Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Esther 2

Verses 1-4

Esther - Chapter 2

Plan of Choice, Verses 1-4

The expression, "after these things," is very indefinite. One might assume that it was a short time after the putting away of Vashti, if it were not for a note from secular history (cf. also Ezra 1:3 with Ezra 2:16). This note indicates a time about four years later, 479 B. C., when Ahasuerus had returned from his humiliating defeat at the hands of the Greeks. Herodotus, the Greek historian, says that Xerxes found solace for his defeat, upon returning to Persia, in his harem. This would mean, of course, that he completed his plans for war upon the Greeks in 483, proceeded and entered upon his campaign in Greece, all of which took four years, and had now returned to Shushan. Seeking pleasure and comfort in his harem he was reminded of the decree against Vashti.

His servants proposed a scheme which pleased the licentious Ahasuerus. A decree would be sent out for officers in the various provinces to make a search for the most beautiful young girls, virgins, gather them up, and send them to Shushan the palace. They would be then consigned to the house of the women, or residence of the harem, into the hand of Hege, the eunuch who had charge of the women and their needs. Each one would be provided with cosmetics (called here "things of purification"), with which they might further beautify themselves. Then the king could try out each one, and whichever pleased him most would be given the place of Vashti. This wicked plan pleased the king well, and he proceeded to carry it out.

The incident is characteristic of the lewd and immoral conduct of the eastern kings of those times. It has also been a prominent thing in other countries in more recent times. The whole thing is despicable in the eyes of God, and His Word strongly condemns it (cf. 2 Peter 2:14). The requirements for the king of Israel forbade a harem (Deuteronomy 17:17), though most of them did not obey it.

Verses 5-11

Mordecai and Esther, Verses 5-11

Mordecai the Jew and Esther his ward are now introduced. The lineage of Mordecai show him to have descended from a man named Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. The grammatical construction of the English King James Version makes it appear that it was Mordecai who was carried away in the captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. This is impossible, for the deportation of certain Jews with Jeconiah (or Jehoiachin, 2 Kings 24:10-16) was about a hundred fifteen years before the time of Mordecai. Therefore the reference to the carrying away must be applied to Kish, the great grandfather of Mordecai.

The blood relationship of Esther to Mordecai was that of first cousin. Her father was the brother of Jair, the father of Mordecai. While a generation separated the man that girl in age it is not surprising, for such things occur even today. This girl’s parents died while she was still a child, and the adult Mordecai adopted her as his daughter. Esther respected Mordecai as she would have a father.

The Jewish name of Mordecai’s ward was Hadassah, which means a "myrtle." The myrtle was a beautiful evergreen plant. The name, Esther, is probably the name given her by the Persians after she came into the court of Ahasuerus. It means ’star" in English, and she was derived for Ishtar, the great goddess of Babylon. This is also the name given by ancient people to the planet Venus. Both these names imply the surpassing beauty of the young lady.

The Scriptures do not tell how Esther came to the attention of those searching for the most beautiful young virgins, but only that she was taken and put in the custody of Hegai (called Hege in verse 2), the eunuch who took care of the harem. Some writers have insisted that Mordecai put his ward up for the beauty contest, but others disagree. An argument could be made for either. Mordecai as an ambitious man, interested in acquiring a Jewish influence at court, would have promoted Esther for the place of queen. Some things in his conduct, such as his frequenting the area of the palace, readiness to assume great responsibility, influence with other Jews of Shushan, certainly may indicate such a plan.

On the other hand, surely, such a thing as Esther’s being put into the harem of a heathen king would be abhorrent to a pious Jew. How could such a one connive in such a lewd, ungodly contest as was proposed, which would involve his beautiful virgin daughter? As for Mordecai’s frequenting of the king’s palace, he is not said to have done so until after Esther was taken into the harem. The place he was found was walking to and fro before the residence of the harem, apparently anxious for the fate of his beloved daughter. These things seem to be a strong argument against the first opinion. Frankly, there is no way to ascertain the facts in the matter.

The Lord moved on behalf of Esther, and she found extreme favor with Hegai. He gave her everything to promote her to the favor of Ahasuerus, even a retinue of seven of the best slave girls to wait on her. The best quarters in the harem and the best food and cosmetics were reserved for Hegai’s favorite, Esther. It is apparent that God was working to bring about good out of a situation provoked by evil (cf. sale of Joseph by his brothers, Genesis - Chapters 37,39ff; Daniel and his friends, Daniel - Chapter 1; the little captive maid of Israel, 2 Kings -Chapter 5). Esther’s nationality was unknown to the Persians, for Mordecai had cautioned her against revealing it. Animosity against the Jews was a fact which they regarded with prudence.

Verses 12-18

Esther Chosen, Verses 12-18

The king’s plan worked like this. Each young girl was given a twelve month beauty treatment. For six months she applied oil of myrrh to her body. Myrrh was an aromatic perfume often mixed with olive oil and used for anointing the body. The second six months the girls were treated with spices and such cosmetics as the women used. At the end of the twelve months they were considered ready to share the king’s bed. At that time they were allowed to carry anything they desired with them from the harem to the palace. In the evening the girl would be con­ducted to the king’s bedchamber to spend the night with him. In the mor­ning she would be removed to the house of the concubines, presided over by another eunuch named Shaashgaz. There the poor girl would be required to remain until the king should ask for her again. If he never required her company again she remained a virtual prisoner in the house of the concubines. She could not be married to another and was considered the property of the king, though he might forget all about her. This is another illustration of the wicked and cruel practices of paganism and its denigration of womanhood. Note the difference under Christ (Ephesians 5:25; 1 Peter 3:7; Colossians 3:19).

Esther may have felt confidence in the Lord when it came her turn to sleep with the king. She did not ask for anything from the harem to carry in with her. Her own physical beauty and beauty of character she must have considered sufficient to win the king’s favor. Though God is nowhere mentioned one must realize that she had great faith in the Lord. Esther had won the favor of Hegai and all others, evidently including the other girls, who had observed her. She must have been a remarkable beauty. So the king loved her and chose her for the queen to succeed Vashti. She was elevated to this position in the seventh year of his reign, which corresponds with the date of the return of Xerxes from his Greek campaign.

Ahasuerus celebrated the coronation of Esther with a great banquet which he called Esther’s banquet. He lavished on her much kindness and favor, and declared a holiday throughout the empire in observance of her elevation. The orphan Jewish girl had become the greatest lady in the largest kingdom in the world.

Verses 19-23

Mordecai Informs, Verses 19-23

The purpose of the gathering of the virgins a second time is not clear. Perhaps it had something to do with Esther’s banquet. It was an occasion that brought Mordecai to the gate of the palace again, whether for a chance meeting with Esther or otherwise is not known. Some have suggested that Mordecai’s position, sitting in the king’s gate, indicates that he occupied some office with the king, but this does not seem to be justified conjecture. From the vantage point of hindsight it is easy to see that God was arranging things to work His own will in the Persian court and empire by having Mordecai there on that date and occasion. Since Esther was still unknown as a Jewess it is likely that Mordecai was likewise unrecognized as a Jew at the time. It is certainly unlikely that Ahasuerus would have given a Jew a high place in the court, since he was ready to have them all slaughtered a very short time later.

In that Esther continued to obey and show reverential respect for her foster father, she sets the example for children today. Children do not ever escape a responsibility to revere and honor their parents. God’s law strictly teaches such respect (Leviticus 19:32; Mark 7:9-13).

Two of Ahasuerus’ chamberlains, occupied here to guard the gate, Bigthan and Teresh, were for some unknown reason murderously angry with the king. Mordecai overheard them plotting the assassination of the king and passed the news on to Esther, who conveyed the warning to the king. Consequently an investigation was made and the charges found to be true. Bigthan and Teresh were hanged on a gallows. This was a horrible death, consisting of a form of crucifixion whereby the person was impaled alive and left to die in slow agony. The name of Mordecai as the informant was written in the chronicles of the king. It will soon be used of the Lord to turn the tables on the enemies of the Jews. He truly cares for His own (cf. 1 Peter 5:7).

Many valuable lessons can be learned from this chapter, as 1) pagan religion condemns itself by its immoral practices; 2) godliness is manifested by beneficence of one toward his - own people; 3) godly parents would not condone the participation of their daughters in an immoral beauty contest; 4) evil may be overcome of good (Romans 12:2) 1); 5) true religion elevates the role of women much higher than does any pagan religion; 6) God bends the will of wicked kings even when they are unaware of it; 7) God moves affairs to have the right person in the right place at the right time; 8) one never outlives his duty of honor and respect toward honorable parents.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Esther 2". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.