The Zhou Dynasty. The Renaissance. Ancient Rome. The Ottoman Empire. The Elizabethan Era. The Industrial Revolution. What do all these different periods of human history have in common?
Well, if you are reading this message today, one thing that they all have in common is that you were not alive during any of them. You see, each of these eras occupy a point in past human history while you inhabit a place in the present, a place we call “today.” But there’s something else you have in common with the people of these earlier portions of human civilization- you also hold a unique place in time and must decide what you will do with the period of history in which you live.
At midnight tonight, everything you did today will become part of the past- and the choices of yesterday will help shape and influence the events of tomorrow. Esther understood this idea and rose to the challenge of her day- and like Esther, who can say that you were not born within this era of human history “…for such a time as this?”
“When 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. He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.
And 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” (Esther 4:1-3).
The final verse of Esther chapter three tells us that the citizens living in the capital city of Susa were perplexed by the king’s order “…to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions” (Esther 3:13). However, there was at least one person who understood exactly what that decree meant- and that person was Mordecai, Esther’s foster father.
You see, we’re told that Mordecai “found out about everything that had been done…” (GW emphasis added). This seems to indicate that Mordecai had access to more information than that which was stated within the official decree. Since Mordecai likely held a position within the royal government during that time, he probably had more “inside information” about the king’s order than was available to the general public.
“And Mordecai understood all that was done, and Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth with ashes and went out into the middle of the city, and cried with a loud and bitter cry” (Esther 4:1 MKJV).
It seems that Mordecai had more information about the king’s decree than what was available to the general public. For instance, we’ll find out later that Mordecai knew that Haman was the real driving force behind the king’s edict. We’ll also find that Mordecai was aware of the huge sum of money that Haman promised to deliver in exchange for the right to wipe out the Jewish people.
So if Mordecai had learned about the real story behind the king’s orders, it would help to explain why he responded the way he did: “…he tore his clothes in sorrow and put on sackcloth. Then he covered his head with ashes and went through the city, crying and weeping” (Esther 4:1 CEV). ”Sackcloth” was a rough, coarse, bag-like material that looked and felt just like what it’s name implied. In Biblical times, sackcloth was made out of camel or goat hair and the closest modern-day equivalent to this material would probably be something like a burlap bag or a coarse brown sack.
Sackcloth was worn to demonstrate the fact that someone felt such great emotional sorrow that the normal comforts of life seemed unimportant. We’re also told that Mordecai tore his clothes in despair and covered his head with ashes in response to the king’s decree. These actions were recognized in those days as culturally appropriate expressions of deep personal distress or emotional pain and many people within the Jewish community of that area joined Mordecai in demonstrating their sorrow in this manner.
Yet even though Mordecai cried and wept over the king’s decree, he still stood firm in his decision not to bow before Haman. For instance, we’re not told that Mordecai approached Haman to beg for his forgiveness or plead to save the lives of his people. He didn’t grovel or humiliate himself before this powerful leader nor did he try to implore Haman to change his mind. There’s a good reason to explain Mordecai’s refusal to do any of those things and we’ll look at that reason a little later on in this chapter.
In the meantime however, word had gotten back to the queen’s residence inside the royal palace that something really bad was going on- and it wasn’t long before the queen found out…
“So 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” (Esther 4:4).
Because her position in the royal palace kept Esther away from the normal affairs of everyday life, it’s not surprising to learn that she had not been informed about the death sentence that had been decreed against the Jewish people. This kind of “business decision” was probably not something that the king would have discussed with Esther and as we’ll soon see, it doesn’t seem as if the king had very much contact with Esther at all during this time.
But for now, Esther tried to make a well-intentioned attempt to make things better: “She sent clothes for Mordecai to put on instead of the rough cloth, but he would not wear them” (Esther 4:4 NCV). Unfortunately, Esther didn’t take the time to find out why Mordecai had dressed this way and once he rejected her offer, she quickly realized that his problem involved more than just a new suit of clothes.
So Esther decided to send a special agent out on a reconnaissance mission to find out what was going on…
“Then 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. So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate.
And 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. He also gave him 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” (Esther 4:5-8).
So Mordecai was not only in a position to hear about things like death threats against the king, he was also in a position to learn about the motivating factors behind the king’s order to exterminate the Jewish people. One such motivation was “…the amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasury for the killing of the Jewish people (NCV). That evil incentive brings to mind a well-known Scripture from the New Testament book of 1 Timothy and we’ll take a look at that passage next.
“Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him and just how much money Haman had promised to put into the royal treasury if all the Jews were killed” (Esther 4:7 GNB).
There are probably very few people who wouldn’t like to have some extra money. The question is, what must we do in order to get it?
For instance, it’s obvious that an opportunity to profit off the destruction of the Jewish people was one motivating factor behind the king’s decision to issue a decree calling for their extermination. This brings to mind a critical warning found within the pages of the New Testament book of 1st Timothy…
“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10 NIV).
Even people who don’t know very much about the Bible have probably heard of the famous Biblical proverb seen above:“…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” That’s because the love of money can lead people to lie, cheat, steal, and do all sorts of evil, harmful things. In Haman’s case, it was a big factor in his attempt to convince the king to wipe out an entire race of people.
So Mordecai told Hathach about everything that had occurred. But Mordecai didn’t only tell Hathach about what was going on- he offered some proof as well: “Mordecai gave Hathach a copy of the decree issued in Susa that called for the death of all Jews. He asked Hathach to show it to Esther and explain the situation to her” (Esther 4:8 NLT). This decree made it clear that Mordecai’s concern was not just a mistake or misunderstanding- he held an official warrant for the death of every Jewish man, woman, and child throughout the Persian Empire. And now Esther was aware of it as well.
Now it seems as if Mordecai was under the impression that the king hadn’t been fully informed about the order he had signed. That’s because he also included a request along with Esther’s copy of the decree: “Ask her to go to the king and beg him to have pity on her people, the Jews!” (CEV). So Mordecai asked Esther to use the power of her position as queen to save their people from certain destruction and sent Hathach back to deliver the message.
“So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai. Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai: ‘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'” (Esther 4:9-11).
What Mordecai wanted from Esther involved more than just simply asking for a favor- and just in case he was unaware, Esther made sure to remind him about the potential consequences of what he had asked her to do: “Tell Mordecai there is a law about going in to see the king, and all his officials and his people know about this law. Anyone who goes in to see the king without being invited by him will be put to death” (Esther 4:10-11 CEV).
In the days of the Persian Empire, it was a capital offense for anyone -even the queen- to approach the king without an invitation. This meant that Esther’s position as a royal head of state didn’t provide her with the automatic privilege of meeting with the king whenever she wanted. Besides, Ahasuerus had already banished another queen once before and he could easily do so again if he wanted.
We’re told that the standard punishment for approaching the king without an invitation was automatic death. A person who had dared to approach the king without an invitation could escape this death sentence only if the king chose to grant mercy by extending the royal scepter towards him or her. A “scepter” was a rod or staff that was carried by a monarch to symbolize his authority and power. In this case, the king’s scepter also represented mercy or judgment depending on his desire at the moment. So Mordecai’s request was more than just a request- it was a potential suicide mission, and Esther knew it.
And if that wasn’t enough, Esther had another problem as well: “…it has been a month since the king sent for me” (Esther 4:11 GNB). Esther had not seen her husband the king for thirty days- and with no way to gauge his mood or inner thoughts, it’s likely that this absence provided her with some legitimate reasons to be concerned. We’ll look at some of those potential concerns next.
“I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days” (Esther 4:11 HCSB).
An entire month had passed since Queen Esther had been with King Ahasuerus and while there might be many possible reasons to explain this lack of contact, few of those reasons were good. For instance, the king had a harem of beautiful women available on a moment’s notice- perhaps he had found someone younger, prettier, or more exciting than Esther. Perhaps she had said or done something to offend the king. Or maybe he had just lost interest in her.
In any event, the fact that Esther had not seen the king for thirty days was not a good sign- and if the king didn’t want to invite her to be with him, he was unlikely to be pleased if she decided to invite herself. So Esther wanted Mordecai to know exactly what he was asking her to do- and here’s how he responded…
“So they told Mordecai Esther’s words. And 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. For 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?'” (Esther 4:12-14).
So Mordecai’s response didn’t address any of Esther’s concerns- instead, his message was simple and direct: ”If you think that you will escape with your life just because you’re the queen, you’d better think again.”
Now there was nothing in Esther’s message to indicate that she felt safe from the consequences of the king’s decree. After all, Esther didn’t respond by saying, “That rule doesn’t apply to me” or, “That’s not my problem.” She simply let Mordecai know about the deadly consequences that could follow if she acted on his request. So why would he respond to Esther in such a seemingly insensitive manner?
Well, it’s likely that Mordecai was well aware of what might happen if Esther tried to approach the king without an invitation. But it also appears that Mordecai knew something else as well…
- If Esther decided to approach the king without an invitation, she might pay for that decision with her life.
- If Esther decided not to approach the king without an invitation, she would definitely pay for that decision with her life.
In other words, Esther’s life was at risk whether she approached the king or not.
“Do you think you will escape there in the palace when all other Jews are killed?” (Esther 4:13 TLB).
So did this mean that the lives of the Jewish people depended on Esther’s ability to gain an audience with the king? Well, the answer to that question is “no” because Mordecai made sure to add something very important: “…if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place…” (Esther 4:14 ESV).
This tells us that Mordecai expected the Jewish people to escape from Haman’s plan, but how could he be so sure? Well, Mordecai’s confidence was surely generated by a promise that God had given to his ancestor Abraham:“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:2-3 NKJV).
You see, Haman could never succeed in his plan to annihilate the Jewish people because it would have completely eliminated the “great nation” that God had promised to establish through Abraham. In other words, God would never let his people down even if others chose to do so, and Mordecai’s response emphasized the fact that God’s plan for His people would move forward even if Esther chose not to participate.
This idea is an important one for God’s people to keep in mind today as well. For example, here’s how one commentator explains the importance of this concept…
“Though God chooses to use people, He is by no means dependent on them. Many believers act as though they are indispensable to the Lord’s purposes, and if they refuse to do His bidding God’s work will grind to a halt. Mordecai’s challenge to Esther must be heard and heeded. Our sovereign God will accomplish all His objectives with or without us. He calls us not out of His need for us but for our need to find fulfillment in serving Him.” (1)
So even though he didn’t say it plainly, Mordecai made Esther aware that the future of the Jewish people depended on God’s faithfulness to them. However, he also made Esther aware that her future was dependent on her faithfulness to God: “The fact is, even if you remain silent now, someone else will help and rescue the Jews, but you and your relatives will die” (Esther 4:14 GW).
(1) Eugene H. Merrill, The Old Testament Explorer p. 370 quoted in Dr. Constable’s Notes on Esther p. 17
As we approach the end of Esther chapter four, we’ve already looked at a number of storylines that have slowly been gathering speed…
- We have a queen whose husband the king knows little, if anything about her cultural heritage.
- We’ve met a powerful governmental leader who, if he were alive today, might be defined as a sociopath. (1) This person is determined to eliminate an entire race of people just to get even for the actions of one.
- The queen is a member of the group facing extermination but it’s unclear if she has any remaining influence with the king. The only way for her to find out is to approach the king at the risk of her life.
All these storylines will begin to converge as we move towards the end of Esther chapter four. But before we reach that point, Mordecai, the queen’s foster father, will add what has become of the best known statements in all of Scripture: “…who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
If there is one key truth in the entire book of Esther, the most likely place to find it is here in chapter four, verse fourteen (4:14). For instance, think about your school, your job, or your family. Consider the place you were born, the town where you live, or the church you attend. Think about your classmates, teammates, or the people you work with. Did you come into contact with any of these people, places, or things by accident?
Did you have the “good fortune” to attend a certain school, land a good job, or meet that special someone? Or were you simply “lucky” to be in the right place at the right time? While some may choose to believe that the circumstances of their lives have been guided by things like fate, luck, or karma, the book of Esther offers a better answer to those questions.
Have you ever considered the possibility that God has orchestrated the events of our lives for a purpose and a reason- and like Esther, you also may have been born “for such a time as this”? Have you thought about the possibility that God has a specific purpose in mind for the circumstance or situation you’re in today? Could it be that God has placed certain opportunities and responsibilities for you within the circumstances and events of your life?
Mordecai certainly seemed to think so and his message to Esther was recorded in the Scriptures for us to consider and apply today.
(1) so·ci·o·path –noun Psychiatry. a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. “sociopath.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 02 Jun. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sociopath>.
“‘Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this'” (Esther 4:14 MSG).
So Mordecai was open to the possibility that God had orchestrated the events of Esther’s life to put her in a position to protect the Jewish people from an enemy who was determined to destroy them. But this is not to say that God was limited by Esther’s willingness to be involved in His plans.
For instance, Mordecai told Esther,“If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else…” (Esther 4:14 MSG). This tells us that God will move forward on His plan regardless of who chooses to get involved but we can also be a part of that plan wherever we happen to be.
Perhaps you may feel as if you don’t have much of a part to play in God’s plan. But the truth is that everyone has some degree of influence with others, even if it’s only just among a few people- and that potentially makes you a very important part of God’s agenda.
For example, this circle of influence might include friends or co-workers. It may include a teammate, classmate, or family member. The point is that everyone has relationships that allow them to have some degree of influence with someone else. This means that everyone is a peer leader to some extent and everyone constantly influences others by the things they say and do.
Because of this, we should never underestimate the impact of a God-honoring lifestyle. You may think that you’re not really having an impact for God in your home, your work, your school, or your neighborhood but you might be having more of an effect than you think. You never know what God may be doing behind the scenes with your example and just because you don’t see any results doesn’t necessarily that God isn’t working to make good things happen.
Remember that everyone is a leader in some respect and everyone has some influence with others, even if it’s only in small amounts. That influence -however small- can be used to lead and impact others in whatever manner we choose. This means that we are all leaders to some extent and it’s part of our responsibility as God’s representatives to use whatever amount of influence we have to lead and impact others in a way that honors Him.
The Scriptures talk about our leadership responsibility as God’s representatives in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians…
“…God has given us the privilege of urging everyone to come into his favor and be reconciled to him. For God was in Christ, restoring the world to himself, no longer counting men’s sins against them but blotting them out. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors…” (2 Corinthians 5:18b-21a TLB).
So it’s not always necessary to have a title to be a leader because the Scriptures tell us that we are already leaders as representatives of Christ. And who knows if you have been given your position in life -whatever it may be- for such a time as this?
“Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: ‘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!’ So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him” (Esther 4:15-17).
So Esther responded to Mordecai’s challenge by calling for a fast that she and everyone in the Jewish community of Shushan would participate in.
Now one unique feature that separates the book of Esther from the other books of the Bible is that fact that God’s name is not specifically mentioned anywhere within it’s pages. However, Esther’s response to Mordecai provides us with an example of God’s subtle, behind the scenes presence throughout this book. After all, there would be no cause for Esther (or anyone else in Shushan) to fast unless there was a specific spiritual reason. So the unspoken reality behind Esther’s request indicated a strong desire to seek God’s favor as she prepared to approach the king.
Esther decided to get ready for this potential suicide mission by calling for a city-wide fast among the Jewish people. This call referred to the voluntary act of going without food or water for a period of time. Most of the fasts seen within the Scriptures were generated by a desire to take on a more humble attitude towards God. This attitude adjustment was accomplished through the act of personal denial and a desire to put God ahead of legitimate needs like eating or drinking (see Ezra 8:21 for an example).
We’ll look at some other Biblical reasons behind this concept of fasting next.
“‘Bring together all the Jews in Susa and tell them to go without eating for my sake! Don’t eat or drink for three days and nights. My servant girls and I will do the same. Then I will go in to see the king, even if it means I must die'” (Esther 4:16 CEV).
In addition to the example seen here in the book of Esther, other Biblical reasons for fasting included a reflection of sadness (1 Samuel 31:11-13), a demonstration of repentance (Jonah 3:5), or a desire for God’s direction (as we see here in Esther 4:16).
There were also different kinds of fasts as well. For example, people fasted from eating completely (Ezra 10:5-6) or partially (Daniel 10:2-3). Fasts could last a day (Judges 20:26), a week (1 Samuel 31:13), or even as long as 40 days (as in the case of both Moses and Jesus). In most cases, Biblical fasting also included a strong emphasis on prayer.
However, it’s important to remember that the Bible also tells of God’s great displeasure with people who fasted with the wrong attitudes. For example, Jesus once reprimanded a group of religious leaders for their hypocrisy in drawing attention to the fact that they were fasting (see Matthew 6:16-18 for the story).
A similar thing happened in the Old Testament where the prophet Isaiah records the comments of some people who were upset at the fact that God didn’t seem to notice that they were fasting. In His response to those comments, God explained why He took no notice of them- their fasting meant nothing while they still carried their ungodly attitudes (see Isaiah 58:3-5).
God then went on to describe the kind of fasting that He was really looking for…
“No, the kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and bring right into your own homes those who are helpless, poor, and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don’t hide from relatives who need your help” (Isaiah 58:6-7 TLB).
So when it comes to fasting, the real question is “why am I fasting?” Fasting can definitely be worthwhile if it’s done with the right attitude for the right reasons. We should also keep in mind that it may be medically unwise for certain people to fast so we should also take that into consideration. The best thing is to prayerfully seek God in prayer and ask for His direction in regards to fasting.
“‘All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live…'” (Esther 4:11 KJV).
Esther’s choice to go before the king brings up another question for some: didn’t Esther’s decision to approach the king put her in a position of disobedience to the government of Persia? Although that might not seem to be much of an issue when we stop to remember that Esther’s people were facing an act of genocide, one scholar and author explains the problem from a Biblical point of view…
“(The problem is that) Romans 13:1 informs us that even pagan governments are ‘appointed by God,’ and Peter adds, ‘submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake’ (1 Peter 2:13 ; cf. Titus 3:1). But it says that what she did was ‘against the law’ (4:16). So, didn’t Esther violate the God-ordained laws of Persia by going before the king?
(The answer is) sometimes it is necessary to disobey human government, namely, when it compels us to sin. For example, if the government says we cannot pray to God (Dan. 6) or we must worship idols (Dan. 3) or we must kill innocent babies (see comments on Ex. 1:15–21), then we must disobey.
In Esther’s case, however, there was no law compelling her to sin. But neither did she disobey the law of the land, since the law allowed for someone to come before the king unannounced at their own risk (Es. 4:11). Knowing of this provision of the law and accepting the risk of her life, Esther went before the king to save the lives of her people. In this case there was no need to disobey the law, since it was not compelling her to kill anyone or to commit any other act of sin.” (1)
So Esther had made her decision. She had all the information she needed. She had good spiritual counsel. She had enlisted the spiritual support of the Jewish community of Shushan. She was aware of the potential consequences and she was prepared to assume the risk: ”…I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
In making this choice, Esther demonstrated an attitude that was best summed up by a writer from another generation…
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.” (2)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. 1992. When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties. Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.
(2) G.K. Chesterton quoted in The New Webster’s Dictionary of Quotations and Famous Phrases