Reality TV in the Ancient World: Esther 2: 1-11

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Esther 2:1-11

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. 2 Then the king’s servants who attended him said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. 3 And let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in the citadel of Susa under custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; let their cosmetic treatments be given them. 4 And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This pleased the king, and he did so.

                5 Now there was a Jew in the citadel of Susa whose name was Mordecai son of Jair son of Shimei son of Kish, a Benjaminite. 6 Kish had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with King Jeconiah of Judah, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had carried away. 7 Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his cousin, for she had neither father nor mother; the girl was fair and beautiful, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter. 8 So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. 9 The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem. 10 Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. 11 Every day Mordecai would walk around in front of the court of the harem, to learn how Esther was and how she fared.

Here we have the Old Testament’s version of the Bachelor where many young women are gathered up to try to impress a single man. Now the Old Testament version would not be fit to show on network television, even though the book of Esther does not go into any details like modern literature would do, it is quite clear that how these young girls please the king determines whether they are to be the queen or not. There is no rose ceremony, nor have these young girls chosen this path…it is the way of the time: a powerful man has the authority to take the best and brightest to himself. The King has the power, and as Mel Brooks would say, “It’s good to be the king!” If you make a complete fool of yourself and allow your words to become law, law which cannot be revoked and you put your queen, who it seems like King Ahasuerus is missing, aside and prevent her from being in your present-why not get a new and replacement queen.

Power and powerlessness are put side by side in the book of Esther, the king has all the power, but then enters Mordecai, the exile, and Esther (or her Jewish name Hadassah used only here), the orphan, who have no power. Esther is taken into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, and her life is in another’s hands. From this point forward her life depends upon how she can please others. As much as we may want to rebel against this, in the world of Esther her life is not in her own hands. Because she pleases Hegai she gets cosmetic treatments, food, maids and the best place in the house. On the one hand this is probably like the young teenager who suddenly finds stardom and realizes quickly that their life is no longer their own, but rather many others want a piece of her life. Esther’s life is now contained in the bubble of the king’s harem and she will have her audition night with the king, but she and Mordecai are ultimately powerless in the midst of the powerful king seeking one who pleases him.

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