Esther: The Making of a Queen Day 3: A Beauty Pageant
Scripture reading: Esther 2:1-18
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. Then 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 citadel, 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. … And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. (Esther 2:1-4,16-17, ESV)
When we think of beauty pageants, we often think of competitions with relatively low stakes; children are dolled up in makeup and tiaras and young women are paraded across our TV screens in evening gowns to win trophies or, more significantly, a scholarship prize. While they may play a key role in shaping the lives and public images of the contestants, we don’t often think of these contests as carrying a substantial amount of emotional weight or causing lifetime effects.
The “beauty pageant” that Esther participated in would have been more akin to an extremely high-stakes episode of “The Bachelor.” After all, the Bible tells us there is a whirlwind of one-night stands, with each woman taking an extraordinary amount of time and preparation to dazzle a suitor with whom she will spend a minimal amount of time before he makes the monumental decision of requesting her hand in marriage. (This plotline may sound absurd, but TV shows that follow it appear annually to the delight of millions of viewers.) There are several glaring differences, however, that make Esther’s beauty pageant far more dangerous than a modern reality TV spectacle.
First of all, the contestants were forcibly brought to the king’s palace. Second, the contest took place in a society and culture that required virginity, and every woman who was taken to the king sacrificed it, making her unsuitable for future marriage. All the women who went to the king were taken as part of his harem of concubines and we never discover what happens to them afterward. Life as they knew it was radically changed forever. Third, the woman who won this beauty pageant was made queen over an enormous empire, and her entire future would be determined by the desires of the king and the needs of her people.
Queen Esther, particularly as a Jew whose family had been captured by the Persians, would certainly not have spent her early life dreaming of being queen as do many modern little girls reading fairy tales. The thought of being in the king’s presence would likely have elicited intense fear rather than excitement. But Esther must have shown great composure to gain the admiration of Hegai and everyone else who saw her. Ultimately, the king “loved Esther more than all the women, and… he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen.”
Esther had gone before the king with only the adornment Hegai advised her to take with her. She continually obeyed the instructions of Mordecai and the commands of the king. Her physical beauty was obvious to everyone around her, but her inner beauty and humility shone as well. As circumstances continued to darken and Esther’s greatest challenge was looming on the horizon, her character and courage would be the attributes to win her the highest honor of all—a legacy.
As believers, we should be encouraged by God’s continued workings in our greatest moments of fear and uncertainty. When our dreams and our hopes do not come to fruition—as they often do not—it is easy to wonder if God is absent or inattentive. I am sure Esther incessantly wondered why she was chosen, but it is clear that God was not surprised by her circumstances and used them to accomplish a great victory through her. He can do the same with us.
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:26-30, ESV)