Esther 4:1-5:14 Comments by Stephen Ricker
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If I Perish, I Perish
Commentary for Study 3

Esther 4:1-5:14
Memory Verse 4:16


I. Mordecai in Sackcloth and Ashes (4:1-8)

1. What did Mordecai do when he heard the edict? What does this mean? Around your house, who cries like an open faucet? Like a drippy faucet? Who pouts? Who refuses to eat? How bad does it have to get before you go without food?

Esther 4:1-2 "When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king's gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it."

* "what had been done" -The law that all Israelites were to be killed.

* "sackcloth" -Sackcloth was course, dark clothing worn by biblical Jews as a sign of:
    1) mourning (Gen 37:34; Ps. 35:13),
    2) earnest prayer (2 Kings 19:1,2; Dan. 9:3),
    3) repentance (1 Kings 21:27; Matt. 11:21).

* "he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes" -In this case this was done in mourning and earnest prayer, even though prayer is not mentioned here.

* "went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly" -Unlike today, Jews (as well as many other nationalities in the Mid-East) expressed their sorrow openly without holding back.

* "But he only went as far as the king's gate" -Persian law prohibited anyone from entering the palace dressed in sackcloth. Howling his sorrow, he came as close as he could to the gate, probably hoping Esther might hear of it.

* In notes on 2:19, "the king gate", I wrote that this was the place where political and commercial important people stayed. Mordecai was usually there conducting business (3:2). But not today. One moment God's people may be elevated to a high position in society; the next we may be wailing for our life. Yet God is always in control of any event and circumstances.

Esther 4:3 "In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes."

* "In every province there was great mourning among the Jews" -Mordecai was not the only one mourning this way.

* "fasting" -Fasting and prayer always goes together for the Jews (Jdg. 20:26; and 1 Sam. 7:6; and 2 Sam. 12:16; Ezra 8:21-23; Ne. 9:1-3; Isa. 58:3; Jer 14:12; Joel 1:14; 2:12-17; John 3:6-9). (See later notes on 4:16.) Even if some modern critics say Mordecai's action shows that he is not a man of God, they can not say that every Jew was not fasting and praying at this time. Surely some were fasting and praying. But their praying is not mentioned here either. Thus the author keeps to his deliberate act of not referring to spiritual acts of men and women of God. Thus modern critics of Esther are wrong.

* Why, then didn't the author mention these spiritual acts.
    1) Perhaps he intended not only the Jews to read this, but also all the other people in Persia in the hopes that they would see the hand of the God of Israel and believe in his seemingly hidden hand in history.
    2) Absence of any distinctively religious concepts or vocabulary is a rhetorical device used to heighten the fact that it is indeed God who has been active in the whole narrative.

* "weeping and wailing" -The Psalms, the "Original Hymnbook of the People of God," whose lyrics were designed to be sung in worship, gave the original believers a spiritual vehicle for expressing the whole range of intense emotions-all with God's blessing.

God does hear the sorrow and groaning of His people as prayer, even if they aren't using the language of prayer.

Exodus 3:7 says, "The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering."

Romans 8:26-27 says, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will."

* Esther had a very important life and death decision to make. If she stay silent she and her father's house will perish. Also Mordecai might die as well as many other Jews if not all.

She could keep her identity secret or she could flee.

Or she could go to the king on behalf of her people. If she did she might perish at his hand. Worse of all, she would not fulfill God's purpose for her life at this time.

I have decisions to make every day. Some are as simple as what I will eat and wear today. But there are times when the decisions I make will have hugh reproductions in others lives and my life. Such was the decision Esther had to make when she learned of Haman's law against the Jews.

The best thing to do can be elusive. God's will is not always as plain as it was to Esther. She had to decide to go to the king on behalf of her people or not. Right now I have very big life decisions to make.

When I have big decisions to make and am not sure what to do I do several things. I pray. I ask other to pray. I read God's words. I seek the advice of mature Christians. I mistakenly worry sometimes. Eventually I come to the point where I make a decision and ask God to open doors that I am to pass through and close doors that I am to not go through. I "put out the fleece" as a dear old friend Muriel says.

When I accepted Jesus' call to me when I was 20 I asked him to save me from my sin and death. I also ask him to be my king and have ABSOLUTE control of my life. I was afraid of letting him have complete control. I had to pray it twice for the first time that I asked it i held back in my heart. The second time I asked whole heartedly and then the Holy Spirit came on me powerfully. I take comfort now knowing that he is still and always will honor my request to take control of my life. No matter what decisions I make.

2. How did Esther find out about the edict? What did Mordecai want Esther to do? How long from when Esther was brought to the palace to this day was it? What does this tell us about how God sometimes works?

Esther 4:4-5 "When Esther's maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther summoned Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why."

* "Esther's maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai" -Mordecai did not hold back. Many saw it.

* "she was in great distress" -Amazingly, she did not know about Haman's edict. Why? The king's harems of that day were largely protect from contact with the outside world. When she heard of Mordecai's grieving she grieved with him, even though she did not know why.

* "she sent clothes for him" -So that he could come to her and explain his actions.

* "he would not except them" -His mourning was to great.

* "Hathach" -His name means, "the good one". The fact that the dialogue of Esther and Mordecai is mediated by Hathach reflects the prohibition against Mordecai's entering the royal citadel dressed in mourning and the isolation of Esther in the harem quarters.

Esther 4:6-8 "So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to urge her to go into the king's presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people."

* "the exact amount of money Haman had promised" -This was obviously not published in the edict. That Mordecai is aware of the amount promised to the king is a reminder of his high position in the bureaucracy at Susa

* "he told him to urge her to go into the king's presence" -In Hebrew this is not a request but a command.

* "to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people" -He was telling her to do what is not becoming of a queen, but of a women of God's people. Also he was telling her to expose her identity.

II. Fast and I will Go (4:9-17)

3. What was Esther's dilemma? What was Mordecai's response? What was Esther's decision?

Esther 4:9-11 "Hathach went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, "All the king's officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king."

* "that he be put to death" -Herodotus, the Greek historian, also notes that anyone approaching the Persian king not summoned would be killed unless the king gave immediate pardon.

Esther reminds Mordecai (actually verse 9 indicates that she was saying, "You know for everyone knows...") of the consequences of what he was asking her.

This law, enhanced by memory of Vashti's bitter end and the fact that Esther was no longer number one the king's list (she hadn't been invited to come to his for 30 days) and the fact of the king's sudden acts of rage, caused her to be understandably hesitant.

* "golden scepter" -Persian and Assyrian sculpture pictures the golden scepter as a slender rod about equal to the king's own height, ornamented with a small knob at the top. The king always held it in his right hand, whether on the throne or walking about. It represented his authority as ruler.

Esther 4:12-14 "When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"

* "he sent back this answer" -Mordecai, fighting for his life and the lives of all Jewish people in Persia, was not impressed with her fears. When Hathach gave him Esther's response, Mordecai immediately sent back a terse and pointed reminder. Mordecai was encouraging her to have faith in God as we all should do to one another.

1 Thes. 5:11 says, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Hebrews 3:13 says, "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

* "relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise" -Mordecai sense of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel (through Moses), and David which could not be fulfilled if the Jewish race were annihilated. Mordecai was confident that God would ultimately act to save them. "Rescue Plan A" involved Esther taking advantage of her position as queen to appeal for mercy.

* "from another place" -Mordecai still did not mention God's name, However, some "power" was certainly on his mind when he confessed his expectation of help from "another place". What "other place" could he have had in mind? Did he think Xerxes would ultimately come to their rescue even if Esther did not approach him? Or did he think impersonal fate or luck would intervene? There seems to be more to it than that. Most Jewish and Christian scholars see this as a veiled reference to God.

* Humans face decisions to be available for God's use or not. God leads people to places in life where they can be useful in His purposes. God forces no one to be so used. He can always accomplish His saving purposes through someone else.

* "but you and your father's family will perish" -Since she was the only survivor of the family this was true.

On a spiritual level Mordecai was saying God will cut off you and thus your family from his people and self.

* "And who knows but" -This shows that up until this time Esther and Mordecai did not know why God had elevated Esther to queen.

* "you have come to a royal position for such a time as this" -I believe whole-heatedly that God leads and guides each person to be where he wants them to be and he has plans for our lives. Obviously so did Mordecai.

More than that I also believe that God has something in particle that is very important that God wants each person to do. Although they may do many good things for God and his people, one thing is very important. Examples of this are:
    1) Noah building the ark, even though he also preached to those who would be destroyed.
    2) Abraham having Isaac by faith as an example, even though he moved to the promised land.
    3) Joseph saving many people from the drought even though because of him the Israelites moved to Egypt.
    4) Moses giving the law, even though he lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
    5) Joshua leading the people into the promised land.
    6) etc.

However, even though God has this special plan for all of his people, it does not mean that it would be easy. In fact it would take great faith, as in the people above and in Esther's life. To live God's special plan for our lives is not easy. Yet God wants and expects us to do what he wants by faith.

Also, as is Esther's case, and all the others above, we most likely will not know of God's special job that he has for us until it comes. Sometimes, even then it will not be so easy to see. This is because it takes great faith and risk which is against the nature of the flesh. Therefore, throughout my life I need to examine what I do and what God's will is for me, not by the eyes of the flesh, but by the eyes of faith.

I believe "to live by faith" is to seek God's plan in my life at every turn of events, and even when they don't turn.

4. Do you understand fasting as a spiritual discipline? What is the point of fasting as an exercise of faith?

5. What is important enough that you would risk your life for? If the Jews were all killed, what likely hood is there that the Messiah would be born? Do you think Mordecai and Esther realized that the future of the world laid in the decisions that they made?

Esther 4:15-16 "Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."

* "Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai" -The roles were immediately reversed. Mordecai had commanded Esther in verse 8; now Esther commands Mordecai, and he obeys (17). He had been her adviser and instructor, but beginning with verse 16 Mordecai takes his cues from a newly empowered Esther.

This is the second time that the Book of Esther gives good examples of women who express their self and authority in the right way. First was Queen Vashti who would not disgrace herself in chapter one even though she suffered for it. Now Esther, empowered by faith, calls the shots on how she will approach the king. Each was not done in a haughty way, but with respect to others who were involved.

* "Go" -After accepting God's will for her, as expressed by Mordecai, she was a strong women of faith.

* "gather together" -community prayer.

* "all the Jews who are in Susa" -Just Susa because it would be hard for them to tell those outside Susa in such a short notice. Even getting the Jews of Susa together would not be easy. Not only the work would be hard, but some would be suspicious of there motives.

* "and fast" -Fasting was commanded only in connection with the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27-29). It later became customary (Zec. 7:5). The fast expressed humility and dependence before God. Fasts were often associated with occasions of repentance and mourning. Fasting was normally avoided of festive occasions and Sabbaths, except for prolonged fasts which would involve Sabbaths. Mourning should be more than a time of personal sorrow. It should represent prayer for strength and renewal before God.

Fasting is also associated with prayer. Prayer can be expressed symbolically as well as orally. Kneeling or lying on one's face before God represents humility. Outstretched hands represent dependence on God for our needs. Fasting represents total dedication and willingness to forego normal needs to concentrate on one particular need before God. Weeping shows sorrow and heartfelt emotional reaction to a need or crisis. Sackcloth represents the willingness to sacrifice life's luxuries and efforts to impress others in absolute concentration on finding God's solution to the problem at hand. Ashes placed on the head or face represent a sense of worthlessness, shame, humility, and penitence. Expression of these attics is proper when asking God for help in a desperate community of individual situation.

* "for me" -In this case the fasting was for the petitioning of God for Esther who would risk her life to save the Jews.

* "I too will" -Esther also fasted. Fasting is usually associated with prayer (See above). Fasting in the sumptuous luxury of the palace (2:9) was an indication of unusual earnestness. Esther needed dedicated prayer as she prepared to risk her life for her people.

* "if I perish, I perish" -This is a statement of faith. She did not know what her outcome would be, but she would take a step of faith and do what she accepted as God's will for her.

Faith does not require that we know what God will do; it is belief that God will work out His purpose, and that His purpose is best for us. Sometimes a step of faith must be taken in the dark. Faith can be defined as willingness to step into the darkness with God.

Esther 4:17 "So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther's instructions."

* Mordecai was not a macho man, but a man of God. He did not say to Esther, why do you order me in this way? Where is your respect for me?

III. Esther's Plans (5:1-8)

6. What was Esther's plan? Put yourself in Esther's sandals. Why don't you ask the king to save your people when he first asks?

7. How do you prepare for lunch with someone you are going to ask for a favor? How do you prepare for lunch with an enemy? How do you pray?

Esther 5:1 "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king's hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance."

* "put on her royal robes" -As a wise person Esther made careful preparations to improve her chances of acceptance. She dressed herself in a formal manner. She was, after all, approaching the king not to make love, but to procure a ruling on a matter of state. She adorned herself to accomplish two things: to delight the king and to remind him of her royal station.

* "The king was sitting on his royal throne" -A relief of Darius I (King Xerxes' father) shows the king seated on a large chair placed on a platform, with his feet on a footstool, in the presence of the crown prince, Xerxes, and top advisers.

* "facing the entrance" -In this way he would have seen Esther right away. Surely this was an act of God.

* Esther by faith and love was taking actions to help others. She was risking herself to save.

Haman by pride and hate was taking actions to hurt others. He was promoting himself to kill.

How does someone get to this point in life? What makes the heart either so warm and loving, or so cold and hard?

Paul wrote, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

Jesus said, "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit."

And, "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."

Jesus also taught, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed."

Finally, he said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."

Esther and Haman did as they did because of their response to God and his truth. The seeds of thoughts and emotions they harbored produced action accordingly. This is why Jesus and the apostles warned me to guard my heart.

Esther 5:2 "When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter."

* God had prepared the king's heart. This must have been an assurance to the nervous queen.

* "touched the tip of the scepter" -showing her respect and thankfulness to the king.

Esther 5:3-4 "Then the king asked, "What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you." "If it pleases the king," replied Esther, "let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him."

* "even up to half the kingdom" -A sweeping eastern royal cliche no one was really expected to take literally, promised to give her anything she wanted. (Also in Mark 6:23) In means: "Anything your heart desires I will give you!"

* "if it pleases the king" -Esther spoke with all due respect and prudence, using the traditional woes of honor.

* "come today to a banquet I have prepared for him" -Some would say that she lost her nerves, by not asking him right way. But it clearly says, "I have prepared." Esther had already prepared a banquet. She had a plan and was now executing it.

To offer hospitality before making a business deal is a long standing Middle East Tradition. Also her womanly intuition told her, in spite of appearances, the timing had to be perfect and prepared for. Also she wanted only the three of them present so that the king would not be intimidated with the rest of his court, which was no doubt always in the court at the time she approached.

* "banquet" -continuing with the many banquets in the book.

Esther 5:5-6 ""Bring Haman at once," the king said, "so that we may do what Esther asks." So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, "Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted."

* "as they were drinking wine" -After a meal it was customary to enjoy a banquet of wine. This was a relaxed, light-hearted time when conversation took place.

Esther 5:7-8 "Esther replied, "My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king's question."

* Once again Esther postponed sharing what was on her heart for the same reason as before.

IV. Haman's Anger (5:9-14)

8. What did Haman do when he saw Mordecai at the gate? What does this show about him?

9. What was the effect of Haman's anger on his celebration over his successes?

Esther 5:9 "Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king's gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai."

* "Haman...happy...high spirits" -This is because not everyone ate with the king, let alone the queen, and both of them together. In fact Persian kings were extremely protective of their wives, it was a rare honor to be invited to banquet with the queen.

* "filled with rage" -Haman illustrates a fact psychological science affirms. Depression and anger go hand in hand. Recent studies and surveys reveal that millions of people today suffer from depression. Sometimes depression is caused by a physical malfunction. But most often, people who suffer from chronic depression are frightened, angry people who find it difficult to forgive those they perceive have wronged them or failed them. They are angry with others, themselves, God, and their circumstances. Anger and joy are incompatible. Therefore people obsessed with anger are often depressed.

If a person has a "Mordecai" they should:
    1) Describe the specific nature of the problem you have with your "Mordecai" (the named person) and describe in detail your feelings about the problem.
    2) Humbly admit that you are powerless to let go of you feelings (anger, obsession, resentment, unforgiven, fear, anxiety, etc.) about your "Mordecai."
    3) Confess your belief that God can do what you cannot do.
    4) Decide to turn you will, your feelings, and your actions concerning your "Mordecai" over to God, for His care and help. Write out this decision in detail.
    5) Let your "Mordecai" go, and leave the person and problem in God's hands.
    6) Repeat this process as often as necessary to maintain your spiritual health and peace.
1 Peter 5:5-11 says, "Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen."

Esther 5:10-13 "Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home. Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. "And that's not all," Haman added. "I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate."

* When one is angry and obsessed bragging (focusing on something else that seems good) will not help overcome the problem.

Esther 5:14 "His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy." This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built."

* "seventy-five feet high" -There may be a note of hyperbole in the height of the gallows. Others have suggested that the gallows was erected atop some other structure to achieve this height, e.g., the city wall (1 Samuel 31:10).

* "delighted Haman" -But it would not for long. Acting out one's rage is no solution. This is the exact same thing that the Jews did with Jesus. Also Cain killed Able for the same motives. Both thought that by killing the person that they were angry with would solve their problems. But in both the Jews' and Cain's case it did not solve there problems; it only made things worse. In both cases they only became more bitter, fearful, and resentful. Acting out one's evil thoughts is no solution. Going to God is the only solution. (See above for suggestions on this.)

10. What anger are you nursing that spoils some of your good times? What's the worst thing that could happen if you let that anger go and forgave the person? How could you benefit from letting the anger go?

11. Can anger keep a person from seeing the work of God?