Devotional # 81. 4/7/14. Esther 4:1-17.
Introduction. We’ve been going through the story of Esther the last few weeks. Last week we were introduced to the villain of the story: Haman. When Haman was promoted the king told everyone to bow down to Haman but Mordecai wouldn’t. This made Haman angry but he knew that every Jew would do the same thing so he came up with a plan to get rid of all the Jews. Now we hear how Esther learned of her people’s genocide. Does she handle it bravely? Does she handle it correctly? The answers might surprise you.
vv. 1-3. Mordecai grieves, possibly coupled with bitterness from not getting recognition (or a promotion) for saving the king’s life (Esther 2:21-23) this new trial of faithfully keeping the Law must have felt like God wasn’t listening, like God didn’t care. So although they truly believed that they would die, notice they don’t pray! McGee notes that the people were out of the will of God. Earlier Cyrus had permitted them to return to Israel but they didn’t so when they start this ritual of mourning they do everything but the most important thing…pray (Source 3, p. 209)! They did not seek the will of God or His deliverance.
vv. 4-9. Esther doesn’t know what Haman has done in condemning her people to death. She hears that Mordecai is in sackcloth and ashes (a way to show you were sad) and that he’s been stopped at the gate. The king didn’t like bad news and bummers so no one was allowed in when they were visibly mourning. Esther wants to comfort him but can’t come down, so she sends one of her guards to cover him up and find out what is distressing him. Mordecai won’t accept the clothes and explains what’s going on, giving physical proof for Esther to see.
vv. 10-14. Esther is not brave but scared. She is implying that she will probably die if she tries to approach the king to stand up for her people. The only way to have an audience with the king was to be invited. If you showed up un-announced you could immediately be put to death. The only way to be saved was if the king held out his scepter. Of course Mordecai knows this but Esther is emphasizing her dilemma. Mordecai responds, ‘you can either risk it now and have a fighting chance or die later, don’t think just because you’re the queen it invalidates your heritage.’
I love that Mordecai says whether Esther helps or not, “deliverance will arise for the Jews.” It shows he has a “healthy faith in God’s sovereign power to preserve His people” (Source 1, p. 688). Mordecai tells Esther that she may have been exalted to this point for this very moment, to be brave, to stand for what is right, to protect her people.
vv. 15-17. Esther wanted to fast to work up the will to go before the king and she requested that the people fast as well. Again, as above in 4:3, no one is mentioned as praying for salvation. In fact Esther was asking them to do something wrong. This was the time (the 14th-16th of the Hebrew month Nisan) when the people should have been celebrating the Passover (a time of deliverance) but instead were fasting! (Source 2). Afterwards the feast of Purim (see note on Devotional 80, under vv. 7-11) was built around Esther’s actions and is still celebrated today. In fact the book of Esther is still read at Purim (Source 1, p. 681). There is nothing wrong with this celebration now but at Esther’s time it would have encouraged the people if they had been thanking God for his deliverance in the past and requesting His salvation in that time rather than fasting.
Conclusion. It’s important to note that Esther was not automatically a fearless leader. In 4:11 she is less than willing to risk her own neck, but God works on people. By verse 17 she says, “And if I perish, I perish!” We should be encouraged that Biblical heroines and heroes did not have super-human bravery in and of themselves but with God’s power (and often pushing) they took action. J. Vernon McGee states that as brave as Esther was there is “One more noble…[Jesus] did not say, ‘If I perish, I perish.’ He said, ‘I came to give my life a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28)” (Source 3, p. 215).
Source 1: John MacArthur, John MacArthur Study Bible.
Source 3: J. Vernon McGee, Ezra, Nehemiah & Esther, 1977.