Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Queen Esther: A Destiny Fulfilled. Day 5, Esther Wins The Crown

Queen Esther:
A Destiny Fulfilled
Day 5
Esther Wins The Crown

Esther has been brought to the citadel of Susa and the Lord gives her a special grace in the eyes of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the virgins recently brought into the harem. "She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king's palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem." (Esther 2:9) 

We don't know what it was specifically about Esther's character that endeared her to the eunuch. She may have had a humility of spirit because of her relationship to the Lord. She might have been kinder and more respectful to him than the other young ladies were. Or it could be that the Lord had spoken to Hegai's spirit, letting him know this was the one destined to be chosen Queen of Persia.

"Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her." (Esther 2:10-11) Perhaps the Lord had spoken to Mordecai's heart too, and he had an inkling Esther would be chosen as the next queen, but he feared she would be disqualified if the king realized she was a Jew. The land of Babylon was filled with people of various cultures because of all the nations Nebuchadnezzar had conquered, so the men commissioned by Xerxes to round up the beautiful young women would have known the group contained women of various backgrounds. But Mordecai didn't want anything to prejudice the women of the harem, the eunuchs, or the king against Esther. He wanted her to have the best shot possible at winning the crown.

We don't know whether the fathers and guardians of the other young ladies were concerned enough about them to lurk outside the courtyard, but no one questions Mordecai about his behavior. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, an ancient Jewish writer and philosopher, suggests that Mordecai's high position in the king's court allowed him to hang around the palace grounds without appearing suspicious. Mordecai's care and concern for Esther are displayed in his daily trips to the courtyard. I think she was on his mind and in his prayers every hour of the day and night. 

"Before a young woman's turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatment prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics." (Esther 2:12) The women of ancient Persia wore makeup, used dyes and stains, and adorned themselves with scented oils and perfumes. The young ladies brought into the harem were trained in the application of these cosmetics so that, whether chosen as queen or simply appearing in the king's entourage as part of the harem, all of them would look their best. They were trained to enhance all their best features. Some scholars suggest that twelve months had to be fulfilled before any of the girls went to the king in case any of them had been unchaste and was pregnant when brought into the harem. This would relieve the king of the risk of providing for a child that was not his.

"And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name." (Esther 2:13-14) A Persian harem was divided into three sections. The most exclusive section was for the queen and her attendants. The second section was for concubines, who were legal wives but of lesser status than the queen. (Generally, the son of a concubine could not be heir to the throne unless the queen was unable to bear a son.) The third section was for virgins brought into the harem who had not yet been with the king. This is where Esther and her companions were housed and, after each one has been called to spend a night with the king, she was then sent to the second section where the concubines lived. Some commentators have criticized Esther for spending her night with the king, as if she was a loose and immoral woman, but we have to keep in mind that a concubine was a legal wife and she would have been considered married to the king. She was not having relations with him outside of marriage. Polygamy is not God's pattern for marriage but it was widely practiced by wealthy men in the ancient world, and Esther was not living in sin when she went to the king. She was a victim of the society she lived in and if anyone was guilty of sinful living, it was Xerxes, not Esther.

"When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her." (Esther 2:15) The Bible doesn't tell us what Esther asked for. Presumably she was free to choose any finery and jewels she wanted, but maybe Hegai advised her to keep it simple. It would have been natural for these ladies to want to stand out as much as possible and to adorn themselves with all the costly clothing and jewels they could, but Hegai may have had an idea that Esther would stand out more if she did the opposite. Then her own natural beauty could shine through.

"She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality." (Esther 2:16-18) Each girl who went to the king had to hope she impressed him enough that he would either choose her as queen or at least remember her name and call for her again at sometime in the future. Xerxes had no trouble remembering Esther's name. There was something about her that impressed him right away, and it could be because she had an inner beauty of the spirit, the type the Apostle Peter praised, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:3-4) I don't think there's anything sinful about taking care of ourselves and looking nice, but outward beauty is of little worth if there is no inner beauty. Outward beauty fades as time marches on. If we are not of good character on the inside, what are we left with? 

God says there is a beauty that never fades. There is a beauty that will never need the nip and tuck of a plastic surgeon. There is a beauty that is invaluable in the eyes of God (and in the eyes of every godly husband). This is the beauty of good character, of a gentle spirit that ministers to others, of a quiet and calming personality that comes from trusting fully in the Lord. This type of beauty only grows as time passes. The world places value only on young, beautiful, and sexually alluring women. The world says that as we age we become less useful. But the world couldn't be more wrong. In the eyes of God there is nothing more beautiful than a godly woman who is mature in the faith and confident of who she is in Christ. 

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