If any lingering doubt remains as to whether Esther and Mordecai were believing children of God, or manifest unbelievers, the fourth chapter of the Book of Esther should remove all doubt and reveal to us that they were indeed unbelievers who will not confess the God Who brought up His people out of the land of Egypt and Who gave rich promises to Abraham and his seed.
Mordecai’s reaction to the published decree of the king, that all the Jews in the provinces of his kingdom were to be destroyed, was to tear his clothes, put on sackcloth with ashes, and in the midst of the city to cry with a loud voice and a bitter cry. And it is to be noted here already that his first thought was not of going to God in prayer. In fact, we shall see that this was never in his thoughts—not even when God saved the Jews through an amazing turn of events. Instead he went to play upon the emotions of the people. Therefore he went into the midst of the city where the greatest group of observers would be found. For that reason he cried with a loud voice to reach out as far as he could. To try to move the populous he made a bitter cry. His sackcloth and ashes revealed him to be in deep mourning and showed how much it grieved him that all the Jews in the kingdom were to be destroyed.
He came, we read, even up to the gate of the king’s palace with his lament and in that sackcloth with ashes. And although he could not enter to bring his lament to the king’s ears, he came as close as he was allowed.
To be sure the other Jews in the kingdom were also deeply disturbed and filled with great fear. They had at best only a year to live; and then their children could not carry on where they left off but would likewise be killed. Their generation was about to cease; and there would be no generation of Jews after that! Yet understandably Mordecai felt the sting more than any other Jew. For he had occasioned this coming slaughter of his people by refusing to bow before the king’s right-hand man. He had angered an enemy of Israel. And, although he did not see it that way, it seemed as though the seed of the serpent was about to crush the head of the seed of the women. A critical moment in the history of the Old Testament Church has arrived!
But let us turn our attention for a moment to the king and his policies that differed so from those of Jehovah to whom Mordecai should have gone in confession of his sin, and for help in this dire predicament which he had helped create. None might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. The king’s life must be made as happy as humanly possible. All manifestations of deep sorrow and grief must be kept from his eyes. He must not hear the moaning and wailing of those in distress. He must live in a very unreal world, sheltered as much as possible from the curse that undeniably is on the earth.
It was not Haman’s decree that one in sackcloth might not enter the king’s gate. He was not trying to keep the Jews from playing on the king’s emotions, or to seek reprieve and a disannulling of the decree. The laws of the Medes and the Persians are not altered. Of that we read already in Esther 1:19. We read of it three times in Daniel 6:8, 12, 15. No, this rule that no one wearing sackcloth might come into the king’s gate was in effect long before this decree that Haman succeeded in getting the king to make, namely, to destroy all the Jews in his kingdom.
But note the tremendous difference. He Who is the King of all creation welcomes the cries of His covenant people in all their sorrows and griefs. Does He not tell us to cast all our cares upon Him, with the assurance that He cares for us? (And really, if we can cast them upon Him, they were not as big and heavy as we imagined, for to His own He gives the grace to do exactly that.) And does He not counsel us in Psalm 50:15, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me”? Are not those who labor and are heavy laden called to come unto Him with the assurance that He will give them rest? What a King we have! What folly that Mordecai does not go to Him. To him that cannot help him Mordecai is not allowed to come. To Him Who alone can help him he will not go. O, the folly of unbelief!
But for the sake of His covenant people God does set in motion events that will save His church and whereby He will keep His covenant promises. News comes to Esther, who also lived a sheltered life in the palace away from all the sorrows and troubles in the kingdom. Her maids, however, get news from outside and tell her how the Jews were fasting, weeping, and wailing, with many of them lying in the streets in sackcloth and ashes. The telling blow was that Mordecai was doing all this at the king’s gate. And she feared for his life. Although he was not her blood father, she loved him and appreciated all that he had done in taking care of her from childhood onward, and in helping her get this place of honor as queen of the land. And therefore she sent other clothing for him to wear. But he refused to receive it. Esther now sends one of her servants to find out why he behaves this way and what his problem is. Never had he behaved this way before. Mordecai tells this chamberlain the situation and gives him a copy of the decree to give to Esther, so that she could see the seriousness of the matter.
But Mordecai did more through this chamberlain. He charged Esther to go in unto the king to plead for her people and to seek to deliver them from this threatened destruction. Esther in reply, and again through the chamberlain, reminds Mordecai that for anyone to come before the king uncalled for, and unto whom the king did not extend the golden sceptre, was to expose oneself to certain death. Mordecai was asking a very dangerous deed of her. He was asking her to take her life into her hands. And especially was this a life-risking act now because the king had not called for her for thirty long days. Fickle man that he was, he must have found some other woman, or have been so satisfied with the other virgins which were steadily being brought in to him. And to force herself upon him by appearing uncalled was a dangerous act to perform. The law called for the death of such whom the king did not at the moment wish to see. There was one law in regard to this, she tells Mordecai. And that means that there are no ifs, ands, or buts, no exceptions to that rule, no fine print and loopholes that would serve to save the life of these intruders. If the king judged one to be an intruder, if he did not approve and show this by extending his golden ruling rod, death was inescapable.
Now Mordecai becomes more emphatic, instead of more understanding of her position. He tells her, “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.” Not only does he remind her that her head is already in danger, even though she is in the king’s house, but he makes a veiled threat. For he adds, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knowest whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” It is not at all impossible that he would himself have exposed her as a Jewess, if she does not try to save his life and that of thousands of other Jews. The secret is now out! Esther is a Jewess; and at least one chamberlain knows it. But it is quite safe; and subsequent revelation reveals that the king did not hear of this until it came from Esther’s own lips. As difficult as it was to appear before the king uncalled, there was little possibility that this chamberlain would go to tell the king.
At the moment we will not go into this matter and will focus on Esther’s response to this warning of Mordecai. She orders Mordecai to gather the Jews together to fast for her, neither to eat nor drink for three days, with the promise that after these three days she will go in unto the king with a request for her people, adding those words of shameful, unvarnished fatalism. But before we look more closely at those words, let it be noticed once again the significant silence here, both on her part and on Mordecai’s. God’s name is not mentioned. What is more, she asks for fasting while significantly not adding “and praying.” One would expect her to ask the Jews to pray for her as she approaches the king, and not only for her but for all the Jews that their lives may yet be spared.
Now fasting when it is accompanied by prayer is fine. But fasting divorced from prayer is worthless. You can do that merely to try to lose a few pounds of weight from the body. Prayer is the essential thing in praying and fasting. Turn to Joel 2:12, 13 where we read, “Turn ye unto Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God.” Praying is an act of the heart. Fasting is an act of the flesh, and without that act of the heart, the outward failure to eat means nothing. It means no more than rending your garments and leaving your wicked heart intact. And there must be weeping over sin. Otherwise the fasting is only an outward ritual with no spiritual value whatsoever. And would not a believing child of God in such a desperate situation urge prayer, and direct the Jews to approach the God Who brought them up out of Egypt in a similarly hopeless situation?
More of this when we examine Mordecai’s acts of unbelief a bit more closely. Now we must look hard at those words of fatalism of Esther, namely, “If I perish, I perish.” And I ask, “Is that the language of faith? Is this the way a child of God would react in such a situation? Is that the speech of one who has heeded the word of God quoted above from Joel? Is there any evidence of a rent heart here? Is there even a suggestion of turning to God with her heart? Is there any committing of the whole matter into His hands? Is there any confession of what we sing from the Psalm, ‘My hand is in Thy hand, Thou carest for me’? Is there even the slightest hint here that she has Jehovah, the God of our salvation, before her and in her thoughts?”
Unwittingly she spoke the truth. If she perishes according to the law of the king, she would in the full sense of the word everlastingly perish in the torment of hell! That is not what she meant however. She meant that if she died because she appeared before the king without being called, and because he did not feel inclined to extend his golden rod to her, that would be the end of her. By “If I perish, I perish” she meant, “If I die, that is the end of me. It is all over.” The word she uses is the same word that Haman used in Esther 3:9 when he requested the king to have it written that all the Jews were to be destroyed. They were to be exterminated!
What would faith have said? Listen to what Daniel’s friends said to the king: “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods” (Daniel 3:16-18). Applied here, Esther would have said, “I am not full of cares and anxieties (which is what ‘not careful’ means) to go in unto the king though not called by him. If it so be, my God Whom I serve is able to deliver me from his sword, and He will deliver me from the king. But if not, I have served Him faithfully in the interest of His church. And rather than perish, I will, as Asaph so beautifully stated it in Psalm 73, be led by His counsel and afterward be received up into glory.”
And mind you she speaks so fatalistically in spite of the fact that Mordecai had suggested that she came to the kingdom for a time like this, and that deliverance would come from another place. God’s counsel she did not think of, and that God ruled even the hearts of kings to turn them whithersoever He will (Proverbs 21:2). No, there just is not the slightest hint of faith in God. We shall, the Lord willing, pursue this next time.