Scripture reading – Esther 2; Esther 3

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Our first Bible study from the Book of Esther introduced four key characters: Ahasuerus, king of Persia (also known as Xerxes in the Scriptures and history). He reigned over Persia for 21 years (486 to 465 BC). Vashti, queen of Persia, was banished from the kingdom when she refused to be paraded in front of men at a drunken feast (Esther 1).

There is a gap of several years between Esther 1 and Esther 2. The events recorded in Esther 1 occurred during the third year of Ahasuerus’ reign as the king of Persia (Esther 1:3), while the setting of Esther 2 was during the seventh year of Ahasuerus’ reign (Esther 2:16). The Scriptures do not record the events that occurred during those four years. However, secular history does enlighten us, and we know that Ahasuerus waged a campaign against a confederacy of Greek city-states that became the Greek Empire.

King Ahasuerus suffered a loss, and his Persian navy was destroyed. He retreated to his palace in Shushan, defeated and discouraged.

 

Esther 2

 

A Despairing King (Esther 2:1-7)

“After these things,” Ahasuerus returned to his palace and “remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her” (Esther 2:1). The word “remembered” means that his memory of her burned in his heart. The king returned home, not to celebratory parades, but to a humbled nation. Passing through the gilded doors of his palace, “he remembered Vashti” and his rash decree (Esther 2:1).  

The king’s servants realized the king’s loneliness and suggested a search for “fair young virgins” to fill the void left by Vashti’s departure. So, the search for a queen began in earnest as the most desirable maidens of the realm were gathered. The search set in motion a series of events that would eventually propel a Jewish maiden named Hadassah from anonymity to the throne of Persia (Esther 2:2-4)

A Despairing King

A Jewish Virgin Who Became Queen (Esther 2:1-7)

Some 50,000 people of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah had returned to Israel (Ezra 1); however, many Jews chose to remain in Babylon, and among them was a Jewish man named Mordecai (Esther 2:5-7). He was a powerful, influential citizen of Shushan and had taken into his household Hadassah [Hebrew for “myrtle or fragrance”], whose Persian name was Esther [meaning “star”]. Mordecai adopted her as his daughter after the premature deaths of her parents (Esther 2:7). While the deaths of her parents were tragic, we will see that Esther being adopted by Mordecai was part of God’s sovereign, providential plan for her life. Esther was blessed with beauty, and her life and testimony serve as a lasting testimony of God’s grace.

 

A Royal Marriage and a Wedding Feast (Esther 2:8-20)

Esther’s beauty and humble demeanor gained her favor with “Hegai, keeper of the women” [i.e., the king’s harem, Esther 2:8]. We read: “Out of the king’s house: [Hegai] preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the house of the women” (Esther 2:9). As discreet as she was beautiful, Esther obeyed Mordecai and did not reveal to any that she was Jewish (Esther 2:10, 20).

Loving and mindful of the possible peril in which Esther found herself, Mordecai “walked every day before the court of the women’s house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her” (Esther 2:11). After twelve months of purification (Esther 2:12), the king summoned each maiden to his chamber (Esther 2:13). Still, the king found no delight in any of the women (Esther 2:14).

A Royal Marriage and a Wedding Feast

Esther’s beauty and humble demeanor, however, had “obtained [her] favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her” (Esther 2:15). When she was called before Ahasuerus (Esther 2:16), we read, “The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:17).

Esther’s crowning as the queen of Persia was celebrated by the king and the leaders of his realm (Esther 2:18-19). Nevertheless, Esther honored the wisdom of her elder, Mordecai, and did not reveal her Jewish heritage to any (Esther 2:20).

 

Mordecai’s Intervention to Save the King’s Life (2:18-23)

Esther 2 concluded with Mordecai sitting “in the king’s gate,” where he learned of a plot to assassinate the king. By giving Esther the names of the insurgents, she endeared Mordecai to the king (Esther 2:22), and his loyalty was recorded “in the book of the chronicles before the king” (Esther 2:23).

 

Closing thought for Esther 2 –

Esther experienced the deaths of her father and mother, and her life might have been defined by bitterness. Instead, she chose to accept the LORD’s will with grace and submission. Her beauty and humility provided a path for the LORD to promote her to serve Him as the Queen of Persia.

 

Esther 3

 

Notice that Esther 3 begins with the phrase “After these things” (Esther 3:1), giving us pause to consider what “things” preceded Esther 3.

The closing verses of Esther 2 record a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus (Esther 2:21a). Mordecai, having learned of the plot, informed Esther, who then went to the king (Esther 2:22). An inquisition was made into the matter, resulting in the two conspirators being hanged (Esther 2:23).

Haman was a political opportunist

So, it was “after these things” that the king promoted “Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him” (Esther 3:1). The cause for Haman’s promotion was not given; however, we learn he was an Amalekite by birth, and of royal lineage (“Agagite” was the title of Amalekite kings, Numbers 24:7).

Consumed by public adoration, Haman proved to be a political opportunist who would stop at nothing to advance his political interests. Second only to the king, Ahasuerus commanded all the people of his realm to bow and reverence Haman (Esther 3:2). One man, however, would not violate his integrity and refused to bow to Haman: “Mordecai bowed not, nor did him [Haman] reverence” (Esther 3:2).

 

Confrontation: A Wicked Opportunist vs. A Man of Integrity (Esther 3:3-6) 

“All of the king’s servants… reverenced Haman” as the king commanded, with one exception: “Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence” (Esther 3:2). The king’s servants noticed Mordecai’s unbowed posture, and demanded, “Why transgressest thou the king’s commandment?” (Esther 3:3). Mordecai’s refusal to bow to Haman continued until he was provoked to tell the king’s servants “that he was a Jew” (Esther 3:4).

When Haman learned that Mordecai refused to bow and pay him reverence, he was “full of wrath” (Esther 3:5). He plotted against Mordecai and “all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai” (Esther 3:5-6). For one year, Haman and others confederated with him and plotted a time most advantageous to urge the king to purge Persia of Mordecai and his people (Esther 3:7).

A Wicked Opportunist vs. A Man of Integrity

Casting “pur” (lots), Haman believed fate would guide him to the day he could approach King Ahasuerus and seek his revenge. Twelve months later, “Haman said unto King Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer [permit; allow] them” (Esther 3:8).

Haman did not reveal his vendetta against Mordecai but portrayed his cause as that in the interest of the king (Esther 3:8). Offering silver to enrich the royal treasuries (3:9), Haman petitioned the king to grant him authority to destroy all the Jews (Esther 3:9). Foolishly, the king heeded Haman’s counsel, and sealed the fate of the Jews with an irrevocable decree (Esther 3:10-12).

 

Closing thoughts (Esther 3:13-15)

Provoked by one man’s desire for revenge, all Persians were encouraged “to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day” (Esther 3:13).

Would Persia turn upon one people of its diverse population? Tragically, the answer was yes, for they were enticed to enrich themselves at the sacrifice of the Jews “and take the spoil of them for a prey” (Esther 3:13). While news of the murderous decree spread throughout Persia’s 127 provinces, “the king and Haman sat down to drink” (Esther 3:14). Haman did not know his hatred of Mordecai and plot to eradicate the Jews would threaten the queen of Persia, and become his undoing.

As we shall see, Mordecai’s spiritual integrity provoked a national crisis and revealed God’s sovereignty and providence in the lives of His people (4:1-3).

Copyright © 2024 – Travis D. Smith 

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