Hadassah is an important figure in the Bible, most well known for being the birth name of Queen Esther. The story of Esther takes place in the days of King Ahasuerus, likely referring to Xerxes I who reigned over the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 BC. Esther was a Jewish woman living in exile in the Persian province of Susa. Her Hebrew name was Hadassah, meaning “myrtle.” But when she entered the king’s harem, she took the Persian name Esther, meaning “star.”
We first read about Hadassah in Esther 2:7 which says, “She had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.” So we learn that Esther was an orphan being raised by her cousin Mordecai. They were descended from Jewish captives taken from Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. After the fall of Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to return home, but some remained in Persia.
Later in Esther 2, King Ahasuerus hosted a banquet and commanded his wife Queen Vashti to appear before his guests, but she refused. So the king deposed Vashti and ordered a search for a new queen. Beautiful young virgins were gathered to the palace in Susa and given beauty treatments. When it was Esther’s turn to go before the king, she won his favor and was made queen instead of Vashti. But Mordecai warned her not to reveal she was Jewish (Esther 2:10).
Some time later, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate King Ahasuerus. He told Esther who reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai (Esther 2:21-23). Then the king promoted a man named Haman who demanded everyone bow down to him. But Mordecai refused because he would only bow to God. Enraged, Haman plotted to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed (Esther 3:1-6).
When Mordecai learned of the plan, he urged Esther to appeal to the king on behalf of her people. This was very risky as anyone who approached the king without being summoned could be put to death. At first Esther hesitated, but eventually resolved, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She requested Haman to attend a banquet with the king where she eventually exposed his evil plot.
The king was outraged and ordered Haman to be hanged. Then he authorized the Jews to defend themselves against any who would attack them. The day appointed for their massacre became a day of victory instead. There was great rejoicing and feasting, which became the basis for the Jewish holiday of Purim (Esther 9:20-23). So Hadassah, who became Esther, bravely risked her life to save her people from destruction.
Beyond the book named after her, Esther is also mentioned once in passing the Book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 2:6, King Artaxerxes refers to Esther while talking with his cupbearer Nehemiah, saying “For how long will you be gone, and when will you return?” This indicates Esther was a queen before Nehemiah served King Artaxerxes I (reigned 465 to 424 BC).
The Jewish Talmud provides some additional traditions about Esther. It claims she was the orphaned daughter of a Benjamite named Avihail and was raised by Mordecai who married her cousin Hatach. Some rabbis believe King Ahasuerus first consorted with Virgins before marrying Esther. The Talmud also says that Esther had sons with the king including Darius II of Persia. However, these traditions are not considered historically reliable.
Overall, the biblical text portrays Esther/Hadassah as a woman of faith, courage, patriotism, and wisdom. By winning the king’s favor, she was elevated to a position of power and used that influence to save the Jewish people from potential genocide. Her story has been an inspiration for many throughout history. Though she had to hide her Jewish identity at first, Esther ultimately risked everything to stand up for truth and justice.
The main themes and lessons from Esther’s life include:
- God can use anyone for His redemptive purposes, including a Jewish exile who became Persian queen
- Walking in wisdom and seeking favor with others can increase one’s capacity for influence
- Willingly risking one’s safety for the benefit of others displays great courage and love
- God’s providential timing and care for His covenant people is seen amid human evils
Hadassah was born in exile and orphaned at a young age. But through her faith in God and her cousin’s guidance, she rose to the heights of royalty. This platform then allowed her to save the Jewish people through her bravery and appeal to the king. So the young Jewish girl Hadassah grew up to become Queen Esther, the new star of Persia who would deliver her people.
The origins of Hadassah’s family are not entirely clear, but she was most likely from a devout Jewish family from the tribe of Benjamin. In the ancient near east, mothers often named their children based on life circumstances and desired traits. So Hadassah was probably named by a mother who wanted her child’s beauty to reflect the lovely myrtle tree. Esther took on characteristics of her Persian name too, becoming a shining star for her people in a time of peril.
Hadassah lost her parents at a young age and was grieving this tragic loss. But she found solace and guidance through her older cousin Mordecai who treated her as his own daughter from then on. He reminded Hadassah of her Jewish heritage and probably educated her in the Torah and Prophets. When her time came to appear before the Persian king, Mordecai likely guided her response, wisdom she needed to win the king’s favor.
Once Hadassah became Queen Esther, she gained privileges and power unmatched by women in her day. But she also had to hide her Jewish background to ascend in this foreign culture. This must have produced inner anguish for Hadassah, having to conceal her true identity that she took pride in. But she knew this difficult path was necessary to gain the position she needed to help her people.
Hadassah exemplified immense courage when she heard of Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews. She had to violate Persian law to approach the king unsummoned, under threat of death. This speaks to the deep love Hadassah had for her people and her willingness to sacrifice herself if needed. Her bold appeal to the king was also wisely executed with neither rashness nor hesitation.
God’s providence is evident in Hadassah’s life through the various twists and turns she experienced on the way to becoming queen. This allowed her to save the Jews from Haman’s wicked scheme. God’s care for His covenant people shines against the dark backdrop of Persian power politics. The celebration of Purim commemorates this providential reversal.
In conclusion, Hadassah displayed inspirational traits of courage, wisdom, beauty and sacrifice as Esther. Losing her parents, being raised by Mordecai, and concealing her Jewish identity all prepared her for the pivotal role she would play in redeeming her people. The legacy of Hadassah/Esther stands as a lasting testimony to how God uses individuals for His redemptive purposes, regardless of their background and life circumstances.