Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.
When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity. – Esther 2:12-18 ESV
A year has passed. During that time, Esther, along with all the other young women who had been gather, has been receiving “beauty treatments.” This regimen of highly regulated dietary and cosmetic treatments was designed to make the young ladies as beautiful as possible. These women were the most beautiful in the land, but they were not yet “good enough” for King Xerxes. So they were being prepared to appear as what they were auditioning to be: The Queen of Persia.
After 12-months of preparation, which more than likely included classes in etiquette and royal protocol, each young lady was given her opportunity to appear before the king. The passage presents this encounter in a rather pedestrian fashion: “In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines” (Esther 2:14 ESV). It would be easy to read right through this and not notice that this “audition” lasted from sunset to sunrise. This was far more than a beauty pageant. Each woman was expected to be pleasing to the king, and would be judged by her beauty and, more than likely, for her ability to please the king sexually. Esther and her companions were part of the royal harem, not the serving staff. They were there to please and bring pleasure to the king. It is easy to gloss over this somewhat obvious point when reading the story of Esther. Yet, when the time came for Esther to go before the king, she would have been expected to do far more than look pretty and answer a few questions.
There is a palpable and intended tension in this story. We are introduced to Esther in the opening verses of this chapter. Her Hebrew name is Hadassah. Her pagan or Persian name is Esther. She is an orphaned Hebrew living with her older uncle, who has adopted her as his own. They are part of a community of Jews living in the capital of Susa, who were originally taken captive when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Judah. The Babylonians were later defeated by the Persians and the Jews simply found themselves slaves with new taskmasters. Esther’s Hebrew heritage is a vital part of the story. When she was taken into the king’s custody as part of his edict to search for a new queen, her uncle instructed her to hide her true identity. She was to go by her Persian name. She was not to disclose the fact that she was a Jew. And it seems that Mordecai instructed Esther to go along with the flow, to submit herself to the king’s plans. At no point does she appear to have resisted the king’s command or attempt to escape her obvious fate. She knew she was part of the king’s harem. She knew what she was being prepared to do. And her uncle Mordecai knew as well.
In all of this, there appears to be a subtle hint at Mordecai’s belief in the sovereignty of God. He does not know exactly what is going on, but he seems to have a confidence that God is at work in some form or fashion. He believes that there is a reason behind Esther being chosen. Yes, he could have counseled Esther to resist the king’s command and she would have likely been put to death. Instead, he instructed her to submit to the king’s authority. There seems to be a silent submission to the will of God in all of this as well. Perhaps it is just a simple case of Mordecai hoping that Esther never gets chosen, that she somehow fails the test and is allowed to return home. But most likely, Mordecai knew that Esther would remain a permanent part of the king’s harem, whether she became queen or not. She was not returning. Her fate was sealed. And because of the rest of the story, it seems that Mordecai had a sort of sixth sense that there was something divine going on in all of this.
We read, “Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her” (Esther 2:15 ESV). There is a striking similarity between the life of Esther and that of Joseph, when he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Both were Hebrew young people who found themselves living in a pagan land and thrust into unexpected and unwanted circumstances that were out of their control. And yet, both seemed to thrive. We read repeatedly that Joseph found favor with those for whom he worked. And Moses makes it clear that the reason behind Joseph’s favor was God. God was blessing Joseph in all that he did, and that divine favor was felt by Joseph’s superiors. The same thing seems to be happening with Esther. She found favor with “Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women” (Esther 2:15 ESV). And then we are told that “when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17-18 ESV).
She was chosen queen. The contest was over. The tryouts were called off. Somehow Esther, the young Jewish girl, had caught the eye of the king and found herself wearing the royal crown. It would be so easy to read this part of the story and simply write it off to luck. Or to simply conclude that Esther must have been gorgeous. But there is that subtle thread of God’s sovereignty flowing throughout the story, from beginning to end. This is not a case of fate or kismet. This is the hand of God. And Mordecai seems to be aware that his God is doing something with the life of Esther, to prepare her for a purpose far greater than anything she could have ever imagined. Again, like Joseph, she finds herself in a place where questions outnumber the answers. Her head was swirling. Her mind was having a hard time grasping the significance of what had just happened. She had gone from obscurity to a life of wealth and royalty. She was the queen of Persia. But why? What was the purpose behind her favor with the king? What was it that God was doing? Why had she been chosen over all the other women in the king’s harem? In time, God would answer all those questions and more. He would reveal His will. He would divulge His plan and show her the part she was destined to play.