Esther 2:3
And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins to Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, to the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) The house of the women.—The harem, then as now, a prominent feature in the establishment of an Eastern king.

Hege.—Called Hegai in Esther 2:8; a eunuch whose special charge seems to have been the virgins, while another, named Shaashgaz (Esther 2:14), had the custody of the concubines. The whole verse shows, as conclusively as anything could do, in how degrading an aspect Eastern women were, as a whole, viewed. It was reserved for Christianity to indicate the true position of woman, not man’s plaything, but the help meet for him, able to aid him in his spiritual and intellectual progress, yielding him intelligent obedience, not slavery.

2:1-20 We see to what absurd practices those came, who were destitute of Divine revelation, and what need there was of the gospel of Christ, to purify men from the lusts of the flesh, and to bring them back to the original institution of marriage. Esther was preferred as queen. Those who suggest that Esther committed sin to come at this dignity, do not consider the custom of those times and countries. Every one that the king took was married to him, and was his wife, though of a lower rank. But how low is human nature sunk, when such as these are the leading pursuits and highest worldly happiness of men! Disappointment and vexation must follow; and he most wisely consults his enjoyment, even in this present life, who most exactly obeys the precepts of the Divine law. But let us turn to consider the wise and merciful providence of God, carrying on his deep but holy designs in the midst of all this. And let no change in our condition be a pretext for forgetting our duties to parents, or the friends who have stood in their place.The house of the women - i. e. the "gynaeceon," or "haram" - always an essential part of an Oriental palace (Compare 1 Kings 7:8). In the Persian palaces it was very extensive, since the monarchs maintained, besides their legitimate wives, as many as 300 or 400 concubines (compare Esther 2:14). CHAPTER 2

Es 2:1-20. Esther Chosen to Be Queen.

1-3. After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased—On recovering from the violent excitement of his revelry and rage, the king was pierced with poignant regret for the unmerited treatment he had given to his beautiful and dignified queen. But, according to the law, which made the word of a Persian king irrevocable, she could not be restored. His counsellors, for their own sake, were solicitous to remove his disquietude, and hastened to recommend the adoption of all suitable means for gratifying their royal master with another consort of equal or superior attractions to those of his divorced queen. In the despotic countries of the East the custom obtains that when an order is sent to a family for a young damsel to repair to the royal palace, the parents, however unwilling, dare not refuse the honor for their daughter; and although they know that when she is once in the royal harem, they will never see her again, they are obliged to yield a silent and passive compliance. On the occasion referred to, a general search was commanded to be made for the greatest beauties throughout the empire, in the hope that, from their ranks, the disconsolate monarch might select one for the honor of succeeding to the royal honors of Vashti. The damsels, on arrival at the palace, were placed under the custody of "Hege, the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women," that is, the chief eunuch, usually a repulsive old man, on whom the court ladies are very dependent, and whose favor they are always desirous to secure.

Keeper of the women; either,

1. Of the virgins, who are oft called women, as here, Esther 2:11,12, and elsewhere. So it is a synecdoche. Or,

2. Of all the women, both virgins and concubines; only the virgins he himself took care of, as requiring more care and caution, and the concubines he committed to Shaashgaz, Esther 2:14, his deputy.

For purification, i.e. to cleanse them from all impurities and indecencies, to anoint, and perfume, and adorn, and every way prepare them for the king’s presence and service; for the legal purifications of the Jews he never regarded. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom,.... Who best knew where beautiful virgins might be found in their respective provinces, in which they dwelt:

that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace; the metropolis of the kingdom, where was the royal palace:

to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women; in which house it seems were two apartments, one for the virgins before they were introduced to the king, the other for them when they were become his concubines, which had a keeper also; but this Hege seems to have been over the whole house, Esther 2:14. It was not only usual with the eastern people, as with the Turks now, for great personages to have keepers of their wives and concubines, but with the Romans also (d):

and let their things for purification be given them; such as oil of myrrh, spices, &c. to remove all impurity and ill scent from them, and make them look smooth and beautiful.

(d) "Pone seram, cohibe", &c. Juvenal. Satyr. 6. ver. 346, 347.

And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them:
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. to the house of the women] the harem, which must have been of large dimensions, and was made up, as we see from Esther 2:14, of more than one building. It most likely consisted of three portions, viz. the house of the queen, such as Solomon built for Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 7:8), the house of the virgins (Esther 2:9), and that of the concubines (Esther 2:14).

Hegai] It is best, for the sake of uniformity, to spell thus throughout (cp. Esther 2:8; Esther 2:15). The A.V. follows the Heb., which is inconsistent, giving in this verse Hege, and elsewhere Hegai.

their things for purification] See Esther 2:12. The Heb. word for ‘purification’ means properly scraping or rubbing, for the purpose of cleansing or polishing.Verse 3. - The house of the women. In an Oriental palace the women's apartments are always distinct from those of the men, and are usually placed in a separate building, which the Greeks called the gynaeceum, and the Jews "the house of the women." At Susa this was a large edifice, and comprised several subdivisions (see ver. 14). Hege, the king's chamberlain. Literally, "the king's eunuch, i.e. one of the royal eunuchs (see Esther 1:10). Keeper of the women. Strictly speaking, Hege seems to have been keeper of the virgins only (see ver. 14); but he may have exercised a certain superintendence over the entire gynaeceum. Their things for purification. See ver. 12. Such a divinity lodged in the Persian king that even pure maidens had to be purified before approaching him! It would have been well if the divinity had been himself less impure. That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. After this argument on the queen's conduct, follows the proposal: "If it please the king (על טּוב like Nehemiah 2:5), let there go from him a word of the kingdom (i.e., a royal edict), and let it be written (entered) in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, and not pass away, that Vashti come no more before King Ahashverosh; and let the king give her queenship (her royal rank) to another who is better than she." An edict issued by the king, entered among the laws of the Persians and Medes, and sealed with the royal signet (Esther 8:8), does not pass away, i.e., remains in force, is irrevocable (comp. Daniel 6:9). The counsellors press for the issue of such an edict, for the purpose of making it impossible to the king to take Vashti again into favour, lest they should experience her vengeance on the restoration of her influence. רעוּתהּ, her companion, is any other woman, Vashti being here regarded merely as a woman. הטּובה includes both beauty and good behaviour (Berth.). By this means, add the counsellors in Esther 1:20, all the ill effects of Vashti's contumacy will be obviated. "And when the king's decree, which he shall make, is heard in his whole kingdom, for it is great, all wives shall give honour to their husbands, from great to small." פּתגּן is according to the Keri to be pointed as the constructive state, פּתגּם. The expression עשׂה פּתגּן is explained by the circumstance, that פתגם signifies not only edict, decree, but also thing (see on Daniel 3:16): to do a thing. In the present verse also it might be so understood: when the thing is heard which the king will do in his whole kingdom. The parenthetical clause, for it is great, is intended to flatter the king's vanity, and induce an inclination to agree to the proposal. "From great to small" signifies high and low, old and young.
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