Bible Commentary: Esther 4

You are here

Bible Commentary

Esther 4

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

"For Such a Time as This"

On hearing all that had happened, Mordecai engaged in public mourning—as did the Jews in all provinces where the new decree arrived (Esther 4:1-3 Esther 4:1-3 [1] When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the middle 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. [3] And in every province, wherever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
American King James Version×
). Indeed, we see in verse 3 that the mourning was accompanied by fasting—a spiritual tool linked with prayer in Scripture (see 1 Samuel 1:7-10 1 Samuel 1:7-10 [7] And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the LORD, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat. [8] Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weep you? and why eat you not? and why is your heart grieved? am not I better to you than ten sons? [9] So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat on a seat by a post of the temple of the LORD. [10] And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD, and wept sore.
American King James Version×
; 2 Samuel 12:16-17 2 Samuel 12:16-17 [16] David therefore sought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night on the earth. [17] And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.
American King James Version×
; Ezra 8:23 Ezra 8:23So we fasted and sought our God for this: and he was entreated of us.
American King James Version×
Nehemiah 9:1 Nehemiah 9:1Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackcloths, and earth on them.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 58:2-5 Isaiah 58:2-5 [2] Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God. [3] Why have we fasted, say they, and you see not? why have we afflicted our soul, and you take no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact all your labors. [4] Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. [5] Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
American King James Version×
; Jeremiah 14:12 Jeremiah 14:12When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.
American King James Version×
; Daniel 9:3 Daniel 9:3And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
American King James Version×
; Joel 1:14 Joel 1:14Sanctify you a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry to the LORD,
American King James Version×
; Zechariah 7:3-5 Zechariah 7:3-5 [3] And to speak to the priests which were in the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years? [4] Then came the word of the LORD of hosts to me, saying, [5] Speak to all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did you at all fast to me, even to me?
American King James Version×
; Acts 13:3 Acts 13:3And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
American King James Version×
). Even though God is not directly mentioned, the clear implication is that the Jews in the Persian Empire, threatened with imminent extermination, urgently cried out to Him as they fasted.

Encouragingly, we see signs of God's overseeing care in the very fact of what Mordecai had learned of the situation—information that would prove important to opposing the aim of the decree. "If Mordecai had not been appointed as a high official at the king's gate, it is unlikely that he would have known about Haman's bribe to the king. He was providentially placed by God in an exalted position in a foreign government, as were Joseph (see Genesis 41), Daniel (see Daniel 2:48), and Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 1:11)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Esther 4:7 Esther 4:7And Mordecai told him of all that had happened to 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.
American King James Version×
).

Mordecai informed Esther of her need to plead the case of her people before the king. Yet her Jewish identity was still a secret. Given the circumstances, it no doubt seemed that revealing it at that time would have been extremely dangerous. Moreover, Esther was at first fearful to act for another serious reason. She instructed her attendant "to return to her cousin to remind him that no one could approach the king in the inner court without a royal summons. The penalty for such a transgression was death. On occasion the king had been known to extend his golden scepter to an uninvited person as a gesture of mercy. Herodotus (3.118) mentions the Persian custom that anyone who approached the king uninvited would be put to death unless pardoned by the king. Herodotus also said, however, that a person could send a letter to the king asking for an audience. Why this procedure did not occur to Esther can only be surmised. Since she had not been summoned by the king for a month, Esther did not know whether he would forgive her if she approached him without a royal summons. She may have concluded that she had lost the king's favor. It appears that initially Esther was more concerned about her own welfare than about her people" (Expositor's, note on verses 9-11). But that was about to change.

Mordecai responds in verses 13-14 with the central message of the entire book. His confidence that deliverance for the Jews would come from another place even if Esther refused to act is more than simple optimism. It embraced the whole of Jewish national history. There was no question as to why the Jews still existed as a people. They had been delivered, time and time again, by the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel). Over the centuries, God had made many promises that could not be fulfilled if the race was wiped out. Mordecai knew that God would save His people even now. The statement that Esther refusing to act would lead to her and her father's house perishing was probably a warning of divine judgment, reminiscent of Christ's later remark, concerning the end time, that "whoever seeks to save his life will lose it" (Luke 17:33 Luke 17:33Whoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.
American King James Version×
). And then the remarkable statement at the end of Esther 4:14 Esther 4:14For if you altogether hold your peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but you and your father's house shall be destroyed: and who knows whether you are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
American King James Version×
: "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" The obvious suggestion is that it was no mere coincidence that the young Jewish woman Hadassah had become queen of the Persian Empire at this very time in history. It was the work of God. Of course, the all-powerful God clearly did not need her. But He had placed her in her current position to use her if she were willing. And if she were not willing, then He would reject her and work out the deliverance of His people another way.

Mordecai's message succeeded. Esther would go to the king about the matter even if it meant her death. But first she called for a three-day fast of all the Jews in Shushan. Again, the focus is clearly religious. What was the purpose for this fast if not for spiritual preparedness and direction and help from God? Yet again, God is not directly mentioned in the account in any way—which is most remarkable. As mentioned in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary introductory comments on Esther, even if it were written as a Persian state chronicle, we might expect the account to say something to the effect of "the Jews besought their God for help." But it does not. It may well be that the point is to teach us to see the work of God not in explicit references but in His general providential guidance of events for our welfare. As The Bible Reader's Companion notes on its introduction to the book, "God, although hidden from our view, works through circumstances and human choices to accomplish His own ends. Esther teaches us to see the hidden God revealed in the ebb and flow of personal and world events and to praise Him for His continual care."

And no matter what happens, like Esther all of us have the personal responsibility to do whatever is in our power to serve God and His people—even if it means sacrificing our own comfort or, should it be necessary, even our own lives. If we are in a position to speak out for the welfare of others in dire need, then that is what we must do. If human laws forbid us from obeying God, we must decide to obey Him anyway. Our task is ever and always to do the will of God—whatever it is. When hard times come and it's difficult to make the right choice, remember this scriptural example and ask yourself, "Who knows whether you have come to your particular situation for such a time as this?"

You might also be interested in...