Like many great characters in history, Esther makes her first appearance as one of the humblest of figures, an orphan Jewess. But four years later she rises to the position of a queen of amazing power, a power which she manages to use wisely.
The setting where she is placed is the sumptuous palace of the Persion Empire in the time of Artaxerxes I (404-358 B.C.). The curtains were fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble. The beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, blue, white, and black marble. The wine was served in vessels of gold and flowed in abundance. All of this is vividly described in Esther 1:6,7.
The ancient writer's estimate of Esther's importance to the story becomes apparent, for a this short Bible book her name appears fifty-five times. The name of no other woman in the Bible is recorded so often. Only Sarah, whose name appears as Sarah thirty-five times and as Sarai sixteen times, comes near to approaching this record.
The queen who preceded Esther was Vashti, respected as a woman of nobility and honor and one who had the courage to refuse an unjust command from her husband. After much feasting and drinking, he had commanded seven eunuchs to bring Queen Vashti before him so that he might show the princes her beauty. That was during a palace feast. Vashti refused. The king became so incensed that he issued an order that her royal position be given to another.
Vashti's refusal opened the way for the coming of Esther, who had been reared by her cousin Mordecai, a Benjamite officiar at the palace gate. He had seen the king's royal notice that beautiful young beautiful young virgins would be assembled for the kings harem in Shushan, and that the maiden who pleased the king would take the place of Vashti. So it was that Mordecai sent forth his lovely cousin Esther.
Of all the maidens gathered in Shushan, Hadassah-that was Esther's Hebrew name--was perhaps the only one who worshiped the true God, though this fact is never mentioned. Educated as a daughter in the house of Mordecai, a wise and devout Israelite, she had probably leaned from him the glorious truths about God treasured by her people. in that throng of virgins, she may have been the only one who had not worshiped idols or some of the many heathen gods. From her infancy, devout Jewess that she was, she probably had bowed her knee to Jehovah, and in this rich persian kingdom she was in touch with a power not counted in terms of marble or gold or silver.
When she was presented to the king, he loved her above all the women who had been brought before him, and he set the royal crown upon her head. After she became queen, her name was changed from Hadassah, meaning "myrtle," to Esther, meaning "star." And she soon played a stellar role in the lives of her people, who were threatened with destruction. Early she dedicated herself, not to the pleasure, comforts, and luxuries of a palace, but to the dreams, hopes, and ambitions of her people.
When Esther became queen, King Ahasuerus had no idea that she was a Jewess. He had been attracted to her because of her surpassing loveliness, and he celebrated her entrance into the court with a great feast, which introduced her as queen of one of the most powerful empires in the world.
Let us picture her, if we may, as she moved about this magnificent palace with grace and dignity, wearing robes of gold and purple and handsome jewels which set off to advantage her garlanded black hair, olive skin, and eyes radiant because of all the wonder that now stretched before her. We can imagine she soon felt that she had been placed upon this high pedestal, not because of an accident, but for a great purpose.
Queen Esther soon gained favor with the people when she showed that she had sound judgment, fine self-control, and the ability to think of others first. It was not long before she learned that Haman, her husband's favorite, hated her people and demanded that they bow down to him. This Haman has been described by modern Jewish writers as a typical Hitler, manifesting so intense a hatred that it became an evil intent on destroying a God-fearing people. Opposed to such powers of evil as Haman possessed stood the courageous Esther, ready to defend her people even with her own life.
When her maids and eunuchs brought her word of a serious feud between her cousin Mordecai and Haman, she was deeply distressed. She knew she must act promptly and wisely. Soon she received a message from her cousin placing upon her this great responsibility: "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this!" (Esther 4:I4)· Challenging words these were for a young, inexperienced queen.
Her triumphant place in the hearts of her people became assured because she accepted her own divine destiny. Quietly she issued orders that all Jews in Shushan hold a fast in her behalf, and she joined them in this fast, which in itself suggested Esther's strong belief in prayer.
Following the fast, she prepared to go before her husband and intercede for her people. If the king, a capricious man, was in a good mood, she might gain her point; if not, she could lose her cause and also her own life.
As Esther made ready to appear before the king, one of the most courageous assertions made by a woman in the Bible is credited to her. "So I will go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16), she said. Here is a woman who had not only high courage but sincere faith and a devotion to the cause of her people.