the competition. Yet, none had the grace and charm and humble winsomeness Esther did.
While all that may be true for Esther, the opposite was just as true for every other girl selected. First, let’s look at the plan to get them all ready and pretty for Xerxes, “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. 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. 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.”
For all the Persian single ladies selected, this was an opportunity of a lifetime! This was Persia’s version of “America’s Next Top Model” meets “The Bachelor”. The latter show is about a bunch of women competing to win the affections of a man. The earlier seasons of the former show involves aspiring models moving in together into one luxurious house and competing to win a contract with a supermodel agency. While it features gorgeous runway models, the main star of the show is often times their attitudes towards one another! The conflict that the competitiveness generates among the girls often times leaves very little to be desired.
This was no less true for the girls gathered in the Persian palace. Every girl competing wants to win the highly coveted role of queen! Much more than that, every girl present is eagerly looking forward to twelve months of beauty/cosmetic pampering with several maids at her beck and call. Picture it if you can. January: Face treatment. February: Hair. March: Nails. April: Clothes shopping. May: Perfume and shoes. And on and on. Imagine the shopping list and stores: Prada, Tiffany’s, Vera Wang, Dolce & Gabbana, Chloe, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Oscar de la Renta (Yes. I just Googled, “what are the most expensive women’s stores in the United States?”)
I paint that picture for you so that you’ll understand that Esther has just been drafted into a highly competitive environment that can bring out the worst in people (Have you seen the catfights on America’s Next Top Model?). It’s for this reason that the ladies are assigned a head eunuch, Hegai (Persia’s version of Tyra Banks) to oversee them. The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Commentary (p.485) points out this interesting detail about the lodging of all these ladies, “We know much about the administration of ancient harems from records found primarily in Assyria. These documents demonstrate that harem [“house of women”] life was well regulated, 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... The eunuchs were charged to make sure that such conflicts did not erupt in violence.”
With all the ladies vying for the ultimate prize, it would have been next to impossible to stand out in this group, especially if you were being demure as I’m proposing Esther was. Yet, we read this in verse 9 about the first few days of Esther being a part of Xerxes’ harem, “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.”
I believe it was the humble part of her “humble winsomeness” I spoke of earlier that caused Esther to stand out in this group. Not only was she obedient to the instructions of her older cousin who raised her and gave her some really important advice before going to the palace, (which is very telling of her respect for authority) but verse 10 indicates that she probably maintained a low profile among all the ladies because she didn’t want her nationality known.
Furthermore, when her moment finally came to spend the night with the king, Esther humbled herself and accepted the advice of the one guy who knew the king the most and only took with her what he advised. This was a situation where she could have asserted her individuality. We don’t know what Hegai suggested she take in with her to the king, but whatever it was, Esther could very well have said, “I’m sorry, Hegai. But that’s not really my style.” or “Thanks, but I heard some of the other girls already tried that. I’m going to try something else.” But she didn’t, rather she was humble enough to yield to the words of Proverbs 12:15 which says, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”
When you consider the fact that someone with an unmatched natural beauty just spent a whole year enhancing her looks so that she’s near perfection, it would have been next to impossible to retain a humble state of mind. Heck, I recently got a haircut on the same day my wife bought me a new Calvin Klein T-shirt and I thought I was the hottest thing since Will Smith! And that was just one shirt. O.N.E! I'm ashamed to even think of what would happen if I had a year’s worth of what Esther was offered.
It begs the question though, what kind of attitude might YOU develop if you were involved in a yearlong project where the sole purpose was to make you look pretty?
The good news here is that her humility and winsomeness pays off because verse 16-20 wraps the story up neatly for us by saying, “Esther was taken to King Xerxes at the royal palace in early winter of the seventh year of his reign. 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. 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. Even after all the young women had been transferred to the second harem and Mordecai had become a palace official, 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.”
Alas, we have a new queen and Xerxes has a new lover and friend!
If these events occurred today, it would be said that Esther is the breakout starlet who just made her way from working as a cashier at Walmart to becoming the first lady of the White House. God DOES work in mysterious ways, doesn’t He? Even more importantly, we will discover shortly in this story that God’s timing for blessing in our lives is not only impeccable, but incredibly purposeful.
There are several life lessons to be learned from this second chapter of our 7-part series. Hopefully some of it jumped out at you as you read along, but if it didn’t, here are three that were most meaningful to me.
LESSON 1: THE TRAITS YOU DEVELOP IN YOUR LIFE NOW WILL GET MAGNIFIED LATER IN LIFE WHEN YOU ARRIVE WHERE GOD IS TAKING YOU.
Esther won favor with everyone she met in the palace because she was already winsome as a young girl in Mordecai’s home. There is every indication from the rest of the story that the qualities we admire about her as a queen were qualities Mordecai had helped raised in her years earlier.
The point being, whatever character qualities you develop now will become even more pronounced when you step into leadership, marriage, or whatever the “next” thing is you’re trusting God to take you into.
So, what qualities are you working hard to develop today? Do you want to see it magnified later in life?
LESSON 2: HOW YOU TREAT THE AUTHORITY FIGURES IN YOUR LIFE NOW MAY INDICATE THE KIND OF AUTHORITY GOD WILL ENTRUST YOU WITH LATER IN LIFE.
This lesson is very subtle in Esther’s life, but nonetheless present.
This is what is known as the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping. It is an axiom of life that we reap proportionately whatever we put in. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously”
How respectful are you of the authority figures in your life? (Your parents, bosses, teachers, pastors, cops, political leaders, etc.) According to the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, the way you treat them and address them (the level of respect you show them) will be proportionate to what you will someday experience when God places you in a position of influence over others. Trust me, I speak from experience and have learned this firsthand (the hard way!).
You may think to yourself that challenging the authority figures in your life and swimming against the tide of their instruction makes you out to be some kind of progressive rebel or trend-setting revolutionary, but mark my words, it will come back and bite you in your insurgent tooshie!
LESSON 3: YOUR TALENT (OR BEAUTY) MAY GET YOU IN THE DOOR, BUT GODLY CHARACTER IS WHAT WILL SUSTAIN YOUR LONGEVITY THERE.
While Esther’s physical form has played a significant role in this narrative, I also hope I’ve conveyed the fact that her beauty was ONLY a starting point. It was her humble winsomeness that ultimately placed her on the throne (and God’s sovereign hand, of course).
The scriptures speaks of prioritizing godly character development over cultivating physical looks (or talents) when it says, “…physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
One of my seminary professors used to tell us, “Pray that your talent (or looks) doesn’t take you to a place in life where your character can’t sustain you.” Having witnessed many brothers and a few sisters fail in ministry due to character issues, I have since been praying, “Lord Jesus, grow in me, now, the character and integrity that will sustain me when you bring me into the good works you have prepared in advance for me to do.”
A good prayer to pray daily is what David prayed when he said, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Whether we find ourselves serving in the aisles of Walmart or in the Oval office at the White house, may our focus always remain on being like Christ. In so doing, may God continually grant us a willing spirit to sustain godly character in us! I hope you join me in the coming weeks as we uncover God's destiny for this incredible young woman. In the mean time, dig in deeper into this week's story by signing up below and DOWNLOADING FOR FREE the accompanying devotional study I created for today's post!
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Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.