THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD SOVEREIGNLY WORKS BEHIND THE SCENES DESPITE THE OSTENTATIOUS EXCESSES OF PAGAN DESPOTS AND THE CULTURAL ASSIMILATION OF GOD’S PEOPLE
When it seems like God is absent; when it seems like God is silent; when it seems like God has lost control of world events – be assured that His sovereign providence continues to pull the strings. This text is not primarily about the rightness or wrongness of the motivations and actions of Esther and Mordecai – although those can certainly be debated. This text is not primarily about sexual exploitation or selfish lust – although much can be said on those subjects. This text is intended to highlight the working of the Providence of God in the most pagan-dominated setting imaginable. Here you have all of the excesses of the powerful Persian king on display. You have God’s people hiding their connection to their covenant God. Yet God is still in control as He elevates Esther and Mordecai to prominent positions where they will be able to impact the protection of the Jewish nation and of the Messianic seed. The present seems chaotic; but the future is assured.
Spurgeon: We cannot commend Mordecai for putting his adopted daughter in competition for the monarch’s choice — it was contrary to the Law of God and dangerous to her soul in the highest degree. It would have been better for Esther to have been the wife of the poorest man of the house of Israel than to have gone into the den of the Persian despot. The Scripture does not excuse, much less commend, the wrong doing of Esther and Mordecai in thus acting, but simply tells us how Divine Wisdom brought good out of evil, even as the chemist distils healing drugs from poisonous plants. The high position of Esther, though gained contrary to the wisest of laws, was overruled for the best interests of her people.
Constable: The fact that God placed Esther in a position so she could deliver her people—even before they were in danger—shows His far-reaching providence at work for His chosen people. This revelation would have been a great encouragement to the Jews of the postexilic period, as it has been to all believers since then.
Stan Anderson: The second chapter begins, “After these things,” which refers to the things that happened in chapter 1. We see the hand of God working in the glove of history, and as chapter 2 unfolds we see further evidence of God’s sovereignty and His providence. Sovereignty is God’s control over all things. Providence is God’s working in all the details and events to accomplish His will. God uses bad things, good things, big things, and little things to carry out His plan. J. Vernon McGee defines God’s providence as “the means by which God directs all things, both animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil, toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail.”
Jobes: The story of Esther and Mordecai shows the wonderful chain of events God used to fulfill his covenant promise to his people. Therefore, the book of Esther has theological implications for the church today. God continues to work through providence to fulfill the promises of his covenant with us in Jesus Christ. Through providential circumstances people have the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus. Through providential circumstances Christians are “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29), and through providence God is directing all of history toward its close in the return of Christ. . .
This is where the silence about Esther and Mordecai’s character and spiritual fidelity becomes a powerful encouragement. Regardless of whether they always knew what the right choice was or whether they had the best of motives, God was working through even their imperfect decisions and actions to fulfill his perfect purposes.
Duguid: Yet we see in this chapter more than just the bitter fruit of disobedience. We also see God’s ability to turn our disobedience—and the sour fruits of our parents’ sins—to his own glory and his people’s good. Ahasuerus and his cronies meant their edict purely for the satisfaction of the king’s selfish pleasures. Mordecai and Esther found themselves impaled on the horns of a dilemma because of their earlier compromises with the empire. They found it much easier to comply with the empire’s wishes than to resist assimilation—and which of us can be sure that we would have charted a different course? Yet God’s hand hovers over every detail, moving the pieces into the place he has determined—even through their sin and compromise—in order to achieve his own good purposes.
I. (:1-4) PROVIDENTIAL SEARCH FOR A REPLACEMENT QUEEN
A. (:1) Remembrance of the King Regarding Vashti
“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.”
MacArthur: Most likely during the latter portion of the king’s ill-fated war with Greece (ca. 481-479 B.C.).
Bruce Hurt: Remembered – Three things:
(1) Vashti (her beauty),
(2) Vashti’s refusal to obey and
(3) His decree against her banishing her from his presence, a decree which was irreversible.
Now, as to the providential workings of God behind the scenes, let me ask a hypothetical question – What if the decree was not irreversible? The way the text reads certainly suggests that Ahasuerus would have “re-crowned” Vashti, for he remembered her (especially her great beauty). But then he also remembered her disobedience and his indissoluble decree! (see that “little detail” in Esther 1:19) If the decree could have been reversed, the events of the rest of chapter 2 would not have transpired! Esther a Jew would not have been exalted to a position of prominence and influence by the greatest ruler of the day! Details, details! Oh, how big are the little details in the hands of our marvelous, omniscient, omnipotent Divine Director!
B. (:2-4) Recommendation to the King Regarding Finding a Replacement Queen
1. (:2) Seek Out Eligible Young Virgins
“Then the king’s attendants, who served him, said,
‘Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king.’”
2. (:3a) Segregate Them in the King’s Harem
“And let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to Susa the capital, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who was in charge of the women;”
F. B. Huey Jr.: Fathers apparently did not voluntarily present their daughters as evidenced by the king’s appointment of officials to search for the candidates.
Tomasino: there can be little doubt that most readers would have found the procedure rather offensive. The fact was, the king was taking all the most beautiful women from the entire empire, spending only a single night with most of them, and then sequestering them away from the company of men. What a waste! While many women might have found the life of luxury that these young ladies would receive to be enviable, the male audience would surely have found this arrangement distasteful. The king was taking all the best women for himself, leaving only those women who were not deemed “beautiful” for the rest of the men in the empire to fight over. We can assume that the author is satirizing the self-indulgence of the Persian Empire.
3. (:3b) Shine Them Up for Their Audition
“and let their cosmetics be given them.”
4. (:4a) Select the One You Like Best to be Queen
“Then let the young lady who pleases the king
be queen in place of Vashti.”
C. (:4b) Response of the King
“And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.”
II. (:5-7) PROVIDENTIAL PLACMENT OF MORDECAI AND ESTHER
A. (:5-6) Identification of Mordecai
1. By Nationality
“Now there was a Jew”
Constable: The writer mentioned Mordecai 58 times in this book, and seven times identified him as a Jew (2:5; 5:13; 6:10; 8:7; 9:29, 31; 10:3). Obviously, this is a story in which ethnicity is important.
2. By Location
“in Susa the capital”
3. By Name
“whose name was Mordecai,”
4. By Ancestry
“the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish,”
Wiersbe: His ancestor, Kish, was among the Jews taken to Babylon from Jerusalem in the second deportation in 597 B.C. (2 Kings 24). Cyrus, King of Persia, entered Babylon in 539 and the next year gave the Jews permission to return to their land. About 50,000 responded (Ezra 1-2). In subsequent years, other Jews returned to Israel; but Mordecai chose to remain in the Persian capital.
Tomasino: The genealogy given here may be a list of Mordecai’s immediate ancestors, or it may be selective, going back to his more illustrious ancestors.400 In Hebrew, the phrase “son of” may mean either direct biological offspring, or a more distant descendant (as in Jesus being called “Son of David”). If Kish and Shimei are more distant ancestors, then they likely tie in Mordecai with the line of Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul was also a Bejaminite, son of a man named Kish (1 Sam 9:1). The name Shimei, too, is associated with the house of Saul (2 Sam 16:5). Mordecai’s forebears who are named in the text might not be the same people mentioned in the books of Samuel, but it is not impossible. There can be no question, however, that the allusion to Saul is deliberate.
5. By Tribe
6. By Life Story
“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.”
Jobes: he author also uses the passive voice to explain why Mordecai and Esther were living in Susa. The Jews had been “carried” into exile (2:6). Esther had been “taken” into Xerxes’ harem, just as the Jews had been taken into exile. Regardless of how she felt about it or whether she cooperated, Esther was at the mercy of a ruthless pagan king, just as her people were. The use of the passive voice is appropriate in this story, for it expresses life from the perspective of being caught up in and swept along by circumstances beyond one’s control.
Levenson: The contrast between the situation of Mordecai and Esther and that of Ahasuerus and Vashti could not be bolder. While the Persians are aristocrats living amid legendary opulence, exercising power worldwide, and partying with abandon, the Jews are kingless and in exile, where they have been driven by a foreign conqueror. In fact, v. 6 employs the root for exile (glh) in four distinct constructions, lest the full measure of the Jewish plight be overlooked.
Laniak: Like the Jews without king and land, Esther is without parents, living in a foreign land and hiding under a foreign name. There is another contrast in these biographies. Within the context of the Jewish community, Mordecai’s genealogy is impressive while Esther’s is marginal. The exiled Jews in 597 B.C., with Jehoiachin (v. 6), were from the upper classes. Mordecai had an inherited status in his own culture that was, perhaps, the basis for a measure of status in the Diaspora: Mordecai [sat] at the king’s gate—that is, he was a royal official (vv. 19, 21).
Andy Wilson: The question that arises about Mordecai at this point is why he and his family didn’t return to Palestine under Cyrus’ decree.
1. Perhaps he had gotten comfortable living in Susa.
2. Perhaps he enjoyed some of the benefits of living in the most important city in the empire.
3. Whatever the reason, the fact that he remained in Persia meant that he was faced with a considerable amount of pressure to blend into his surrounding culture.
4. And that, as we will see in a few moments, is exactly what he did.
B. (:7) Identification of Esther
1. By Name
“And he was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther,”
David Strain: Esther’s two names actually suggest the challenge facing the people of God in exile – to which world does she really belong? There are two Esthers. There is Hadassah, child of the covenant, citizen of the kingdom of God. And Esther, the pretty Persian girl, about to be swept up into a maelstrom of sorrow and responsibilities she did not know she would ever be called upon to face. How do they relate to one another? Can they be reconciled? That’s a dilemma, actually, that every member of the covenant community continues to face even to this day. If we are Christians, we are called to live and be in the world but not of it.
2. By Relationship
“his uncle’s daughter,”
3. By Tragedy
“for she had neither father nor mother.”
4. By Good Looks
“Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face,”
5. By Upbringing
“and when her father and her mother died,
Mordecai took her as his own daughter.”
Jobes: These verses that identify Mordecai and Esther as Jews are essential for understanding the contemporary significance of the book. The book shows how against all odds, the fate of a marginalized people within a hostile world is reversed. These marginalized people not only survive, they rise to power within that world. There are clearly two sides pitted in conflict in the story, Mordecai and Esther versus Haman. One side will be victorious; the other will be destroyed. The author shows that powerful worldly forces are working against Mordecai and Esther.
III. (:8-16) PROVIDENTIAL FAVOR SHOWN TO ESTHER
A. (:8) Supervised by Hegai in the Palace Harem
“So it came about when the command and decree of the king were heard and many young ladies were gathered to Susa the capital 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.”
B. (:9) Special Treatment Afforded to Esther by Hegai
“Now the young lady pleased him and found favor with him.”
a. With Cosmetics and Food
“So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food,”
Wiersbe: Hegai had a year-long “beauty treatment” to prepare each woman for the king. It included a prescribed diet, the application of special perfumes and cosmetics, and probably a course on court etiquette. They were being trained to do one thing – satisfy the desires of the king. The one who pleased him the most would become his wife. Because of the providence of God, Hegai gave Esther “special treatment” and the best place in the house for her and her maids.
b. With 7 Choice Maids
“gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace,”
c. With Luxury Accommodations
“and transferred her and her maids
to the best place in the harem.”
Breneman: After thirty-one verses of narrative covering a significant period of time, Esther is finally in the harem of the king. We still have not seen her or heard from her. The narrative builds in intensity. And yet, why is she coming to the court? We anticipate that she will replace Vashti, but for what purpose? Simply to be queen is not enough. The author has cleverly disguised the purpose of Esther’s slow rise to the court in “pomp and circumstance.”
C. (:10) Secretive Regarding Her Jewish Ethnicity
“Esther did not make known her people or her kindred,
for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known.”
Jobes: While the attempts made by interpreters throughout history to exonerate Esther and Mordecai are understandable, they dilute the message of the original Hebrew and its power. The divinely inspired author chose not to reveal Esther’s reaction to being taken into the harem or Mordecai’s motives for commanding Esther to conceal her identity. It is natural to pass judgment on these two, whether positive or negative, but in doing so we may miss an important point. This deliberate silence is part of the message. Regardless of their character, their motives, or their fidelity to God’s law, the decisions Esther and Mordecai make move events in some inscrutable way to fulfill the covenant promises God made to his people long ago.
D. (:11) Surveillance by Mordecai
“And every day Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared.”
E. (:12-14) Selection Process Detailed
1. (:12) Year-Long Program of Beautification in Preparation
“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—“
Tomasino: The idea of six months of cosmetic treatments to prepare for a single night with the king is ridiculously indulgent. Myrrh was an expensive spice with many different applications, and was not typically wasted. (Among other uses, oil of myrrh was the principal ingredient in the oil used for anointing the Israelite tabernacle and priests [Exod 30:23].) The “perfumes” mentioned here might have included frankincense, cassia, or aloe. They might have been applied in a number of fashions, most commonly as a liquid, or worn as a sachet. There is no logical reason, however, for these perfumes to be applied for a full six months. Albright suggested that the perfumes were burned as incense, and the fumes allowed to pervade the skin and hair. In any case, the treatments seem like a classic case of excess.
Matthew Henry: Even those who were masterpieces by nature must yet have all this help from art to recommend them to a vain and carnal mind.
2. (:13) Blank Check for Accessories
“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.”
3. (:14a) One Night Stand for the Purpose of Evaluation
“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.”
4. (:14b) Future Liasons at the Pleasure of the King
“She would not again go in to the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.”
Baldwin: For the majority what awaited them was more like widowhood than marriage. Though each girl in turn moved from the house of Hegai to that of Shaashgaz once she had become a concubine, there was no guarantee that the king would remember her by name and call for her even once more. Quite apart from the emotional deprivation this entailed, were not young men in their villages deprived of wives by the king’s greed? The prestige of living in the royal palace was small compensation for the king’s neglect, though girls with a passion for luxury could no doubt indulge it to the full.
F. (:15-16) Strategic Opportunity Afforded to Esther
1. (:15a) Prepped by Hegai
“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.”
David Strain: The truth, however, is that Esther has been manipulated and abused, she has been emotionally, psychologically broken; Esther’s a victim. So we don’t need to amend the text to clean it up. We don’t need to scold Esther as though she were an ambitious, modern starlet trying to sleep her way to a position of influence. Rather, we need to read these words with grief and empathy, recognizing in this story a tale that has been told and continues to be repeated all over the world in every culture and in every age.
But as we take all of that in, the ugliness and the pain of it, imagine being Mordecai, watching the daughter of your heart taken away by the king’s men to live in the harem as one of his concubines, the horror and the pain and the ugliness of it, we need to see that despite it all, God is at work to build His kingdom.
Duguid: Through all of this lengthy procedure Mordecai had been keeping a watchful eye on his cousin, advising her along the way. He daily visited the court of the harem to find out, doubtless through intermediaries and messengers, news of what she was doing and what was being done to her (Esth. 2:11). He was the one who advised her to keep secret her Jewish identity—not because the empire was inherently anti-Semitic, but because, in his opinion, one could never be too careful in a place like Susa. He knew the way the empire operated. Walls have ears and information is power. Even after she became queen, it was because of Mordecai’s command that Esther kept her ancestry quiet: “Now when the virgins were gathered together the second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate. Esther had not made known her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had commanded her, for Esther obeyed Mordecai just as when she was brought up by him” (Esth. 2:19–20). Here, indeed, was a woman who knew her place, perhaps because Mordecai’s command fitted perfectly her natural temperament. Her motto was “Blend in like a chameleon, don’t stand out in any way, and we can survive and even thrive, in spite of the empire.”
2. (:15b) Praised by All
“And Esther found favor in the eyes of all who saw her.”
Deffinbaugh: I fear that Esther was a strikingly beautiful young woman, and the favorable response she gained was the result of her appearance more than of her character. My conclusion is inferential, I grant, but I must at least point out that nowhere in the book do we find mention of Esther’s character. This is most unusual for a Jew. If the Bible teaches us anything, it tells us to judge a person in terms of their character, not according to their beauty or charm.
3. (:16) Presented to the King
“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.”
IV. (:17-20) PROVIDENTIAL ELEVATION OF ESTHER AND MORDECAI
A. (:17) Coronation of Esther
1. Supremely Loved
“And the king loved Esther more than all the women,”
2. Supremely Favored
“and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins,”
3. Supremely Crowned
“so that he set the royal crown on her head
and made her queen instead of Vashti.”
B. (:18) Celebration of Esther’s Coronation
1. Great Banquet
“Then the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet,
for all his princes and his servants;”
2. Grand Holiday
“he also made a holiday for the provinces”
MacArthur: Probably refers to a remission of taxes and/or release from military service.
3. Generous Gifts
“and gave gifts according to the king’s bounty.”
C. (:19-20) Cover-Up of Jewish Ethnicity Despite Prominent Roles of Mordecai and Esther
1. (:19) Prominent Role of Mordecai
“And when the virgins were gathered together the second time,
then Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate.”
Whitcomb: The purpose of this second gathering is not explained, but it must be remembered that Xerxes (like Solomon) was a polygamist and was constantly adding to his harem.
2. (:20) Private Cover-Up by Esther in Obedience to Mordecai
“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.”
V. (:21-23) PROVIDENTIAL INTERVENTION OF MORDECAI TO FOIL ASSASSINATION PLOT
A. (:21) Assassination Plot Devised
“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.”
Wiersbe: It’s possible that this assassination attempt was connected with the crowning of the new queen and that Vashti’s supporters in the palace resented what Ahasuerus had done. Or perhaps these two men hated Esther because she was an outsider. Although it wasn’t consistently obeyed, tradition said that Persian kings should select their wives from women within the seven noble families of the land. These conspirators may have been traditionalists who didn’t want a “commoner” on the throne.
Bruce Hurt: Do you see the subtle allusion to providence? What if he had not been seated at the king’s gate on this particular day? He would not have overheard the assassination plot. He would not have saved the king’s life. He would not have been recorded in the king’s chronicles as the one responsible for saving King Ahasuerus’ life. When one has a proper understanding of divine providence as defined by the Scripture, it becomes clear that absolutely nothing happens by chance. God is in the every detail of our life. This truth intertwined with the truth that God is good and seeks good for His children should encourage our faith, and give us perseverance and hope (cf Ro 15:4).
B. (:22) Assassination Plot Detected and Defused
“But the plot became known to Mordecai, and he told Queen Esther,
and Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name.”
Breneman: As the Targums interpret, Mordecai’s discovery of the plot was by God’s design, not by Mordecai’s wisdom. This verse is one of the pivotal verses in the book because it brings Mordecai into the good graces of the king and foreshadows his reward and exaltation in 6:1–14. As a Jew, Mordecai could have let the plot continue and taken a chance on having a new king. Such action, however, would have proven harmful to Esther’s role as queen (also cf. Jer 29:7; 1 Tim 2:2). Therefore, in the interest of his adopted Esther and the fate of the Jewish people, Mordecai foiled the plot of the would-be killers.
C. (:23a) Conspirators Executed
“Now when the plot was investigated and found to be so,
they were both hanged on a gallows;”
Whitcomb: They were probably either crucified or impaled alive (cf. 7:10).
D. (:23b) Incident Chronicled for Historical Purposes
“and it was written in the Book of the Chronicles in the king’s presence.”
McConville: At the end of chapter 2, then, even before the entry of Haman to the scene, there are two major factors in the situation which will ultimately stand the Jews in good stead: Esther is queen, and Mordecai, quite independently, is in favour.
Laniak: The scene ends with a recording of these events in the book of the annals in the presence of the king (v. 23). One of the motifs in Esther is writing. Usually it is law that is written (as it has been in 1:19 and will be throughout chapters 3, 8, and 9), but here (and in chapter 10) it is history that is written. Law, in Esther, is written to (dis)- empower certain persons (based on gender or race), while history is written to preserve certain persons (based on their actions). In the case of the officers, their evil deeds are forever sealed in the book. For Mordecai, this written record guarantees eventual reward.