Esther: Steps in Spirit Warfare
The Search for a New Queen -Esther 2:1-8
Why did King Ahasuerus wait four years to replace Vashti? Perhaps it's because soon after her rebellion, he went to war against Greece, a long trek and combat prolonged by traveling on foot and wooden ship, and fighting one-on-one. His strong, well-organized military made deep inroads into the Grecian city-states, though, and he returned to Susa somewhat the victor. With his anger quelled, Ahasuerus was ready to choose a new queen.
Although the king ruled strictly, the government of Persia was extremely fair with its citizens. In that spirit King Ahasuerus opened the contest for queen to all beautiful young virgins from across his entire realm, regardless of their family trees or national origins. Overseers appointed in every province located the most desirable women as candidates.
God's summon to salvation is just as encompassing. He extends His call to every land, people and tongue. The Holy Spirit tests each heart by giving it spiritual light in ways particular to the individual whom He is calling. The receptive heart may be compared to a 'beautiful' virgin, one who hears and listens. And yet in this very context comes this gleaning word from Jesus, "Many are called, but few are chosen."
Each girl brought to Susa was put under the care of Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the harem for virgins. Judging from the king's edict that men were to speak in the tongue of their own province, Persia had no law that mandated a common language. Therefore, many languages and dialects must have been represented in the harem as the young women began arriving from as far away as India to the east and Ethiopia to the west.
What a huge responsibility for Hegai! While hardly being able to communicate with many of the young women, he had to give each candidate special cosmetics for preparing herself to meet King Ahasuerus. Hegai also had to explain how to use them and to outline harem expectations. Maybe palace staff who originated from across the realm were assigned to the women according to native language, so they could translate Hegai's instructions.
However it worked, the young women had to understand the expectations for their purification that would take a whole year. The first six months they used oil of myrrh, then for six more months continued their beautification using spices and other cosmetics. While the Bible doesn't say so, the young women surely needed to learn palace protocols and how to approach the king, too. No wonder their preparation took so long!
Hidden For Greatness
Almost in the shadow of the palace at Susa lived a certain beauty who was among those chosen for the harem. Her Hebrew name was Hadassah, but later she took the Persian name, Esther. Orphaned as a young girl, she was adopted by Mordecai, her older first cousin, who took her as his daughter.
About their lives, several items are worthy of notice:
- Both Mordecai and Esther were descendants of Jews exiled from Judah by Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians sieged Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
- However degenerate Judah's religious practices had been, during exile her people retained God's laws, commandments and teachings in their collective memory and practice.
- The prophet Jeremiah had told the Jews to settle into the places where they were exiled for 70 years, to build homes, marry, raise families and, above all, to promote their own welfare by seeking the welfare of the place where God had sent them.
- One year after Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon, God moved him to decree that the Jews could return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, just as Jeremiah had prophesied.
- Evidently Esther's and Mordecai's family was among the many Jewish families that chose not to pull up roots and return to Israel during Cyrus' reign.
So here we see Esther, a Hebrew young lady beautiful in form and face, taken into the king's harem at Susa among the other queen candidates who were called. The significance of that call is the subject of the next article of this series, in which we shall look parenthetically at the parable of the Sower and the Seed. Then we'll resume looking at the distinguishing features of Esther's life that made a difference in bringing her to the position of being chosen.