Simon Bowkett's Podcast

Esther 4 - navigating life's most 'decisive' moments

November 26, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
Esther 4 - navigating life's most 'decisive' moments
Show Notes Transcript

Twenty-six minutes from at for ,


A transcript of this episode is available on this page

DIY Sunday Service Kit
 A DIY Sunday Service kit built around this Bible exposition is to be found at

Support the show

         •        Introduction

            •          Defining moments

In everyone’s life, one way or another, defining moments come along.

·       It might be the choice of a career.

·       It might be the choice of someone who will be your partner for life.

·       It might be a decision to move to another country or to confront a difficult and painful situation.

And they don’t always … possibly don’t often … come along when we’re in a great position to make them.

What over-arching considerations should we cling on to if that happens to us?

Welcome to Esther chapter 4 … possibly the defining moment in the entire book, and in the history of the people of God.

An irresponsible brutal monarch has been influenced by one of the ancient enemies of God’s people to order the genocide and annihilation of all the Jews in the Persian Empire.

So, yes.

For those people you might call this fairly defining moment!

When he finds out what has happened …

         •        Mordecai mourns, vv. 1-3

God’s people immediately recognise their terrible plight, and their response is certainly NOT disproportionate:

Vv. 1-3 “When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 

2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 

3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. 

Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.”

Only Esther seems unaware of what’s going on outside the walls of the harem of King Xerxes I.

All she knows is that five years into their marriage the King isn’t calling her into his presence any more, and now Mordecai’s regular daily visits (described in 2:11) have abruptly stopped …

And all we have is this direct historical report of the effect of this callous and calamitous act of the dictator in Susa has had on Mordecai and the covenant people of God in Susa, at Jerusalem and throughout the Persian Empire.

They are DEVASTATED and they are publicly showing it. 

This straight historical report now give way to the account of an extended dialogue between Mordecai and Esther via intermediaries in vv. 4-17 which its more detailed by far than what we’ve read already, and comes in five distinct parts …

         •        Esther enquires, vv. 4-6

Vv. 4-6 “When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.


6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate.”


Interestingly enough, Esther’s response to Mordecai’s grieving is to send clothes.


Is it that she can’t bear the thought of him grieving?

Well, that would be the act of a pretty shallow person … just to say ‘cover up man!’

And the narrative clearly paints Esther in a positive light not a negative one.

The key probably lies in the fact that people wearing sackcloth weren’t allowed into the area where Esther herself could ask Mordecai in person what was wrong … we know he was in the habit of staying in touch with her regularly from 2:11 so, concerned by what her messenger-eunuchs had told her about Mordecai refusing the clothes, she sent the eunuch Hathak out from the harem into the open square of the city … out in the open … outside the King’s Gate, which is where he had to go because no-one mourning and in sackcloth was allowed to come any closer to the King.

         •        Mordecai refuses consolation, v. 4

What Mordecai won’t accept from Esther is consolation.

What has been done between Haman and Mordecai so dreadfully threatens God’s people and His cause ... a serious threat because it carries the power of the Persian Empire behind it … so SERIOUS and calamitous is this, that full-on lament seems like the only reasonable response.

Have you ever been there, where somebody trying to say ‘never mind’ and comfort you is simply an unacceptable response?

Mordecai and all God’s people are in THAT place in this story, in that place with great big brass knobs on it.

Mordecai WON’T receive clothes of consolation, but …

         •        Mordecai accepts enquiry, vv. 5-6

 Vv. 5-6 “Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate.”

Mordecai wouldn’t be easily or conventionally consoled, so now Esther knows there’s really something up and she needs to know WHAT is going on.

It’s due to the odd way God has led her life forward in the Empire that she can’t get out there and find out from Mordecai himself what’s going on … Esther sends out a named and trusted eunuch.

And Mordecai now accepts this more serious engagement with the issue that’s at stake, and …

         •        Mordecai explains their people’s plight, vv. 7-9

Vv. 7-9 “Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. 


8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, 


to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.


9 Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said.”


Mordecai now responds to enquiry whereas he wasn’t interested in mere sympathy.

And he responds in three ways.

First he spells out the severity of the situation:

V. 6 ““Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews.”

Mordecai gave a direct historical account of events.

Everything about what had happened.

But revealingly the book majors on the bribery that had taken place to highlight the injustice of the situation.

Now, remember, this is a story … an Old Testament narrative … that we are listening to.

And the function of such Biblical narrative is draw us into a deeper personalised understanding of the situation and the truth that is being taught by engaging our imagination.

We are SUPPOSED to think ‘imagine that!’

We are SUPPOSED to FEEL by proxy in our own hearts the reality of this situation, through exercising our imaginations to work out what it would feel like to be in Mordecai’s position here.

And the seriousness of it all impacts our imaginations as Mordecai spells out all that had happened to him and the way he now carries the burden on his back of having provoked Haman into this awful revenge … revenge, mind you, not just against himself but against all God’s people throughout the vast Persian Empire.

And the injustice of it all tugs at our heart strings by the same route of our imaginative interaction with the story, as Mordecai spells out the bribery that sealed the success of Haman’s plan … Haman the Agagite, those historical enemies of the people of God against whom God had promised in Exodus to protect his own covenant people, the Jews.

Oh yes.

We are SUPPOSED to imagine our way into understanding the seriousness of the situation and the rank injustice of it all, as Mordecai gives this account of things to the eunuch Hakath.

But then the second thing Mordecai does is that he produces a copy of the awful edict for Hathak to take and show Esther, for her personal perusal.

He has told the story but now he’s backing it with evidence.

He is DEMONSTRATING that he’s not just over-reacting.

This is definitely not just her uncle over-reacting, getting emotional about some squabble with another official.

Here in this copy of the edict lies the hard evidence that the threat is immediate and real, carrying the full power of the Persian potentate behind it.

Thirdly Mordecai steps up in the fading days of his role as Esther’s Hebrew patriarch to direct her as to what shemust do to bring the solution to her people’s problem.

And now it is evident that mere patriarchy isn’t cutting it with Esther any more.

She’s going to argue back.

Nonetheless, here is Mordecai having explained their people’s plight and having reinforced the reality of the threat they are facing with a copy of the edict, now telling Esther the role she must play to secure her people’s … God’s people’s … deliverance.

She must go to the King now and plead her people’s cause.

But Esther says: ‘hang ON a minute!’

The narrative is going in this direction to ensure that we understand the context and therefore the extent of Esther’s upcoming act of bravery

         •        Esther explains her predicament, vv. 10-11

Vv. 10-11 “Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 

10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 

11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. 

But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”

Esther can see two problems with Mordecai’s plan.

·       After five years of marriage to King Xerxes, it seems that sweetie has now very much gone sour.

It is thirty days since Esther was sent for by the King.

We know from the Greek historian Herodotus that the later part of Xerxes’ rule, after the second failed campaign against the Greek city states, was characterised by his seeking sensual pleasures with numerous women in his harem.

And here we see Esther speaking of her fear that she’d fallen from favour.

The legacy of Vashti is weighing heavily on her shoulders.

But in addition to that …

·       Esther knows that the laws of Persia mean that it is potentially suicidal to go to the King if he hasn’t invited you.

Esther would be going in there to see the King, giving the King (whose favour she fears she’s lost) the opportunity that such an action presented to get rid of her.

How would you feel if you were Esther in this situation?

Those two things together, we’re supposed to realise, make the course of action Mordecai’s suggested a high risk … an insanely high risk …endeavour.

‘Go and tell Mordecai about THAT’ says Esther in this narrative that we’re supposed to be entering into.

And then off once again trots Hathak, the eunuch, poor chap.

         •        Mordecai’s direct challenge, vv. 12-14

At this point in v. 12 the story the author tells moves from indirect discourse to direct reporting … things are ‘hotting up’ and getting much more direct and focused.

As we’re being shown the seriousness of the situation, this seems appropriate.

But just as this is happening a hurdle is thrown out before us, to slow us down and to get us really thinking about what is going on here.

There’s a vaguary in the Hebrew and we’re presented with a bit of a problem with working out what this section of v. 14 is getting at.

Here’s what Mordecai puts to Esther:

“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place …”

And that vaguary in the language gives us an ‘eh, what?’ moment and makes us slow down again and think through the things that are actually going on here …

If you remain silent, ‘deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place’?

Well it clearly WON’T.

Everything is pointing to the idea that if Esther can’t go in and speak to the King the people of God have no-one else with ANY chance of getting in to him and pleading their case.

And her chances are probably less than fifty-fifty at the best of times, given what Queen Esther has just already told us about access to the King, even for his queen.

… so what’s going on here?

Bush argues this hard-to-understand bit of Hebrew is actually a question, which is possible in the Hebrew and makes much more sense of the context than the modern English translations available to us.

It would read like this:

“For if you remain silent at this time, will relief and deliverance for the Jews arise from another place? And will (you let) you and your father’s house perish?”

The point is that if the Jews are to be annihilated, Esther and her family won’t be exempted if it ever become known they are Jewish.

That’s the sort of thing you might expect him to be saying in this context, that’s the sort of thing the Hebrew can be saying and that’s the sort of questioning that would provoke the response that immediately follows from Queen Esther … so this is a classic point in Scripture where context must be allowed to rule over the simplest route through the grammar!

And then comes the follow-up ‘stinger’ question:

“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Again, God and His providence are not directly referred to … but there He is, getting implied and pointed to all the time!

So here we come now to the absolute cliff-hanger in this book …

The case - a compelling case - has been made by Mordecai.

We’ve been set up to think that the rescue and redemption of God’s people can lie only in the human hands of Esther.

And yet the thoughtful reader knows that what happens when she gets to the Persian throne room would lie in the Heavenly hand of God throughout this time.

But humanly it seems at this point that the way Esther responds to the challenge Mordecai’s made to her is what it all depends on.

Who but she can access the King to put her people’s case and deliver them all from disaster?

How is Esther going to react to Mordecai’s challenge?

         •        The grand finale: Esther’s faithful resolve vv. 15-17

The grand finale to this epic section of the tale spells out for us Esther’s concluding response, and what she says is set out in two parts.

First of all we’re told: “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day”.

We have already been told in v. 3 that

“In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.”

But that’s not the sort of fast Esther is calling for.

That is a despairing fasting in grief and anguish at their circumstances.

Esther specifies that this is to be a different sort of fasting:

V. 16“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do.”

Now we know this book of Esther doesn’t ever mention God by name or speak of praying to Him … no direct relationship with the Almighty … but what Esther does here is to get as close to a personal mention of God as ever arises in the whole book, as she takes care of the spiritual preparation for the action she is going to take.

And she does that by calling on the community of faith to look to God to effect their deliverance by empowering her in what she is about to do.

It is specifically that they should fast ‘on my behalf’ there in v. 16, you see?”

It is intercessory fasting.

Then secondly Esther lays out the plan she has resolved on, trusting in the God they have sought for success with their fasting, to secure the deliverance of God’s people from this mortal threat:

V. 16b “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

To my mind that second part of v. 16 there is the whole point.

It may even be the whole point of the book.

It is CERTAINLY the turning point in the book because things start to change for God’s people from that point onwards, as God’s people now start to put their trust in Him (that’s the intercessory fasting bit) and act (that’s the risk taking, going to see the King whatever it may lead to bit).

So …

This imperfect, spiritually and probably morally compromised Jewish woman, Queen Esther, puts her life on the line in the service of God’s people and His cause.

He plans to redeem the world through these people the Jews, from whom was ultimately physically born our King Messiah.

What - humanly speaking - hangs in Esther’s hands at this point in the history of the world is the salvation of the people of God!

She clearly isn’t up to the challenge … but she puts her heart and her life into the hands of the God Whom this book is highlighting by its silences, and she trusts to the providence He works out as a result of that trust, throughout the whole God-silent story of Esther.

In this book it is being loudly trumpeted that when one of God’s highly imperfect people puts their total trust in Him and lays their messy life before HIS throne, the redemption of His people, the frustration of our eternal enemy’s evil schemes, and the reversal of His people’s misfortunes in a hugely hostile world are swallowed up in salvation.




By imperfect but all-out people who trust everything they have and are to God alone.

And as that was the call on her life to Esther, so it is to all who hear the Gospel from within the mess that is our often conflicted earthly life.

Where are the people in our age, compromised spiritually by all that we’ve been in our PAST but who are ready to commit all that we have and are NOW to the cause and the people of God … the people that He is drawing to Himself in salvation?

Where are they?

I fear there’s a frightening Scripture that might apply to God’s people in the days through which we have been living.

Deuteronomy 32:15 describes how God richly blessed His people but then:

“Jeshurun {that’s a poetic name for God’s Old Testament people} grew fat and kicked;

    filled with food, they became heavy and sleek.

They abandoned the God who made them

    and rejected the Rock their Saviour.”

I fear that Scripture describes a church that has been blessed richly, and rocked gently, and entertained to death.

A church that would ‘tut’ and turn away from the sort of woman Queen Esther had undeniably been.

And a church that reacted more like the seed on the shallow ground in the Lord’s parable when the sun came out, than the seed that fell actually into dirty and messy-looking soil, soil that was deep, bearing fruit you could measure in huge multiples.

So, the question this narrative poses to us today may well be this:

·       where are we when the call for sacrifice and service at risk is what’s called for?

And you could add this question too:

·       where are we when imperfect but God committed people show up on our horizon?

May God give us grace in plenty, a love for Him and a deep life changing gratitude that flows faithfully out from the great mercy we know very well He’s shown to us.