After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king’s servants who attended him said, ‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in the citadel of Susa under the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.’ This pleased the king, and he did so.
Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away. Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in the custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in the custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. The girl pleased him and won his favour, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem. Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. Every day Mordecai would walk around in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared.
The turn came for each girl to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their cosmetic treatment, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics for women. When the girl went in to the king she was given whatever she asked for to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she went in; then in the morning she came back to the second harem in the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines; she did 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 daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had adopted 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 admired by all who saw her. When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus in 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 other women; of all the virgins she won his favour and devotion, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great banquet to all his officials and ministers—‘Esther’s banquet.’ He also granted a holiday to the provinces, and gave gifts with royal liberality.
Given that this story made it into the Bible, we could have guessed from the outset that Esther was going to win the king’s heart. Nevertheless, it’s worth paying attention to the details too.
The care with which Esther and Mordecai’s lineage is established underlines the significance of their roles in the story of God’s people. It also gives us the background to the story and in particular explains why there was a significant Jewish population in and around Susa at the time.
At the same time it highlights the lengths to which God went to to put the right individual in the right place at the right time. Not that either Esther or Mordecai realised that until later in the story. Neither would they have seen at the time that the outcome of the process of choosing a new queen was preordained. That could only come with hindsight.
That’s where faith comes in. We need a lot of faith to live as God’s people, in the here and now, believing that God has put us in the right place at each stage of our journey. We need faith that God will guide us day by day, so that God’s purposes are accomplished, even though we don’t necessarily know the parts that God intends us to play. Sometimes we can see God’s hand in our lives in retrospect, but often we simply have to trust that God is at the helm.
One of the things that can build our faith is to see how God has worked in the lives of others. So why not take time to read the whole of Esther’s story and try to see it unfolding through her eyes, or Mordecai’s and reflect on the work of the God, who is not even mentioned in the book.
Living and loving God, Today we offer ourselves afresh for your purposes. Help us to trust in you and to listen for your guidance. We ask that day by day you will show us the next step in our journey. Give us a sure and certain hope, that engenders the confidence and the courage to follow you. Thanks be to God Amen.
The Rev’d Jacky Embrey, Bolton and Salford Missional Partnership