Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 4, The Bachelor

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 4
The Bachelor

King Xerxes is single again, or as single as a man with a harem but no queen can be. If historians and Bible scholars are correct, he spent the time between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 waging unsuccessful war against Greece, and now he is back home and has time to think about the mistake he made in deposing the beautiful and brave Queen Vashti.

"Later when King Xerxes' fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her." (Esther 2:1) He's moping about the palace missing his queen. Now that his anger has worn off he realizes he made a mistake, but he signed her banishment into law and it cannot be revoked. Even if he could call her back, it would make him look weak to the people, and that's the last thing he needs after putting the country through a very expensive war.

His attendants come up with an idea they think will lift his spirits. "Then the king's personal attendants proposed, 'Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.' This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it." (Esther 2:2-4) The ancient historian Josephus states that a total of 400 women were brought into the harem in this contest for the title of Queen of Persia. 

"Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shemei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah." (Esther 2:5-6) Mordecai's great-grandfather had been among those carried off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. This particular family of the tribe of Benjamin has been there ever since, although King Cyrus of Persia in his first year as king over Babylon gave permission for the Jews to return and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. A successor, Darius I Hystaspes, gave quite a bit of help to the Jews in their rebuilding efforts. So why was Mordecai still there? And why were so many other Jews still there? The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah both foresaw the downfall of Babylon and the return of the people to Jerusalem and their message, on the authority of the Lord, was, "Come out, come out! Come out of her, my people!" But life back in Judah was difficult and the rebuilding was hard work. In Babylon (now part of the Medo-Persian Empire) the Jews had jobs and homes of their own. Their children received educations. Life was easy and comfortable in Babylon in comparison to life in Judah, especially for those who assimilated into the Persian culture. As we will learn later on in the book of Esther, they had assimilated so well into the culture that King Xerxes was barely aware of the Jews as a separate people. 

We don't know whether the women gathered into Xerxes' harem had any say-so in the matter. In the movie based on the book of Esther, One Night With The King, the commissioners appointed to gather the women simply grab them off the streets. It may have happened this way. It's also possible that fathers of beautiful girls in the nation volunteered their daughters to enter this contest. Marriages were arranged in those days and young women had very little control, if any, in the choice of marriage partners. Fathers may have willingly entered daughters into the contest in the hopes of becoming father-in-law to the king. The women who would not be chosen as queen would remain in the harem for life, being richly provided for by the king even if he never interacted with them again, and there may have been fathers in the land who found this arrangement acceptable for their daughters. 

One young woman in particular is taken into the harem. "Mardecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died. When the king's order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther was also taken to the king's palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem." (Esther 2:7-8) Esther, like Daniel, was known by two names. Her Hebrew name of Hadassah meant "myrtle" and her Persian name of Esther meant "star" or "morning star". It's possible this name is a derivative of that of the pagan goddess Ishtar. 

You may have heard the expression of keeping one foot in the church and one foot in the world. This is the condition of the Jews in Babylon in Esther's day. They have managed to retain some of their religion and heritage and customs, but they have blended these with the worldly ways of the Persians. They have largely remained a separate people as far as marriage goes, but they look and speak and behave much like everyone around them. This is a great danger to us in our own times. When we, as Christians, become indistinguishable from unbelievers, we have compromised our faith. We have stopped swimming against the stream and are going with the flow, which makes us weak. Daniel stood out in Babylon because he never compromised his faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood out in Babylon because they never compromised their faith. They purposed in their hearts to be true to the one true God and that is why we know their names today. Esther will be faced with the same choice they were faced with: does she integrate herself into the culture and remain silent? Or does she step out in faith and be used for a great purpose by a great God? 

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