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Esther Lesson 2: True Beauty

  • Thomas Klock Harvest Ministries
  • 2008 4 Feb
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LESSON 1 IN REVIEW

In spring 483 BC, Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) entered the third year of his reign. He happened to be wintering in Susa, one of the four capitals of the Median-Persian Empire. He decided that it was time to reveal his plans to invade and conquer Greece and regions beyond. Ahasuerus displayed his wealth and power for six months to those he wished to impress and win to his cause, wining and dining them. It was truly pride on display. Ahasuerus wanted everyone to know he had what it took to lead them to victory. For the last seven days of this feast, Ahasuerus threw one big drinking party for the men, while Queen Vashti held her own feast for the women. In a drunken state, Ahasuerus thought he knew what would impress these men and close the deal: showing off his most beautiful possession (for so he thought of her): his own wife, naked or lewdly performing before them. This sin produced a major problem for Ahasuerus. Queen Vashti refused to appear and surrender her dignity for a bunch of drunks’ sensual stimulation. This humiliated Ahasuerus publicly. His advisers foolishly proposed that he divorce Vashti and send her away, which they hoped would keep other women from slipping out of their control. The events in Esther 1 were a living picture of 1 John 2:15–16: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life; and pride certainly comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18-19).

Throughout these dramatic developments, God’s sovereign hand of providence was at work. This week we’ll meet our two protagonists (the heroes of the story) because of how these events transpired. Let’s look now at Esther 2, examining their entrance into the story. We will also see some important truths about what true beauty is in God’s sight, compared to mankind’s twisted conceptions of it.

DAY ONE: A Pleasing Plan

Please carefully read Esther 2:1-4 and answer the following questions.

1. The time period between Esther 1 and 2 was 481 to 479 BC when Ahasuerus carried out his failed war with Greece. The events of Esther 2 took place from 479 to 478 BC, four years after Vashti was banished.[i] What did Ahasuerus experience when he returned to Susa in defeat (v. 1)?

2. Ahasuerus’ anger and alcohol abuse led to foolish actions, and now, too late, he had regrets about this. Although he had concubines, he no longer had a wife to comfort and support him. His servants noticed his depressed mood and surmised what was wrong. What did they begin to propose, which obviously would catch his attention (v. 2)?

NOTE: Young as used here referred to young women around adolescence or marrying age.[ii] The word virgin, bethula, can mean either a true virgin or a young woman, depending on the context (for example, Joel 1:8 used this word to describe a young widow; those chosen here were eventually no longer virgins, but this term is used of them again in v. 19). Importantly, there is another Hebrew word for virgin, almah, which clearly refers to one who is a virgin sexually. This word was used in Isaiah 7:14, prophesying the virgin birth of the Messiah, confirming that both the Old and New Testaments claim Jesus’ birth was miraculously virginal (see Matthew 1; Luke 1).[iii]

What specific plans did they recommend that Ahasuerus command (v. 3)?

NOTE: Kings would use eunuchs to oversee the women of the household, and those chosen for this job were of outstanding character. Fittingly, the name Hegai means “venerable.”[iv] Beauty preparations referred to precious ointments, remedies, detergents, and soaps for bathing and purification.[v] The NASB calls these cosmetics.

4. What was the clincher of their suggestion, and how did Ahasuerus respond (v. 4)?

5. Sexual purity is truly beautiful in God’s sight. In fact, there is no more beautiful gift for young people to treasure than their virginity, but how easily people surrender that most precious of gifts that cannot be gained back again! The NLT states that “this advice was very appealing to the king, so he put the plan into effect immediately.” In other words, he couldn’t wait to get at these young women and take away their precious treasure of virginity just to satisfy his own lusts, hopefully finding a wife along the way! Please read the following passages and record some of the things they exhort us about maintaining our sexual purity so we can shine God’s beautiful light to the world around us.

Scripture Memory: This week we will be memorizing Isaiah 43:1, about our being selected by our King. Review the passage several times throughout the day each day this week, and by the end of the week, you should have it memorized completely.

But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV)

DAY TWO: A Providential Arrangement

Please carefully read Esther 2:5-9 and answer the following questions.

1. First, we are introduced to one of our main characters, Mordecai. What are some things that we read of his historical and family background (vv. 5, 6)?

NOTE: Mordecai actually has three meanings:  “dedicated to Mars;” “a little man;” or “bitter bruising.”[vi]  Carried away literally means “to strip bare and carry away by force,” and is often used to describe being shamed.[vii]

2. Next, we meet the amazing young woman that is the focus of this book, Esther. What was her original name, and what else do we learn about her in v. 7?

NOTE: As we read in the Introduction, Hadassah meant “myrtle,” and her Persian name Esther meant “star.” Both names reflected her beauty and character.[viii] Lovely and beautiful (lovely in form and features, NIV) means that Hadassah was truly beautiful from the human perspective, with beautiful form and body shape; she had a healthy, good looking appearance.[ix]

3. The young women of Susa knew this wasn’t a beauty contest they had a choice to enter or not. They were being taken away from their families, possibly by force, to have one chance to become the queen. Otherwise, they would still be his concubine for life, never returning home. Yet God was going to work providentially through this in Hadassah’s life. What happened to her, and how was God with her even in this difficult situation (vv. 8, 9)?

4. It wasn’t Hadassah’s physical beauty alone that led to her having favor and being treated kindly and even being preferred by the steward Hegai. The phrase she obtained his favor literally meant “she lifted up grace before his face.”[x] It was the grace and light of God shining from her that truly made her attractive.

How does God look on us to see if we have true beauty or not (l Samuel 16:7)?

What kind of supernatural attraction will the believer have toward others because of God’s grace at work in them (Matthew 5:14-16, 2 Corinthians 2:14-15; 2 Cor. 4:6-7)?

5. God will be with us and go before us when we are in the midst of things we have no control over. He will work all things for our best according to His perfect plan, as we read last week. Hadassah’s experiences were similar to those of another young person, Joseph. Both were taken from their families and brought into slavery against their will. Like Joseph, she would be one day raised to the palace despite being in such a situation. What were Joseph’s conclusions about the providence of God when he was able to look back on the things he had to face, and how can it help us face situations we don’t understand (Genesis 45:5-8; Gen. 50:20)?

Scripture Memory:  Try to fill in the missing words in the blanks below, by memory if at all possible, and then review the passage several times today.

But now, thus says the LORD, who ______________________ you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have __________________________ you; I have called you by your ___________________; you are Mine.  Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV)

DAY THREE: A Preparation Period

Please carefully read Esther 2:10-14 and answer the following questions.

1. What had Mordecai told Esther to not do, and how did he show concern for this young woman he had taken in as his own daughter (vv. 10, 11)?

2. What types of preparations were made for each woman’s turn to go before the king? (vv. 12, 13)?

3. What happened to these young women when they made their appearance, and how does this demonstrate Ahasuerus’ shameful treatment of them (v. 14)?

NOTE: As we saw last week, the translators of Esther were quite genteel in how they dealt with some situations, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to know what was going on.  These women then became part of the king’s harem, under the custody of Shaashgaz, whose fitting name meant “servant of the beautiful.”[xi]

4. Estimates of how many women were taken from their families to satisfy the king’s perverse lusts have ranged from 400 to 1,460; saddest of all is that these misused young women lived the rest of their lives in a state of widowhood more than marriage![xii] Each one would only come back to see the king if he delighted in her (“unless he especially enjoyed her,” NLT) and called her by name.

Treating women in this way dehumanizes them, whether it is through real sexual encounters or by viewing pornography or other similar things. It can ultimately destroy our lives and has a damaging, victimizing effect on the others involved. We cannot over-remind ourselves of how dangerous, enslaving, and destructive sexual sin is. Read the following passages from Proverbs, and record some things they teach us about the foolishness of letting such a sin dominate our lives.

Proverbs 2:16-20

Proverbs 5:3-20

5. Just as in Jesus’ parable about the unjust judge unwilling helping someone contrasted to the willingness of God to help us (see Luke 18), we can see here a picture of God’s willingness to delight in and call us by name, not casting us away to a life of abandonment or having to face life’s struggles on our own. What are some of the wonderful things you read in the following passages about our King’s delight in and calling us by name to demonstrate His love?

Isaiah 43:1; Isa. 45:4

Malachi 3:16-17

1 Peter 2:9-10

Scripture Memory: Try to fill in the missing words in the blanks below, by memory if at all possible, and then review the passage several times today.

But now, thus says the LORD, who ______________________ you, O Jacob, and He who _______________________ you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have __________________________ you; I have _______________________ you by your ___________________; you are Mine.  Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV)

DAY FOUR: A Pleased King

Please carefully read Esther 2:15-18 and answer the following questions.

1. The inevitable day came when Esther was to go before the king.  How did she prepare herself, and what demonstrated in the eyes of others that God indeed was with her through this all (v. 15)?  What was the historical link in this story (v. 16)?

NOTE: Favor means kindness and grace as well as charm or beauty, pointing out her superiority to the other candidates.[xiii]  The NLT indicates that this event took place in December 479 or January 478 BC.

2. What was Ahasuerus’ reaction to this young woman (v. 17)?

NOTE: The king was attracted to (NIV) and delighted in (NLT) Esther.  The Hebrew word for loved embraces these ideas, but speaks of passionate love for someone, combining both the heart and the mind, and is a desire to be with or possess the one loved, reflecting either sexual love in marriage or eroticism and lust.[xiv] 

3. How did Ahasuerus celebrate his new queen (v. 18)?

4. As we saw yesterday, and as our memory verse reminds us, God has called us by name and made us His own.  This reassures us that no matter what our circumstances are, God is with us and we don’t need to walk in fear and confusion.  As we wait for that day when He will come to bring us home as His bride, we too need to be preparing and seeking to do the things that are pleasing to Him.  What are some of the things we learn about what delights God’s heart from the following passages?

1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8

Proverbs 11:1, Prov. 1:20; Proverbs 15:8

John 15:7-16

Hebrews 13:15-16

5. There is coming a day too when our King will rejoice over us as His bride, and celebrate our union with Him evermore! How has God “engaged” us to Himself for now (Ephesians 1:13-14)? How does Revelation 19:1-9 describe that great day we will be “wed” to Him?

Scripture Memory: Try to fill in the missing words in the blanks below, by memory if at all possible, and then review the passage several times today.

But now, thus says the LORD, who ______________________ you, O Jacob, and He who _______________________ you, O Israel: “_____________________ not, for I have __________________________ you; I have _______________________ you by your ___________________; you are _____________________.  Isaiah 43:1 (NKJV)

DAY FIVE: A Providential Plot

Please carefully read Esther 2:19-23 and answer the following questions.

1. What do we discover about Mordecai, and how Esther was faithful to follow his guidance even though she was now in such an exalted position (vv. 19, 20)?

NOTE: The NLT translates the beginning of verse 19, “after all the young women had been transferred to the second harem,” but the language in this passage makes it difficult to know for sure which it meant.  Probably it referred to a second gathering of the unsuccessful virgins after Esther was made queen.[xv]

2. We again see God’s hand of providence at work raising Mordecai to the position he was assigned.  What did he overhear, and what was done about it (vv. 21, 22)?

NOTE: We aren’t given the reason why these men wanted to kill Ahasuerus, whether they were angry over the way he kept carrying on, something else he did that offended them, or maybe that he promoted one among them known to be Jewish. Whatever the reason, they became furious, breaking out in a strong emotional outburst of anger, flying into a rage.[xvi]

3. What was the result for these two men?  What seemingly insignificant other detail was mentioned in verse 23?

NOTE: Remember what we said about the translators being too genteel in this book?  Hanged on a gallows isn’t what we think of: a noose around the neck, etc.  The Persians were most likely the inventors of crucifixion, as they would impale the person on a wooden pole or stake for all to see and take warning from, like the Romans did many years later.  Ahasuerus’ father Darius was known to have impaled 3,000 men.[xvii]  These events will play an important role in Esther 6, but seem to be forgotten here.

4. God was at work in these events, like a divine chess player moving all of His pieces into position so He can make His biggest moves.  When we can’t see things happening as we go about our daily lives, sometimes we feel that God isn’t doing anything, or we aren’t fulfilling our purpose. Yet what did God remind Zechariah about this (Zechariah 4:10)?  How does He think about and guide us all of our days (Psalm 139:16-18)?

Scripture Memory: Can you write out this week’s passage by memory here below? Give it a try, and keep reviewing the passage several times throughout the day. Isaiah 43:1

DAY SIX: Living in Such a Time as This

1. Ahasuerus allowed passion to dominate his life, especially sexuality. He stole the precious gift of virginity from hundreds if not thousands of women without thought or remorse, using sex to try to fill the emptiness of his heart.  Solomon likewise experienced this to his great detriment, and it ultimately cost him his kingdom and all he had accomplished. Solomon amassed 700 wives and 300 concubines, and the love/lust of these women turned him away from the Lord (see 1 Kings 11).  You may look at these two men’s example and think, “I may blow it now and then, but at least I’m not like those guys!” Aren’t you? What about what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NKJV)

Oops! Maybe then you have disgraced and polluted yourself and your relationship with those you have lusted after, whether it was one, 400, 1,000, or 1,460!  We must take steps to prevent ourselves from falling to sexual sin and the damage it can bring, so we and our witness are not destroyed. 

Walking in a godly way in this area is something we must deliberately discipline ourselves to do. R. Kent Hughes, in his excellent book, Disciplines of a Godly Man, gave several practical suggestions about facing these things.[xviii] Think about these suggestions and how you can personally implement them in your life, and share together as a group what your ideas are so you can all stand against this enemy united.

(1)  Establish accountability with another you trust:

(2)  Daily and specifically pray for personal purity:

(3)  Memorize key Scripture passages about this:

(4)  Program your mind for godliness, guarding it:

(5) Put logical hedges between yourself and the opposite sex:

(6) Have a realistic view of your sexual nature, developing a mindset of obedience in view of it:

2. Like Esther, we are called to prepare ourselves for the day we will meet our King, to one day be wed to Him. The external beauty that this world desires can be cultivated, but there is no easy path toward developing the heart that God wants you to have and that will shine forth attractively to those around you. What are some things that you have found helpful in getting ready for that day, to build yourself more into the person God has called you to be? What are some changes you see that you need to make, or things you need to stop doing to better prepare yourself for Him? Please share some thoughts about this here, and also discuss these with your group.

3. Esther 2 has also reminded us of the providence of God in action, even on those “small days” where nothing seems to be happening. Think about these three truths[xix] we can glean from what we have seen in Esther about God’s sovereign providence in our lives. Record how they impact how you view each day of your life.

(1) God’s plans cannot be hindered by world events, whether they are spiritual or earthly in nature:

(2) God’s purposes for us will still be accomplished despite our own human weakness and failure:

(3) We are not excluded from His purposes because of our background, hardships, or handicaps that could exclude us from worldly success:

Scripture Memory: Hopefully you now can write out this week’s passage completely by memory. Do so now, and keep on reviewing it so you will be ready to share it with others in your group time. Isaiah 43:1

Footnotes from Lesson 2

[i] John MacArthur, ed., The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997), p. 686.
[ii] Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, eds., The Complete Word Study Dictionary Old Testament (Chattanooga:  AMG Publishers, 2003), p. 742.
[iii] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., The Complete Word Study Old Testament (Chattanooga:  AMG Publishers, 1994), pp. 1690, 2307.
[iv] Herbert L. Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 142.
[v] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., The Complete Word Study Old Testament, p. 2381.
[vi] Herbert L. Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, p. 246.
[vii] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., p. 2308.
[viii] Ibid., p. 1291.
[ix] Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, eds., The Complete Word Study Dictionary Old Testament, pp. 460, 1211.
[x] Charles R. Swindoll, Esther, a Woman of Strength and Dignity (Nashville:  Word Publishing, 1997), p. 45.
[xi] Herbert L. Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible, p. 297.
[xii] Joyce G. Baldwin, Esther (Downer’s Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1984), pp. 66, 68.
[xiii] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., p. 2316.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 2298.
[xv] Mervin Breneman, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.  In E. Ray Clendenen, ed., The New American Commentary Vol. 10 (Nashville:  Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1993), p. 321.
[xvi] Spiros Zodhiates, ed., p. 2362.
[xvii] John A. Martin, Esther.  In John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament (Wheaton:  Victor Books/SP Publications, 1985), pp. 204, 205.
[xviii] R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton:  Crossway Books, 1991), pp. 28-31.
[xix] Based on Charles R. Swindoll, Esther, a Woman of Strength and Dignity, p. 37, 38.

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© 2005 by Harvest Christian Fellowship. All rights reserved. Written by Thomas Klock for Men’s Bible Fellowship, 2004-2005. www.Harvest.org

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