Esther 4 - A Turning Point?
Read Esther 4
It is a moot point whether or not Mordecai was exactly wise in refusing to be respectful to Haman. It wasn’t that he was being asked to worship him, or bow to an idol. No doubt it was the known fact that Haman was an Amalekite that stirred Mordecai’s pride. But was mere pride, national pride, sufficient to justify his action? It is doubtful, especially when we are taught in the New Testament to be respectful to the powers that be (Romans 13:1-7). That does not mean we must be mute when the government asks us to submit to some unrighteous law. There was the precedent of the refusal of Daniel and his three friends to compromise their submission to God’s law in their day (Daniel 1:8-16). Also, in Acts, when the apostles are told not to preach or teach in the Name of Jesus, they refused: the must obey God rather than men (5:29). The current sexual orientation or race and religious hatred regulations may well at some point confront us with that issue. And there are others, too. But here Mordecai has got the whole of the Jewish people into trouble from his own pride and stubbornness.
A vital lesson here is that even the worst actions of professed people of God – even those ‘scarcely saved’ – can be turned in the Lord’s providence. For He rules over all. We see that in the outworking of this story. Remember the Jews are now seriously threatened. Mordecai is in an uncomfortable position. And so is Esther. To this point, some 9 years from the beginning of the story, she has still not let on her Jewishness; she hasn’t let on her attachment, such as it may be, to the Jewish faith. How many of us hide our allegiance? We may even say: how many people are content to remain adherents in Churches in the face of open encouragements to confess the Lord openly? She must now, however, come out into the open. And so, in a real sense, must Mordecai. It is sad that it took an extremity to bring this about. Let us consider, first,
1. The humbling of Mordecai (4:1-4)
“When Mordecai learned what had happened…” What happens? He tears his clothes and puts on sackcloth and ashes. He goes to the middle of the city. He cries with a loud and bitter cry. This is the nearest we get in this book to religious acts. And certainly we are to understand this as indicating a man humbled before God; contrite perhaps for his own sin, and seeking the Lord for His action and vindication in the circumstances of His people. This speaks of a man really troubled before the Lord, and serious about the need for God’s intervention. This is what we find in Ezra in the same era, but back in Jerusalem - and far more explicitly stated. Ezra’s reaction to being told of the prevailing sins of the people is this: “when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished. Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice” (9:3-4).
There is deep feeling behind such uncomfortable actions on Mordecai’s part. We can understand that. We are all very comfortable. It is hard enough to get people out to Prayer Meetings. Who will put themselves out for such a thing today? We may say that Mordecai has not had an ‘edge’ in relation to the exercise of religious faith and practice. No references to prayer. No worship is mentioned. But now at least he wakens up. Clothed with sackcloth he is not scared to go to the city centre and the King’s gate.
It’s not only Mordecai. We read that “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.” Will we not say that this is something required of us today? It may be the exact custom is foreign to us of acting this way outwardly. It was symbolical of course. At least the sackcloth and ashes was. But what of the weeping? Of how many of us could it be said that we are so taken up with our own errors and sins, and with the sins of our day, that we weep tears of grief? The truth is, we are soft these days. We will hardly be put out. And yet our situation is extreme. We’re not going to be exterminated, true. But we are so marginalized and are so mute, we are suffering a form of being ‘wiped out’ so that what we find here in Mordecai and the dispersed Jews is something we ought to search our hearts about and be challenged by.
But why does Mordecai go to the king’s gate? It must be to try to attract the attention of Esther. Her attention is brought to this by her maids and eunuchs (4). It is clear, however, that she has been ignorant of what was happening, given what we read in verse 4 about sending garments to clothe Mordecai. But he will not have it. He is now a man much humbled in his life. Up to this point Mordecai has been an example of how not to live as a believer. In this, however, he is exemplary, at least as far as it goes. Here is a man who is not going to be easily put off even by the Queen, his cousin. Friends, we must on no account be put off our humbling of ourselves before the Lord. We face a desperate situation in Church and society. Whatever else we do let us by all means show such a spirit of humility and brokenness before the Lord as we see in some measure in Mordecai and the people here.
2. The awakening of Esther (4:5-14)
In these verses we have a picture of one who is ‘out of touch’ with the realities of the situation facing her people and herself. People can become isolated from the life of the people of God. This can happen so easily if one persistently stays away from the life of the people of God, from worship and fellowship. It leads to dullness spiritually, and a carelessness. The eagerness of professing people for the ordinances is what is to be looked for (Acts 2:41-47). And when it is not there, well, then you are in trouble. Here Esther is isolated. She doesn’t know what is going on. She needs to be awakened. Even when the situation is explained to her, she doesn’t believe she can help (11). She needs to be stirred. And you can see how Mordecai does it (v14): “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
This represents a challenge. Understand, however, that he’s not talking of the kingdom of God, but her position in the Kingdom of Persia. However, there is recognition (a) of the providence of God in the situation; and (b) of her responsibility to act for her people. Every one of us must take on board such a challenge. We tend to ‘opt out.’ Maybe the task seems so great and we do not feel very strong or knowledgeable or spiritual. Yet this is the day the Lord Jesus has given us to live in. This is our day of opportunity for the Heavenly Kingdom on earth. This is the day to stand and be counted for King Jesus. The odds are great. Things seem to be against us. We do not seem to have religious affections these days. In that sense we are like those people in the days of Mordecai and Esther, compromised in a foreign land. It is in such a situation we need to be stirred. This is our one life. How are we going to use it? What are we going to do for Christ’s kingdom? How are we going to acquit ourselves in our day? This is the question and challenge for you and me. Here Esther must be brought to a turning point. There she is in the king’s palace. If she keeps silent deliverance will come from elsewhere, “but you and your father’s house will perish.” What a searching challenge for her!
3. The necessary reaction (4:15-17)
What is her reaction? It is both positive and one of resignation. She asks Mordecai to organise fasting for her for three days. Again we may assume this to be a request for prayer for her. She organises her own maids to fast with her. And then she will take her life in her hands and go to the king (16). And she says: “If I perish, I perish.” What do we make of that? I would say that in that statement we have an indication of real spiritual weakness. It is a fatalistic sort of statement. There is no overt confidence in the Lord in that statement. Again we learn here from a negative. Yes, fasting and resignation is fine. But will the believer not say and mean: “My trust is in the name of the Lord.” Or, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). This follows from Mordecai’s rather fatalistic words, “who knows…?” We will learn from this that we are to have much more confidence in the Lord than that. We are to realise that we are in the hands of the Sovereign God who will give us good success when we truly trust in Him. Admittedly Mordecai does appear to believe that the hand of God may bless the scheme. And we do hope that God will bless our work, though we don’t deserve it. And in a sense we will be prepared for whatever comes, though it may mean, ultimately, our lives.
We have to be careful, though, in drawing the lessons here, that we are clear that our challenge and calling are to be far more God-centred than the situation there among the exiles. Fasting is not the same as prayer (which is never mentioned) and resignation to death is not the same as being prepared to lay down our lives for the Lord and His truth. It seems to me we are a long way off that. But that is our challenge, not to be reluctant in bearing witness to truth, as Esther appears to have been, but being prepared with eagerness to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand, having on all the armour of God by which we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-20).