Nehemiah 13, Esther 1-4
The Book of Nehemiah concludes with yet another warning against "foreign" marriages, so the people "separated from Israel all those of foreign descent." But this was speaking primarily of religious intermarriage because all Israelites were then, and are now, of foreign political and racial descent. The Israelites, including Abraham himself, were all descended from, among others, the people of Iraq (see Israel's Iraqi Roots through Abraham and others), Syria (e.g. the Israelite mothers Rebekah, Rachel and Leah were all Syrian by birth), Egypt (e.g. the Israelite patriarchs Ephraim and Manasseh had an Egyptian mother), Moab (Ruth, a key ancestor of King David was from Moab - see notes for Ruth 1-3 and Ruth 4, 1 Samuel 1-2) and Midian (Moses' sons were born from his first wife Zipporah of Midian). If "they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent" was speaking merely of race, none of them would have been qualified to "enter the assembly of God" (see the Fact Finder question below) - even Jesus Christ would have to be excluded because a key ancestor of The Messiah and King David was Ruth the Moabite.
"On that day they read from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God; for they did not meet the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them - yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. When the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent." (Nehemiah 13:1-3 RSV)
The danger to a family from religious intermarriage is made more plain later in the chapter e.g. Solomon wasn't corrupted by his wives' race or politics, but by their heathen religious influence on him. But if they had religiously converted to "Israel," as some of them did, they would be just as Israelite as any native-born Israelite, all of whom were of foreign descent (see Physical and Spiritual Israel).
"In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but the language of each people. And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? [see Solomon's Compromise and The Division Of Israel] Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?" (Nehemiah 13:23-27 RSV)
Esther Chapter 1
The Book Of Esther is the historical account of how a young orphaned Israelite girl from the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5-7) rose from being a former prisoner-exile to Queen of Persia. Originally named Hadassah, meaning myrtle (an evergreen shrub used for its violet flowers and for making perfume), she later became known as Esther, which is a form of the Persian word satarah, which means a star.
Esther's rise to Queen of Persia happened after the king's wife refused the king's demand to appear before the people at a banquet. There has long been speculation why Queen Vashti refused to appear before the people at the great banquet (Esther 1:10-12), which triggered the divorce (Esther 1:19). While it may be that she simply had enough of a banquet that had turned into a 7-day binge (Esther 1:10), others believe that the correct translation of her refusal "to appear wearing her royal crown" is "to appear wearing only her royal crown." This theory would seem to be supported by the statements that the king was very drunk (Esther 1:10) when he made the demand to "display the queen's beauty to all the people" (Esther 1:11). If that is what happened, it would seem that the king was little more than a common fool - a condition that The Lord capitalized on to move Esther into position to fulfill her mission.
"On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who served King Ahasuerus as chamberlains, to bring Queen Vashti before the king with her royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty; for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him." (Esther 1:10-12 RSV)
Esther Chapter 2
After the king had divorced his wife, he set out to find a new queen from among the young women of all of Persia.
"After these things, when the anger of King Ahasuerus had abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. Then the king's servants who attended him said, "Let beautiful young virgins be sought out for the king. And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom to gather all the beautiful young virgins to the harem in Susa the capital, under custody of Hegai the king's eunuch who is in charge of the women; let their ointments be given them." (Esther 2:1-3 RSV)
Considering the vital role that she later played in saving the people of Judah from annihilation, The Lord caused the king to choose Esther as his new wife.
"Now there was a Jew in Susa the capital whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away. He had brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother; the maiden was beautiful and lovely, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter." (Esther 2:5-7 RSV)
The people of Judah were not the only ones saved by Esther's presence; the king himself was saved from assassination thanks to Mordecai, Esther's cousin.
"And in those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the Gallows. And it was recorded in the Book of the Chronicles in the presence of the king." (Esther 2:21-23 RSV)
Esther Chapter 3
Haman was a high official, in effect the prime minister, of the Persian king Ahasuerus. Haman was an Agagite, apparently because he, or his parents, originated from Agag, a region bordering on Media (see also Bible Places). Haman is known to Bible History because Mordecai (who was in fact very loyal to the king himself, since he had saved the king from being assassinated) would not bow down to him, so Haman spitefully tried and failed to destroy all Jews within the kingdom.
"After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him. And all the king's servants who were at the king's gate bowed down and did obeisance to Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or do obeisance.
Haman then connived a royal death warrant for all of the Jews of Peria; the king and Haman were both apparently unware that Esther, the Queen of Persia, was herself a Jew.
"Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not for the king's profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who have charge of the king's business, that they may put it into the king's treasuries." So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, "The money is given to you, the people also, to do with them as it seems good to you." (Esther 3:8-11 RSV)
Esther Chapter 4
Mordecai's response to the nation-wide death warrant was to seek to contact Esther, the only Jew in the kingdom who had any chance of helping her actual people.
"When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai rent his clothes and put on Sackcloth and Ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one might enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes." (Esther 4:1-3 RSV)
When Esther learned of the king's order, she became as distressed as Mordecai, without yet realizing that she was placed where she was for a purpose.
"When Esther's maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was." (Esther 4:4-5 RSV)
Mordecai made plain to the queen that she was in as much danger as the rest of the people of Judah. Esther had to do something.
"And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to return answer to Esther, "Think not that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Fact Finder: How is it that anyone and everyone who truly obeys God is "Israel"?