Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through the book of Esther in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.
- David Dunham opened the series by looking at Esther chapter one.
- David Dunham looked at Esther chapter two.
- Dave looked at Esther chapter 3.
- Today Zach looks at Esther chapter 4.
Every nation, every championship sports team, every leader has their defining moment. A group of colonials coming together and signing a pledge of resistance against the government, the Declaration of Independence, was a defining moment in American history. A young boy signing on to bat for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson, became a defining moment for both sports and civil rights. Or maybe it is the business leader who makes his first sale, or the student who successfully defends her thesis. These moments, whether of national or individual significance, all play a significant part in shaping us into who we are.
In Esther 4, we arguably find Esther’s defining moment. Up until now, Esther has been relatively passive in nature. Esther is virtually missing from the first chapter of the story. In chapter two, she is introduced as a young virgin who would soon be chosen as queen, yet still not taking much of an active role in the narrative. Chapter 3 really sets the story in motion, with Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, but tells nothing of Esther’s dealings. Finally, here in chapter 4, we find Esther faced with a difficult decision.
In Esther 3 we saw Mordecai’s refusal to bow to pay homage to Haman, and how this made Haman furious (Esther 3:2-5). Mordecai has now heard word of Haman’s plans to destroy “the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6). Haman has approached the king, deceiving the king into believing the Jews as a whole are a disobedient people (Esther 3:8-9). After the king gives Haman permission to take action, an edict was sent out, explaining the impending punishment on the Jews (Esther 3:12-13).
It is here where Mordecai is now faced with the grim reality of the situation, and he is distraught, tearing his clothes and putting on sackcloth and ashes, weeping in the streets (Esther 4:1). Mordecai makes his way to the king’s gate in such garb, which seems to make little sense, since everyone knows one doesn’t do such a thing. Yet Mordecai isn’t doing this as an act of pure defiance of the king. I think, rather, that he is so overcome by his mourning that such laws are nowhere near the forefront of his mind. “There was great mourning among the Jews,” and Mordecai’s behavior is an illustration of this (Esther 4:3). He is out of his mind in his grief, in a sense, and Esther fears this as well. Esther, far from being merely sentimental, hopes to protect him from being punished for his uncanny behavior.
Esther’s solution to the matter is delivering appropriate clothes to Mordecai by way of her servants, but perhaps to the servant’s and Esther’s surprise, Mordecai wasn’t accepting them (Esther 4:4). In another episode of strange behavior, Esther orders one of the king’s eunuchs to gather some information about the matter. The eunuch finds Mordecai, who tells him everything about Haman’s plans and the decree (Esther 4:5-7). He urges the eunuch to return to Esther, asking on behalf of Mordecai for her to plead with the king “on behalf of her people,” and he returns with the message (Esther 4:8-9).
Esther is at first appealing to the law. She is certainly sorry for Mordecai’s state, hence her sending clothes, but her hands are tied in a sense. She does not anticipate being able to do anything about it. The passivity of Esther is beginning to come forward again. Not only are the laws strictly forbidding such a coming before the king, but she also feels less connected to the king than ever, remarking, “As for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11). Mordecai is informed of Esther’s regretful decline, and now there is a defining moment for Mordecai. He can turn back to his weeping, defeated by the queen’s words, or he can resolve to stand for his convictions, fighting tooth and nail until the end. He chooses the latter, resorting to the faith and the God his Jewishness is built on.
Mordecai wants to send a stern, but humble response to Esther. He warns that she will not escape judgment if she chooses the road of passivity. In fact, if she does keep silent and not plead the Jews’ case before the king, the Jews will survive, and she will not, for her refusal to advocate for God’s people (Esther 4:13-14). This indicates mainly that Mordecai had a deeply-rooted faith in God’s promises to deliver His people, and he depended on God to make good on His Word. He believed even if Esther was to refuse to help, help would come in some other fashion; this is how sure was was of it. This is a defining moment for Mordecai’s faith. Though wrecked with lamentation, he must not give up, and he knows it.
Esther, now faced with a consequence-laden, “catch-22” decision, is about to step into a defining moment herself. Will she continue to appeal to the law and keep quiet, passively staying in her lane? Or is Mordecai right? Is taking a risk for God’s people, in the face of certain hostility and perhaps death, the right thing? Esther is persuaded by Mordecai’s wise words, and she immediately jumps into action. No more pushback, no more worrying, but a desire to do the right thing.
Esther charges Mordecai to gather the Jews and to fast for three days together, on her behalf (Esther 4:15). She also commits to doing the same with them, and then makes a significant statement about how much “skin in the game” she has in this:
“Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Est. 4:16)
Now Esther refers to the law, but she is not bound by it. She is not manipulated by law-keeping, but rather turns to a faith in Yahweh to deliver her and her people from perishing. This shift in thinking was a defining moment for Esther. We will also be faced with defining moments like these. They may put our jobs, our reputation, even our lives at risk. Will we follow the examples of Esther and Mordecai, trusting in God to deliver despite the circumstances?