Haman, as the enemy of the Jews, has set up his terrible plan “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day” (3:13). The proclamation is spreading through the empire, throwing the city of Susa into confusion (3:15). Meanwhile, King Xerxes and Haman are relaxing and drinking to their plan. The date of destruction has been determined by casting lots, setting the day in 12 months so that the whole empire can prepare to kill the Jews.
Spreading the News (4:1-8)
Mordecai learns about Haman’s plan. He goes into the middle of the city with his clothes torn, wearing sackcloth and ashes, crying out with a loud and bitter cry (4:1). Then he goes to the entrance to the king’s gate, clothed sackcloth. In every province where the decree reaches, the Jews go into great mourning, fasting, weeping, and lamenting while wearing sackcloth and ashes. The whole Jewish nation is wailing and mourning. They are crying out and fasting over the news. Mordecai is deeply grieved over this judgment that has been passed over the Jewish people.
Esther seems to be unaware of the decree that has been given because she is distressed that Mordecai is distressed. She sends new clothes to Mordecai so that he will take off his sackcloth. She basically tries to cheer Mordecai up with some new clothes. Stop mourning. It’s okay. Here are some new clothes. But Mordecai refuses the new clothes. So Esther sends a messenger to Mordecai to find out what the problem is. Mordecai tells the messenger the plan (4:7). Haman has promised to pay the king a huge amount for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gives a copy of the decree to the messenger so that he would show it to Esther. Notice the end of verse 8. Show the decree to her, explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people.
You Don’t Understand (4:9-11)
Esther’s response is quite plain. You do not understand what you are asking for me to do. Everyone knows that if any person goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is one law: you are put to death. Mordecai, you know as does the whole empire that you do not just walk up to Xerxes and has him to do something. Anyone who does before the king without being summoned is put to death. The only way that this does not happen is if the king extends his golden scepter so that you live. Now you might think that this would be no problem for Esther because she is the queen and we were told that the king loved her. But she does not have the favor of the king any longer it seems. She has not been called to come in to the presence of the king for 30 days. You are asking me to risk my life. Do not forget what happened to Vashti that is recorded for us in chapter 1. She was queen also and it did not go well for her when she violated the king’s command.
Esther’s points sound very reasonable. It is not safe to go before the king. I could die if I do what you are asking me to do. This is a dangerous idea you have and everyone knows it. I do not have the favor of the king so I am pretty sure this is not going to go well for me. This is the message that is sent back to Mordecai. I cannot do what you are asking me to do because it is too dangerous.
It Is Your Time (4:12-14)
Mordecai does not accept her reasoning or excuses. As much as these arguments made sense to Esther, Mordecai rejects what Esther says. Consider his answer to her. First, Esther will not escape this destruction just because she is in the palace (4:13). You are not immune from what is going to happen. You might think you are safe. But you are not.
Second, relief and deliverance is going to come from another place if you do not do this. I think we are hearing amazing faith from Mordecai. Mordecai is not telling Esther that she is the only hope for the Jews. He does not believe that. He believes that God is going to bring rescue to the Jewish people. Why does Mordecai have this faith? He can have this great faith because he is not looking at their visible circumstances but by trusting in God’s covenantal promises. It is not possible for all the Jews to be exterminated because they are waiting for the Son of David to come and be king still. God’s promises to the Jews have not been fulfilled yet. So it is not possible for all the Jews to be destroyed. God is going to deliver his people.
Great faith can only exist when we stop being fearful and dejected by our visible physical circumstances. Is not God greater than what we can see? Is not God greater than what we are experiencing? How often does God try to teach this to us! Abraham and Sarah both are physically unable to have children. But God told them that the two of them were going to have a son from their own bodies. What is impossible for people is possible with God! Mordecai is declaring this same great faith. It looks bad for us but I know that deliverance will come from another place.
But notice that Mordecai does not use this as an excuse for Esther. He does not say, “Don’t worry. I know it is dangerous. Relief and deliverance will come from another place since it is too dangerous for you.” Mordecai’s final point is actually the opposite. Who knows whether you have come to your position in the kingdom for this very moment? You have the opportunity to do something now. You can be the instrument in God’s hands. All that has happened to you in your life may have been for this very help that you can provide. Perhaps you are here for this very reason. Mordecai does not think that Esther is where she is by accident. Only now is it becoming clear how God is going to use all that has been horribly experienced by Esther. In short: this is your moment. You have an opportunity. Yes, other people could do something. Yes, God can rescue and help another way. But that is not the point! The point is that God has put you where you are so that you can do something now.
How Mordecai tells Esther this is so useful for us. Mordecai does not say that he knows with certainty that you are the one chosen by God to do this. Mordecai says, “Who knows?” But he does know this: you have the chance to do something. You need to look at your life as an opportunity to do the will of God. This is your time.
Accepting the Opportunity (4:15-17)
I want us to see that Esther listens to Mordecai and accepts the opportunity put before her. Throughout the whole book everything has happened to her. She has not had a say in anything. Her life has been thrown upside down and ripped away from her. She has been used and mistreated. But one thing we have been told throughout the narrative is that she always did what she was told by Mordecai. Now she has been told that she cannot be passive any longer. Everything is happening to her. Now she must do something. So she does. She commands Mordecai to gather all the Jews and have them fast on her behalf as she prepares to risk her life to speak to the king. She will go to the king even though it is against the law (4:16). If I perish, I perish.
Notice that her mind has not been changed about the safety of what she is about to do. She is right in everything that she said to Mordecai. So have everyone fast on my behalf because I am risking my life. If I die, I die.
I want us to think about what she just said. She is not being flippant about her life. She is not suddenly saying that she no longer cares about living. So if I die, it is no big deal. That is not what she is doing. She is very scared about what she has to do. But she is putting her life in God’s hands. She is trusting that the Lord will decide if this goes well for her or not. That is why she has the whole Jewish nation fasting. Fasting was an action toward God to plead with the Lord regarding the request and show one’s earnestness. Her words mirror the words of Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16–18 ESV)
Their answer is that this is in God’s hands. Either God will deliver us from the burning furnace or he will not. But either way, they will not bow down to the king’s golden image. Esther is now declaring the same thing. Either God will deliver her from the king’s anger or he will not. But either way, she will go in and attempt to plead for the lives of her people. This is not a call to reckless living. But it is a call to understanding that we will serve the Lord when it is dangerous and leave those outcomes in God’s hands. Do we believe that God is with us as we attempt to obey him, love him, and serve him? If we do, then we need to step into the opportunities God gives to us to live for him. We need to look at our lives and see God working things so that we can participate in his purposes. The apostle Paul said something similar in Romans 10.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14–15 ESV)
Is Paul saying that God’s purposes will never be accomplished if you are not out there doing his will? Not at all! But are you going to step into the opportunity given to you so that you have beautiful feet that go declaring the good news? God’s will is going to be done. But are you looking at your life circumstances and seeing how you can participate in his work?
This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus is the other place where relief and deliverance will come. Esther had to rise up the ranks to be in a position to rescue her people. Jesus had to lower in the ranks to be in a position to rescue his people. He intervened on our behalf, not by avoiding death, but through death. There was no question if he would perish or not. Death was the means for our relief and deliverance. Now it is our time to look to the Lord, step into the opportunities given to us, for who knows if we have put in the position we are in for such a time as this.