Esther 1:1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush.
The book of Esther is named after a Jewish girl who became the queen of Persia, and delivered her people from a plot to destroy them. The author is not identified, but probably wrote from Persia, around 460 BC, to explain the origin of the festival of Purim. The book of Esther is unique because it does not mention God by name. Instead, it highlights his providential care in a series of remarkable coincidences. From Esther we learn that even when God is silent, he is caring for his people.
Esther 1:10-12 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded . . . to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
The King and Queen were hosting separate banquets when Xerxes decided to parade his beautiful wife before his many guests. By refusing to comply, Vashti disrespected her husband, and publicly embarrassed him. The king consulted his advisors, and they recommended Vashti be removed from her position, so women everywhere would not disrespect their husbands.
High position comes with responsibility, and a single misstep can cause a fall. We might imagine life is better near the top, but many have found this is not always so. Instead of envying people above us, we ought to cultivate contentment, for godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6), wrote Paul.
Esther 2:2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king.
These were added to his harem so that he might have his choice among many. Esther had a lovely figure and was beautiful (Esther 2:7), so she was also added to the king’s harem. After a year of beauty treatments, she slept with the king (Esther 2:14), and he preferred her over the others. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esther 2:17).
Esther appears to have gained her royal position through moral compromise. The Bible does not condemn or condone her behavior, but simply states the facts. It is never right to disobey God, of course, but God is so great that he is able to bring good out of evil—even the evil of our sin. This is not a reason to sin, of course, but a reason to glorify God who always works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
Esther 3:1 After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.
Haman was a descendent of Agag, king of the Amalekites, an ancient enemy of Israel. By the order of King Xerxes, people were to honor Haman by kneeling in his presence. Esther’s cousin (Mordecai) refused to kneel because of the ancient hostility, or because he thought such honor was due to God alone. Mordecai was also Esther’s guardian, having raised her after her parents died (Esther 2:7).
Honor was important to Haman, and when he learned that Mordecai was a Jew, he determined to kill all the Jews in the kingdom (Esther 3:6), not just Mordecai. Since Esther had not revealed her Jewish ethnicity, Haman unknowingly set in motion a plan that, if carried out, would kill the king’s wife.
Esther may have planned to hide her ethnicity, but Mordecai urged her to go directly to the king. This was complicated since, on pain of death, no one was allowed into the king’s presence without an invitation—including the king’s wife (Esther 4:11). Exceptions were made, but it was risky.
Mordecai said to her, Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:13-14).
Esther could do the right thing, and possibly die, or she could do the wrong thing, and possibly die. Neither option was agreeable, but perhaps God made her queen for this very occasion. She was entrusted by God with high position, and dare not fail now. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48), said Jesus.
Reflection and Review
Was Vashti wrong to disobey her husband?
Should Esther have slept with the king before they were married?
Why is the world such a dangerous place?