Inclement Weather Update (Click post for more info)

Esther Chapter 4

Esther Chapter 4

Sermon Transcript

You are at a's time to be brave...which road will you choose? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he unpacks the story of Esther in Chapter 4 and challenges us to consider, that we too, may have been made, "For such a time as this."

Born in ancient Shechem in Samaria to pagan, godless parents, Justin attempted to find purpose and meaning in life from the philosophies of the day.  First, he dug into Stoicism but eventually turned from it because it failed to address the concept of God.  An itinerate philosopher, called a Peripatetic, grabbed his attention for a while, yet when it appeared the “wise man” was more interested in obtaining teaching fees, Justin bolted.  Still seeking the meaning of life, he settled down in a study of Platonism.  Over time, this philosophical discipline failed to answer his nagging spiritual questions.

Around A.D. 130, Justin happened to run into an old man who introduced him to the risen Christ.  It wasn’t long until he bowed in faith before the living Lord and became a child of God.  At last, his life questions found definitive answers.  Concerning his conversion, the famous Christian philosopher and defender of the faith wrote:

“A fire was suddenly kindled in my soul. I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable. That is how and why I became a philosopher. And I wish that everyone felt the same way that I do.”[1]

He went on to write prolifically to defend Christianity from false thinking, he founded a Christian school in Rome, and he debated well-known philosophers of the day.

After debating Crescentius, the Roman, who didn’t like the fact Justin debunked his philosophical system, the Roman philosopher reported Justin to the authorities, claiming he should be dealt with because he disregarded the Roman pantheon.  Rusticus, the Roman prefect, interrogated Justin and six of his devout students.  He had a straightforward request: Deny your faith, embrace the gods of Rome, and follow the emperor's edicts.

Standing at the crossroads, Justin knew which road he had to take.  Looking at the pernicious politician, he boldly exclaimed: “No one who is rightly minded turns from true belief to false.” With that, Rusticus scourged and beheaded the believer, along with his disciples. After this atrocity, ancient believers rightfully added the word Martyr to Justin’s name. The false philosophies and political machine of the day had canceled these Christians, but their bold decision to stand for the gospel's truth still challenges us today.

As belief systems in our nation grow more hostile to the Faith, and as politicians, desirous of controlling the narrative of “truth,” evidence increasing angst against believers in all walks of life, we are guaranteed our Justin moment when we stand at a crossroads of truth versus error.  The question is, Will you be brave, or will you buckle?

Five hundred years before Justin, Mordecai and Esther showed how believers should respond to the evil their culture pushes.  When they could have led quiet lives and enjoyed the wealth and security that came their way when Esther, a Jew, became the Queen of Persia, they courageously chose to do the right thing, the hard thing, to protect their people, who were, and are, God’s chosen people (Gen. 12).  Now it is our turn. What will we do when God provides us with strategic situations to defend truth, morality, logic, and lives? May we secure strength and motivation from the lives of those saints who have gone before us, saints like Justin, Mordecai and Esther.

Turning our attention to Esther chapter four, the Holy Spirit, who inspired this biblical text, brings the story to a crossroads climax.  As we study this historical narrative, we can’t help but wonder, “Lord, what will I do when you place me at a crossroads climax?” Listen and learn from Mordecai and Esther.  To accomplish this, we shall move through the movements of the passage.

The Consternation (Esther 4:1-4)

Haman’s wicked decree to exterminate all Jews in Persia took a toll on Mordecai. In classic Jewish and biblical fashion, he responded as a holy man would:

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 And he went as far as the king's gate, for no one was to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth.

The verbs inform us that Mordecai was not afraid to let the world know how he, a Jew, felt about the new political decree.  Mordecai took radical public action to express his mourning and opposition to the king’s genocidal pronouncement by rending his garments, putting on uncomfortable sackcloth made from goat hair, throwing nasty ashes on his head, and wailing all over the city up to the king’s gate.  He could go no further than the king’s gate because the king and other politicians didn’t permit wailing in their presence, for they didn’t want to be bothered by trials and tragedy as they drank and partied (Esther 3:15).

May we learn from Mordecai. Too often, we duck and cover when the wicked in the world seek to threaten, intimidate, and silence us with their twisted views of truth, logic, and law.  When was the last time you let your emotion out regarding the wickedness you see wrapping its powerful tentacles around everything from what constitutes justice in a court of law to how Christians who pray and sing hymns at an abortion clinic should be treated for daring to demonstrate? Mordecai encountered evil and mourned for all to see and hear. Will you? Do you?

One brave, godly man willing to share and express his feelings with political perversion impacted others all around the country:

 3 And 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.

Behind all of this mourning and fasting is the latent statement that Mordecai and the people came to a carnal crossroads and had a spiritual moment where they started turning to God. After all, this type of response in ancient Israel typically included prayer, even though it is not mentioned.  True, God is not mentioned in the book, but we see in scenes like this how His people understood He was with them in the deep waters and the fire, and their mourning and fasting had to focus on Him.

2  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. (Isa. 43)

When Ezra sought to take Jews and the riches of the Temple back to Jerusalem through dangerous territory, listen to how he approached the situation:

21 Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions. 22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, "The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him." 23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty. (Ezra 8)

Will you fast and pray regarding the dangerous crossroads you are standing in front of?  When you do, you show God you mean business and tap into the power from on high that will propel you to victory despite the odds.

This national wailing and Mordecai’s loud crying outside the king’s gate eventually became known to the Queen, Esther.

 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.

Being sequestered constantly within the palace's magnificence, Esther had no clue about the political climate in her country.  Now she knew something was up; however, she didn’t receive precise intel. This is true because Mordecai will send her details quickly through a courier.  At this juncture, she felt her older cousin’s pain and sought to console him with some clothes.  Little did she know the evil the anti-semite Haman had devised.  Her head was about to be pulled out to the proverbial sand, leaving her at a crossroads of decision.

The Command (Esther 4:5-6)

Mordecai’s refusal to be comforted aroused Esther’s curiosity, for she knew this man who had raised her well.  Unfounded, uncontrolled emotion wasn’t how he rolled unless something ominous or tragic had happened or was about to happen. So, Esther, like a godly person should, sought the facts:

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.

She wanted to know why Mordecai, along with the rest of the Jews in the nation, was in a state of absolute, unconsolable mourning.  Such a response is how you should respond when other saints are emotional about a carnal crossroads they are facing.  “Tell me, what has got you so upset? Is your emotion grounded on facts, biblical and otherwise? If so, what are those facts so I can stand with you.”

Hathach, whose name means “good,” did the reasonable thing by delivering the Queen’s probing question to Mordecai.  Take note: Don’t be afraid to use non-believers to gather intelligence, which can help you push back the evil you are facing.  Several might be as concerned as you regarding overturning unjust, wicked laws and actions.

The Communique (Esther 4:7-8)

It is too bad Esther couldn’t have had a face-to-face conversation with Mordecai.  His emotion and facial expressions would have validated the integrity of his torn clothes, ash-colored face, and loud crying. Since Mordecai didn’t have this opportunity, he made sure Hathach, Esther’s trusted aid, had all the proper intel to inform her of the impending genocide of the Jews in Persia:

7 And 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 proclamation 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.

Mordecai was a man with connections. We know this is true because he knew about the amount of bribery money Haman proposed to give King Xerxes for the opportunity to rid the kingdom of Jews. By revealing this information, He ensured Esther knew this new law's unlawful nature.  He also made sure she had the legal document in question that sanctioned the eradication of the “problematic” Jews within the nation. Mordecai closed out his presentation with words reminiscent of a father figure.  He commanded Esther to do something with the authority invested in her by the government.

I don’t know what crossroads you are staring at now, but you do. Are you dealing with an evil ex who wants to make your life miserable? Is a teacher forcing you to put a lid on your Christian thinking when you write an essay? Is someone pressuring you to withhold information to make a legal case look airtight when it isn’t?  Is someone intimidating you to use the so-called proper pronouns to keep your job? Note to self: Please, as you anticipate taking bold, definitive action, make sure you have your facts straight.  Your pleas and concerns will be hamstrung and sidelined if you don't.  And I don’t think rhetoric will replace reason, either.  Keep your emotions under control as you gather and then present the facts to someone who can do something positive with them.

Armed with the proper data points, Hathach wasted no time giving them to the Queen. Again, if you have important data points about a wicked decision or action, you need to make sure the right person or persons see them so there can be the hope of a righteous response:

The Command (Esther 4:9-11)

Hathach wasted no time telling Esther what he learned on his fact-finding mission:

9 And Hathach came back and related Mordecai's words to Esther.

Esther wasted no time giving Hathach a command to countermand the command of Mordecai:

 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."

Because Persian kings feared assassination by those closest to them, they controlled who could talk to them and when they could be approached. If you didn’t have an appointment, as it were, and you just took the initiative to walk into the King’s presence, you had a 50/50 chance of being immediately executed or accepted.  Mordecai, therefore, asked Esther to break the law knowingly and willingly approach her powerful and unpredictable husband.  Adding the fact she hadn’t seen him in thirty days tells us their relationship was not all that great at this juncture either.  If you’re married, then you know the importance of timing concerning a difficult conversation you need to have.

And lest you think Esther is offering rationalizations so she doesn’t have to be courageous, permit me to acquaint you with intel everyone knew about King Xerses.  According to William Durant’s Our Oriental Heritage, Darius the Great, the father of King Xerxes, was once petitioned by a father to exempt one of his three sons from military service to leave the family with a progenitor. Xerxes responded by executing the sons. Later, another father asked Xerxes to permit his fifth son to miss out on battle to take care of the family’s large estate.  Xerxes had the son cut in half by royal order.  They placed his body on both sides of the road so the soldiers heading into battle could see what happened to those who questioned the “all-powerful” king.[2]

Add to this uncalled-for brutality the fact that the Persians believed Xerxes was inspired by Ahura-Mazda, the head god of their pantheon (the powerful sky god). To question or talk with him was to speak to God’s primary representative on earth.  His law, therefore, was the law of the gods. To question or challenge it was, indeed, a hazardous thing.

With all this in mind, is it any wonder Esther stated how dangerous it was to walk into the King’s presence, even though she was the Queen?  Haven’t you had your concerns about stepping forward in your crossroads situation and doing the right thing?  Haven’t you thought, “What will my actions cost me if I do this? Will I have a job? Will I be blacklisted? Will I lose friends? Will I be sued? Will my children lose opportunities to advance? Any thinking person, like Esther, stops and recognizes the reasons why it might be logical to just lay low on this one.  Yet, any thinking person who walks with God loves truth and life and despises evil knows that sometimes God calls us to take bold, courageous action despite what might happen to us.  Such was Esther’s complex situation.

With this new information from the Queen in hand, her attendants made sure it reached Mordecai. When he heard it, he, who knew Esther’s character better than anyone else, offered her some sound counsel designed to motivate her to choose the right road at this all-important national crossroads.

The Counsel (Esther 4:12-14)

Watch how Mordecai responds to Esther’s valid rationalizations for not disturbing the King:

12 And 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?"

His counter-argument is clear, logical, and powerful.  In essence, he tells his cousin, “Do you think your lofty position in the palace will protect you, a Jew, from the genocidal designs of Haman? Think again. No one will get a free pass.”

Mordecai’s following statement reveals he believed in the providence of the living God. He, who understood divinely inspired passages and divine promises like Isaiah 49:16-26, knew that if Esther didn’t step up to the plate in Israel’s hour of need, God would bring deliverance through another person or by another means.  Talk about faith.  The implication here is clear: Don’t you want to be the one who uses your power and position to do the right thing? I think you do.

Moredcai’s final argument is the most significant call to courage ever written: “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Behind this statement is the biblical belief that God is the one who providentially places His saints where He wants them to strategically advance His cause(s) when the need arises (Isa. 10;8ff; 45:1; Jer. 1:15; Ezek. 7:24; Dan. 2:36-38).  She wasn’t the Queen simply because she was beautiful. She was the Queen because the living Lord knew what Haman was going to plan before he planned it, so God worked behind the scenes to place a young Jewish woman in a powerful position so she could bravely step forward and oppose this wicked anti-semite. Now, it was time for her to stand up and speak up!

The same applies to you and me.  Whether you are a tree trimmer or an Admiral at the Pentagon, if you are a believer, you are placed where you are for a divine purpose.    What is that purpose? God will disclose it to you when you come to a crossroads.  You will know it when you see it.  Perhaps you see it right now, but like Esther, you’ve formulated some rationalizations to keep you from taking courageous action.  It’s now time to stand up and speak up! What will you do so that justice and righteousness advance on your watch?

What did Esther do? The closing verses reveal the answer to his question: I call . . .

The Climax (Esther 4:15-17)

Join me in reading her response:

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.

Once she realized God had providentially placed her as the Queen in order to use her power and position to stop the unlawful and wicked genocide of her people, the Jews, she did two things.

One, she commanded Mordecai to have her people collectively fast and, I’m assuming, pray for her.  This was a wise move in light of the extreme evil she faced.  Never go up against evil by yourself.  Go with those who have shown God they are serious about praying with and for you.

Two, she and her entourage fasted and prayed (most likely).  Were these young attendants Jews? Possibly. If so, they acted like godly young women should.  When facing a horrendous wickedness, they turned to God.  If they were Persians, I think it means that Esther had a spiritual influence on them.  Either way, Esther underscored the utter importance of tapping into the power of God through prayer when you are preparing to battle with the Devil. Learn from her excellent example. "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." —General George Patton, as heard from Chaplain George Metcalf

Learn also from her courage. When she realized that civil disobedience was the order of the day because the new law was lawless, she knew it was her spiritual right to do something!  Her statement about her possible death for daring to speak with the King without an invitation isn’t pessimistic and fearful but powerful and fearless: “If I perish, I perish.” That’s another way of saying, “If I die for a righteous cause, it will be worth it.” It is incredible how quickly she, the formerly spiritually compromised Queen, went from, “I can’t make a move like that, Mordecai,” to “I’m willing to lose my life for my people and a just cause.” What happened? Esther had a spiritual awakening brought to you by the Lord of the crossroads.

Right now, you might be experiencing your spiritual awakening.  Like a flash of lightning, your rationalizations designed to keep you from action have suddenly vanished.  Now, you see, God has providentially positioned you to make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of people around you.  And, like Esther, you don’t care what happens to you when you act; you know you must!

[1] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 50.

[2] Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954), 360.