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Chapter two takes place 3-4 years after chapter one (compare Esther 1:3 with Esther 2:12, 16). During this time, Xerxes did attack Greece and was beaten. He returned home dejected and looking for comfort, only to remember what he had done to Vashti before he left (Esther 2:1). Someone suggested that a new, younger queen is what he needed and that he should make his selection from all of the beautiful young virgins throughout his kingdom (Esther 2:2-4). The process would be overseen by the manager of the king’s harem.
Living in Susa at the time was Mordecai, a Jew whose great-grandfather had been taken captive to Babylon about 120 years earlier, at the same time as Ezekiel. This would make the family of Mordecai and his cousin, Esther, upper class or royalty of Jerusalem. When Esther’s parents died, Mordecai took her into his home to care for her as his own daughter (Esther 2:5-7).
Esther was very beautiful and apparently had a warm and personable attitude, so when she was taken into the harem, she gained favor very quickly, much like Daniel. Unfortunately, unlike Daniel, who determined that he would follow the Mosaic Law no matter the cost (Daniel 1:8), Esther did not hold that conviction. Instead, it seems she willingly did whatever was necessary to fit in, even to the point of having sex with the king outside of marriage, then marrying the non-Jewish king, all with Mordecai’s approval (Esther 2:8-14). 1 We can also assume, unlike Daniel, that she did partake of food and drink forbidden by God’s Law. The only thing Mordecai insisted was that she not disclose that she was Jewish (Esther 2:10).
It is important to note that the Jews still in Persia at this time were there by choice. They or their families had decided to not return to Israel with Zerubbabel sixty years earlier. They found themselves comfortable in Persia, and this may account for the lack of concern for God’s Law, even among the “heroes” of this story.
Through God’s silent leading, Xerxes did choose Esther as his queen in Vashti’s place (Esther 2:15-18). The comment that “Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate” (Esther 2:19) implies that he had a position in the government at that time. Whether or not that was because of Esther’s influence is unknown. However, because of that position, God allowed Mordecai to overhear an assassination plot against Xerxes and warn Esther in time to stop it (Esther 2:21-23). This event would come up again at just the right time.
- Had she not been chosen as the queen, Esther would have remained in the harem as a concubine, a women kept solely for sex with the king but not truly a wife. ↩