As we begin this Esther 4 sermon, we realize that so far this story is what literary folks would call a tragedy. Mordecai started off well. He was in the gate of the city, a place of prominence. But because of his religious convictions he opened himself up to satanic attack. And now not only was he in imminent danger of destrcution, but so were all his people. And their destruction seems certain. How does Mordecai react to these terrifying realities? Let’s read 4:1-2.
Esther 4 Commentary (1-2)
4:1 ¶ When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; 2 And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.
Mordecai mourns loudly and publicly. If there was a time when he wanted to conceal his identity as a Jew, now was not it. His reaction would have let everyone know who his people were. So, he wanders through the city to the gate – where he worked. But he can’t come into the gate because the king didn’t want mourners to get near to him – they couldn’t enter his gates with signs of mourning.
Verse 3 then tells us that this wasn’t the reaction of Mordecai’s only. It was one shared amongst all the Jews everywhere throughout the empire. Then we see Esther’s response in 4:4-6.
Esther 4 Commentary (4-6)
4:4 ¶ So Esther’s maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he received it not. 5 Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king’s chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was. 6 So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king’s gate.
So Esther hears about the edict. And it grieves her exceedingly. She very lovingly sends clothes to her adopted dad to replace the ones he tore but he was so grieved he wouldn’t accept them. So Esther wants to understand what exactly is going on. She knows it’s something bad, but she doesn’t know the whole story. So Esther’s servant goes out to talk with Mordecai. Let’s read what he says in 4:7-8.
Esther 4 Commentary (7-8)
4:7 And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them. 8 Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.
Did you catch that last part? Mordecai wants Esther to go into the king and make request before him for her… what? People. Note the change in approach here. Mordecai was the one who kept telling Esther to keep her people secret. Now, for the first time, he’s telling her she needs to plead for her people and thereby reveal her identity to the king. Esther responds in 4:10-11.
Esther 4 Commentary (10-11)
4:10 Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; 11 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: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.
Esther makes an excuse. “Hey, I can’t go in there. Don’t you know my husband’s violence and quick temper? He even has a law that if I go in there without permission he might kill me…unless of course he holds out the golden scepter.” Her excuse is understandable, given Ahasuerus’ explosive character. And I’m inclined to sympathize with Esther. That is, until Mordecai cuts through her excuse with hard reality in 4:13-14.
Esther 4 Commentary (13-14)
4:13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. 14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
Mordecai tells Esther she can keep silent if she really wants to. And it’s at this point we see Mordecai’s faith in the God who goes unmentioned in this book. He’s convinced that God will rescue the Jews from this plot. But he says that if Esther keeps silent, she and her father’s house will perish. She’s not impervious to the king’s law, even in the palace. They will discover she’s a Jew and they’ll kill her as well, while God ultimately finds someone else to deliver his people. But, Mordecai adds, who knows whether Esther came into the kingdom for such a time as this – to deliver her people. This is big pressue for this girl. How will she respond? This is a crisis moment. Will she identify with God’s people and face possible death? Or will she keep her identity hidden, enjoying the passing pleasures of this life for a season? Let’s finish with 4:15-17.
Esther 4 Commentary (15-17)
4:15 Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, 16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
In the midst of this dark dark scene we have a ray of hope. Esther calls a fast for 3 days. After that time she’ll approach the king, which may result in her demise. But she looks at death at the hands of her king and husband on the one hand… and on the other she looks at separation from the God of her fathers, and still the real possibility that she’d be found to be a Jew and exterminated with them. Maybe she takes a hard gulp. Maybe a wave of peace washes over her countenance as she stops trying to live in two worlds. And she utters her famous words of surrender to the Lord – She says she’ll do what she knows to be right. And “if I perish, I… perish.” She didn’t count her life as dear unto herself.
Esther’s name isn’t mentioned in the so-called “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. She’s one of those whom the author of Hebrews had no more time to mention. But if God would have superintended for her to be mentioned by name in that chapter I imagine he would have said something like this: “By faith, Esther approached the king, fully aware that he might put her to death. By faith she determined to lose her life in order that she might gain it. She identified with the people of God and refused to enjoy the passing pleasures of this life. By faith the king responded by…” Well – we’ll talk about his response next week.
May the Lord help us to Live by faith in the unseen God.