4 years go by since the King put aside Queen Vashti. Now, taking his councils advice, he gives the order to gather up a bunch of beautiful virgins to populate his harem and consider one of them as Queen. Mordecai, a Jew who was living at the citadel, was raising his orphaned cousin who just happened to be a beautiful Jewish virgin.
Esther became one of the beautiful virgins in the harem to be considered for the position of Queen, though consideration wouldn’t take place for at least a year. After being giving into the care of Hegai, the kings eunuch, Esther found favor with him and pleased him and was given 7 maids of her own and a special place in the harem. (I’m not quite sure what she did to gain such favor but it looks as if Esther’s mind is totally in the game to win). Esther concealed her heritage as a Jew from everyone as her cousin Mordecai instructed her.
Once the year of beautification was up, the virgins would be taken to the King one at a time. They each would spend a night with the King and in the morning be sent to the second harem where they would not see the King again unless he requested them by name. They could take anything in with them on their first night with the King in order to impress him .
Esther followed Hegai’s advice on what to take with her for her night with the King and she must have impressed him for she found his favor. The King loved her best above all the virgins and made her Queen. He hosted a banquet, made a holiday, and generally made a showing of good will to his kingdom.
One day Mordecai overheard some of the Kings guards plotting against him so Mordecai told Esther, Esther told the king, there was an investigation and it was found to be true. Those who plotted against the king were killed and the incident recorded in the Book of Chronicles.
Okay…so I can go a couple of ways with my thoughts on this.
On the one hand… kudos to Mordecai for raising his orphaned cousin and trying to do right by her. In today’s world, what Mordecai did would be considered criminal and he’d be thrown in prison for basically pimping out his underage cousin and giving her over to a harem which is basically sexual slavery…HOWEVER… that being said, we are talking about the past, not the present. Harems back then were not exactly what we might have read about in various romance novels. To be in a King’s harem was an honor in that culture and harems consisted of hundreds if not thousands of women, many of whom would never share the King’s bed.
Mordecai would have given Esther over to some man eventually, Jewish or not… why not attempt to make her royalty right? It was a huge gamble on Mordecai’s part. He was gambling with Esther’s life. If he had given her to any man (other than the King) she could have married, had babies, made a family and lived out her life as most other women of her day.
But Mordecai decided to try and make Esther Queen. Whether she wanted to try and be Queen or not really doesn’t matter here. Once the game was started she had to play along and do well because the alternative of not being chosen Queen was to be part of the harem and in slavery for the rest of her life. No babies, no family of her own.
Big gamble. But it paid off so kudos to Mordecai and Esther for playing the political gambling game by lying and ultimately winning.
Not exactly a respectable way to be. But Mordecai and Esther weren’t exactly up on following Jewish law anyway. The Jews in that kingdom, back in that time, had chosen to stay in that kingdom rather than return to their own lands primarily for financial gain. Not exactly God centered were they.
The other way I go with this Chapter …..
I can look at the circumstances of this chapter in a “big picture” way.
We have Esther a beautiful orphaned Jewish girl with a chance to gain a position of power. We have her ambitious cousin (and guardian) Mordecai willing to take some risks with Esther’s life in order to accomplish…what???
Mordecai’s intentions are in question here. We know he cared about his cousin because he took her in and cared for her after her parents died. Family did that back then so in and of itself that may not be convincing to say he cared about her. Couple that with the fact that he visited outside the harems daily to check on her wellbeing (so he must have been semi-important to have that kind of access) and we get a nicer picture of him caring about her. Though he could have had other intentions as well.
Mordecai could have been very politically ambitious. Or he could have been guided by God, we just don’t know. Jews at this time were not particularly “targeted” as of yet. Though Mordecai knew enough to tell Esther to conceal her Jewish heritage so I’m thinking things weren’t all on the up and up. By helping Esther get installed as Queen, power could come from and through her. Very politically savvy… Esther may not be the one to make the decisions as Queen but she would have the King’s ear on occasion.
Based on this chapter alone we cannot know Mordecai’s intentions. However, the big picture is suggesting something more going on here than meets the eye.
I picture a chess board with the pieces beginning to move around and set up for a bigger play. (And yes, I can say this because I’ve read Esther before ~ laughs!) But taken as a individual chapter, you can gain the same sense of something going on.
We have hidden identity, we have huge risk taking, we have people being very calculating and playing the game to further themselves, we have lying, we have an assassination plot… we have everything here that makes for what we know today as “politics”… or a great play.
Scary how nothing has really changed much over the years huh?
We can read this as a personal account, or we can read this as political. We can also read this as God’s example of how it is wise to put believers into power positions. But we can’t deduce that one yet until we get a few more chapters in.
I really can’t identify personally with this chapter. The whole harem, sex slave, concubine thing I might be able to identify with some because of my past, however there’s a big difference… I always had a choice, though at times it certainly didn’t feel like it. I can’t identify with Esther because whatever choices she had…really weren’t hers. They were ultimately made for her and she chose to make the best of things. Again, I’m speculating here a bit, maybe she was all for marrying a psycho King whom she didn’t know? Esther would probably have been around 14-16 years old and was definitely influenced by Mordecai. She was obedient to him. So we don’t where her head was really at.
I’m not in her shoes and in today’s day and age in the US, I can never be in her shoes legally.
I’ve never had to lie to people about my heritage, which is good because I don’t know what exactly my heritage is, other than American!
I’m not an orphan, I’m not oppressed, I have choices.
So maybe the only thing I can take out of this is … how very fortunate I am to not be faced with the issues Esther was faced with.
I don’t know… the book of Esther doesn’t read like other Bible books. It’s focus is on the people and reads like a good play. It doesn’t seem to focus on God.
Maybe this book is to show us just how much God works on behalf of even non-believers, or those who may believe but all but ignore faith. This I can identify with. During the times when I made the poorest choices in my past and got myself into dangerous situations, God was with me. He loved me even when I was dead in my transgressions, and he protected me. Even before I came to believe, He was there, I just didn’t see Him.
Maybe that is what the Book of Esther is meant to show us, or me.