Esther 2                                     “Esther Way to Heaven"


            I know that one of the things you must have been looking forward to in this sermon series on Esther, is the notion that the Hebrew Scriptures are in Hebrew, so you would not have to listen to me giving you another lesson in New Testament Greek. I did promise myself even that I would stay away from giving Hebrew lessons in the sermons! However, there is just this one word in the first verse that I have to point out from the Hebrew. This word means so much today in what is happening in the news. Also, I think it is toned down a little bit too much in the English versions of Esther that we have today.

            Please look at verse 1 of Chapter 2 of Esther. We read that King Ahasuerus was “angry” still about the situation with Vashti, his former queen whom he sent away because she did not answer his call to come to him during a post-war celebration. This word “angry” in this text in Hebrew is “b’hamat.” The “b” sound in front simply means “in” as one can be in a state of anger. So, the base word is “hamat,” which in modern Hebrew and Arabic is “hamas.” Yes, that same Hamas that is the political entity that rules in the Gaza strip.

“Anger” is a rather weak translation of the idea of “hamat.”  My Hebrew lexicon actually translates it as “fury” or “wrath.” If this is “anger,” then it is more like violent anger. So, when Hamas makes a claim that they are not a terrorist organization, I just go back to the idea that that is exactly what their name means–violent anger!

For our understanding of the biblical text today, I want to paint the picture of a violently angry King thrashing around the palace. What does he have to be angry about? After all, he is the one who sent Vashti away. It is his fault that he is angry. Noone can say that to a king however. Sooooo, the people around the king take a different approach. This is what we do with very young children in fact: we distract them from their anger. “Hey, Mr. Ahasuerus, sir, let’s have a beauty pageant to take your mind off of that bachi with your former wife and queen.”

This distraction for the king of Persia turns out to be quite an undertaking indeed. Commissioners are sent out to all of the 127 provinces of the empire from India to Ethiopia to gather all of the young and beautiful maidens who might become the next queen. It seems, by the way, that the only prerequisite for being a queen back then was that you were good looking and a maiden–of the female gender. Please, also keep in mind that beauty is always in the eyes of the beholder, and some of the bas reliefs from that time show characteristics that we would find unappealing today–including the unibrow look! 

Thousands of young women are brought to the palace in Susa and placed in a harem administered by a eunuch named Hegai. This is where we finally pick up the actual story of Esther. She is a maiden. She is beautiful. She is gathered into the harem with all the rest. Unbeknownst to Hegai, Esther is of the Jewish tradition. She does not use her Hebrew name of “Hedassa” but rather the Persian counterpart, “Esther.” Her uncle Mordecai tells her to keep the whole Jewish heritage thing under wraps.

The problem is that when you become a queen in Persia, you are viewed like a goddess. The King is a god (small g), and so the queen is also a more than mortal person. So, how can someone who is faithful to the one true God of the Universe ever assume such hubris to allow others to deify her? This is kind of a ruse on Esther's part. She can never really be the Queen of Persia according to the job description.

 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be clever as serpents and innocent as doves.”  That is from Matthew 10:16, and is the advice that Jesus is giving from his own mouth to his disciples and to all of us. This is a bit difficult for us to understand because the 9th Commandment of Moses tells us not to bear false witness. So, we are not supposed to lie per se, but we are supposed to be clever and wise. That is one of the traits that is to this day celebrated about Esther. She was clever. She was wise. She knew when to keep her mouth shut and when to speak up for what was righteous.

The perfect example of Esther being clever from our reading today is that she begins to please Hegai, the guy who runs the harem. The bible does not say how she does this, but I am going to assume that it means that she baked him some baklava and asked nicely about his family and friends. There is no reason to believe that there is any hanky panky going on because Hegai is after all a eunuch.

Hegai is so pleased with Esther that he assigns seven other girls to be Esther’s personal handmaidens. You know that you are moving up in the world when you have people working under you! Hegai also brings her extra food apparently. She is also given preferential cosmetic treatments.

Then, Esther asks Hegai for advice on how to please the King, and thus be chosen as his queen. It was the tradition that when one approached a king, one should have a nice gift or two to present. When my wife and I were in Thailand as missionaries we saw this in relation to the Thai King at that time. Those who were granted an audience were always expected to place a gift of some kind, precious flowers for example, on a special pedestal that was brought before the king. Only after the gift was accepted were the people granted audience with his highness. I think today we call that lobbying a congressman!

Hegai gives Esther the advice to just stand before Ahasuerus and just be the gift herself. “Let the King just see your beauty and grace!” I want to try this at Christmas with the kids perhaps: “Gifts? You want gifts? I give you the gift of me!” (Ha ha). Maybe I will put a bow on my head, too!

In the Jewish mishnah, which is a collection of writings from rabbis of old about a Jewish text, we can read that the gift that Esther gives is the gift of “discernment.” What an incredible gift indeed. If Ahasuerus marries Esther, makes her the queen, then he will have discerned correctly the best course of action as God in heaven manifests. If he chooses Esther, then he will be the most powerful king ever. His anger, that is to say his violent fury, will be released and he will be able to rule as the truly wise king should. Thessalonians 5:21, Paul states, “Test everything, hold fast to what is good.” That is what we as discerning Christians must do!

Yes! The king  chooses the clever and beautiful Esther! He places the crown upon her head. He has discerned rightly the plan for his life as God would have him do.

Is this the right job for me to apply to? Is this the right person to trust with my money? Is this the right course of action for my health needs? Know that God has given us the gift of discernment. Make clever and wise decisions for your life as God would have you do!


Right away, Esther is able to discern a situation that threatens the King’s life. Her uncle Mordecai has overheard two guards, again eunuchs, who are plotting to kill the king. These guards are mentioned in verses 19-23, the very end of the chapter. Mordecai is able to get word to Esther, who passes the word about the plot to Hegai, who passes the word of the plot to Ahasuerus. The king then investigates these two eunuchs and discovers that indeed they are treasonous for wanting to kill the king. The punishment they get is to be hanged publicly.

So, without Esther being the new queen, Ahasuerus would have been killed. Yet, the king was able to discern this threat to the PErsian Empire and deal with it. This is now obviously not the same man living in fury that we had at the beginning of this chapter. Esther has given him back his kingship through the gift of her discernment. He is a much better king with Esther as his queen than he could have been otherwise.

My charge to you this morning is to be clever, wise, and discerning. Look to the example of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures. Hear the word of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. Take to heart the message from Saint Paul to test before God’s judgment all that you do!