The book of Esther is so much like a fairy tale that it might be hard for some people to take it seriously. The events recorded in the book occurred at a time in history that was actually very well documented, so there is little doubt that it is a true and correct account of what happened to Esther, but how the story may be interpreted varies greatly. In order to understand the details, a context has to be established, and I believe the best way to do that is to look at the accomplishments of the first Persian Empire. It was the first kingdom to establish a centralized bureaucratic administration system that included people of different origins and faith. The Persian Empire had an official language that was used across all its territories which spanned 5.5 million square kilometers, approximately the size of the United States. After its conquest of the Babylonian Empire, a series of kings, beginning with Cyrus the Great, identified themselves as world leaders and attempted to unite all people into a single culture. Ahasuerus reigned “from India to Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces” (Esther 1:1).
It could be said that the first Persian Empire was similar to the United States during the 1950’s after its victory in World War II. The economy was booming and expansion was taking place throughout the country. A key characteristic that I think is similar between these two cultures is male dominance in the home and sexual pleasure being considered a necessary requirement for a successful marriage. Queen Vashti, Ahasuerus’ first wife, was deposed, which means she was removed from her office suddenly and forcefully, because she refused to appear immediately in his court at his command during a festival the king was hosting. It says in Esther 1:12, “But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.” It is likely Vashti was pregnant with her third child at the time this incident took place. Using Vashti’s disobedience as justification for her dismissal, Ahasuerus launched a search for a suitable replacement that included all the good looking virgins in his kingdom (Esther 2:2).
It is clear from the description of what happened that every virgin that was selected was expected to have sex with the king. It says in Esther 2:14, “In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into a second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came into the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.” A concubine or paramour in today’s language is a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person. When it was Esther’s turn to sleep with the king, he fell in love with her. It says in Esther 2:17, “And the king loved Esther above all the other women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” The king’s emotional decision to marry Esther was most likely a result of God’s providence over her life. Even though Esther was out of the will of God, he did not allow her life to be ruined by her circumstances.