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For Such a Time as This

Esther 4

Copyright © 2006 Jeremy Myers


“Thou, O LORD, dost rule forever; Thy throne is from generation to generation. Why dost Thou forget us forever; Why dost Thou forsake us so long? Restore us to Thee, O LORD, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old” (Lam 5:19-21; KJV; cf. Psalm 22; Psalm 43).


The writer, Jeremiah, was asking “God, you’re on the throne, and you rule from the throne forever and ever. Since that’s the case, where are you now? God, have you forsaken me? Have you forgotten me? When are you going to step in and help me?”


Have you ever felt like that? Well if so, we are continuing today with our series called “Where is God?” in which we are studying the book of Esther chapter by chapter and verse by verse. And today, we are in a chapter where the main characters are asking these same questions.


They had been in captivity for over 70 years. Some of their people had returned to Israel to rebuild the temple, but the construction had been stalled by enemies of Israel and by enemies of God. Back in Persia, enemies of Israel and of God had risen there as well. We have seen how Esther become queen, and her cousin, Mordecai, the descendant of King Saul was an official at the city gates, but he would not bow to Haman. Hamn is an enemy from a long lineage of enemies. He is a descendant of King Agag the Amalekite.


And we saw in chapter 3 that Haman was out for bloody revenge against the Jews. He wanted to annihilate them, and set up a plan with the King to do so. And the edict was carried through out the land. And so all Israel was asking: “Where Is God?” So we pick up today in chapter 4. Starting in verse 1.


1When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.


Mordecai heard the edict—or read it for himself—about the plan to annihilate the Jews—and so he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. This is a little odd for us to think about, but this was a way for them to show the deepest grief possible, and we see it happen in several other places in Scripture as well.[1] (cf. Gen 37:29-34; Num 14:6; 2 Sam 1:11, 3:31, 13:31; Ezra 9:3; Isa 36:22; Dan 9:3; Jon 3:6; Joel 2:12).


Sackcloth, as we learn from Revelation 6:12 was probably black and made of goats hair, and it really did look like a big sack—with a hole for the head and two slits for the arms. It was a symbol of sorrow, humility and humiliation.[2] It was also a way to identify with the dead. It is easy to see how torn clothing and dust on the head would be symbolic representations of death and decay.[3]


So Mordecai was in mourning because of the plan to annihilate the Jews. Now we might be tempted to think that Mordecai brought this upon himself, and upon his nation. If he had only humbled himself and bowed to Haman, and not revealed his nationality, all of this would have been averted. But hindsight is always 20/20. And besides this, even seeing how things were turning out, I am not sure Mordecai would have done anything different if given the chance.


He stood up for what he believed. He stood up for what was right. When we do that in this world, there are always consequences.


2He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.


The king was protected, of course, from anything negative, and someone in mourning would not be allowed to destroy the peace and serenity of the King’s palace (cf. Neh 2:2). We can be very glad that our King, the King of Kings loves to hear our sorrows. In fact, Hebrews 4:12 tells us to come boldly before his throne to obtain mercy and find grace in our time of need. But Mordecai here went as far as he could.


3And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.


So we see that Mordecai is not the only one mourning. There were Jews in every province who were weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes—just like Mordecai.


And we see too here that they were fasting. Now almost always in Scripture, fasting is accompanied by prayer to God. The phrase “prayer and fasting” is very common. But here again, the author makes an obvious effort to keep all that is related to God out of the story. This is again to show us that even where God seems to be the most absent, it is there that he is most often to be found—if you look for Him.


So even though prayer is not mentioned, we can be sure that the Israelites were calling out to God in prayer and fasting.


4So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them.


So Esther hears about Mordecai distress, and tries to comfort him, but he will not accept the help.


5Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was.


Now this is surprising to us. Esther does not know why Mordecai is in sackcloth and ashes! Apparently, she has not heard about the plan of Haman. Like I mentioned in verse 2, bad news was not allowed to be mentioned to the Royal Family. They were kept secluded away, in blissful ignorance of what was going on outside the royal walls.


So, since Esther cares for Mordecai, she send Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs to find out why Mordecai was in distress.


6So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate. 7And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews.


Money is specifically mentioned here, showing that money was apparently a key motive in Haman’s plot.[4] He was undertaking a business venture. And it is specifically the royal treasury that is mentioned. This gives us some insight onto why the King did not investigate Haman’s accusations. He wanted the money for his royal treasury.


8He also gave him—Mordecai gave Hathach— a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.


As proof of the validity of his story, Mordecai gives Hathach a copy of the edict to give to Esther. This is important. When making an accusation of this sort—actually, when making an accusation of any sort—it is always wise to provide proof of the accusation you are making. Otherwise, you are just gossiping and spreading rumors. Haman provided the King with a bribe of money, but no evidence of his accusations of the Jews. Here, Mordecai gives documentary evidence to Esther—a copy of the edict.


And look at the last two words of verse 8. Mordecai tells Hathach to tell Esther to go to the king and plead for her people. The secret was out—at least to Hathach. Up until now, no one knew that Esther was a Jewess. Now, at least one man knows, and without some reprieve from the King, Esther and Mordecai and all their people would die.[5] So, let’s conitinue.


9So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.

10Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai:


So they are using Hathach as an intermediary—a messenger between them. Here’s what she tells Hathach to tell Mordecai.


11“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.”


She basically says, “I cannot go before the King to plead for us unless I have been summoned. If I did, he might put me to death. And he has not called for me in thirty days.”


Persian monarchs, much like most anyone with authority today, were protected against unwanted visitors and interruptions. Now there were channels through which Esther could have requested an audience, but we can be certain that she would have had to make arrangements though Haman, and would, therefore, have never received an audience.[6]


Since Esther had not been summoned for thirty days, she did not know whether the Kings attitude toward her would be favorable.[7] We might think that the queen would have many opportunities to talk to the king at meals or as they passed each other in the hall, or in their bedroom, but such was not the case. Esther would have had her own private quarters away from the King. They would not eat together, nor—because of the King’s large harem—would they regularly share the same bed.[8]


So, not knowing where she stands with the king, she is obviously a little scared for her life. And remember, her predecessor, Queen Vashti, was deposed from her position for not obeying the King.[9] Esther is thinking this might happen to her as well.


But Mordecai’s response is not very encouraging, and is blunt and to the point.[10]


12So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.

13And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.


Even the queen was not exempt from Haman’s plot. Now Haman, we can be sure, did not know that his plot would effect the queen, and we do not know what he would have done if he had known (cf. 1 Cor 2:8). But we will see that God has placed Esther in her position for a very specific reason.


(A key verse in the Book of Esther) Mordecai continues: 14For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”


Mordecai’s response is a confession of faith in God—even though once again, God is glaringly absent. He basically says that God will keep a faithful remnant of the Jews alive. God will find another way to save His people.


How do we know Mordecai means this? Mordecai, as many of the Jews alive during the time would recognize, is probably making an allusion here to Joel 2:12-14.[11]


Let me read it for you.


 12 “Now, therefore,” says the Lord,

     “Turn to Me with all your heart,

     With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

13  So rend your heart, and not your garments;

     Return to the Lord your God,

     For He is gracious and merciful,

     Slow to anger, and of great kindness;

     And He relents from doing harm.

14  Who knows if He will turn and relent,

     And leave a blessing behind Him—

     A grain offering and a drink offering

     For the Lord your God?


Sounds similar to what Mordecai said, doesn’t it?


Along with alluding to Joel 2, he is also speaking to Esther’s fear of death. “Yes,” he is saying, “the king may put you to death, but if you do not go, Haman most certainly will put you to death—and all the rest of us as well”


But then he encourages her a little bit after all this. He says “There’s a good chance the king will not take your life because who knows, maybe you became queen just so that you could be in this position when this catastrophe occurred. God is watching. There are no coincidences. Be strong and courageous in such a time as this.”


Now Esther has to decide on who she really is. Is she the pagan queen living a life of luxury and ease? Or is she a young Jewish girl, with her life threatened? Is she going to continue to hide her identity, or will she take responsibility for the life God has given her by identifying herself with the people of God?[12]


What would you do? Which would you pick? Well,…what are you doing? Who knows? You might be in the exact position you are—at home, at the office, at church—because God wants you to decide whom you are going to serve—God or yourself.[13] As it says elsewhere, chose you this day whom you will serve.


What does Esther decide?


15Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: 16“Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”


Esther is a well trained Jewish girl. Not only does she obey Mordecai and agree to go before the king, but she also recognizes Mordecai’s reference to Joel 2, and she responds with a reference to the same chapter—the very next verses even!


He alluded to Joel 2:12-14, she alludes to Joel 2:15-16a. It says:


15  Blow the trumpet in Zion,

      Consecrate a fast,

     Call a sacred assembly;

16  Gather the people,

     Sanctify the congregation,

     Assemble the elders,

     Gather the children and nursing babes;


The passage goes on to describe how all the people should pray and fast—which is exactly what she does.


Again, the prayer is implied here. Fasting by itself is just an extreme diet that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Fasting in the Old Testament religious sense is often in connection with making a request to God. The principle is that the importance of the request causes an individual to be so concerned about their spiritual condition that physical necessities fade into the background.[14] So when it says fasting here, it is obvious that Esther is asking everyone she knows to fast and pray.


And let me just say also that this was the strictest type of fast. First of all, a normal day of fasting for the Jew was a 12 hour period, from sunrise to sundown. After sundown, they could eat. But here, Esther asks for three full days and nights.


But even more than this, remember I told you when we looked at chapter 3 that the edict went out on the eve of the Passover? The Passover was the most important festival for the Jewish family. It was a little bit like a mix between our 4th of July and our Thanksgiving Day. Can you imagine if someone told you on the day before Thanksgiving to fast for three days and three nights—to not eat anything on Thanksgiving or for two days afterwards? That is what Esther was asking, but this was also a very important fast.[15]


And so, in verse 17…


17So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.


Mordecai also went and fasted and prayed and made sure that everyone he knew was fasting and praying as well. When all seemed against the Jews, they didn’t run. They didn’t fortify. They didn’t hide. They didn’t complain. They didn’t badmouth Mordecai or Esther. They didn’t blame Mordecai.


They prayed.


This is good instruction for us as a church. Too often, someone in a church will read a book, or hear of another church somewhere that is doing something, and they will think it is a good idea, and will try and charge ahead without ever consulting others in the church, or consulting the leadership of the church, or—most importantly—consulting God through prayer and fasting. Praying is the most vitally important step anyone can take before any sort of task is attempted. A ministry event or program, must be well prayed for and well planned before it should be tried.


Prayer is the first step toward victory. It is the step Esther and Mordecai took. It is the step many men and women throughout the pages of Scripture have taken when everyone and everything seemed against them.


When it even felt that maybe God had abandoned them. Maybe felt that there was no hope, or felt that the wicked were winning.


Nearly everyone feels this way sometimes. But the thing that distinguishes the regular man or woman from the man or woman that God can use greatly…is faith in the midst of difficulties. Trust and reliance upon God alone through thick and thin. Esther and Mordecai were like this—and we will see the results of their faith in chapters to come.


But their faith—their standing up for what is right—did not come without cost—without rejection—without persecution. Over and over again in Scripture it says that those who stand faithful to the Word of God will be persecuted and misrepresented. Are you being persecuted? We live in a very tolerant society, but Jesus Christ was actually very intolerant when it came to salvation the things of God. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” I guarantee you that if you start telling people in our tolerant society that there is only one way, they will rapidly become intolerant of you.


If you start standing up for what is right according to Biblical standards in our church, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our city, in our state, in our nation, and in our world, again, I guarantee that you will catch some flak, you will be slandered, you will be persecuted. Your life may become endangered—like many of the Psalms, like Mordecai and Esther…like Christ.


But here’s the fact of the matter. If you are in a place where you have the opportunity to stand up for what is right, and you do not, if you remain silent and do not speak up, the truth will arise from another place. God will make sure of it. Will you be persecuted? Yes, maybe, but have the same attitude as Esther: “If I perish, I perish.” At least you will know that you died, or you were ruined, standing up for what is right. What will you choose? Will you die to self and serve God? Or will you take the path of least resistance?


I would challenge you today to serve God fully. Give up the rights to your life. For who knows? Maybe God has placed you just where you are, for such a time as this.


[1] Missler, 45.

[2] Armerding, 47.

[3] Walton, etc., 488.

[4] Missler, 46.

[5] Missler, 47.

[6] Walton, etc., 488.

[7] Missler, 47.

[8] Walton, etc., 488.

[9] Jobes, 138.

[10]  Bush, 399.

[11] Jobes, 136.

[12] Jobes, 138.

[13] As we are going to see in chapter 9, Haman served only himself, as is hinted at in the naming of all of his sons. To serve God, self must always die. If you choose to serve self—as Haman did, and as Esther here could have, self will still die.

[14] Walton, etc., 488.

[15] Bush, 400.



Copyright © 2006 TILL HE COMES


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