CLAIM: Esther “pleased him and found favor with him. So he quickly provided her with her cosmetics and food, gave her seven choice maids from the king’s palace and transferred her and her maids to the best place in the harem” (Esther 2:9). Did Esther use sex to advance into the king’s harem?
RESPONSE: To begin, Esther doesn’t seem to have a choice in any of the events occurring. She “was taken to the king’s palace” (Esther 2:8). In this culture, if the king commanded something, it would have been impossible to resist. To support the notion that this was not an ideal situation, we read that Mordecai was worried about Esther. He “walked back and forth in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and how she fared” (Esther 2:11).
When the text says that Esther “pleased him and found favor with him,” (Esther 2:9), this refers to Hegai—not Xerxes. It wouldn’t be possible for her to sexually please Hegai, however, because the text already told us that Hegai was a eunuch (Esther 2:3).
The expression “found favor” in Hebrew is khesed (“favor” or “grace”). This doesn’t mean that Esther sexually pleased the Hegai. For instance, Joseph “found favor (khesed)” in Potiphar’s sight (Gen. 39:4), in the sight of the prison warden (Gen. 39:21), and in the sight of the Pharaoh (Gen. 50:4). Daniel received “favor” (khesed) in the sight of the eunuchs (Dan. 1:9), as did Nehemiah in the sight of the Persian king (Neh. 2:8, 18). Esther “found favor” with everyone who saw her—not just Xerxes (Esther 2:15). She was also a virgin—at least until she met the King (Esther 2:17).