Here is a look at the issue of Esther in Persia through the eyes of Rabbi Menachem Posner. Do not take this as our recommendation of the truth but it is interesting to read. Undoubtedly there is much truth weaved into Rabbi Posner’s take but it includes his Judaism filters of truth. One brief example is the reason Mordechai refused to bow before Haman. Rabbi Posner says that Haman wore a necklace of which Mordechai observed as an idol. He refused to bow before an idol. His conjecture is a bit far-fetched. Haman was a sworn enemy of Jacob’s offspring. He was an Amalekite (Esau). Mordechai as was Haman were aware of the ancient division between Jacob and Esau as was Haman. Haman is of Esau’s lineage and Mordechai of is Jacob’s ancestry. Click the following link to read Rabbi Posner’s comments on the history of Queen Esther.
Esther 2:1 & 2 may suggest that King Ahasuerus had some after-the-fact regret for his actions per expelling of Vashti. Since her banishment was according to the laws of the Medes and Persians, there could not be a reversal of the decree. The king had his haram but did not have a queen to be by his side in public events.
Esther 2:3 & 4 set the stage. The order went out to the providences over which King Ahasuerus ruled. These young women were gathered in the King’s harem in Susa (Shushan). Since this city was the seat of the government, and the Bible mentions Daniel being in Susa meaning Nehemiah and Ezra came from the same place. At minimum they resided there. The king’s eunuch Hegal (ESV) oversaw the King’s haram.
JIV: There are speculative thoughts, some with a basis for believing. The span between when Ahasuerus’s decree went out and the collection of young women to *candidate for the position of Queen was up to four years. During this time King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) invaded Greece. He was defeated but later King Philip of Macedonia taught his son, Alexander (soon to be called the Great) of this Persian invasion. 150 years later Alexander the Great destroyed the Persian empire.
*We say “candidate” but these women were not given a choice. This was a kingdom of many races, languages, and cultures. None of this mattered to Ahasuerus. The ancient historian Josephus says Ahasuerus had as many as 400 women selected.
The ESV states in Esther 2:4a, “the young woman who pleases the king”. Cultural norms of today often put up a hurdle to understanding or excepting the term “pleases”. The king had a haram of any woman he pleased for whatever purpose he desired. He was looking for the one that would complement his status as a king, one of great beauty. After all this was his desired reasoning for Vashti to parade in royalty in front of his banquet hall nobles and prince audience. It was to magnify himself, not her. Even the Bible reflects upon this in Proverbs 12:4. [NASB] “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, But she who shames him is like rottenness in his bones”. Secular or Christian there is something of value to this that too many wives have lost. Esther 2:4b explains Vashti to the proverbial “T”.
Esther 2:5 gives us the locality, Shushan. Today the city is considered the cultural and political center of the regional Azerbaijani population, while for Armenians, Shusha also has a religious significance and claim to it. Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis have fought for decades for control of this area.
JIV NOTE: This town and area over the centuries has gone by multiple versions of the name Susa. Examples: Susa, Susi, Shushan, Shushi, etc. may be of interest to some, many of the ancient stone reliefs of Elamites show a dark-skinned people as the ruling class in this area of Susa. Perhaps this is a DNA trait of some of the descendants of Shem through his grandson Elam. A serious consideration: [Jeremiah 49:36] “And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come.” Try to find a nation in which there are not dark-skinned races present. Elamites are Hebrew descended from Shem, but all Hebrew are not Israelites. True Arabs are also Hebrew [line of Shem].
Esther 2:5 reiterates that these are Judean kingdom exiles who remained in this area of Persia, modern day Iran/Iraq. Most of the exiled were from either the Tribe of Judah or the Tribe of Benjamin. There may be a God-reason that so many Benjamites and Judean (Jews) remained in Persia and its surrounding region after their release from their 70 year captivity. Archeologists and historians have traced remnants of Beni-Israel (Benjamites) to India. Those who populate India are darker skinned but not Negro.
Verse 5 also identifies Mordechai. He is a Benjamites, who descended from the Tribe of Benjamin, that were Babylonian exiled captives from Judah many years earlier but did not return to Jerusalem. Keep in mind we are now talking about 480 B.C. About 140 years later Alexander the Great did exact revenge for the attacks on and in Greece from King Ahasuerus. Some commentaries wish to make Mordechai one of the original captives from Judah. This is questionable. He would be well over 100 years old at this time even if exiled as an infant. The exile dates recorded are 603, 597, and 587 B.C. The historic event of the Book of Esther was over 100 years afterwards.
Mordechai was an older cousin of Esther (her Hebrew name was Hadassah). Since she had been orphaned as a child she was taken in and reared by Mordechai. How or when her parents died is not a matter of any known record. One of her father’s siblings was a brother to the father of Mordechai. We know this as we are given the lineage of Mordechai in verse 5.
Esther 2:8 is very telling how this gathering of young virgins was accomplished. It was NOT by choice such as might be a Persian Beauty Pageant.
(YLT) “And it cometh to pass, in the word of the king, even his law, being heard, and in many young women being gathered unto Shushan the palace…” Look at the words LAW and GATHERED. These are not invitations. The word law is obvious. The word gathered is not so obvious. In the Hebrew, the word gathered is qâbats. It means to take hold of, grasp, collect. This is not a choice of the women but of those seeking to gather them.
Esther 2:8 & 9 The Greek historian Herodotus mentions Hegai as being an officer of king Ahasuerus. Hadassah aka Esther won the favor of Hegai. Like the history of Daniel winning favor with Potiphar, the Egyptian jailer, and later the Pharaoh himself, Esther over a thousand years later, won favor with her overlord; in a real sense, watchdog. Esther was given maids to help or assist her every need plus moved to a better location in the king’s palace to await her training. All on the orders of Hegai. It is not mentioned in scripture, but this did not make her popular with the other young maidens who were “taken” to be with the king to see if she would win the crown of the queen.
Esther 2:10 “Esther had not revealed her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her that she should not reveal it” [LITV]. This raises questions about how the captive Judeans were viewed by the local populous. Mordechai “warned Esther” by command to not reveal she was of Israeli descent, a Jew of Judah; Benjamite DNA. Verse 11 tells us that Mordechai daily “walked in front of the gate” of the court or house where these maidens were kept.
NOTE: The word Jew does not represent all Israelites. It originated as a derogatory word used by the king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel [II Kings 16:6] when he planned to attack his cousins in the southern kingdom of Judah (Jew-dah).
The next two verses (Esther 2:12 & 13) tell us something few think of or wish not to admit. The maidens were not brought in as groups but one at a time. Before jumping to one’s preconceived cultural norms or personal conclusions, even Isaac’s wife was a selection process. It was under different circumstances but not a proposal and choice of Rebekah. She was destined to be Isaac’s wife according to God’s hand. Who is to say, other than Mordechai, Esther was not born for this very purpose as reads Esther 4:14. Exodus 9:16 is another proclamation of the same sort. [MKJV] “But indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Add to this Romans 9:13. Esther may well have been born for this sole purpose in life, to save her people from annihilation in Persian controlled territories.
Esther 2:14 “She goes in the evening of, and on the morning, she returns to the second house of the women, into the hand of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch who kept the concubines. She does not come into the king anymore, unless the king delights in her, and she is called by name”. Hello world!!! The maiden goes into the King’s chambers in the evening and returns to the Harem in the morning? This is the reason many Rabbi say she was raped. The culture back then would say otherwise.
Rev. Dr. Jstark