King Ahasuerus needed a new queen. He had deposed and divorced Queen Vashti when she refused to make an appearance at his party, and so the search began for her replacement. The king could have chosen a woman from his vast harem, but on the advice of his friends he set out to find the most beautiful young woman in his kingdom. It was to be a year-long process of bringing the candidates to the capital and grooming them for a contest not unlike the TV show “The Bachelor”. (Note: it is likely that some of the young women were taken from their homes by force, but perhaps some of them came willingly, seeing it as an opportunity to escape poverty and a chance to become queen.)
After twelve months of daily spa treatments, each woman would go on one date with the king, doing her best to impress him. After the date, she would be sent back to the harem to await the king’s decision. She would either become a permanent part of the harem or be chosen as queen. I try to understand the cultural norms and the ancient Near Eastern customs in play here, but I can’t help but be disgusted by the whole thing. The idea of one man using his power and wealth to arrange a series of one-night stands with young women who had been removed from their homes is wrong in so many ways. The idea of a leader disrupting so many lives simply to satisfy his enormous sexual appetite and his inflated ego is absurd. The idea of the king keeping a trophy room of his sexual conquests (the harem) is appalling. But into the ugliness of this bizarre beauty contest God sovereignly placed a woman of true inner beauty, and the graceful strength of her character almost makes me forget the bad.
Her name was Esther, a young Jewish woman from right there in Susa. An orphan girl, she was adopted by Mordecai, a close relative who was a lower-ranking government official. As Esther’s father figure, Mordecai must have taught her to be proud of her Jewish heritage and to love the Lord, but he counseled her not to reveal her ethnicity to the palace officials. Once Esther was taken into the harem, he checked on her every day, keeping tabs on her progress.
Esther did well during the year of preparation in the harem. She was beautiful and charming, lovely inside and out, and she won the favor of the king’s officials. When it was her turn to meet the king, Esther made such an impression on him that he quickly set the royal crown on her head, declaring her queen!
The king was unaware that Esther was one of the Jewish exiles — but the King of kings knew it, and had purposefully arranged for one of His daughters to ascend to a place of influence. God positioned Queen Esther to influence a powerful ruler and to bless her people (not unlike her ancestor Joseph; see Genesis chapter 41). Soon after Esther’s coronation God used her and Mordecai to uncover an assassination plot, saving the king’s life. This act of loyalty would prove to be important in the future, but it had the immediate affect of increasing the king’s level of trust in his new queen. Additionally, it must have helped Esther to make sense of the head-spinning changes in her own life.
What about you? Could it be that the sudden changes, the unexpected turns, and the baffling setbacks in your life are actually a part of God’s plan to position you to make a difference? Trust His will, surrender to His hand of providence, and rest in His grace.