Throughout life we all face crises from time to time. Sometimes the crises are severe, threatening the stability and security of our lives. Other times the situations are less critical. But whether the crisis is financial difficulty or bankruptcy, marital problems or divorce, disobedient or rebellious children, failing grades or unemployment, assault or rape, severe disease or accident, terminal illness or death, in such times we stand in desperate need of help.
In our scripture today, Mordecai and the Jews were facing the crisis of their lives, a Decree of Extermination that had been issued by the Persian Empire. A whole race of people had been decreed by law to be slaughtered. Millions of Jews—every man, woman, child, and even babies—were to be killed. The Jews stood in desperate need of help, and only two people could help them: Mordecai and his adopted daughter Esther. For this very purpose, Esther had been raised up by God to sit on the throne as queen to King Xerxes
Esther risked her life by coming before the king. Her courageous act gives us a model to follow in approaching a difficult or dangerous task. Like Esther, we can: (1) Calculate the cost. Esther realized her life was at stake. (2) Set priorities. She believed that the safety of the Jewish race was more important than her life. (3) Prepare. She gathered support and fasted. (4) Determine a course of action and move ahead boldly. She didn’t think too long about it, allowing the interlude to lessen her commitment to what she had to do.
Do you have to face a hostile audience, confront a friend on a delicate subject, or talk to your family about changes to be made? Rather than dreading difficult situations or putting them off, take action with confidence by following Esther’s inspiring example.
Although Esther was the queen and shared some of the king’s power and wealth, she still needed God’s protection and wisdom. No one is secure in his or her own strength in any political system. It is foolish to believe that wealth or position can make us impervious to danger. Deliverance and safety come only from God.
In Hard Times What Do We Do? (4:1-9)
As soon as Mordecai heard about the decree of extermination, he was gripped with fear and trembling. He immediately knew that the best hope of deliverance lay with his adopted daughter, Queen Esther. As queen, she stood the best chance of appealing to King Xerxes for mercy. Somehow, some way, he had to get an urgent message to Esther, informing her of the Decree of Extermination against the Jews and appealing to her for help. She alone could intercede and plead for mercy before the king. In this dramatic story, God meets the Jews’ desperate need for an intercessor, a deliverer, and a savior through the obedience and courage of Esther.
When Mordecai and the Jews heard about the Decree of Extermination, they reacted just as any people would: with deep, intense grief and mourning (vv.1-3). Knowing that Queen Esther could approach King Xerxes in behalf of the Jews, believing that perhaps she could convince him to reverse the decree of extermination, Mordecai rushed out into the city dressed in sackcloth and ashes. Crying loudly and bitterly, he made his way to the palace gate (vv.1-2). However, he could not enter the palace grounds because Persian law prohibited anyone clothed in sackcloth to go beyond the gate. No doubt the law had been instituted as a protection for the king, his family, and royal officials.
In the midst of the Jews’ weeping and wailing, they began to fast and pray. Many even prostrated themselves in sackcloth and ashes, a clear indication of repentance and prayer before the Lord.
Eventually, Esther received news of Mordecai’s deep distress, and she became very concerned (v.4). Although her servants did not know that the relationship between the queen and Mordecai was like that of a father and daughter, they did know that they were acquainted. In view of that, when some of the servants noticed Mordecai mourning at the palace gate, they reported his distress to Queen Esther. Apparently, she immediately became fearful, for if the king happened to hear Mordecai mourning so loudly and bitterly at the palace gate, he might have Mordecai arrested due to the disturbance he was causing. As quickly as she could, she gathered up clothing to send to him so he could enter the palace grounds to meet and share his problem with her. But, shockingly, he refused to accept the clothing. No doubt, Mordecai wanted to protect Esther all he could. To be identified with him now would have been most unwise, for he could have exposed the fact that she too was a Jew. Since she was queen, exposure could endanger her life immediately. Consequently, he refused to accept the clean clothing and chose not to enter the palace courtyard. Knowing that Queen Esther loved him, he knew that she would send a trusted servant to find out what the problem was.
Just as Mordecai expected, Esther became extremely distressed over her adoptive father (vv.5-6). She promptly sent her trusted aide Hathach to find out what was troubling him. Hathach found Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the palace gate.
After explaining the Decree of Extermination to this trusted servant, Mordecai made his appeal to Esther (vv.7-8). He explained that money—the plunder of Jewish property—was one of the reasons for the decree. Prime Minister Haman had promised to use the plunder to build up the depleted treasury of the Persian Empire (3:9). After sharing all the facts about the decree of extermination, Mordecai gave the aide a copy of the royal decree so Esther could see the proof for herself and know that the situation was critical. Finally he instructed the aide to urge Esther to seek an audience with the king. She must become a mediator for the Jewish people. She must plead with the king for mercy, plead with him to reverse the sentence of death upon her people.
The trusted aide Hathach returned to Esther and reported Mordecai’s message to her.
Only Queen Esther stood in the gap between the king and the extermination of the Jews. She alone could mediate in their behalf. She alone could approach the king and cry out for mercy in behalf of her people.
This is a clear picture of our desperate need for an intercessor, for a person who can stand before God and plead for mercy in our behalf. There is an enormous gap between God and us, an impassable gulf that separates God from man. This gap or gulf exists between God’s perfection and our imperfection. Only perfection is acceptable to God. Only a perfect person can approach God, and we are anything but perfect. We are sinful because we have committed wickedness and evil, both in thought and in behavior.
Our only hope is for a mediator—a perfect person—to stand between God and us and to plead for mercy in our behalf. The wonderful news is this: there is such a person, a perfect person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Intercessor, the perfect Savior and Deliverer who is accepted by God the Father. Standing before the Father, Jesus Christ pleads for God to have mercy when we trust and call out to him. And when we call in the name of Christ, God hears. He hears because Jesus Christ is the Perfect Intercessor, the Perfect Mediator who brings us to God.
Prayer and Fasting Lead to a Plan of Action (4:10-17)
Esther was faced with the decision of her life. She alone could step forth to save the Jewish people from extermination, but she needed a deep-seated courage. Thankfully, such courage existed within her heart. Esther made a momentous and extraordinary decision. She determined to risk her life by appearing before King Xerxes to plead for mercy for her people. At first, Esther’s courage was dormant. It needed to be stirred by Mordecai. Through Hathach the queen’s trusted aide, Mordecai and Esther exchanged message after message until the courage was aroused within her to risk her life to save the Jewish people from annihilation.
Because of Persian law, Esther faced a serious dilemma, so she sent her trusted aide Hathach back to Mordecai in order to seek her adoptive father’s advice (v.11). Persian law prohibited anyone from approaching the king without first being summoned. Such a law was necessary in order to protect the king from potential assassins and from being interrupted while conducting important business. Esther simply saw no way to secure an audience with the king, for she had not been summoned by him for 30 days. There was the possibility that she was no longer favored by him. Hence, she knew she might never again be summoned into his presence.
When Esther’s dilemma was reported to Mordecai, he insisted that she be courageous and figure out some way to approach the king (vv.12-14). Her reaching the king and pleading the case of the Jews was an absolute essential. She could not make excuses nor shrink from this responsibility. Seeking to arouse her courage, Mordecai gave three reasons why she had to figure out a way to approach the king to lead him to reverse the decree.
- Esther herself was a Jew and would not escape execution. Being queen was meaningless in the face of Persian law, for Persian law could not be reversed, not even by the king himself. Although she was the wife and queen of King Xerxes, she too was doomed to death unless she could arouse King Xerxes to figure out a way to reverse the decree.
- Esther had been placed upon the throne as queen for this very purpose: to save God’s People (v.14). If she failed in her mission by keeping silent during this crisis, God would raise up another deliverer.
Note how Mordecai believed that God would protect His people from annihilation, either through his adopted daughter Esther or through some other agent. Keep in mind that the name of the Lord is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Esther. However, there is no doubt that this is a veiled reference to God. Although God’s name is not mentioned, Mordecai was suggesting that God stands behind human affairs and He would somehow save his people. Keep in mind that the book of Esther was written soon after these events occurred, before Ezra’s return to Jerusalem, which would have been somewhere between 450 and 400 B.C. The plot of extermination was launched because of Mordecai’s faithful stand for the Lord (3:1-15). Because of the extreme prejudice and bitter hatred of the Jews by the public, the author apparently eliminated any direct reference to the Lord in order to protect the Jews. They were still citizens of Persia, a secular society while this book was being written and circulated. Whatever the case, the author records the fact of Mordecai’s strong faith in the Lord through this veiled reference to God (v.14).
Esther responded to Mordecai’s challenge. She made the courageous decision to go to the king to plead for mercy for her people, the Jews (v.15). But note her challenge to Mordecai: he had to mobilize the Jews to fast and pray for her for three days, both night and day. She and her maids would join in the fast and, then, at the end of the three days, she would disobey the law of the land. Risking her life, she would go to the king and plead for him to seek a way to reverse the Decree of Extermination.
By calling for a fast, Esther was asking the Jews to pray for God’s help on her dangerous mission. In the Old Testament, prayer was accompanied fasting (see Ezra 8:21-23). An important function of a community of believers is mutual support in difficult times. When you are experiencing struggles, turn to fellow believers for support by sharing your trials with them and gaining strength from the bond that unites you. Ask them to pray for you. And when others need your support, give it willingly.
Esther was risking her life out of conviction that she had been raised up by God for a time such as this. If she perished, then she would perish, but she would have fulfilled God’s purpose for her life. And by fulfilling His purpose, even if she failed, she was convinced that God would make another way to save His people, the Jews. She would do all she could, so no matter what the outcome, she could rest in peace.
After the decree to kill the Jews was given, Mordecai and Esther could have despaired, decided to save only themselves, or just waited for God’s intervention. Instead, they saw that God had placed them in their positions for a purpose, so they seized the moment and acted. When it is within our reach to save others, we must do so. In a life-threatening situation, don’t withdraw, behave selfishly, wallow in despair, or wait for God to fix everything. Instead, ask God for his direction, and act! God may have placed you where you are “for just such a time as this.”
“Save your own skin” and “Watch out for number one” are mottoes that reflect our world’s selfish outlook on life. Esther’s attitude stands in bold contrast to this. She knew what she had to do, and she knew it could cost her her life. And yet she responded, “If I must die, I must die.” We should have the same commitment to do what is right despite the possible consequences. Do you try to save yourself by remaining silent rather than standing up for what is right? Decide to do what God wants, and trust him for the outcome.
God was in control, yet Mordecai and Esther had to act. We cannot understand how both can be true at the same time, and yet they are. God chooses to work through those willing to act for him. We should pray as if all depended on God and act as if all depended on us. We should avoid two extremes: doing nothing, and feeling that we must do everything.
In facing any desperate situation, there is a need for courage, prayer, and fasting. When we face the crises of life, we must be courageous. But we must also seek the face of God, for only God can give us permanent help.
Only God can give us continued victory over the terrifying crises that may confront us, crises that can leave us frightened and confused, wondering what we can do to overcome the problem. No matter what the crises in life, there is hope in the Lord. If we turn to the Lord in prayer and fasting, seeking His face for help, He will help us. This is the clear declaration of God’s Word.
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Sources: Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 774-775.
The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, (Chattanooga: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 2004), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “A. The Courageous Decision of Esther: A Look at Two Desperate Needs, 4:1-17”.