Revive Our Hearts Podcast

No Innocent Beauty Contest

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss hears from women with so many questions.

Nancy DeMoss: Why did God put me in this marriage? Why did God put me in this workplace? Why did God put me in this community? Why did God put me in this country, in this place, in this circumstance? We don’t know, but we trust God’s providence that He has a purpose for putting us there.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Monday, June ninth. The news is full of stories about injustices against women around the world. This isn’t anything new.

Today, we’ll hear about a teenager caught up in a culture that disrespected women.

I hope you’re encouraged to see how God remained with her as she navigated a dangerous world. Nancy’s continuing a series called, Esther, God’s Woman at God’s Time.

Nancy: We’ve spent the last several days in Esther chapter one, which takes place in the third year of the rule of King Xerxes. During that chapter, we see that his queen, Vashti, resists his demand to come and appear at this lewd, drunken feast, and he deposes her. She’s now off the throne.

This whole first chapter took place while Xerxes was preparing to launch an offensive war against the Greeks. The king does not immediately replace Vashti. Instead, he sets off to invade Greece, so when we pick up in chapter two, and it says, “After these things,” (verse 1) this is actually four years later.

What has happened in the meantime between chapter one and chapter two is that the king has suffered a humiliating loss to the Greeks. Now, remember we said that Ahasuerus, or Xerxes, as he’s called in some of your translations, was an arrogant man. He was an angry man. He didn’t like things not going his way.

He has had this humiliating loss, and that’s the context with which we come to chapter two, verse one.

After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her.

The king’s young men who attended him said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the capital, under custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women. Let their cosmetics be given them. And let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti." This pleased the king, and he did so (through verse 4).

Now, let me just say, you’ve seen all kinds of depictions of the story of Esther. You’ve heard the story since you were a little girl. You maybe dressed up like Esther for some kind of costume party or something.

We need to recognize that this was not a harmless, "Miss Persia" beauty contest. These women were conscripted into the king’s harem. According to one ancient historian, there were 400 or more of them.

This was a horrible, degrading process. These young women were used to satisfy the lust of this lecherous, arrogant, alcoholic, angry king. Once they had been with the king, if he didn’t approve of them, if he didn’t want them to be his queen, they could never marry again.

They would become a concubine and were consigned to be a prisoner in his harem and were destined to spend the rest of their lives in loneliness—never could marry. This was not a happy life. This was not a happy or wholesome thing.

Now, in the next paragraph, beginning at verse five of chapter two, the whole tone that we’ve seen thus far, which is very secular, very worldly, very arrogant—the whole tone changes, and into this very secular arena now come two of God’s chosen people. Everything about them, their background, their lives, their character, their responses—everything about them stands in sharp contrast to what we have seen of Xerxes with his arrogance, his lust for power, his controlling ways, the way he uses people and disposes of them on a whim.

We read in verse five,

Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel [or the capitol], whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away (verses 5-6).

Let’s unpack that for a moment. Here’s Mordecai. He’s identified as a Jew in Susa. Let me just say there’s something wrong with that picture. He’s in a foreign land.

The Jews belonged in Palestine. Here is Mordecai, who’s a Jew, in a pagan land. He doesn’t fit in, and yet God is going to use him and give him a purpose.

Listen, ladies, we don’t belong to this earth. We’re made for another place. It’s called heaven. We don’t fit in here on this earth, but God wants to use us to be a blessing, to fulfill His purposes, and to help bring about His kingdom in this world.

Now, we see that Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin. Who else do you know who was from the tribe of Benjamin? First king of Israel, King Saul.

Mordecai’s great-grandfather had been deported from Judah by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, and Mordecai was now the third or fourth generation to have grown up in what was now Persia. He lived in the capitol of Susa. He was providentially placed there by God for reasons that he had no way of understanding at the time.

He could not see. He did not know why God had put him as a Jew, as a foreigner, there in the middle of this Persian Empire. He didn’t fit. Jews didn’t fit in Persia. It’s not where they belonged, and yet God had providentially placed him there, had a purpose for his life.

Can I say, you may not see, you may not know—we cannot see; we do not know—all the purposes and the intents God has for our lives here on this earth? Why did God put me in this marriage? Why did God put me in this workplace? Why did God put me in this community? Why did God put me in this country? In this place? In this circumstance? We don’t know, but we trust God’s providence that He has a purpose for putting us there.

Now, verse seven tells us Mordecai,

was bringing up Hadassah, that is, Esther [Esther being the Persian name], the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.”

So here Mordecai is bringing up his orphaned cousin. He has adopted her. He is watchful over her. He is taking care of her, and you’ll see that as we get further into this chapter.

He fulfills a father’s responsibility for daughters; that is to watch over their daughters. She is his adopted daughter. Esther is a Jewess, and the Jews are going to be, as we see, a despised minority in the kingdom.

It says that she’s a young woman. I looked up that word in the original language yesterday, and it says the word “young woman” or “young women” means maiden. It speaks of a girl anytime from infancy to adolescence. She was a young girl, probably a teenager.

I’m so glad that there are some younger women who are listening to Revive Our Hearts each day, and I just want to challenge some of you young women to say, “Lord, I don’t know what Your purpose is for my life. I don’t know why You made me. I don’t know why You put me in this family, in this time, but I know You have a purpose. I want to surrender myself to You for whatever Your purpose is for my life.”

We see that she’s a young woman. We see that she’s physically beautiful. That’s a little fact, but it becomes important. It’s how she ends up in the palace.

Where did she get her beauty? God gave it to her. That was part of God’s providence in her life.

She was an orphan. Both her parents had died. She had no family other than Mordecai, and you think of all the things in this woman’s background that you’d say would be not ideal, the things that could have caused her to say, “There’s no hope for me. There is no use for me.”

If this girl could have had a self-image problem—apart from her physical beauty, and even her physical beauty could have caused a self-image problem because "that’s the only reason they want me is because of my beauty." She’s a woman who had lots of reasons to not turn out well.

She turns into a beautiful, effective servant of the Lord. So against this backdrop of the royal court and all the officials of the Medo-Persian empire, this pair, Mordecai and Esther, must have seemed terribly insignificant—no chance of influencing a king, much less a whole empire. You see, it appeared, as we read in this first chapter, that Xerxes had all the power, all the influence in his hands.

He snaps his finger, wham, the queen’s gone; snaps his fingers, people bring drinks; snaps his fingers, the whole nation just snaps to—comes to attention. He’s the one with the power. What he didn’t realize is that Xerxes, as well as Mordecai and Esther, were all in the hand of a God who has all power.

God has all power. So far from being insignificant, as it turns out, Mordecai and Esther are to play a vital role in the deliverance of God’s people and therefore the continuation of the nation through whom the Messiah would be born. Their simple courage, their faith, their devotion allowed them to be instruments in the hand of a sovereign God who is always at work fulfilling His purposes in our world.

Verse eight,

When the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in Susa . . . in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women.

The king made an order. Bring these women in. It’s one of five royal decrees made by the king in the book of Esther.

We don’t know whether Esther was taken voluntarily or whether she was taken against her will. I have tried to figure it out. I have read this text over and over and over and over again. I’ve read a gazillion commentaries, well, maybe not quite that many but quite a few.

We just don't know, but I would say, based on what we know about Xerxes and based on what we do know about the text, it says she was taken; he made this decree. I would tend to think that she was conscripted against her will. That's what seems to make sense to me in this passage. We do know that the king wielded absolute authority and that to refuse or to resist could have meant instant death.

Regardless, whether she went of her own free will or whether she was coerced, as I think is probably the case, we know this: We know that God, in His providence, brought good out of evil.

Remember that Esther doesn't know the end of the story. We know the end of the story, but she doesn't know it. Try and put yourself in her shoes, her sandals, if you will, and listen as we come to verse eight.

When the king's order and his edict were proclaimed [that is that all these beautiful women were to be gathered from all across the kingdom to be in a competition, so to speak, to become the next queen], when many young women were gathered in Susa . . . in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king's palace and was put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women.

And the young woman [that is Esther], pleased him. [That is Hegai, who was in charge of the harem. She won his favor, and note that word favor because you'll see it recurring throughout the book of Esther.] And he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and her portion of food, and with seven chosen young women from the king's palace and advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem (verses 8-9)

So here this young, teenage girl, comes into this total, unexpected, radical change in her whole life, in all her circumstances. The whole course of her life is radically altered in one fell swoop.

You'd think it would have been enough that she'd lost both her parents. We don't know how that happened, but when she was little, she'd lost both parents. You think, “What else can happen to this girl?” and what happens, as soon as she gets in the palace, she quickly wins the favor of everyone she meets.

We just read in verse nine she quickly won the favor of Hegai, the king's chief chamberlain or eunuch. When you go down to verse 15 of the same chapter, you see that she won the favor of everyone who saw her, and then in verse 17 it says when she went in to the king, she won his favor. Three times in this chapter, she won the favor of the people who were around her.

Now, how did she win their favor and why? What made this woman stand out? Well, we know that she was initially chosen for her striking physical appearance. She was beautiful. The Scripture tells us that, but I think there had to be more to it than that.

I don't think it was just that she was more sexually alluring than these other women. I think she gained favor for two reasons. One, God's hand was on her life. God gives favor.

I think about the passage decades earlier in the book of Daniel where Daniel was taken as a captive into the same palace, and Daniel one tells us, “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,” (verse 9). Where does favor come from? From God.

God is the King. God rules and overrules even all the kings of the universe. God gave Daniel favor, and I believe it's God who gave Esther favor because God had a plan that was bigger than Daniel, bigger than the Babylonian king, bigger than Esther, bigger than King Xerxes.

God had a plan to fulfill His redemptive purposes in this world. Daniel was a part of it. Esther was a part of it. God put them into the palace and gave them favor.

She gained favor because God's hand was on her life, but I think there's another reason she gained favor and that is because she had something more than physical beauty. She had inner beauty. She was a woman of poise.

As you read this whole story, you see that she is a remarkable young woman. Her character is worthy of admiration. Her character won her favor. I think there was a winsome spirit about her.

Proverbs 3 tells us, “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (verses 3-4).

Keep love and faithfulness. Have a winsome heart. Have a godly heart. Have a godly spirit.

Proverbs 13 says, “Good sense wins favor” (verse 15). I think she's a woman who had her head about her. She kept her wits, and it's God who enabled her to do that. That was God's grace in her life, too, but I'll tell you one thing. I guarantee you, she did not gain favor with Hegai and ultimately with the king and others by being a whiny, pouting, moody, controlling, self-centered, shrewish woman. Those kind of women don't win favor.

I hear from women all the time through Revive Our Hearts who are in difficult, tough circumstances, kind of like Esther being in the harem of this wicked, Gentile king. There are women who listen to Revive Our Hearts, maybe some of you here, who are in very difficult marriages, difficult work environments, difficult school environments. It's a wicked, fallen world, and some of these women, in how they react to their circumstances, forfeit favor.

You see, I believe a woman of God can gain favor in the worst of circumstances if she has a winsome spirit, if she has a godly heart, if she has godly character. That's what you read about Daniel in this same palace. Daniel chapter 6, “Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents . . . because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (verse 3).

You want to advance in favor with God and men? Then develop a winsome spirit, an excellent spirit, as Daniel had. Now, having an excellent spirit doesn't mean you'll never end up a captive, as Daniel did and as, I think, Esther was. But it means that God will be able to work through your life to accomplish His purposes as you have that excellent spirit.

Esther didn't become like the spirit of the people around her. She became more and more godly, I think, as this story unfolds. There was something that stood out, something that was captivating, something that was impressive about her, worthy of admiration and favor, that was far more than her physical beauty. So let me remind you that God is always at work in every place, even in a pagan king's harem.

Hard to fathom, isn't it? Let me tell you, there is not a place you live or work or serve or have to function, that is too dark for God to be there. God is there in the most unlikely places—in your secular workplace, in your family, in your university setting. God is able to manifest His presence.

Now, verse 10 tells us that,

Esther had not made known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known. And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her” (verses 10-11).

This is just a little parenthesis here, maybe, in this passage, but I think it's worthy of note.

We see the parent/child relationship here between Mordecai and his adopted daughter, his younger cousin, Esther, and how the role of a parent is to instruct, to protect, to direct, and to oversee the lives of the parents' children. Mordecai’s concern for Esther didn't end once she was out of her home. He stayed connected to her, to the best of his ability. He still felt a sense of responsibility for her.

She was his daughter. He had raised her as his daughter. Let me say to you, young women, your mother will always be your mother. Your parents will always care.

Now, they don't always care perfectly. Sometimes they show that care in the wrong ways, but it's right of a parent to care. It was right of Mordecai.

I can just imagine him walking in front of this court of the harem trying to find any little piece of news that he could. How's she doing? How's she doing? Because, of course, Esther was isolated in this harem.

She couldn't just come out and talk to people outside the palace, but Mordecai is diligent. It's not “out of sight; out of mind.” He wants to know how she's doing. He wants to stay connected, and Esther stays connected in her heart.

Mordecai said to her as she's leaving, “Don't tell them your background.” Now, we don't know why. We know there was anti-Semitic sentiment in the kingdom in that day, and it was probably the prudent thing that this counsel he gave to her, “Don't tell your background. Don't make known your people or your kindred.”

Regardless, Esther was submissive to the counsel that she had received from Mordecai. She continued follow his counsel, to be obedient to it, even after she'd left his direct care.

Can I just say to you, young women, younger women. I have found great protection and blessing in my life as a result of making choices, even as an adult woman, to continue to follow the things that my parents taught me as a young woman? Some of those things, if I told you what they were, you'd say, “You're a grownup. Make your own decisions.”

I do make my own decisions, and you know what I decide more often than not? To follow the counsel that I received from my parents as a young woman. So we see Esther here, a young woman who is submissive. She is responsive. She remembers what she's been taught. She puts it into practice once she gets where she can do anything she wants.

I remember when I was 17 years old and my parents let me go across the country from Philadelphia to southern California to do my last two years of college at the University of Southern California. I can't imagine how they let me do that. I want to tell you God protected me, but something else that protected me was the fact that I chose, at 17 years of age, when I could do what I wanted to do (I could go places I wanted to go; my parents weren't there to watch and oversee), but God helped me to make right choices based on the things my parents had taught.

I don't know how many times God has protected my life from things that could have been dangerous, deadly, or deceptive influences because of choosing to listen to their counsel. So Esther is discreet. She gets into the king's palace, and she doesn't discuss her identity or her background. God blesses her, I believe, in part, and puts His favor on her because she chooses to stay under the counsel and under the wisdom that she had received growing up as a young woman under the care of Mordecai.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been helping the story of Esther come off the page, reminding us how much suspense and drama is there. Today's program is part of a series called, Esther: God's Woman at God's Time.

It will help you get past simple Sunday school ideas of a woman who got to become queen. It will help you put yourself in the frightening place of this teenager navigating an unjust world. Most importantly, it will help you see the hand of God guiding Esther through every ordeal.

He'll guide you, too, and this series can help you learn more about His providence. It's available on CD from our resource center. I also hope you engage with the study guide our team has put together called, Esther, the Exiled Queen. Each day's reading will pull out a theme from Esther, help you relate it to your life and relationship with God.

When you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts, we'll send you the booklet, Esther, the Exiled Queen. Just ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959. That's also the number for the series on CD or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

We've been looking at the chauvinistic attitude of King Xerxes. Tomorrow, we'll contrast that attitude with God's view of the beauty and value of women. Now, let's pray with Nancy.

Nancy: Lord, thank You that You give favor, and even in the most improbable or difficult circumstances and places, You are at work. You are moving. You are accomplishing Your purposes.

Lord, I thank You for Godly influence and people that You bring into our lives to train us, and I pray that You would teach us and show us how to live out that counsel. Lord, I pray for women who've never had godly parents or influence or training, that they might receive that from Your Word and might live in obedience to the ultimate counsel of Your Word.

Thank You, Lord, for Your providence and how we see it in this story and how we're learning to see it in our own lives. I thank You in Jesus' name. Amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries .

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version.

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