Peril and Providence – Esther 4

Read the Passage: Esther 4

Mordecai’s Lament (4:1–9)

Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews caused perplexity among the citizens of Shushan (cf. Est. 3:15b). This confusion was likely not because of the brutality of the decree itself, for violence and warfare were not uncommon within the Persian Empire. Rather, the people were probably perplexed on account of the urgency of the genocidal law (cf. Est. 3:15a) and because the Jews were known as a law-abiding, peaceful people who had caused those around them to flourish (cf. Est. 3:9). Mordecai’s reaction to Ahasuerus’ decree was to lament, both privately and publicly. This deep lament may have been on account of Mordecai’s recognition that he’d provoked the genocidal decree against the Jews of Persia by his own refusal to bow down before Haman. The text says that Mordecai went to the front of the king’s gate, which is where he served (cf. Est. 2:19), and sat in sackcloth. This evil decree had a similar affect among all the Jews.

Given the proximity of the king’s gate to the palace, Esther soon heard about Mordecai’s state of grief. Although she did not know the reason for Mordecai’s lament, Esther was understandably distressed and sent him a change of clothing. These garments were not offered as if Esther believed Mordecai’s problem was that his wardrobe had been stolen; rather, these garments were sent so that Mordecai could enter the palace to see the queen and let her know the reason for his lament (cf. Neh. 2:2). Yet, Mordecai’s grief was so deep he would not accept the new clothing. Thus began a conversation between Esther and Mordecai, through an intermediary—that is, the trusted eunuch Hathach. Through this man Mordecai informed Esther about Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews. Mordecai even supplied Esther with a copy of Ahasuerus’ decree announcing the coming genocide.

Esther’s Response (4:10–12)

Mordecai did not command Esther to confront her husband, King Ahasuerus, about the decree. Yet, by informing Esther about their impending genocide, such a course of action was clearly implied (cf. Est. 4:8). Esther’s response to this idea, communicated by the eunuch Hathach, was that everyone in Persia knows that no one can approach the king unsolicited without fear of losing their life. Indeed, the Persian practice was that when someone approached the king uninvited, the interloper would be immediately killed unless the king extended his royal scepter. Ancient Persian art confirms this practice, as kings are depicted on their thrones as being surrounded by axe-wielding henchmen. Moreover, Esther notes, “I myself have not been called to go in to the king these thirty days” (Est. 4:11). Apparently, Esther feared that she had fallen out of favor with Ahasuerus, for she had not been summoned to his bed in over a month (cf. Est. 2:19).

God’s Providence (4:13–17)

As the text explains, Esther understood that Mordecai was asking her to confront her husband, King Ahasuerus. Predictably, and in light of her initial reticence, Mordecai explained that if Esther refused to ask the king about his genocidal decree, then she would lose her life and deliverance of God’s people would arise from another place. Next, in one of the more well-known verses from the book of Esther, Mordecai asks, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Est. 4:14)? Observe that Mordecai does not claim that deliverance will come through Esther. Rather, he replies with the rhetorical question, “Who knows?” Indeed, Mordecai was aware that it is impossible to read God’s providence in advance, for God’s sovereign will is hidden until it is revealed. Said differently, providence may only be known retrospectively.

When you find yourself in a position such that the course of action before you may seem providential, yet is one you would rather avoid, the responsibility upon you is simply to be faithful. Indeed, since everything is providential, and God’s people are never tasked with trying to discern His sovereign will; the only duty of believers is to keep God’s revealed moral will—that is, to obey God’s Word. Observe that both Mordecai and Esther realized this, for as Esther agreed to the implied course of action, she exclaimed, “If I perish, I perish!” (Est. 4:16). In other words, Esther did not know whether her confrontation of King Ahasuerus would result in the deliverance of her people. Rather, all she knew was that she was in a position such that faithfulness to God’s moral law entailed her asking the king about the decree. Note, though, that Esther did ask Mordecai to have the Jews in Shushan fast for three days.

Application Questions:

  1. In the past, how have you reacted when others have treated you unfairly or when you have witnessed evil and suffering in the world?
  2. What does it mean to lament before the Lord? In what contexts is public lament and mourning seen today?
  3. Is Esther’s fear about approaching the king reasonable? What basis did Esther have for resisting the idea of confronting the king?
  4. Have you ever found yourself in a position where the course of action before you may seem providential, yet is one you’d rather avoid?
  5. Is it possible to discern God’s sovereign will before it is revealed? Is it possible to be disobedient to or to break God’s sovereign will?