Esther 2 describes King Xerxes’ (or Ahasuerus’) search for a new queen of Persia. A group of beautiful young virgins from the city of Susa was selected (verse 3). Among this group was Esther, a Jewess who kept her ethnic background hidden (verse 8).
Esther gained favor with Hegai, the man in charge of these women (verse 8). He provided her with food, cosmetics, and seven female servants (verse 9). Each woman required 12 months of preparation to appear before the king, and then it was only for one night. None of the women would return to the king unless he summoned her by name (verse 14). It appears that each of these women had sexual relations with the king.
Esther 2:13–14 says, “This is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines.” The fact that each woman spent the night with the king implies sexual relations.
Esther took her turn after 12 months of preparation, and she was chosen as queen: “She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign. Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti” (Esther 2:16–17).
Eventually, Esther would rescue her people from genocide, but she first endured the lust of the king. Despite her difficult situation, she trusted in God and helped others as she was able. Through her efforts, many lives were saved, even though it came at great personal cost.
Did Esther have a choice of whether or not to sleep with the king? Her choice was likely either submit or die. Even in those troublesome times, though, God was at work. This young woman, left as an orphan, living as a slave, and serving the lust of a king, became the heroine of Israel. Her brave actions saved a nation and led the Jewish people to a new level of influence in Susa.