It seems like Ahasuerus briefly misses Vashti, or at least remembers her, but rather than continuing with that story line, his servants encourage him to hold the world’s first beauty pageant, bringing together attractive women from all of the provinces of Persia to see who is hot enough to be the next queen. Now, we get the intros to some key characters.
“There was a Judean man in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordechai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjaminite (Esther 2:5).” Moredchai, one of our eventual heroes, has raised Hadassah/Esther, his cousin, who is a beautiful orphan, as his own daughter. Esther’s beauty gets her a role in the beauty contest, and she’s taken to the king’s house. We don’t hear if she wants to do this or how she feels, but she must do it pretty well because she pleases Hegai, the keeper of the women, and he favors her as she prepares to meet the king. She keeps her Judaism a secret based on Mordechai’s instructions. It’s clear that he cares very deeply for her, and goes to visit every day to make sure she’s ok.
Despite the natural beauty of the women chosen, they’re not Ahasuerus-worthy yet, and each one has to be treated for a year in the palace before going to the king. It’s crazy – a whole year of preparation for what could potentially be only one night with the king, as afterwards, he would need to remember her and think enough of her to call her by name if he wanted her again. And we all saw the care and thought he gave to his actual wife, so the odds of him remembering the names of thousands of women are pretty slim.
Finally, it’s Esther’s turn, and she approaches the situation modestly. It pays off. “And the king loved Esther ore than all the women, and she won grace and favor before him more than all the maidens, and he placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti (Esther 2:17).” Once again, we don’t hear anything from Esther. Is she happy? Honored? Does she even like him? Or is she resentful of the whole situation and of not being able to even reveal her true self to her new husband?
The chapter ends with and interlude outlining the situation with Bigthan and Teresh. They’re the king’s chamberlains, and they plot to hurt him, but Mordechai overhears them and tells Esther, who passes on the news to the king. They’re both hung on the gallows, which we learn much more about later.