1 The great mourning of Mordecai and the Jews. 4 Esther, understanding it, sends to Mordecai, who shows the cause, and advises her to undertake the case. 10 She excuses herself is threatened by Mordecai. 15 She appoints a fast and undertakes the case.
Esther 4:1 When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.
The rending of one’s garments was a sign of deep sorrow, distress, horror, or resentment. The Scriptures note many instances in which emotion was expressed thus (Gen. 37:34; 44:13; Joshua 7:6; Judges 11:35; 2 Sam. 1:11; etc.). The meaning of Mordecai’s act was probably well understood by the Persians as well as the Jews.
Sackcloth with ashes.
The wearing of sackcloth and ashes was another symbol of profound grief. The Bible refers to numerous occasions when men wore these emblems of sorrow (see Gen. 37:34; 1 Kings 20:32; Isa. 37:2; Dan. 9:3; Jonah 3:6; etc.).
Having read the edict, Mordecai must have at once perceived its origin and the motive that prompted it. His first impulse would naturally be to rend his garments and to put on sackcloth and ashes.
But the palace was not considered to be an appropriate place for the demonstration of private grief. To be sure, Mordecai was not alone in feeling sorrow and consternation. In Shushan and throughout the provinces the doomed race made bitter lamentation. Hope that there might yet be deliverance from the decree seems not to have occurred to any.
Esther 4:2 He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.
Mordecai felt no impulse to hide his grief. He now came to the palace with the obvious purpose of informing Esther of the decree.
Esther 4:3 And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
The Scripture account implies that by this time the Jews were scattered everywhere throughout the Persian Empire.
Esther 4:4 So Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her, and the queen was deeply distressed. Then she sent garments to clothe Mordecai and take his sackcloth away from him, but he would not accept them.
In addition to her train of maids, an Oriental queen had a numerous body of eunuchs at her disposal, who went on errands for her and maintained her contact with the world outside the palace.
In great distress, Esther manifested her concern by sending clothing out to her foster father to replace the sackcloth. Esther’s purpose was probably to make it possible for Mordecai to enter the palace.
Mordecai was not wearing sackcloth because he lacked better clothing. He felt no need of seeing Esther directly, and probably thought it inadvisable to do so under the circumstances.
Esther 4:5 Then Esther called Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs whom he had appointed to attend her, and she gave him a command concerning Mordecai, to learn what and why this was.
The king had appointed the head eunuch to wait upon the queen, partly to serve her and partly to observe her conduct. No despot is ever exempt from the twin fears of jealousy and suspicion.
Esther 4:6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square that was in front of the king’s gate.
Mordecai refused to enter the palace. Esther could not leave it, and so resorted to the typically Oriental procedure of using a middleman.
Esther 4:7 And Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries to destroy the Jews.
How Mordecai knew of the money Haman had offered to pay Xerxes by way of compensation for the loss of revenue that would result from the extermination of the Jews, is not stated. It would hardly be stipulated in the decree, even if Ahasuerus accepted it, which possibility seems unlikely (see on ch. 3:11).
Esther 4:8 He also gave him a copy of the written decree for their destruction, which was given at Shushan, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and that he might command her to go in to the king to make supplication to him and plead before him for her people.
Esther’s maids and eunuchs certainly knew of her interest in Mordecai (see ch. 2:10–22) and may already have learned of her nationality (see ch. 3:4). In defense of his refusal to bow to Haman, Mordecai had already been compelled to declare his nationality (ch. 3:4).
Now, circumstances require Esther to do likewise (see ch. 2:10); she must go before the king to make supplication for her people. But she cannot plead for the Jews as her people without being subject to their fate as decreed in the edict of Haman.
There was no alternative. For better or for worse, and irrespective of her own choice in the matter, her personal fate was inevitably linked with that of her people, and both hung risky, precariously on Ahasuerus’ regard for her.
She had now been queening for a little more than four years. Her appearance and conduct had been a large factor in influencing the king’s attitude toward her. Everything depended upon the quiet witness borne by her life during the past four years, and upon her tact, patience, and good judgment now.
Esther 4:9 So Hathach returned and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
Esther 4:10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach, and gave him a command for Mordecai:
Esther 4:11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days.”
Such a law was not entirely arbitrary. How often presumed friends or seemingly harmless strangers had approached royalty, with the objective of murder. This law was probably a measure to protect the king from harm, from troublesome petitioners, and from interference in the exercise of his despotic rule.
For the time being it seemed that the king had forgotten her. It might be weeks or months before she would be summoned before him. In the normal course of events, she could not expect a favourable opportunity soon.
Esther 4:12 So they told Mordecai Esther’s words.
Esther 4:13 And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: “Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews.
That is, “imagine not in your mind.” Her favoured position would not protect her from Haman’s wrath. Her racial identity was known to at least some in the palace (see on v. 8), and those who had informed Haman concerning Mordecai could be expected to do the same about Esther.
Haman would not feel safe so long as any Jew remained alive, particularly one so close to the king and so favoured as Esther.
Esther 4:14 For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
“Relief,” from the same root as the word for “breath.” Mordecai affirms trust in God’s gracious promises and conviction that Haman’s purposes will be frustrated. He does not know how, but is convinced that in one way or another deliverance will come.
Thy father’s house.
If Esther thought only of saving her own life, she would lose it (see Matt. 10:39). Unwillingness to die implied the certainty of death; life was to be purchased at the price of willingness to lose it. Mordecai’s reference to extinction of Esther’s family line implies that she was her father’s only child.
The fact that Esther’s cousin Mordecai became her foster father supports this implication. Had Esther had an older brother or sister. Mordecai would not have needed to adopt her. Mordecai seems to have been Esther’s only near, living relative.
Come to the kingdom.
Mordecai perceived the outworking of Divine Providence. Perhaps no more dramatic challenge to courage, loyalty, and self-sacrifice ever confronted a representative of the kingdom of heaven. But the challenge to us today is no less imperative and no less real.
Esther, conscious that without sustaining confidence in God her task would prove unavailing, needed the prayers of her people. What she was about to do was on behalf of their lives as well as her own. Never did so many owe so much to the courage, tact, and self-sacrifice of one young woman.
Esther 4:16 “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
Esther personally felt the need of knowing that her people shared with her the burden that fell primarily to her to bear.
Three days. Some have supposed that Esther did not mean complete abstinence from both food and drink for so long a period. The time intended may have been only from the evening of the first day to the morning of the third day, a period not much in excess of 36 hours. Inclusive reckoning.
The clarity of mind that often results from fasting would prepare her to perceive the will of God and to know how to cooperate intelligently with it.
If I perish. Esther means, “If I lose my life in this attempt to save my people, I shall lose it cheerfully; I see it is my duty to make the attempt; come what will, I am resolved to do my best.”
Esther 4:17 So Mordecai went his way and did according to all that Esther commanded him.
1 Esther, adventuring on the king’s favour, obtains the grace of the golden sceptre, and invites the king and Haman to a banquet. 6 She, being encouraged by the king in her suit, invites them to another banquet the next day. 9 Haman, proud of his advancement, mopes at the contempt of Mordecai. 14 By the counsel of Zeresh he builds for him a pair of gallows.