I’m in the middle of doing an independent study on Esther, using different commentaries, videos, and guidebooks to help me go as deep as I can over this Summer, into one of the most fascinating feminine books of the Bible, in my opinion. The book of Esther might as well have been written as a How To Guide on beauty – the appearance as well, as what is beyond skin deep.
Going into the history of the book of Esther, I was pleasantly surprised that my girlish notions of romantic fantasies were reality. Greek Historian, Herodotus, who wrote History of the Persian Wars only 25 years after King Ahasuerus’ reign, wrote about our main male character. According to Herodotus, King Ahasuerus (the Hebrew name for ‘Xerxes‘) supposedly was incredibly handsome, and a spoiled play-boy. Not only did this man have royal blood coursing through his veins, had inherited a vast Persian Empire that encompassed all the surrounding countries in that region except for Greece, and inherited a seemingly endless supply of gold, treasures, and anything money could buy for him, but to top it off with him being incredibly good-looking, makes the book all the more exciting.
For any single women out there, you will be pleased to find that perhaps one of the many small lessons you can glean from the book of Esther, is that to be captivating, is more than having mere outer beauty.
Esther was stunningly beautiful, of that I have no doubt. She was among the young virgins who were chosen from each area, that met the standard requirement of being “beautiful.” She was capable of carrying the weight of her outward beauty, and yet beneath the surface, she hid a treasure of inner beauty. As I’ve been reading and searching between the lines, I’ve found that Esther was much more than simply a beauty Queen who won the ultimate contest, she was smart, winsome, and full of kindness and good manners towards all who were near her.
I’ve done my own search into the meaning of winsome:
Winsome: Generally pleasing or engaging, often because of a childlike charm or innocence; Cheerful or lighthearted
Win comes from Old English wynsum = wynn, which means “Joy”
Right away we find that Esther gains the favor of the Head Eunuch who managed all the women. He was in charge of their beauty regimens, their daily activities, their diets, their clothing, care, etc. The Hebrew word used to describe how Esther went about obtaining his favor reveals that she “gained” or “took” his kindness.
“This idiom (found only in Esther) holds a suggestion of activeness in “gaining,” rather than, as the usual idiom has it, “finding” kindness. Gaining kindness is something she is doing, rather than something being done to her.”
(Michael V. Fox, Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther, 2001. 26-27)
Esther somehow was able to win the favor “of all who saw her.” (Esther 2:15) According to Beth Moore, this reveals even more about her character.
Beloved, you and I both know that a rare woman indeed is beautiful from a male perspective and favored by other women. Females tend to be highly threatened by a woman admired by men. Throw a horde of women competing for one man in the mix, and you’re sitting pretty for a cat fight.
A woman who can win the man and her female peers is in a class almost by herself. …
I think Esther was as likeable as she was beautiful. She had looks a man liked, but she had a demeanor that women liked. Perhaps she was endearing and befriending to the others. Maybe she refused to get her toes tangled in their back-combed hair on her climb to the top and she was humble enough to accept the advice of a eunuch. Esther managed to walk the fine line of moderation without making others feel judged because they didn’t. How often have you witnessed that kind of girl?
Beth Moore points out in her guidebook that being exposed to severe trauma at an early age, losing both her parents while a child – being an orphan – might have made her seem different. More compassionate. More in tune with empathy, something that all men crave, especially a King who has access to the most beautiful women in the world, and could have any concubine he wanted, and yet needed something more intimate to sate his soul. Vashti had blatantly and cruelly humiliated him in front of all of Susa, during the finale of his week long party, during a sensitive time of his trying to ramp up political support for his campaign to go to war to conquer Greece (something that seemed like an extremely difficult undertaking). He, of all men, understood what it meant to have a wife and Queen who would undermine you, publicly humiliate you, and refuse to support you at the time that you needed it most.
In Beth Moore’s guidebook, she also suggests that Esther being brought up by her male cousin (who never did marry) could have been enough to make her stand out in a strange or unique way in which the other young ladies, who had mothers, didn’t. She was a beauty who grew up without a female role model that we know of, but with a masculine parental authority… a man who suddenly found himself a father to an orphaned child.
Perhaps growing up with him gave her a different perspective, perhaps her seeing his life, having love and compassion for him as her father-figure, having an obviously good relationship with him (as seen throughout the entire story) made her more in tune with how to talk to a man, or how to really listen to a man. How to emphasize with a man.
According to historians, King Xerxes did go on to attempt to conquer Greece… and failed… miserably! Not only had he lost his wife and Queen, endured the hurt of her public humiliation, he then endured devastating military defeat. Talk about a hit to a man’s pride. King Xerxes was used to winning, he was handsome, threw lavish parties, got rid of his Queen immediately at the first sight of public disrespect. He had pride, like most kings always did I’m sure… and it was more than likely bleeding out at this point.
The events in the book play out as though they happen in the same week (and truth be told, that is how I’ve always read it), however, the Bible clearly states that Xerxes was in his 3rd year of his reign (age 35) at the time of Vashti’s betrayal, and then in his 7th year (age 39) when he was effectively in a state of regret and depression, and was convinced by his personal attendants to search for a beautiful, young, virginal new wife.
In my humble opinion, he didn’t need another concubine… he had plenty of women to use for sexual pleasure. And being historically described as a playboy, he’d probably had enough of that anyway. He needed someone to fill his soul… the kind of woman who could mend a King’s pride and build him back up again after his devastating failure. And our kind, thoughtful girl Esther was God’s purposed and benevolent gift to King Xerxes. God was not only planning the survival of the Jewish race, but also gave a man who had known crushing and humiliating defeat, a redeemed chance at true love. (Yes, I am overly romantic with this… I’m a woman, so sue me.)
We will sadly never know exactly what made her so unique that King Xerxes, after the night he spent with her, “loved her more than all the others.” Listen to the passage of the Bible that follows after her night with the King:
The king loved Esther more than all the other women. She won more favor and approval from him than did any of the other virgins.
He placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti.
The king held a great banquet for all his officials and staff.
It was Esther’s banquet.
He freed his provinces from tax payments and gave gifts worthy of the King’s bounty.
Sweet, winsome Esther, somehow swept the play-boy, handsome King Xerxes off his feet! Did you catch that he actually threw a banquet for her? She was humble enough to ask for only what the head eunuch advised her to take for her night with the King, but perhaps her humility also provoked this lavish display of a King’s public favor on her. Vashti lacked proper manners. Vashti lacked a good helping of Humble Pie. But Esther… she floored the King with not only how she looked, but possibly due to her behavior.
I believe, somehow, even though King Xerxes had never known a loss of available women to sate his sexual needs, he had never come across someone like her before… and that both intrigued him and captivated his heart.
So single ladies… embrace that femininity, revel in your childlike charm we all had growing up that men so love to see in us, and above all, no matter how beautiful you may be on the outside, always act in humility and with kindness.
It’s like my mother always told me, “Good manners go a long way.”