This is probably the earliest version of ‘the bachelor’ game. These women had a full year of beauty treatments, Hegai would have been the shows presenter, and surprise-surprise, his favoured choice won! But, Esther is said to have pleased him, and won his favour, not a phrase about simply outward beauty but about character. The women were richly rewarded however, being able to claim palace treasures in the form of adornments for their time with the king. Esther is a testament to listening to good advice, for her not to chose riches when she went to see the king but rather to take only what was advised was a great restraint on her part and a great sign on wisdom.
Esther is was not a Jewish name, but a rouse to help her conceal her Jewish identity, the name Hadassah would have given the game away far too soon. Concealed identities is a common theme to the modern day Purim celebrations where people dress in costume.
As the famous verse echo’s ‘for such a time as this’, we too have a plan and a purpose for our lives. However glamorous it sounds, being queen in a foreign land, denying your Jewishness, and concealing your true name doesn’t sound like a good place to be if you want God to use you. This story is a call out to all those of us who feel like we’re feel trapped in secularism and those of us who feel like it would be easier to make a difference if we had a greater need presented to us.
There is a modern movie about this story called ‘A night with the king’.
Names you need to know
The King – Xerxes or Ahasuerus in the Hebrew (but may have been Darius)
Haman – the baddie, Agagite and therefore a sworn enemy of the Jewish nation
Modecai – wise kind uncle, had a position at the palace, devote Jew
Esther – also called Hadassah, young, beautiful, virginal
Hegai – king’s eunuch, in-charge of the harem of women
There is great debate about weather this is indeed a true tale or one that was used to proselytise a Persian celebration and surrounding story. The names of the characters are surprisingly similar to localised deities of the time. While scholars debated the acts of Esther, the powers that be agreed to allow it to continue as a minor Jewish feast. On the 13th day of Adar the celebration of Purim continues.
Who the king in the story really is has also been widely debated. Most modern translations use the name Xerxes though some retain the Jewish choice of Ahasuerus. Equally the text about Mordecai being brought into captivity is ambiguous, dependant on the reading of the text he could be over 100 years old, have the same name as his ancestor, or it may have been the names meaning misconstrued to refer to ‘servant of God’. Mordecai probably worked within the palace, to be at the kings gate is an indication of this.
Haman is an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekites. This tribe of people have a long history of attacking the Jewish nation, sometimes alone and sometimes teaming up with other nations. As early as the book of Exodus (chapter 17), the word is given that God will ‘blot out the name’ of Agag (the traditional name of the leader of the Amalekites). Even modern day Purim traditions decree making loud noises to cover the name of Haman when the story of Esther is read.
Mordecai is described as a descendant of the king Saul. This is supposed to bring your mind back to the war where Saul fought the Amalakites. Saul is commanded to commit complete genocide, every man woman and infant alongside all their livestock is to be wiped out. Saul disobeys and this decision loses his favour with God and his kingship. Within the story Haman is portrayed as a direct descendant from Agag (the Amalekite king), bitter at the Jewish nation for the destruction of his people, and leaving Mordecai and Esther to do what Saul could not.