The chapter begins and ends with a performance by Mordecai. In between there is contact between Mordecai and Esther through intermediaries. The content of the contact is consultation in order to come to an aversion to the announced annihilation of the Jews.
1 - 4 Mordecai and the Jews in Mourning
1 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly. 2 He went as far as the king’s gate, for no one was to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. 3 In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes. 4 Then Esther’s maidens and her eunuchs came and told her, and the queen writhed in great anguish. And she sent garments to clothe Mordecai that he might remove his sackcloth from him, but he did not accept [them].
Mordecai was deeply affected when he “learned all that had been done” (verse 1). What he knows concerns not only the contents of the letter sent around, but also the events that gave rise to it and what followed on from it. How he found out everything is not mentioned. That is also not necessary for the story. That he knows everything is necessary in order to fully inform Esther (verse 7).
He expresses his deep suffering by tearing his clothes and enveloping himself in sackcloth and ashes. He does not mourn in secret, but loudly and bitterly wails “into the midst of the city”. He openly expresses his grief, possibly partly through the realization that he is the cause of this terrible intention.
In the expression of his sorrow he goes as far as possible in the direction of the king (verse 2). He approaches the gate. He is not allowed to go any further because he is dressed in a robe of mourning. Mordecai is not alone in the expressions of mourning. There is great mourning among the Jews everywhere in the whole realm where the king’s command and his law have arrived (verse 3). Here we see the close connection between all the Jews throughout the empire and Mordecai in Susa. The mourning is described in many different ways in order to convey its extent and depth to the reader as poignantly as possible. There are five elements: great mourning, fasting, weeping, wailing and sackcloth and ashes.
Mordecai’s mourning at the gate is necessary to draw the attention of Esther’s maidens to himself (verse 4). Mordecai achieves his goal. Esther’s maidens and her eunuchs tell her. When Esther hears what is going on, she is tremendously frightened, she “writhed in great anguish”. Then she wants to take away Mordecai’s mourning clothes and let him put on ordinary clothes. She wants to heal, so to speak, “the brokenness … superficially” (Jer 8:11). She does not want to face the cause of the grief, but to cover it with a beautiful appearance. Mordecai, however, does not want that. The anguish of imminent annihilation is undiminished and cannot be camouflaged by the appearance of beautiful clothes.
Mordecai does not want to give up the connection with his grieving people. There is an enormous threat hanging over their heads. Changing their clothes does not take away the threat. Mordecai doesn’t like the ostrich attitude, with its head in the sand. He’s facing the real problem.
Prophetically, Mordecai’s complaint is that of the Lord Jesus, Who “in the days of His flesh, … offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death” (Heb 5:7). The Lord Jesus does not complain because of the enemy, but because of what God is going to do to Him when He will be made sin. The command of ‘the king’ is against Him. No one grieves with Him. When, in view of that suffering, He prays in Gethsemane to beg His Father there, He asks His disciples to keep watch with Him. However, they are unable to do so and fall asleep. They do not understand what awaits Him (Mk 14:32-42).
5 - 14 Mordecai Tells Esther What to Do
5 Then Esther summoned Hathach from the king’s eunuchs, whom the king had appointed to attend her, and ordered him [to go] to Mordecai to learn what this [was] and why it [was]. 6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai to the city square in front of the king’s gate. 7 Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. 8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people. 9 Hathach came back and related Mordecai’s words to Esther. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and ordered him [to reply] to Mordecai: 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days.” 12 They related Esther’s words to Mordecai. 13 Then Mordecai told [them] to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
Esther wants to know what is going on and why Mordecai is doing this (verse 5). That’s why she sends Hathach to ask him. Hathach goes openly to Mordecai. Mordecai tells Hathach in detail everything that has happened (verses 6-7). He gives Hathach a copy of the written law and in this way he informs Esther of what is about to happen (verse 8). Nothing impresses as much as the text itself. She doesn’t have to make any illusions anymore. The decision is made.
Mordecai concludes his communication by giving an order – it is not just a request – for Esther to Hathach. Esther is familiar with the fact that he gives her orders and also to listen to them (Est 2:10,20). This time she must
1. go in to the king
2. implore his favor and
3. plead with him for her people.
We’re seeing an ascent in the orders here:
1. The first is general, addressed to the person of the king;
2. the second is meant for the heart of the king;
3. the third is the concrete question for her people.
With this, Mordecai revokes his earlier instruction to Esther to keep silent about her ancestry. Now she must speak; she must make it clear which people she belongs to. This is the wisdom that knows when to keep silent and when to speak (Ecc 3:1,7b).
Hathach is a faithful eunuch and relates to Esther “Mordecai’s words” (verse 9). He passes on verbatim what Mordecai said, without adding or subtracting anything from it. Such a servant is valuable. They are not just words spoken by some stranger. They are the words of Mordecai. That is what makes the words so meaningful.
Esther understands the weight of the words Mordecai has given her. She understands what he expects of her. To this end, she sends Hathach back to Mordecai with a message (verse 10). In her message she tells Mordecai what his question means to her (verse 11). It means that she can be killed if she goes to the king while he has not summoned her. This is a contrast with Vashti who was summoned by the king but refused to come (Est 1:12).
Esther seems to blame Mordecai slightly for asking for something that puts her life in great danger. Everyone knows that there is a law that states that no one may go to the king uninvited. If everyone knows that, then Mordecai must know that for sure. Then he also knows that whoever does so will pass his own sentence and be killed. The only way to escape this verdict is if the king holds out the golden scepter to such a person.
There doesn’t seem to be much hope that she will be handed the golden scepter, because she hasn’t been called to the king in thirty days. To go to him uninvited, becomes a very precarious undertaking. It looks bad. On top of that she has to confess her origins. What Esther has to learn is that escaping can only be done by dying, that the way to life is through death.
Esther must learn to ask for mercy, because according to the law there is no salvation possible, but only death can be expected. In order to get this far, a soul goes through deep exercises. The law keeps someone out of the presence of God (Gal 3:11-12). Only when grace is counted upon can one come into the presence of God (Rom 5:1-2a; Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19-22).
We see the same thing in the end times, when the faithful remnant of Israel is brought to appeal to grace by the Spirit of Christ. Silence does not bring salvation, an open appeal to grace does. If Esther goes to Ahasuerus contrary to the commandment, it is not moderation, but the true workings of grace.
It is the true workings of grace that the faithful remnant will experience in the end time when the anguish will drive them out to God. The law is not the solution to their need. They will have to learn to call to God for grace. To this end they are brought by Christ through the action of His Spirit, for He will pour out on them “the Spirit of grace and of supplication” (Zec 12:10). The Spirit of Christ will instruct them and teach them that they can only live by grace. We see this here in the picture that Mordecai, through Hathach, urges Esther to beg for the king’s grace (verse 8).
“Esther’s words” are related to Mordecai (verse 12). Again, we see the weight the author attaches to conveying exactly what Esther said. Mordecai’s answer contains an admonition (verses 13-14). By the way, in this answer we hear Mordecai speak directly the only time in this book. He tells her not to imagine that she will be the only one of all the Jews to escape because she thinks that her stay in the king’s house will save her from a sure death (verse 13). Mordecai presents the case to her as it is.
So far, her safety has been in keeping her ancestry secret. Continued silence, however, will lead to the disclosure of her identity and to the loss of her life (verse 14). Now is the time to speak up and make her ancestry known, for therein lies the only chance of salvation for her and her people. How this announcement is to be made is not yet mentioned. Mordecai only points out the consequences for Esther if she remains silent.
For Mordecai himself, not everything depends on Esther’s silence or speech. He is convinced that it does not depend on her, but on a higher power. Here we see in veiled terms the faith of Mordecai, a faith that overcomes the world (1Jn 5:4b). He is certain of the salvation of himself and his people.
He reminds Esther of the responsibility she has in her position to plead for her people. She has not been given that position for nothing. He even assumes that in view of the situation that has now arisen, she has been given this high place. Esther is reminded of her responsibility, but also of the fact that God is not dependent on her.
Each of us must consider and examine the purpose for which God has placed us in the place we occupy. We must then devote ourselves to meeting that goal. If a special opportunity presents itself to us to serve God and our generation, we must take care not to let it pass by. Indeed, we are given this opportunity to use it as a blessing for God’s people and for the glory of the Lord.
15 - 17 Esther’s Answer
15 Then Esther told [them] to reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.
Esther is convinced of the importance of Mordecai’s command. She recognizes its necessity and answers Mordecai (verse 15). Now she takes the initiative and instructs Mordecai to do something (verse 16). He has to gather all the Jews in Susa and call for a fast for her. She does not call for games and entertainment to be organized to forget the danger. That is what the people of the world do.
They have to fast for three days, night or day. This means that they fast during the time of the Passover, for it is the thirteenth day of the first month (Est 3:12). The Passover is eaten at night (Exo 12:8-10), which may explain why Esther speaks of fasting night or day. The feast of the exodus is therefore celebrated in this twelfth year of Ahasuerus in a way that is contrary to the way it is prescribed. Instead of eating and drinking, there is no eating and no drinking.
She will also fast herself, with her maidens, to prepare for the crucial meeting with the king. Once again she says that her passage to the king is “not according to the law”. Vashti has been disobedient by not coming; Esther is disobedient by coming uninvited. However, Esther’s disobedience is related to the appeal to grace. Grace is always above the law.
There has been talk of fasting before in this chapter (verse 3). There it is a spontaneous fast as a direct reaction to the announcement of the annihilation of all Jews. The fasting that Esther proclaims here is a command. What we miss is the mentioning of the prayer. In several Scriptures where fasting is spoken of, we see that fasting goes hand in hand with prayer (1Sam 7:6; Jer 14:12; Joel 1:14; Ezra 8:21,23). Fasting is not an end in itself, but is meant to be completely dedicated to a particular cause in prayer, without thinking of bodily needs. The lack of mention of prayer is consistent with God’s hidden place in this book.
Mordecai told her that she would die if she remained in deep silence. This leads her to consider that she may stay alive and then save the lives of her people if she goes into the presence of the king. She takes the risk of a sure death and speaks the proverbial words: “If I perish, I perish.” She says this not in despair or passion, but in a holy, firm intention to do her duty.
The consideration is that doing nothing will certainty bring death. Then it is better to risk it, for there is nothing to lose. This means that she delivers herself to mercy. Death she deserves, grace she can receive. She dares to go, not on the basis of the law, but on the basis of grace alone.
This is also the reasoning of the four lepers when the city of Samaria is besieged and starving. Those four men, because of their leprosy, have death in their bodies and because of the encirclement by the enemy also starvation in mind. The only possibility they see for survival is to go to the enemy. If he kills them, their lives are finished, but if he is merciful, they can continue to live (cf. 2Kgs 7:3-4).
In the same way, we have nothing to lose. If we want to keep our life, we will lose it. But if we lose our life for the sake of the Lord Jesus, that is, if we deliver ourselves to Him and give up every right to it, we will keep it (Lk 9:24). We will lose our lives anyway. Then it is better to voluntarily lose it now, so that we can stay alive.
Just as Esther obeyed Mordecai (Est 2:10,20), so Mordecai obeys Esther and does what she commanded him to do (verse 17). Mordecai does what Esther says, because Esther does what he has said. The Lord Jesus will also do what we ask if we do what He asks of us.