A royal beauty contest is about to ensue in the city of Susa circa 478 BC. The elaborateness of this beauty contest is beyond our ability to fathom. All the “beautiful young virgins” of the land were “gathered” to the harem in Susa. From these many beautiful young virgins would come the new queen. This is a beauty contest like no other, since the prize, to be chosen to be the queen, was the highest honor for any woman of the land.
After the women were gathered, each woman spent twelve months preparing for her presentation to the king. They were given whatever their heart desired to prepare themselves for this meeting. Nothing was spared if it was needed for their beautification process. They spent a year preparing themselves for this short interview process with the king.
We all know women and the jealousy and cattiness they can have with each other. It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to live in this environment for a year, all striving for the same thing in the same way. Esther, quickly won the favor of Hegai, the keeper of these women, and he provided her with food, cosmetics, and seven young women to assist in her beauty process. All the beautiful young virgins had been brought to him, yet Esther stood out among the crowd to this keeper of women, Hegai.
A few facts must be remembered as the scene is set for this beauty contest. Since Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel and carried into captivity 4600 Israelites (Jeremiah 52:30) the influence of the Jews in the leadership of the Babylonian and later the Medo-Persian Empires is quite remarkable. Going back to the earliest history of the Jews, Joseph also played a major role in the leadership of the Egyptians. God has His hand on people’s lives and places them in positions of leadership in order to influence pagan people. Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel from Israel in 605 BC and he became “ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” (Daniel 2:48). Daniel continued to influence the Kings, even after the takeover of the Babylonians by the Medo-Persians, as seen in Daniel 6 and the rule of Darius.
Living in the Persian Empire in the capital city of Susa, and being raised by Mordecai, who was a court official for the king, brought many opportunities to Esther, yet Mordecai did not allow her to forget her heritage. Mordecai had commanded Esther not to make her people or her kindred known to anyone. This indicates that there was some hard feelings between the Jews and the Persians. This animosity could have grown through the special treatment the other officials of the Persian Empire felt the Jews continued to receive throughout history.
Walking in obedience to the Lord brings great benefits, but it also can come at a cost. Esther took her role in this beauty contest very seriously and followed not just Mordecai’s direction but also Hegai’s. These men knew the king and knew what it took to win the favor of the king.
After a year of preparation, the big meeting took place between the future queen and the king. Esther followed the advice of Hegai, and presented herself to the king without pomp and ceremony. “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…” (Esther 2:17)
- Who is Mordecai? What is his lineage? Who is he related to?
(Esther 2:5, I Samuel 9:1,2).
- Read Esther 2:6. King Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) was taken to Babylon in 597 BC. Mordecai served during the time of Xexes I (Ahasuerus) 486-465 BC. This cannot refer to Mordecai but to one of these relatives mentioned in this lineage. Living in a foreign country under exile, Mordecai did not forget his lineage. Do you think it was difficult to remember his lineage? Why or why not?
- Read the following verses and record what you learn about the character of these influential Jews.
- Esther 2:9, 17; 5:2
- Daniel 1:9, 20; 6:3, 4
- Nehemiah 2:6, 8
- Genesis 39:2-5, 21, 23; 41:37-41
- Read Esther 2:19-23 and record the events as they happened
- Why did Esther follow the advice of her uncle? (Esther 2:20)
- What do we see about the character of Mordecai in these verses? Is it the same as Daniel’s, Nehemiah’s, Joseph’s and Esther’s? Is it any wonder Esther found favor?