PROVIDENCE POSITIONS YOU TO LEVERAGE YOUR GOD-GIVEN CALLING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR GOD’S PEOPLE
There are watershed moments in every person’s life where you are faced with critical decisions regarding fulfilling your God-given calling. Esther faces just such a circumstance in this pivotal chapter regarding the destiny of God’s chosen people. The providence of God has led the nation into desperate circumstances where they face an edict of extermination because of the wicked scheming of Haman in the Persian court. The providence of God has also positioned Mordecai and Esther to play key roles in the preservation of God’s people. But the responsibility still lies with Esther to choose to step forward courageously and intervene on behalf of her Jewish nation. In keeping with the current context of the NCAA Basketball Championship, I have entitled this message “One Shining Moment.”
Breneman: This is the central section in the book. With the fate of the Jews sealed in the edict of Haman, Esther was challenged to confront the king courageously and ask for help. This is what she was brought to the court to do (4:14): to deliver her people. God is not mentioned explicitly, but his providential care is evident.
Whitcomb: The promises of God, the justice of God, and the providence of God shine brilliantly through the entire crisis, so that the mere omission of His name obscures nothing of His identity, attributes, and purposes for His chosen people and for the entire world of mankind.
Tomasino: The previous episode focused on Haman and his negotiation with the king; this one focuses on Mordecai and his negotiation with the queen.
Duguid: In a sense, the whole Book of Esther is similarly about the one character who never appears on stage, never speaks, and is never actually spoken to: God. Nowhere is that more true than in chapter 4, where Esther must place her life in the hands of the unseen, unheard, and unrecognized God. The fate of the whole community lies in the balance. . .
“How can people who confess an orthodox creed week after week so easily and completely lose track of the implications of that theology whenever problems emerge in daily life?” Mordecai’s world-view may have been based on a solid theology, but he had difficulty connecting that theology to the issues of everyday life. If we know people, and the motions of our own hearts, we will not have to travel back to ancient Susa for examples of this phenomenon. In times of crisis, for all our orthodox theology, our own first response is frequently the whimper of resignation or human strategy rather than the bark of robust faith in God. We believe in God, but in practice react to life’s crises as if we were virtual atheists. . .
Esther therefore had to act as well as to fast. She needed to take her life in her hands, risking everything for her people. She did so without any explicit promises from God to protect her, or to bring about a successful conclusion to her mission. The question, “Who knows if you have risen to royal position for just such a time as this?” could just as well have been answered in the negative as the positive. There was no voice from heaven commanding Esther to act, no burning bush to convince her of God’s call, no miraculous signs that she could perform to persuade the king to let her people go. Perhaps God would remain hidden and allow many of his people to die, including Esther herself, as he has on other occasions in history. There are no guarantees of success when we stand up for God, if success means getting what we want.
Yet at another level, Esther’s success was guaranteed. God had committed himself to maintain a people for himself, not so that they could be comfortable, but so that they could bring him glory. No matter what sinful paths had led Esther to where she was, she was undeniably now in a position to give God glory by publicly identifying with her people and, if necessary, laying down her life through that identification. She could glorify God by perishing as well as by convincing the king. It was up to God how to glorify himself through Esther’s obedience, whether by delivering the people through her or allowing her to be martyred in his service, but he would be glorified one way or another.
I. (:1-4) PROVIDENCE PUTS GOD’S PEOPLE IN DESPERATE SITUATIONS
A. (:1-2) Grief of Mordecai Over the Edict of Extermination of the Jews
1. (:1) Public Lament
“When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes,
put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city
and wailed loudly and bitterly.”
Constable: The absence of any reference to prayer in verse 3 may be significant. Prayer normally accompanied the other practices mentioned (cf. 2 Kings 19:1-4; Joel 1:14). Perhaps many of these exiled Jews had gotten so far away from God that they did not even pray in this crisis hour. However, the basis of this argument is silence, and arguments based on silence are never strong. Fasting does connote a strong but veiled appeal to God for help (cf. v. 16; 9:31). Probably the absence of reference to prayer was designed to help the reader view the events taking place on the horizontal (earthly) plane alone and thereby appreciate God’s providence at work.
Frederic Bush: “sackcloth,” refers to a garment of coarse cloth of goat or camel hair, possibly a loincloth. The ashes were usually sprinkled on one’s head. These actions are appropriate for expressing grief, anguish, lament, and humiliation over calamity and bad news of all kinds (e.g., Joseph’s disappearance, Gen 37:29; military defeat, 1 Sam 4:12; 2 Sam 1:2; rebellion, 2 Sam 15:32; rape, 2 Sam 13:9; siege and threat of attack, 2 Kgs 18:37; as well as mourning for the dead (cf. Gen 37:34 with 37:29).
Breneman: “Wailing loudly and bitterly” shows Mordecai’s intense grief over the edict. In the West we tend to keep our emotions to ourselves, but in Oriental society it was common to show one’s grief. Mordecai was a man of strong feeling as well as strong convictions. One should not hide one’s concern in crisis situations.
2. (:2) Persian Legal Limitation
“And he went as far as the king’s gate,
for no one was to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth.”
Bob Deffinbaugh: It seems Mordecai’s mourning is not quite normal. I would have expected him to mourn privately rather than publicly. I wonder if Mordecai was not a leader among the Jewish people, and his public mourning was the cue for the rest of the Jews to join him in mourning. I also wonder if Mordecai did not station himself before the king’s gate in an effort to get the king’s attention as a kind of official protest.
B. (:3) Grief of the Jews Over the Edict of Extermination
“And in each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.”
Breneman: The scene of Mordecai’s mourning was duplicated all over the empire by Jews who heard about the edict. This verse is the low point in the narrative. Certain death was unavoidable except for the coming of a deliverer and liberator.
C. (:4a) Grief of Esther – Despite Her Incomplete Knowledge of Current Crisis
“Then Esther’s maidens and her eunuchs came and told her,
and the queen writhed in great anguish.”
Frederic Bush: Esther’s distress can only be occasioned by the grief and anguish expressed by the actions and attire of Mordecai and the Jews of Susa. Her distress cannot be occasioned by the coming annihilation of the Jews, for, as the sequel shows, she does not yet know of Haman’s terrible decree. Obviously, however, from the force of the verb, she believes that Mordecai’s attire and actions mean that something very serious has transpired.
D. (:4b) Grief Cannot be Mitigated — Garments Sent to Clothe Mordecai Rejected
“And she sent garments to clothe Mordecai that he might remove his sackcloth from him, but he did not accept them.”
Bob Deffinbaugh: Could it be Mordecai was an embarrassment to Esther so that she tried to quickly silence him? She sent clothing to her step-father, hoping to persuade him to put an end to his mourning. But Mordecai was not dissuaded.
II. (:5-9) PROVIDENCE SETS THE STAGE FOR MOMENTOUS ACTION
A. (:5-6) Hathach Responds to Esther’s Charge to Seek Information from Mordecai
1. (:5) The Charge
“Then Esther summoned Hathach from the king’s eunuchs, whom the king had appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was.”
Tomasino: While Mordecai had managed to learn of the king’s decree and even the negotiations involved, Esther is ignorant of the proceedings. It is obvious that she is living a sequestered life in the palace, insulated from the troubles of life outside the women’s quarters. The contrast between the informed and uninformed is important in this scene, as indicated by the repeated use of the word “to know” (ידע, ydʿ).
2. (:6) The Connection
“So Hathach went out to Mordecai to the city square in front of the king’s gate.”
B. (:7-8) Hathach Receives Detailed Information from Mordecai Regarding the Edict of Extermination
1. (:7) Crisis Summary
“And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him,”
2. (:7b) Calculation of the Bribe
“and the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to pay
to the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews.”
Laniak: The mention of the money had been, for the king, a sign of loyalty and generosity. For Esther, however, it is a signal of the alarming scope of Haman’s plan and the depth of his resolve.
3. (:8a) Copy of the Edict
“He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict
which had been issued in Susa for their destruction,”
Breneman: Mordecai even sent Esther a copy of Haman’s edict so she could see for herself the seriousness of the situation; he was not exaggerating. Mordecai told Esther what to do; he urged her to go before the king and plead for her people. Now she would have to make known her Jewishness. Mordecai “urged” her to make this strategic and hard decision. In the community of faith, Christians must support one another in making difficult decisions.
4. (:8b) Call for Action
a. Action Based on Assessment of the Desperate Situation
“that he might show Esther and inform her,”
b. Action Requiring Urgent Access to the King
“and to order her to go in to the king”
c. Action Involving Passionate Pleading for Royal Intervention
“to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people.”
C. (:9) Hathach Reports Back to Esther
“And Hathach came back and related Mordecai’s words to Esther.”
III. (:10-17) PROVIDENCE CHALLENGES GOD’S PEOPLE TO FULFIL THEIR CALLING
A. (:10-12) Cautious Hesitancy of Esther to Step Up to the Plate
1. (:10) Intermediary Communication to Mordecai
“Then Esther spoke to Hathach and ordered him to reply to Mordecai:”
2. (:11) Issues Complicating the Situation
a. Physical Danger of Approaching the King Uninvited
“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live.”
Bob Deffinbaugh: Those who hasten to see Esther as a hero should ponder verses 9-12, for she is certainly not quick to take up the cause of her people. The principle reason is her own safety. I do not see the same spirit in Esther evident in Daniel’s three friends.
b. Preferential Denial of Access and Favor
“And I have not been summoned to come to the king
for these thirty days.”
Frederic Bush: Once again the narrator leaves us to surmise the reason behind Esther’s objection (apart from the threat to her life). Her hesitancy should perhaps not be regarded as a sign of cowardice, for crucial to her response is that she has not been called into the king’s presence for thirty days, a fact doubtless unknown to Mordecai (Clines, 301). Her hesitancy, then, is not only because she doubts she would survive to make the appeal but also because she questions the efficacy of her appeal to the king, since her favor with Ahasuerus is apparently at a very low ebb.
Tomasino: The final revelation offered by Esther, that she had not been called to the king’s chamber for thirty days, may be the most intriguing comment made here. The phrase “come unto the king” surely implies sexual concourse. In one night of passion, Esther had made such an impression on the king that he had chosen her to be queen over all others. But now, the king and Esther have been married for several years. The passion is waning. Has the king grown tired of his queen? Certainly, the king had other wives, and Esther could not expect to share his bed every night. Also, she had her own living quarters in the palace, and queens did not regularly dine with the king. But a full month without sexual relations, or even friendly conversation? It may imply that Esther had fallen out of the king’s favor, which could explain her reluctance to appear before him unannounced.
Joyce Baldwin: Access to the king was strictly controlled, as everyone knew. Like every head of state Ahasuerus needed to be protected both from attempts on his life and from vexation with people’s problems. Not that he sat days at a time in isolated splendour on his secluded throne. He gave audiences, at his own discretion and by his personal invitation, but even his wife had no right of approach. Like everyone else she appeared between the columns of the throne room at her peril.
3. (:12) Intermediary Communication to Mordecai
“And they related Esther’s words to Mordecai.”
Duguid: Because we are familiar with the end of the story, we are apt to see the answer to this question as obvious. Would Esther be in such a position of royalty if God had not raised her up? But given the nature of Esther’s rise to prominence through an ethically doubtful marriage to a pagan and the concealing of everything distinctly Jewish about her lifestyle for the past five or six years, the question is real. It is as if someone who has risen up the corporate ladder by shady manipulation of the books, along with neglecting his family and any connection with the church, were to be asked to stand up at a board meeting for his faith over a crucial issue. His response might well be, “Could God really use someone like me after everything I’ve done—or failed to do?” The surprising answer in Esther’s case is yes! God’s providence works through all kinds of sinners (which, after all, is the only material he has available).
B. (:13-14) Challenging Exhortation of Mordecai
“Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther,”
1. (:13b) Reject the Temptation of Self Preservation
“Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace
can escape any more than all the Jews.”
David Thompson: Mordecai does not tell Esther what she wants to hear. He doesn’t pacify her, appease her or water things down. He takes a strong stand for God and, ultimately, it will be that which will cause Esther to do the same.
2. (:14a) Trust the Outworking of Divine Providence
“For if you remain silent at this time,
relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place
and you and your father’s house will perish.”
Frederic Bush: Wiebe (CBQ 53  413–15) proposes that the clause is not a statement but a question. The fact that the clause has none of the regular Hebrew interrogative particles is not a serious impediment, since interrogative clauses often are unmarked in BH, doubtless signaled by a rising intonation (in addition to the references for such unmarked questions cited by Wiebe, 414, n. 20, cf. GBH § 161a; IBHS § 18.1.c n. 1). Indeed, such unmarked questions are more frequent in LBH texts, such as Esther, than in SBH (Wiebe). In context the question is a positive rhetorical question, which intends thereby to make a strong negative statement (on such “questions,” see Driver, JANES 5  107–14; esp. Hyman, HS 24  17–25). The problems occasioned by taking 14b as a statement, are completely relieved by recognizing that it is a positive rhetorical question expressing a strong negation. Mordecai is not postulating that deliverance will arise for the Jews from some mysterious, unexpressed source. Rather, by affirming that Esther is the only possible source of deliverance for the Jews, he is attempting to motivate her to act. With this understanding of the text, the reason for the demise of Esther and her family, including Mordecai, is not some unknown cause at which we can only guess. On the contrary, the cause is clear and unequivocal: the threatened annihilation of the Jews.
Tomasino: Another important concept Mordecai introduces in this speech is the indestructibility of the Jews. Deuteronomy hints at this notion: God promises that after He has scattered and destroyed the nation of Israel, He will regather and bless them, if they repent of their evils (Deut 30:1–10). The idea that Israel will never be utterly forsaken is developed as a theme by the prophets, beginning with Amos 9:8: “ʻLook, the eyes of my Lord Yahweh are on the kingdom of sin, and I will destroy it from the surface of the earth. However, I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares Yahweh.” The idea that God will preserve a remnant—not necessarily because of their righteousness, but because of His faithfulness—recurs frequently in the prophetic corpus (Isa 10:20–23; Jer 50:18–20; Ezek 11:13–21; Mic 5:7–15; 7:8–20).
3. (:14b) Embrace Your Calling by Leveraging Your Providential Opportunity
“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty
for such a time as this?”
Baldwin: Without explicitly spelling out in detail how he came to his convictions, Mordecai reveals that he believes in God, in God’s guidance of individual lives, and in God’s ordering of the world’s political events, irrespective of whether those who seem to have the power acknowledge him or not.
Thomas Klock: In Esther 4:14 we see the principal theme of the book, which is that God takes care of and delivers His people, but He doesn’t always show us how until the right time. All of the things that Esther had experienced up to that moment (including being taken away from her people), and all that seemed negative as well as positive happening to her, had worked together to place her in such a setting for such an appropriate time and season for her to make a difference.
Breneman: At this moment Esther’s life purpose was at stake. God had guided in her being chosen queen. In the biblical perspective election is for service, not just for one’s own benefit. Being liberator of her people was more important than being the queen of Persia.6 Mordecai’s statement reveals a deep conviction of God’s providence, a belief that God rules in the world, even in the details of the nations and in the lives of individuals. Mordecai told Esther, “If you remain silent, … you … will perish” (v. 14). In a crisis situation such as this, there was no neutral position. Failure to decide brings personal loss and misses the opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose. In God’s providence each person has a unique task.
David Thompson: The primary emphasis of the argument Mordecai uses is God is sovereign and can do whatever He wants with or without you; but by virtue of the fact He has allowed you to be in this position at this time, you are responsible and accountable to God to do what is right. We will never get people to obey God by lowering the perspective of how great God is. Obedience comes when people begin to realize how sovereign and majestic God really is.
C. (:15-17) Courageous Resolve of Esther in Stepping Up to the Plate
“Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai,”
1. (:16a) Courageous Resolve Supported by Corporate Fasting
“Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me;
do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.”
Tomasino: Fasting often accompanied prayer, to demonstrate the deep concern of those making petitions to Yahweh (2 Sam 7:6; 12:16–22; Ezra 8:21, 23; Jon 3:3–8). In Esther’s case, prayer is never mentioned, but the imprecatory quality of the fast seems clear: what other reason would there be for her to abstain from food or drink before going before the king, other than to persuade God to give her favor? The only other possibility might be as a show of repentance, which we can assume would also have included prayer.
The three days of preparation before going into the presence of the king is reminiscent of several biblical scenarios. I have noted previously the parallels between the story of Esther and that of Joseph in Genesis, and this detail provides yet another point of comparison: the baker and cupbearer dwelt in prison with Joseph for three days before they were summoned to appear before Pharaoh (Gen 40:12–13, 18–19). The cupbearer, in fact, was presented before Pharaoh for pardon, while the baker was presented for execution. Both possibilities lie before Esther.
2. (:16b) Courageous Resolve Supported by Personal Fasting
“I and my maidens also will fast in the same way.”
3. (:16c) Courageous Resolve Submitting to Divine Providence
“And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law;
and if I perish, I perish.”
H. Carl Shank: God’s providence requires our responsible, sometimes courageous, faithfulness. Esther was rightly scared to go before the king with Mordecai’s request and cry for Jewish relief. It was not a democratic process where she would be automatically invited into the king’s presence. It was not a forgone conclusion she would be welcome in the royal court. Esther took her life into her hands going into the king’s chambers. “If I perish, I perish,” was not an overstatement or drama by an emotionally distraught woman. God’s providence requires our decision making, our faithfulness in following the course of action that is right and true.
(:17) Epilogue – Esther Now Calling the Shots
“So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.”
Frederic Bush: Hope for the Jews’ deliverance from annihilation at the hands of Haman and his edict has emerged. It may seem, indeed, a tenuous hope, lying as it does in the hands of a queen who is currently out of favor and one “whose life hitherto has been devoted to beauty treatments and the royal bed” (Fox, 67). However, the narrator has subtly brought the providence of God into the picture, both by the fast that Esther has ordered for the Jewish community and by Mordecai’s suggestion that there may indeed be providential purpose behind her position as queen (v 14d). Furthermore, he has portrayed Esther not as one who has passively accepted all that has transpired but rather as one who has been actively involved in the events surrounding. May she not, perhaps, be up to the challenge?
Tomasino: The development of Esther’s character is evident in this verse: Mordecai did what Esther ordered. In Esth 2:20, Esther did everything that Mordecai commanded her to do. Now, it is Esther who gives the orders, and Mordecai who obeys. It is important to notice the language here: Esther did not “instruct” Mordecai (as in the niv) or simply “tell” him what to do (ceb; ncv). The verb צָוָה (ṣāwâ) is the same word used in Esth 2:10 for Mordecai’s commands of Esther, in 3:2 of the king’s commandment regarding Haman, and in 3:12 of Haman’s commandment. The vocabulary here clearly demonstrates a reversal is taking place: Esther is growing into her role as queen, and even her uncle is subject to her will.
Laniak: This whole chapter finds the Jews filled with apprehension and disquiet while maintaining a ritual state of supplication and hope. In marked contrast is the “drinking” of Haman and the king in 3:15. In fact, the fasting in chapter 4 is situated in the center of all of the “feasts” in the book and sets the stage for the reversals that ultimately lead to Purim.