1 - 4 Proposal for a New Queen
1 After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king’s attendants, who served him, said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. 3 Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their cosmetics be given [them]. 4 Then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti.” And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.
Verse 1 connects to the previous section, without taking into account the time elapsed. Reference is made back to the anger of King Ahasuerus (Est 1:12) which is now said to be subsided. Then we are told what is going on in his mind. In his mind there are three things that, like his anger, took place in the previous chapter and have been described there. He thinks
1. of Vashti,
2. of what she has done, and
3. of what’s been decided about her.
This again determines that a vacuum, a vacancy for a queen, has arisen. The story that follows is connected to that. Without any question from the king, the attendants come with an advice (verses 2-4). That advice consists of three parts:
1. Let girls be searched for who are virgins and beautiful to behold.
2. Gather those girls and give them a beauty treatment.
3. The one girl out of all those girls that is pleasing in his eyes should become queen instead of Vashti.
In this advice we see an ascent. First a selection is made out of all the girls in his kingdom and from that selection comes the one girl who is chosen by Ahasuerus as queen.
The word for “attendants” literally means “youngsters”. That word highlights that there is a new generation, the beginning of a new situation, and a new queen. The attendants advise the king to take something new and more beautiful instead of what he has lost, in order to forget the past.
From a prophetic and typological point of view, we see in the king’s longing the longing of God for a people on earth that belongs to Him and that is entirely devoted to Him. When the church is taken away, He will find a new people after His heart on earth, begotten by Himself. He will find these people in the future remnant of Israel. Esther is a type or example of this.
In the proposal to find a new queen some recommendations are made. For example, Ahasuerus is recommended by the attendants
1. to appoint overseers to gather the girls,
2. that those girls are entrusted to a caretaker and custodian, and
3. that the gathered girls receive a beauty treatment (verse 3).
Girls are selected with care from everywhere. The girls who possibly qualify to become queen, are chosen and treated with care.
In this we see God’s care in proclaiming the gospel to draw people from the world to Himself. People who have accepted the gospel are further cared for by gifts that the Lord Jesus has given, so that they will fulfill the purpose that He has with them: to please Him. We see this in the service of Paul and his fellow ministers: “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me” (Col 1:28-29).
The efforts to please this king are an example to us. We are also prepared and used to please our Lord. Are we therefore as diligent as we have been in this history and as Paul? Do we bring the gospel and do we care for those who have accepted it?
5 - 7 Mordecai and Esther
5 [Now] there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite, 6 who had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the captives who had been exiled with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had exiled. 7 He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.
At this point in the story two new persons are portrayed in an intermediate part (verses 5-7). This insertion shows us who God is about to put forward for the fulfilment of the advice of the attendants in the previous verses. They are Mordecai and Esther. Together with Ahasuerus they will play a leading role in the history of God’s people.
In verse 5 Mordecai is first introduced to us. However, before his name is mentioned, it is first said that he is “a Jew”. This emphasizes him being a Jew. That Mordecai he is a Jew is further shown by his genealogy. He is a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin who was brought by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylon with the exiles from Jerusalem with Jeconiah, the king of Judah (verse 6).
The fact that he was taken away with Jeconiah makes it easy to say that he could not have been taken away personally from Jerusalem with the exiles. In that case he would have been about one hundred and twenty years old in the seventh year of Ahasuerus. This is very unlikely, also in view of the age of his young and attractive cousin Esther. However, he is so attached to his ancestors as a Jew that what happened to them is stated here as it happened to himself. Their history is his history, their pain of being taken away is his pain.
In verse 7 the other new person, Esther, appears who will also play a leading role in this book, in close relationship with the just presented protagonist Mordecai. That close relationship is shown in the beginning of verse 7, where we read: “It was he who raised Hadassa, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle”. She also emphasizes her Jewishness by first mentioning her Jewish name, Hadassa, and only then her Persian name, Esther. Her Jewish identity is also apparent from the mention of her family relationship with Mordecai. She is his cousin.
Halfway through verse 7 the gaze is completely focused on Esther, on her beautiful stature and her handsome appearance. However, immediately after this, her close relationship with Mordecai is pointed out again, who “took her as his own daughter”, because “her father and her mother died”. Her past is dead, cut off. In this situation she is completely dependent on Mordecai’s mercy and care. In this way she has been accepted, albeit in secret, by the LORD (cf. Psa 27:10).
God shows Himself in this care through Mordecai, behind the scenes, “a father of the fatherless” (Psa 68:6). In Mordecai’s care for the education of Esther we see the care of the Lord Jesus, of whom Mordecai is a picture, for the faithful remnant, of whom Esther is a picture. Esther owes her life to him and therefore also her exaltation to queen.
Things that we say happen to us as misfortune are things that God controls and uses for our benefit. Circumstances related to our birth are not determined or chosen by us. We cannot choose our parents or the country or the date of our birth. Nor can we bring about our birth ourselves. What we can say is that God had our salvation in mind with the circumstances of our birth. For that we must thank Him.
Esther’s original name is Hadassa, which means ‘myrtle’. The myrtle tree occurs in connection with the Feast of Booths (Neh 8:15-16), a feast that refers to the realm of peace under the rule of the Messiah (Isa 41:19; 55:12-13). The fact that her parents gave her that name says something of their faith in the restoration of God’s people.
8 - 9 Esther under the Custody of Hegai
8 So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to the citadel of Susa into the custody of Hegai, that Esther was taken to the king’s palace into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. 9 Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem.
After the introduction of Mordecai and Esther, history continues with the execution of “the command and decree of the king” (verse 8). Many girls are gathered to the citadel of Susa. They all come into the custody of Hegai. Among those girls is also Esther. Our attention will be focused on her in this section. She is, like all the other girls, in the citadel of Susa, but it is said of her that she is taken “to the king’s palace”.
Esther attracts the special attention of Hegai (verse 9). She “pleased him and found favor with him”. Where that comes from is not told. He makes an effort, and does so in haste, to give her everything that can make her the king’s ‘favorite’. He gives her cosmetics for her external care and food for her internal care.
He also gives her “seven choice maids from the king’s palace” to get her used to the atmosphere of the king’s house, as it were. Together with her girls he transfers “her and her maids to the best place in the harem”, perhaps a kind of porch of the royal palace, with a view of the palace. Everything serves to bring her into the atmosphere of the palace and to prepare her for a stay in the palace with the king.
We can see Hegai as a picture of the Holy Spirit, Who continues to prepare the remnant, of which Esther is a picture, so that it can respond to the wishes of the heart of God. The Holy Spirit also does everything He can to bring us, who belong to the Lord Jesus and live in a world hostile to God, into harmony with Him Whose interest is constantly focused on us.
The acquisition of favor or grace in the eyes of hostile rulers standing above them is seen in Joseph (Gen 39:2,21) and Daniel (Dan 1:9). With Joseph and Daniel and his friends it is said that it is God Who grants the favor. This is not the case with Esther for the known reason – the absence of the Name of God in this book. However, it is clear that God works this in her case. Another similarity between Esther and Joseph and Daniel (and his friends) is that they are all said to be handsome (Est 2:7; Gen 39:6; Dan 1:4,15).
If we are faithful in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it will be visible in us. Faithful people show something of Christ, which gets the respect of the people around them. Faithful people are ‘handsome in stature’. Their way of life shows characteristics that arouse admiration, even among those who are hostile to them. Our surroundings can try anything to silence us, but they cannot ignore our way of life. It is the intention of the Spirit that “Christ is formed” (Gal 4:19) in us. When that happens, real beauty will be seen in our lives and everyone will notice it.
10 - 11 Esther and Mordecai
10 Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make [them] known. 11 Every day Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.
These verses say a little more about the relationship between Esther and Mordecai. Esther hid her people and her lineage because Mordecai commanded her to do so (verse 10). The emphasis is on Esther’s obedience to Mordecai. Here we see her mind toward Mordecai. Then in verse 11 we see the opposite, the mind of Mordecai toward Esther. His concern is for her. His thoughts are with her. He wants to know how she is doing. He also wants to know what will happen to her. That he is a Jew is known (Est 3:4); that she is a Jewess is not known.
Her ancestry must remain hidden. This secret fits completely in the history of this book. It should not be known that the woman who is nominated to become the new queen is a Jewess. Only when history reaches its climax, may and must this secret also be revealed. It is like the announcement of Joseph to his brothers that also only happens when the climax of the brothers’ exercises of faith is reached (Gen 45:1-4).
The care in the background of Mordecai for Esther is a beautiful picture of what Christ does for His own who are brought up in the school of the Holy Spirit. Christ constantly thinks of His own and continually commits Himself to them, without acting openly on their behalf (Heb 7:25b). He wants us to grow and show spiritual beauty, that is, to show His features.
This is how it will be with the remnant in the last days. Although He still hides Himself, He does not abandon them, but is committed to them while they are in need. We see this beautifully illustrated in the storm on the lake: while the disciples are in need, He went up the mountain to pray (Mt 14:23-24).
12 - 14 Preparations to Come to the King
12 Now when the turn of each young lady came to go in to King Ahasuerus, after the end of her twelve months under the regulations for the women—for the days of their beautification were completed as follows: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and the cosmetics for women— 13 the young lady would go in to the king in this way: anything that she desired was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go in and in the morning she would return to the second harem, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.
Verses 12-13 inform us about the general preparations of a girl before she, when it is her turn, can come to the king. The duration of the beauty treatment is “twelve months”, divided into two periods of “six months” (verse 12). The first six months the girl is treated, rubbed in, with oil of myrrh. The second six months she is treated with numerous unspecified spices and cosmetics.
For the first six months, the candidate queen is only treated with myrrh oil. Myrrh is a pleasantly scented resin and can have a bitter, but also a sweet taste. Myrrh is extracted from various types of trees and obtained by incising them. So the tree is injured. At very high desert temperatures, the softened resin seeps out by itself. In biblical times myrrh is a symbol of suffering and death [Source: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirre].
With this in mind the following can be said regarding the spiritual meaning of oil of myrrh. The word ‘myrrh’ comes from a word that means ‘bitter’. In Scripture myrrh always speaks of the suffering of Christ and the pleasant fragrance that has risen from His suffering to God (cf. Eph 5:2). In the treatment with oil of myrrh in preparation for the meeting with the king there is an important spiritual application. It speaks of the fact that nothing is so important for our spiritual growth as to occupy ourselves with the suffering of Christ under the guidance of God’s Spirit, of Whom the oil speaks.
The number six of the “six months” in which the oil of myrrh is applied is the number of man created on the sixth day (Gen 1:26-31; cf. Rev 13:18). Because we are human beings, we need the Holy Spirit, of Whom the oil speaks, to be able to occupy ourselves with the sufferings of Christ.
This will awaken the desire to suffer with Him and for Him, and thus to become like Him, even to be identified with Him in His suffering (cf. Phil 3:10-11). This, of course, does not apply to His suffering with respect to the atonement of our sins. That suffering is unique and we cannot share in it. However, there is another form of suffering and that is suffering because of faithfulness to Him and His Word (1Pet 4:13-14). In the picture Esther is made familiar with this suffering.
Then there is that second period of six months. It is necessary to try out all kinds of spices and cosmetics in order to discover which ones suit her best and accentuate her beauty the most. She can then make a conscious choice to take the right means from the harem to the king’s palace (verse 13). This is where her responsibility lies. She decides what she will take with her to impress the king, so that his choice will fall on her to take her as queen.
The following can be said about the spiritual meaning of this second period as a sequel to the first period. In the first period the foundation has been laid. That period is – spiritually applied – entirely dedicated to being engaged in the suffering of Christ that can only be presented to us through the Holy Spirit. Then follows a second period. That period serves to make the right choices that accentuate the beauty of the believer he has thanks to and in Christ.
Each believer has particular characteristics, shows a different glory of Christ, has his own gift in which Christ becomes visible. In order to find out what those characteristics are, the believer must engage in the various glories of Christ. If he studies the Scriptures for the purpose of getting to know Christ better, the result will become visible in his life.
Everything happens in view of our meeting with the Lord Jesus. If we think that we will see Him (1Jn 3:2b-3), it will determine our lives in the choices we make. The wrong things, things that prevent us from showing His features in us, will disappear. For example, we are decorating ourselves with the “clothes of righteousness”. We prepare those clothes on earth, but it will appear in heaven that He has given it to us (Rev 19:7-8).
Verse 14 gives us a further look at the rules for the royal women. A girl called by the king is with him during the night. She goes to the king in the evening and returns in the morning. Then she goes to “the second harem” and comes “to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines”. This means that she is degraded to the rank of concubine and will never go back to the king unless he calls her by her name.
15 - 18 Esther Becomes Queen
15 Now when the turn of Esther, the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai who had taken her as his daughter, came to go in to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the women, advised. And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16 So Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus to his royal palace in the tenth month which is the month Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. 17 The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his princes and his servants; he also made a holiday for the provinces and gave gifts according to the king’s bounty.
When it is Esther’s turn to come to the king, she does not take advantage of her freedom to take anything she wishes (verse 13). She will have been filled with only one thought: “How do I make the best impression on the king?” This makes us think about whether we are dealing with just one question: “How am I and do I live most to the glory of my Lord and Savior?”
Although Esther is completely free in the choice of her clothes and decorations, she decides to take only what Hegai says to her (verse 15). Here we see again, as before with respect to Mordecai (verse 10), her surrender to someone on whom she depends. It is a voluntary surrender.
We surrender ourselves completely to what the Holy Spirit makes clear to us from God’s Word how we can please God. Esther entrusts herself to someone she knows to have the best for her and knows better than she what is good for her stay with the king. That attitude of modesty and submission is an ornament (cf. 1Pet 3:3-5), through which she “found favor in the eyes of all who saw her”.
The fact that she does not want to take anything but what Hegai says to her is her own choice. Until now others have decided about her. There is a power that directs the event, but there is also an action of her own. In verse 16 again she is dealt with. She is taken to the king. That’s not a choice, that happens to her.
The difference with the other girls is also shown by the fact that only her meeting with the king is dated. This also shows her special exaltation above the masses. The meeting with the king takes place in the “seventh year of reign” of king Ahasuerus, i.e. four years after the deposition of Vashti.
That she trusts Hegai completely, has as a result that the king prefers her over all other girls (verse 17). God has made Esther beautiful, her beauty comes from Him and He directs the king to choose her. Without any desire on the part of Esther, she becomes the king’s favorite wife. We see here that God’s election is separate from any question on the part of man.
The king’s choice is explained in many different ways:
1. his love for her is greater than for any other woman,
2. she obtains from him more favor and kindness than all the other girls,
3. he sets the royal crown on her head and
4. finally makes her queen instead of Vashti.
This is where Vashti is mentioned for the last time. She disappears from history. Her place is taken by Esther.
The king organizes another great banquet for all his princes and his servants. This time it is not about showing his glory (Est 1:3), but showing the new queen. This banquet is even literally called “Esther’s banquet”.
19 - 20 Again Mordecai and Esther
19 When the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. 20 Esther had not yet made known her kindred or her people, even as Mordecai had commanded her; for Esther did what Mordecai told her as she had done when under his care.
The translation of verse 19 may also read: “In connection with the bringing of the girls, in the second place, Mordecai was at the gate”. The “second” has to do with verses 10-11. There the first information about the relationship between Mordecai and Esther is given, after in the previous verses 8-9 there is also talk about the gathering of girls. Now, after a second part about girls (verses 12-18), for the second time an announcement is given about the relationship between Mordecai and Esther.
The first announcement shows a restless Mordecai who wants to know what happens to Esther (verse 11). Now that Mordecai knows what happens to Esther, he can quietly sit down in the gate again. The new message about Esther connects to this (verse 20). In the first message it says that Esther does not reveal her people and her ancestry, because Mordecai commanded her to do so (verse 10). In this second message it says the same thing, but the other way around, that she did not tell her ancestry and her people, also with the message that Mordecai commanded her.
The message about Esther concludes by saying that she continues to obey Mordecai when she is queen, just as she obeyed him when he raised her. Her position has changed, her mind not. How important this is, we will see in the continuation of history.
In practical terms, however, there is a lesson to be learned for all those who have grown up in simple circumstances and have risen to high social positions. Let them never renounce their origins and continue to honor their parents!
21 - 23 Mordecai Discovers a Conspiracy
21 In those days, while Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s officials from those who guarded the door, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. 22 But the plot became known to Mordecai and he told Queen Esther, and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name. 23 Now when the plot was investigated and found [to be so], they were both hanged on a gallows; and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king’s presence.
Mordecai has regained his usual place, “at the king’s gate” (verse 21). This enables him to discover the conspiracy of the king’s officials. The officials are mentioned by name and their function is also communicated. It seems that they are a kind of bodyguard of the king who have easy access to him.
Why they become “angry” with the king, so angry that they want to kill him, is not told. Also the way in which Mordecai finds out about their plans is not mentioned. This is not important for the course of history. What matters is that Mordecai becomes aware of their plan, what he does with it and what the king does when he hears about it through Esther.
As a loyal subject, Mordecai reports the conspiracy to the king through Esther. Esther talks to the king about Mordecai, whose name is written down in a book. We may speak to God about the Lord Jesus, about what He has done. This is recorded and remains forever before God’s face.
By reporting the discovered conspiracy, Mordecai shows that he is seeking the peace of the city to which he has been banished (Jer 29:7) and that he remains faithful to the established authority. He guards for the honor and welfare of the king. This is how the Lord Jesus acted on earth for the honor of His Father. In His life He has always maintained the rights of God. He has stood up for this and has not allowed Himself to be deprived of them.
It is no opportunity for Mordecai to get rid of an oppressor. Here again we see a similarity with the histories of Joseph and Daniel. Mordecai shows the same attitude of helpfulness as we see with Joseph towards Pharaoh and with Daniel towards Nebuchadnezzar. The case is investigated and turns out to be correct. The two conspirators are hanged.
Then the case is written down, without any further word being heard by Mordecai. His deed is not (yet) rewarded. In the same way, Joseph is forgotten by the cupbearer, as is the wise man who delivered a city through his wisdom (Gen 40:23; Ecc 9:14-15).
The writing down of deeds in a book we have learned from God. He records everything and will judge everything in His time according to what is written in the books. God forgets nothing, He has a divine archive. The Lord Jesus comes and has His reward with Him to reward all that has been done for Him, for He forgets nothing (Mal 3:16; Mt 10:42; Rev 22:12; Heb 11:26). God’s time comes to reward Mordecai. God’s time will also come to make the Lord Jesus appear in public glory, so that He will be openly honored.