Welcome to week two of our Esther series (I already feel like we’ve been looking at Esther forever!) and we move into the start of the story this week now that we’ve met the main character!
“She pleased him and won his favour. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.” Esther 2:9
who did Esther please?
Now, a bit of a blunder on my part, but for the first half of the week I had assumed that the “he” in question was the king. But I was really jumping ahead of myself, and it was only when I read this verse in the Message version that I realised it was Hegai, the eunuch in charge of the virgins, that was being talked about!! Big well done to you if you didn’t make that mistake!! Always good to learn to check the context and who is being spoken about.
So this verse is right at the start of Esther’s progress through the palace. She has just arrived, along with hundreds of other candidates for the role of Queen. When I researched I found that there could have been as many as 400 virgins assembled in this particular harem, making it a pretty busy place to be. But even amongst that many other girls, Esther stands out. She makes an impression. The phrase used is “she pleased him”. The Message translation puts it like this “Hegai liked Esther and took a special interest in her”.
Hegai was surrounded by beautiful women day in day out, and he wasn’t really able to or allowed to act on that beauty. So there must have been something else that made Esther stand out from the crowd. Some sources speculate that perhaps Hegai was of Jewish descent and that he recognised that in her. In our Facebook Group discussions we erred towards this showing her true character, and being a contrast to the physical attractiveness mentioned last week. I guess we’ll never know, but we can be inspired by Esther that it is not a bad thing to get on well in the place that we are at, even if we think it is an unfavourable place to be, as God can use us in those dark places.
Fast-tracked for a reason
So why was it so important that Esther was noticed by Hegai? Because of the things that he then set it motion. Esther had four huge blessings come out of this, but the biggest one (and probably most overlooked) is that she got to start her beauty treatments early.
All the virgins had to go through them (and some people suggest it might be because they had fungal diseases and other things that they wanted to make sure the king didn’t catch) and they last about a year. Esther, being resident in Susa where the palace was, was probably one of the first virgins to arrive in the harem as part of this search. The search went across the whole Persian Empire, and would have taken months if not years to collect together all 400 possibilities for the King. Being within the first batch arriving and then also being one of the first to start her beauty treatments meant that Esther would be one of the first few women to have her night with the King.
Esther was fast-tracked, and this increased her odds of getting to see the King in the first place, because if he saw someone before her that he quite liked, then that was game over and they would become queen. God needed Esther to be seen early so that the King would fall in love with her. Time as of the essence and so Esther wasn’t just fast tracked to make her life easier, but because God needed her there.
in her shoes in the Harem
Its amazing to see God working in this verse to make sure that Esther was in the right place at the right time (“for such a time as this”!). But this week I also tried really hard to step into Esther’s shoes and understand how she might be feeling about all this. My first step was to consider what actually was a harem. The first thoughts that jump into my head are of prostitutes, concubines and basically a whole load of women just sitting around waiting to be called on to have sex with the king at his whim. It doesn’t sound like a nice place to me, and I’ve always viewed it negatively.
I thought Esther would have hated being taken from her family home with her adoptive father and put into the harem, but then I read more about them. A harem was actually supposed to be a place of protection and safety for these women. The king was taking them away from the prying eyes and attention from other men that they may have had outside the harem. They would have had security as they would have been fed and looked after, possibly even educated within the harem. Contrast this with outside, where Esther probably would have had to work and risk herself in a mans world, where she was a virgin and very desirable. Maybe Esther actually felt relief to be inside the harem. Yes it did mean that she was being lined up to basically be raped by the king so he could choose his favourite virgin, but in this situation that might have been a better prospect than what lie outside the palace walls.
How might Esther have felt to be given preferential treatment? I wonder if she had any backlash from the others in the harem because of this? There are so many questions I have when I step into Esther’s shoes that I don’t know where to start!
Join us over in the Mummy Meditations Community as we discuss the following verse this week:
“Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so” Esther 2:10
I would love for you all to join me at 8pm on Monday night for a Facebook Live discussion to kick off the weeks thoughts! So do head over to the Facebook Group for more information.