Orphan wins beauty contest in Iranian court – Feast of Purim

[First published 11th July 2013, reprised for this special Feast of Purim and the Bride of Christ.]
This headline belongs to the story of an orphaned young lady named Esther in the heart of the ancient Iranian, or Persian, empire about 2,600 years ago. It is recorded in the well-known book bearing her name. (Wikipedia explains the national names.) In closing the last post I wrote about the likely relevance of her story to developments in the UK today. Before elaborating, I must outline Esther’s exceptional story.:


About 100 years earlier, the Hebrew people had been taken into captivity from Israel and Judea by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. His empire fell to the Medes and Persians (as the prophets predicted) and one of the first actions of king Cyrus was to repatriate exiled peoples and to re-instate their national gods.

The Jews benefited greatly and a few groups returned over subsequent decades to rebuild destroyed Jerusalem and its temple built by King Solomon. Some Jews stayed behind, however, of which Mordecai, a minor official, was one. His great-grandfather was one of the original captive exiles and, later, an uncle and aunt died leaving their daughter an orphan. So, Mordecai looked after his younger cousin as his own daughter. The Bible describes the situation and that, ‘The young woman was lovely and beautiful’ (Esther 2:5-7).

Several years after their surprising defeat by the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon in 490BC, there were good reasons for Persian king Ahasuerus (Xerxes I) to give a huge feast at the climax of six months’ display of his wealth and power. His queen threw a huge party too, but refused his request to join his celebrations, thereby giving offence to not only the king but also to his courtiers. She even refused his command to be brought before him! His council of regional princes thought her action set a bad example, and one which other ladies may follow! The first chapter in Esther records how the princes answered their king (please note the emphasised principles),

“If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. 20 When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed through-out all his empire (for it is great)…21 And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan. 22 Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language.

Thus Xerxes deposed his queen and his servants later recommended that a replacement be found by means of a beauty contest, to which the king agreed and issued a decree. Mordecai advised Esther not to tell of her Jewish roots and took her to the king’s palace for selection. This was followed by 12 months’ beauty preparations before being presented personally to King Xerxes, when…

The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king made a great feast, the Feast of Esther, for all his officials and servants; and he proclaimed a holiday in the provinces and gave gifts according to the generosity of a king. (Esther 2)

About that time, Mordecai uncovered a plot to overthrow the king. So, Esther informed the king in her cousin’s name. Afterwards, the king appointed Haman above all princes and commanded all to pay him homage. But Mordecai refused to do so! This wicked, intensely anti-Semitic leader therefore hated Mordecai and devised a conspiracy, with financial incentives, to wipe out all Jews from the kingdom. Later, he built a ‘gallows’ on his own property for Mordecai. Thus, the king was manipulated into issuing a decree and handed his signet ring to Haman for authorising the decree into law (Esther 3).

Mordecai learned about this plan (Esther 4) and informed Esther, who responded,

“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden sceptre, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.”

This ruling applied even to Queen Esther! Mordecai challenged her with these famous words:
“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther resolved to go before the king making supplication on behalf of her people, and requested back-up prayers and fasting,

“…And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”

Courtesy of Gilbert and Beers

Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house.[a] 2 So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favour in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the sceptre.

To find out what happened next and to gain insights into how God works to protect His people, continue reading here… (click therein for next short chapters).

To return to my notes on the Mentoring Day with Dr Sharon Stone click for either Part 1 or for Part 2.


This historic deliverance of the Jews from extermination is celebrated annually during the Feast of Purim. For more information in a brief introduction to the Book of Esther read Mary Fairchild’s summary, and read the whole, short book at Bible Gateway’s website.

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