Esther 2:12-18 - Esther Becomes Queen
Our text this morning is found in Esther 2:12-18. It says,
Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women— when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would 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 the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken 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 winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into 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 women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther's feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity.
Our text can be divided up into four main parts.
The women went through a year long beautifying process
Each woman goes in to see the king
Esther is taken to see the king
The king makes Esther queen
The Women Went Through A Beautifying Process
Esther 2:12-14 explains the details that these women were subjected to in this process. Let’s read Esther 2:12 again and make a few observations. It says, “Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women…”
Notice the phrase ‘to go in to King Ahasuerus’. This is a phrase that is repeated five tines in our text. For example,
Verse 12 - Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus
Verse 13 - ...when the young woman went in to the king in this way
Verse 14 -In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz
Verse 14 - She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.
Verse 15 - When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king...
The verb ‘to go into’ or ‘to enter’ is full of implications. For example, these words can be used within a godly context like we see in Ruth or it can be used in an ungodly context like we see with David.
Ruth 4:13 – So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.
2 Samuel 11:4 – So David sent messengers and took her (Bathsheba), and she came to him, and he lay with her...Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’
When you read about all of these young women who ‘went into’ the king you may read it with a sense of aloofness. I found this to be the case as I initially read this text. It seemed easier for me to view this process as something similar to what we see in the reality show ‘The Bachelor’.
There was part of me that wanted to view it this way because it seemed more palatable to think that these young ladies wanted to be in this situation and they all desired to compete for the grace and favor of the king. The truth is, however, that these women were all in a very difficult situation.
David Strain, in his commentary on Esther reminds us of this when he writes, “The truth is that Esther [and these other young ladies] has been manipulated and abused. Emotionally and psychologically broken, she is a victim...We need to read these words with grief and empathy, recognizing in this story a tale that has been and continues to be repeated all over the world in every culture and in every age...As we take it all in, the ugliness and pain of it, we need to see that despite it all God was at work to build His kingdom.”1
Having said all of this, there is something in our text that is probably meant to awaken us from our aloofness concerning the ungodliness of this situation. We see it in Esther 2:16 when we read these words, “And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace…”.
What comes to your mind when you read those words?
We should think back to Esther 2:8. There we saw that Esther ‘was taken’ from her home and brought to the palace. Again we see that Esther ‘was taken’ from the harem and brought to King Ahasuerus.
The text encourages us to consider these things because Esther 2:5-9 and Esther 2:15-16 parallel each other at many points.
Esther’s lineage are mentioned in both passages.
Esther’s relationship with Mordecai is mentioned in both.
Esther is taken away in both passages
Esther’s beauty and disposition are emphasized in both passages.
Esther quickly wins favor and pleases others in both texts.
Esther is honored and set apart in both texts.
Four years have passed in this process but God is still preserving, keeping, providing and positioning Esther right where she needs to be. The grace that was there in the beginning is still present in Esther’s life. He who began this process will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). Many of our trials not only continue for many years but they also can intensify. All of this can increase a sense of discouragement, despair and depression. As A result we can grow tired and weary in doing the right things under these conditions (Galatians 6:9). These parallels remind us that even though the trial continues the grace and mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:23).
Before we leave verse 12 notice that the emphasis of this year long preparation to see the king is completely based upon the external beauty of a person. We read, “Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women…”
The Persian Kingdom was vast. Every time the king sends out an edict it is sent out in the language of its people; and yet, the emphasis is not that the young ladies are taught to talk in the Persian dialect. We are not told that they taught them queenly manners. We are not told that they spent a year teaching them the laws of the kingdom so that they would not fall in the same way Vashti had. No, we are only told that the emphasis of this process was on the beauty that the woman possessed.
Yet, it is Esther’s inner beauty that keeps winning people over.
1 Peter 3:3-5a– “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves…” In a sense, Esther shows that she is hoping in God when she depends more on the inner graces than upon her external beauty and upon any external thing that she could bring to the king. (15)
The emphasis of Esther 2:12 could not be more clear. A godless and faithless culture will always emphasize the external and not the internal beauty of a person. The more godless our culture becomes the more it will emphasize the external rather than the internal.
Let me take a moment to not simply use the word ‘culture’, or ‘society’, or ‘community’. Let me speak directly to the men and women in this room. Do you put more emphasis on external beauty or upon the internal beauty of a person? Does your heart and mind reflect the values of God and the things that He sees as ‘very precious’; or do you dwell upon the external things?
The Women Go In To See The King
We read, “...when the young woman went in to the king in this way, she was given whatever she desired to take with her from the harem to the king's palace. In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines. She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.”
I will make four observations about verse 13. First, we see that these young women were given whatever they desired to take with them from the harem when they went into the king. Perhaps this would be some article of clothing, some sort of food, or some other object. In a culture that had hyper-sensualized everything you can imagine the different choices that these women would make. However, we will see that Esther is different. We are told, “...she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king's eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised.” (15)
Men are tempted to trust in the size of their armies and women are tempted to trust in their outward beauty or some other thing that may give them an edge, but Esther is willing to take nothing except what Hegai would have her take.
Second, notice the words, ‘In the evening she would go in, and in the morning she would return’. These women went through a years worth of beautification for a 12 hour interview with the king. There was a minimum of 365 days training for a half a day with King Ahasuerus. This was their one and only chance to impress the king. Everything that they had gone through depended upon these 12 short hours. In Esther’s case, she had waited 4 years (1460 days) for this one chance with 12 hours with the king!
I suppose that she could hope that her lot would fall upon a day when the king was kindly disposed towards her. She could hope that she would be taken to the king when he was in a good mood and his heart would be inclined to enjoy her presence. Yet, in times such as this it is far better for us to trust in the sovereign plan of God. To cast all our burdens upon Him and rest in the outcome that He would choose for us (1 Peter 5:7)
Thirdly, notice the words, “...in the morning she would return to the second harem in custody of Shaashgaz, the king's eunuch, who was in charge of the concubines.” At this point in the process there were two types of young ladies. There are those who are in the harem under Hagai who had not been in to see the king; and there are those who are under Shaashgaz who had been with the king. There are those whom the king had never met; and there are those that he had. There are the ladies that were virgins in the harem; and there were those who were now the kings concubines. Some of these concubines may never see the king again.
Fourthly, notice the words, “She would not go in to the king again, unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.” These words are sobering. After these ladies had their time with the king there would be some that he may call back by name, but there would be many that the king would not even remember their name. They would be quickly forgotten about. They would be kept in his harem but they would be forgotten and out of mind. The truth is, they would be like Vashti who would never see the king again. And if they were to come into his presence without being called by him they would be killed (4:11).
There are many young people who will give their purity and their hearts away to a person for the hope of love, commitment and companionship; but like so many of these ladies in our text today it will come to nothing. In the end they will loose their purity over a false hope. Let me encourage us with these words from Hebrews 13:4-6, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
Esther Is Taken To See The King
We read these words in verses 15-16, “When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken 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 winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign...”
We have already covered some of these things in this text but let me make a few observations.
First, notice that this is the first time that we are given the name of Esther's father. His name was Abihail. The deeper Esther becomes involved in this the more she is grounded in her lineage.
Secondly, four years have passed since Esther has been brought to the palace. From the very beginning she has found favor with Hegai and it continues at this point. Even after four years Hegai has not changed his opinion of her. If anything his respect and admiration for her has increased. May our relationships be blessed in this way.
Thirdly, we have seen throughout Esther 1 & 2 that King Ahasuerus has received a lot of bad counsel from those who surrounded him. Esther, however, has been given Hegai who can give her good counsel and sound advice. Esther trusts their advice in very important moments like these when she has this one opportunity to impress the king. She puts the success of this moment into the hands of Hegai.
The King Chooses Esther
We read in verses 17-18, “...the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther's feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity.”
Last week I turned in some samples of water to be tested and I still am waiting for the response. I had thought that the results would come back quickly but that has not been the case. What is happening in Esther is exactly the opposite. When a woman left after seeing the king she probably did not expect to immediately be made queen. They probably left and said to themselves, ‘The king still has 300 more women to see. He will probably make a decision after it is all over.’
Esther, however, had made such an impact upon the king that he immediately chose her to be queen. Keil and Delietzsch write, ‘The meaning evidently is, that the king, immediately after their first meeting, bestowed his affections upon Esther in preference to all the women and maidens, and chose her queen.’
The king became so enchanted with Esther that all of the other women he had been with could not compare with her. The king was so pleased with Esther that he could not possibly image that any woman that he had not seen who had not been brought before him could compare with her. We are told that the king ‘loved Esther more than all the other women’.
I will admit that it is hard for me to celebrate the fact that we are told that the king loved Esther more than all the other women. Is this a love that is worth celebrating? Is this a marriage that we can rejoice in?
When I think of this type of love I think of another passage in 1 Kings 11:1-3 about Solomon. It says, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharoah: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they shall turn turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.”
Having admitted these things, I really do want to appreciate the fact that God’s grace is seen in even this type of situation. Maybe we could say that God’s common grace is seen in this. We have seen that King Ahasuerus loves wine and women. We see a man who has been given over to ungodly appetites and lusts. And yet, we are told that he loves Esther.
Is it a perfect love? No.
Is it a biblical view of love and marriage? No.
Is it a commendable love? No.
Is it a love that sets a good example? No.
Is it a love that reflects God’s perfect will and example? No.
Will Ahasuerus lead Esther spiritually? No
Will Ahasuerus forsake all other women for Esther? No
Will Ahasuerus come home at the end of the day and spend it with Esther? No
Despite all of this, God provide these graces for the benefit of Esther. We saw last week that Esther seemed to be a person who depended more upon the grace of God than the tangible blessings of others. She will need to continue to do this. We all need to look to God as our ultimate provider of grace and necessities. We should be very thankful even for the imperfect expressions of love, grace and favor that we see in others towards us.
A godless world, and a godless culture, will always emphasize the external rather than the internal beauty of a person. Similarly, a religious culture, or a religious person, will always tend to look upon the external and not the internal condition of the heart. A biblical perspective will always look at the beauty of the inward person and not the external. It will always be drawn more by the grace of God than by the circumstances around them.
These women were given the choice to take anything that they wanted when they went to see the king. Consider all the things that they may have brought in the hopes that it might please Ahasuerus. Some may have brought things that worked and others brought things that the king would have thrown aside. I bet they all brought the best gifts.
It is so easy to think that we can one day bring our best gifts to God and that He will find favor in them and then receive us. Yet, we can bring nothing other than faith and trust in Christ to please the LORD. Esther trusted Hegai, why would we not trust Christ who has given us so many graces? Why would we not trust Christ who gave His life for us?
How can we become better at seeing the grace of God in the words and actions of those around us even though it is always tainted with imperfections and often these graces can seem so small and insignificant. [One helpful thing to consider is found in the book of Job. Job always looked past the good and the bad in people and in the circumstances to see a sovereign God behind it all. If God gives us good we should receive it with thanksgiving. If God allows bad to happen we should entrust ourselves to Him. Circumstances and people are His means to do His work in our lives.]
1David Strain, Ruth and Esther, p.101