When we get to Esther chapter two, we ought to be thoroughly confused. What is this book about? Who is concerned about a fight between Xerxes and Vashti, two Persians who could care less about the God of the Jews? [not that God is mentioned mind you]. It isn’t until we begin reading chapter two that a glimmer of light starts to emerge. Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai (2.5). We are told a lot about Mordecai: he is a Jew; he lived in the citadel [a sub-portion of the city of Susa where the palace was]; he is the son of Jair, Shimei, Kish; he is bringing up his cousin whose name is Hadassah [Jewish name] which is Esther [Persian name].
The name “Mordecai” means “little, bitter brusing, or bitterly reduced.” This appears to be his Persian name, his Jewish name is not mentioned. What stands out about Mordecai is that, as near as we can tell from the narrative, he is the only person in all of Susa who recognizes the importance of Vashti being banished and the opportunities presented by this event. When Esther “is taken” (2.8) into the harem, Mordecai instructs her not to tell anyone about her nationality. She obeys him. Why does Mordecai tell her this? We only know later [which by the way, is a mark of whoever wrote Esther. The author slowly and carefully builds suspense in the narrative], at this point it just seems like paranoia on Mordecai’s part. However, we will discover that Mordecai is brilliant; seems to intuitively know how to play palace politics; and whether he puts Esther into position, or she is just swept up because she is hot looking, he realizes the possibilities instantly.
We also meet Esther in this chapter. Hadassah means “myrtle” and Esther means “star, she that is hidden.” Leland Ryken believes that she has two names in the story because the author wants to depict her as a young woman trying to live in two worlds—Jewish and Persian. We are told three things about Esther: she has a beautiful figure; she is lovely to look at; and her parents have died and Mordecai (her cousin) has raised her as his own daughter. The author of Esther very slowly builds out Esther’s character as the narrative develops. We see her pliant and obedient when she is introduced, and only gradually and after she has been tempered in the forge of crisis does she turn into the astounding, cunning, and powerful queen that she becomes.
What did Esther think about being taken [notice that the Hebrew verb is passive here] into the harem? Karen Jobes writes: “The passive voice is used frequently throughout the story, suggesting that characters are caught up in events by some unseen force that has ultimate control. Moreover, their own personal opinion about their circumstances seems irrelevant as the events of the story move inexorably to their climax.”
Jobes again: “Esther had been taken into Xerxes’ harem, just as the Jews had been taken into exile. Regardless of how she felt about it or whether she cooperated, Esther was at the mercy of a ruthless pagan king, just as her people were.”
We ought to remember that before we too quickly judge Esther’s actions.