MOURNING OF MORDECAI, AND OF THE JEWS GENERALLY, ON
HEARING OF THE DECREE (vs. 1-3). Haman had no doubt kept
his intentions secret until the king’s consent to them was not only granted,
but placed beyond his power to recall The Jews first heard of the terrible
blow impending over them by the publication of the edict. Then they
became acquainted with it quickly enough. The edict was for a while the
talk of the town. Placarded openly in some conspicuous and frequented
place, every loiterer read it, every gossip spoke of it, every one whom it
threatened could with his own eyes see its exact terms. Mordecai soon
“perceived all that was done” (v. 1) — perused the edict, understood
whence it had originated, was fully aware that he himself and his whole
nation stood in the most awful peril. His first impulse was to rend his
garments and put on sackcloth and ashes; after which he quitted the
environs of the palace, and “went out into the midst of the city,” where he
gave free vent to his grief and alarm, “crying with a loud and bitter cry.”
The signs of mourning were not permitted within the walls of the royal
residence, and Mordecai could come no nearer than the space before the
gate, where he probably sat down in the dust “astonied” (see ch. 9:4).
Nor was he long alone in his sorrow. In every province — and therefore at
Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing” (v. 3). The proscribed race
made bitter lamentation — “lay in sackcloth and ashes,” humbled itself
before God, and waited. As yet no thought of escape seems to have
occurred to any, no resolution to have been taken. Even Mordecai’s
thoughtful brain was paralyzed, and, like the rest, he gave himself up to
1 “When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his
clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the
midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry;”
Mordecai rent his clothes. Compare Ezra 9:3, 5 with the
comment. The meaning of the act was well understood by the Persians.
Put on sackcloth with ashes. So Daniel (Daniel 9:3), and the king of
combined betokened the deepest grief possible. And went out into the
midst of the city. The palace was not to be saddened by private griefs (see
the next verse). Mordecai, therefore, having assumed the outward signs of
extreme sorrow, quitted the palace, and entered the streets of the town.
There, overcome by his feelings, he vented them, as Asiatics are wont to
do, in loud and piercing cries (comp are Nehemiah 5:1).
2 “And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into
the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.” And came even before the king’s gate.
After some aimless wandering Mordecai returned toward the palace, either his
proper place or with some incipient notion of obtaining Esther’s help. He was not
allowed, however, to pass the outer gate on account of his garb of woe,
and he remained outside.
3 “And in every province, whithersoever the king’s commandment
and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews,
and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth
and ashes.” And in every province. As fast as the news spread, as province
after province received the decree, the Jews spontaneously did as Mordecai
had done — everywhere there was great sorrow, shown commonly by
fasting, weeping, and wailing, while in numerous instances the mourners
even went the length of putting on sackcloth and ashes. Thus an ever increasing
cloud of grief overshadowed the land.
The Cry of a Doomed People (vs. 1-3)
The decree against the Jews was not yet known in the palace; Esther
herself was not yet informed of it. And the signs of sorrow and mourning
were prohibited within the royal precincts; nothing of ill omen was suffered
to come before the king and his household. But in the city evil tidings
(which ever travel fast) soon came abroad.
MORDECAI. The rending of clothes in grief was practized by the Persians
as well as by the Jews. The Ninevites in their penitence sat in sackcloth and
ashes. It was and is the custom of Orientals to weep aloud in times of
mourning. All these expressions of sorrow and lamentation were in the
circumstances natural and proper. It was the woe of a patriot. Mordecai
was not thinking so much of himself as of his people; he made their
sorrows and alarms his own. It was the sorrow of a godly man. He did not
simply mourn; he evidently humbled himself before God, and implored
Divine pity and help.
JEWS THROUGHOUT THE EMPIRE. The news of a great victory flies
and flashes through a land, awakens the universal joy, and the land is filled
with gladness and song.. And the tidings of the impending calamity spread
far and wide through the provinces of
thousands of hearts. They mourned as they thought of the land of their
fathers, and of all the privileges enjoyed in that sacred and fertile territory
— their proper home and inheritance. For now they were not only doomed
to exile; they were marked for destruction. They fasted, doubtless, as a
religious exercise, accompanying their fasting with repentance and with
prayers. They wept and wailed, knowing that though their cry could not
pierce the walls of the palace at Shushan, it would penetrate the gates of
heaven, and reach the ear of THE KING OF KINGS! They lay in
sackcloth and ashes, as permitting themselves no comfort or ease in prospect
of their own and their brethren’s ruin. Thus they prepared a way for the
tender mercy of God to visit them from on high. (Luke 1:78)
Ø Practical lesson: — Sinners against whom a sentence of Divine wrath
might rightfully be issued should lose no time in humbling themselves
before the Lord, and confessing their sins with contrition and repentance,
that they may partake in the mercy of heaven, and, through the redemption
of Christ Jesus, be saved from THE WRATH TO COME!
GRIEF OF ESTHER. HER COMMUNICATIONS WITH MORDECAI.
SHE CONSENTS TO RISK MAKING AN APPEAL TO THE KING
(vs.4-17). Esther, in the seclusion of the harem, knew nothing of
what the king and Haman had determined on. No one in the palace
suspected how vitally she was concerned in the matter, since none knew
that she was a Jewess, and state affairs are not commonly discussed
between an Oriental monarch and a young wife. It was known, however,
that she took an interest in Mordecai; and when that official was seen
outside the palace gate in his mourning garb, it was reported to the queen.
Not being aware why he grieved, but thinking that perhaps it was some
light matter which he took too much to heart, she sent him a change of
raiment, and requested him to put off his sackcloth. But Mordecai, without
assigning any reason, refused (v. 4). Esther upon this caused inquiry to
be made of Mordecai concerning the reason of his mourning, and in this
way became acquainted with what had happened (vs. 5-9). At the same
time she found herself called on by Mordecai to incur a great danger, since
he requested her to go at once to the king, and to intercede with him for
her people (v. 8). In reply, the queen pointed out the extreme risk which
she would run in entering the royal presence uninvited, and the little chance
that there was of her receiving a summons, since she had not had one for
thirty .days (v. 11). Mordecai, however, was inexorable. He reminded
Esther that she herself was threatened by the decree, and was not more
likely to escape than any other Jew or Jewess; declared his belief that, if
she withheld her aid, deliverance would arise from some other quarter;
warned her that neglect of duty was apt to provoke a heavy retribution,
and suggested that she might have been raised to her queenly dignity for
the express purpose of her being thus able to save her nation (vs. 13-14).
The dutiful daughter, the true Jewess, could resist no longer; she only
asked that Mordecai and the other Jews in
days, while she and her maidens also fasted, and then she would take her
life in her hand, and enter the royal presence uninvited, though it was
contrary to the law; the risk should be run, and then, as she said with a
simple pathos never excelled, “if I perish, I perish” (v. 16). Satisfied with
this reply, Mordecai “went his way,” and held the three days’ fast which
Esther had requested (v. 17).
4 “So Esther’s maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then
was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe
Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he
received it not.” Esther’s maids and her chamberlains. A queen consort at an
Oriental court is sure to have, besides her train of maids, a numerous body
of eunuchs, who are at her entire disposal, and are especially employed in
going her errands and maintaining her communications with the outer
world. Told her. Esther’s interest in Mordecai would be known to the
maids and eunuchs by Mordecai’s inquiries about her (ch.1:11) and
communications with her (ibid. v. 22).
5 “Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king’s chamberlains,
whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a
commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.”
i.e. “to know what the mourning garb exactly meant, and for what reason he
had assumed it.”
6 “So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which
was before the king’s gate. The street of the city. Rather, “the square.”
7 “And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of
the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the
king’s treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.”
The sum of money. Mordecai evidently considered that the
money was an important item in the transaction, and had mainly influenced
Ahasuerus. This would not have been the case if Ahasuerus had at once
given it back (see the comment on ch. 3:9).
8 “Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was
given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to
declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the
king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before
him for her people. 9 And Hatach came and told Esther the words of
Sympathy (vs. 4-9)
Although Esther was lodged in a palace and surrounded with luxury and
honor, she did not lose sight of her kinsman, Mordecai. Least of all was
she indifferent to his trouble and sorrow. Hence, when informed of his
mourning, she sent to him, and, when aware of the cause of his distress,
entered into it, taking his grief as her own. A beautiful illustration of
sympathy — an emotion and disposition which adorns our humanity, and
relieves men of many of their sorrows, and lightens many of their cares.
The sympathies of some are restricted to their own household, or their own
nation; but it becomes us to cherish a fellow-feeling for all mankind. Still,
as in this narrative, kindred is a proper ground for special sympathy.
Scriptures teach us that God has made of one blood all nations of men.
(Acts 17:26) We are children of one family. Not only so, but the same
Father has pitied us, and the same Savior has died for us. What emphasis
do these facts give to the inspired admonitions: “Look not every man
upon his own things, but every man also upon the things of others.”
(Philippians 2:4) “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the
law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) “Rejoice with those who do rejoice, and
weep with them that weep.” (Romans 12:15)
IT, AND TO HIM WHO IS ITS OBJECT. The heart is richer and happier
for entering into the feelings of another. And the heart is relieved that feels
another shares its burden. Human society is made more bright and blessed
by the prevalence of the sacred habit of sympathy. Of this virtue, as of
mercy, it may be said, “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Mere sentimental, unpractical sympathy is worse than vain; it is a mockery.
But where right feeling leads to right action, it proves its intended value. In
the case before us, Esther’s sympathy with her kinsman’s anxiety and
sorrow led her to put forth all her efforts, in compliance with his wish, to
secure the end dear to his heart.
BENEFICIAL ACTION. Esther’s first attempt to comfort Mordecai
having failed, she sent a trusted servant to him to ascertain what his so
loudly-pronounced manifestations of sorrow really meant. She could not
live in peace while he was in such visible unrest. She longed to know all,
that she might do all that she could. It is not good to indulge in idle
sentiment. Many are content if they feel well, or surrender themselves for a
time to tender emotions. No practical good results from their sensibility,
nor is any intended. There is a good feeling which is satisfied with itself.
Such was not Esther’s. Let us beware of it (see Matthew 7:21; 21:28-31;
IN PRESENCE OF THE OBJECTS THAT ATTRACT IT. When Esther
learned through Hatach the cause of Mordecai’s distress, and received the
copy of the royal decree, her sorrow and sympathy would be greatly
intensified. They were now extended to all her people. Yet, queen as she
was, she felt unable to do anything to give help. There are troubles before
which the most powerful have to confess themselves powerless. Few griefs
are so keen as that which springs from a conscious inability to satisfy the
heart’s compassionate yearnings. In connection with Esther’s difficulties let
us notice here:
Ø Mordecai’s charge. It was that, after reading the royal decree, Esther
should go to the king and make supplication before him for her people
(v. 8). This he laid upon her as a solemn duty. The obligations of duty
Are increased by high position and influence.
Ø Esther’s strait. However willing to obey Mordecai, Esther was aware of
a twofold obstacle to her following his guidance in this instance. It was a
universally known law of the Persian court that no one, man or woman,
should approach the king uninvited under the penalty of death (v. 11).
The life of any intruder, on whatever mission, could only be saved by the
king’s holding out to him or her his golden scepter. In ordinary
circumstances the unbidden entrance of the queen would be most likely to
receive the royal sign of safety and welcome. But Esther had a special fact
to communicate to Mordecai on this point. For thirty days, or a month, the
king had never sought her company, and she had no hope that he might
now give her an opportunity of speaking to him. This forgetfulness of
Esther on the part of the king may perhaps have been owing to the
Vicious influence of Haman.
THE SACKCLOTH OF POVERTY, AND BEARING THE ASHES OF
SORROW, WHO HAVE A STRONG CLAIM ON THE SYMPATHY
OF CHRISTIANS. They want something more than mere doled-out
crumbs of charity; they need a heartfelt sympathy, and real help. This is
what Christ gave them on earth. He, the most intellectual, refined, and
sinless Being that ever lived, bent to the lowliest, strengthened the
weakest, bore with the frailest, came into closest contact with disease and
sin, so that it seemed that He “Himself took our infirmities and bare our
sicknessess” (Matthew 8:17) and became “sin for us.” (II Corinthians 5:21)
His whole life was a going out of self and living for others.
10 “Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him
commandment unto Mordecai;” Also he gave him the copy. In the original
it is “a copy.” Mordecai had had a copy made for the purpose of handing it to
Esther. To make request to him for her people. If this was the phrase used by
Mordecai to Hatach, Esther’s nationality must now have ceased to be a
secret, at any rate so far as her immediate attendants were concerned.
Probably Mordecai felt that the truth must now be declared. It was only as
the compatriots of the queen that he could expect to get the Jews spared.
11 “All the king’s servants, and the people of the king’s provinces, do
know, that whosoever, whether man or women, shall come unto
the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of
his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold
out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called
to come in unto the king these thirty days. 12 And they told to
Mordecai Esther’s words.” All the king’s servants seems to mean here
“all the court,” “all those in the immediate service of the king.” The inner court.
The palace had, as it would seem, only two courts, the “outward court” of ch.
6:4, and the “inner court” of the present passage. There is one law of his
to put him to death. Rather, “there is one law for him. ‘Whoever he be,
there is one and the same law regarding him — he must suffer death.
Herodotus excepts six persons from the operation of this law (3:84, 118),
but in making the exception shows the general rule to have been such as
here represented. Except such to whom the king shall hold out the
golden sceptre. No other writer tells us of this custom, but it is in perfect
harmony with Oriental habits and modes of thought. Some have objected
that the king would not always have a golden sceptre by him; but the
Persepolitan sculptures uniformly represent him with a long tapering staff
in his hand, which is probably the “sceptre” (sharbith) of Esther. I have
not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. The king s
passion had cooled, and Esther now, like his other wives, waited her
occasional summons to his presence. She had not been called for a whole
month, and did not know when a summons might come. It would not do to
trust to so mere a chance; and therefore, if she was to interpose on behalf
of her nation, she must intrude on the king uninvited, and risk being put to
The Golden Scepter (v. 11)
The superstitious reverence which surrounded the throne of Ahasuerus is
manifest from the whole tenor of this narrative. Capricious and absolute,
his frown was feared as the most awful of earthly ills; and his smile was
sought, with abject slavishness and adulation, as the herald of honor,
riches, and power. Even his wife could not approach unbidden into the
presence of the “great king,” save at the peril of her life. When he was
pleased to stretch forth the golden scepter of clemency and mercy, all was
well. The golden scepter, which encouraged the timid, assured the
suppliant of a gracious reception, and was the earnest of royal favors and
blessings, may be taken as an emblem of the merciful regard and purposes
of the King of kings. In the gospel of His Son our heavenly Ruler and Lord
extends to us the golden scepter of His grace.
of the chief with which he smote the cowardly and the recreant, and thus
it became the emblem of kingly rule. All God’s acts are acts of a just
authority, enforced by an IRRESISTIBLE POWER! Whilst His sway
extends over His whole creation, as a moral sway it is exercised upon
righteous principles over His moral and accountable subjects.
that Esther had no hope except from the clemency of the king. Her position
as queen did not even give her the right to approach the throne unbidden.
When Ahasuerus stretched forth the golden scepter she knew that she was
regarded with favor. Our heavenly King extends to us the favor of His
royal nature. His word, His gospel, is the expression of His regard for men.
His anger is turned away, and He comforts us.
presumption, an offense. But the symbolical act we are considering assured
her that her offence was overlooked, and she herself accepted. In the
gospel God appears not only as kind, but as merciful. He addresses the
sinful suppliant, and says, Fear not! I am the Lord that hath mercy on
thee! Thou shalt not perish, but shalt have pardon and life eternal.
earnest of further kindness. “What is thy petition, and what is thy request?”
She had, in response, only to ask, and to have. God has given us His Son,
and the gospel, which tells us of this gift, tells us that all provision is made
for us. This is the language of our royal Father: “All that I have is thine!”
13 “Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with
thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the
Jews.” Think not with thyself. Literally, “imagine not in thy mind.”
That thou shalt escape in the king’s house. i.e. “that being an inmate of
the palace will be any protection to thee ;” it will be no protection — you
will no more escape than any other Jew.
14 “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall
there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another
place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who
knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as
this?” Then shall there enlargement, or respiration (marg. literally,
“breath”), and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place.
Mordecai is confident that God will not allow the destruction of His people.
Without naming His name, he implies a trust in His gracious promises, and a
conviction that Haman’s purpose will be frustrated; how, he knows not,
but certainly in some way or other. If deliverance does not come through
Esther, then it will arise from some other quarter. But thou and thy
father’s house shall be destroyed. A denunciation of Divine vengeance.
Though the nation will be saved, it will not benefit you. On you will fall a
just judgment — having endeavored to save your life, you will lose it —
and your “father’s house will be involved in your ruin. We may gather from
this that Esther was not Abihail’s only child. Who knoweth, etc. Consider
this also. Perhaps (who knows?) God has raised you up to your royal
dignity for this very purpose, and none other, that you should be in a
position to save your nation in this crisis.
The Purpose of Power (v. 14)
“Purpose” is a watchword of modem intellectual warfare. “Cause” and
“purpose” are words that awaken keenest intellectual strife. Thinkers are
divided into those who believe that the will is the cause of human acts, and
that many of those acts are evidence of purpose; and those who believe our
acts to be the necessary results of physical antecedents acting upon our
nervous system. And those who do not believe in human purpose naturally
enough have no belief in Divine purpose. According to them mind counts
for nothing as a factor in the universe. Believing in purpose, both human
and Divine, we may nevertheless be on our guard against dogmatically
affirming that this and that event is evidence of the intention of Heaven.
Purpose is in the life of man; yet when we endeavor to fathom its
mysteries, it is well that we should propose the question with the
moderation and tentativeness which characterized the language of
Mordecai: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such
a time as this?”
MEN GENERALLY. Whatever doubt we may have of individual cases,
however much we may be influenced by our own prejudices and fancies in
judging of such cases, it scarcely admits of doubt that human life has a
reason for its existence and for its opportunities. Especially in reading the
biographies of great and good men we are impressed with this belief. And
what strength does it impart to a man to believe that God has a work for
him to do. Divine purpose may be wrought out by unconscious agents.
“There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will!
DIVINE PURPOSE IS. Observe the expression: “such a time.” A crisis is
observable in the life of most men. An opportunity opens up. The vocation
is made apparent, or rather audible. A relationship is appointed. A service
is required. God’s finger is visible, and He is heard saying, “This is the way;
walk ye in it!” (Isaiah 30:21)
The call of
negligence, or fear, or distrust persons may shrink from responding to the
requirement of Heaven. But at how fearful a cost! On the other hand, to
have wrought the work of God is to have lived not in vain. And Divine
grace is sufficient for us.
Our reaction should be as Saul of Tarsus - “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
(Acts 22:10) We should follow the leadings of God’s providence and say, “Lead,
Lord, and thy servant shall be found in thy steps!”
Discerning Opportunities (v. 14)
“Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as
EVERY PLACE. They can benefit their family, the nation, or the Church.
they may have passed for ever. Generally the opportunities of doing the
greatest good are brief. The time of the death edict is approaching.
REMINDERS. Parents, friends, or ministers may be as reminding Mordecais.
BY GOD FOR SERVING HIM has a great effect in leading to the
performance of duty.
We are very apt to underestimate the value of our own lives. When we
contemplate the countless worlds which constitute the universe, the
countless ages which make up duration, how unspeakably insignificant do
we and our affairs appear! But we must not be misled by such reflections.
Even as the presence of the least particle conceivable affects all material
existence, so the most insignificant human life influences in some measure
the eternal course of events. Mordecai wished to impress Esther with a due
sense of her own responsibility. She was not an ordinary individual, but a
queen; she was allied to the man who swayed the destinies of nations; her
position invested her with boundless power for good or evil. The time had
come when she must either act in a manner becoming her resources, must
use the opportunities at her disposal to save her people, or incur the guilt
of neglecting her duty at the most momentous crisis. As a Jew, Mordecai
responsibility. Let us consider the main points emphasized here.
“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there
enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place.” These
Mordecai was doubtless begotten of a conviction that God
governs the affairs of men. To him this was not a matter of
speculation; for, apart from the teaching of reason, he enjoyed the
light of revelation, and was familiar with the wonderful history of
his people. Some profess to derive comfort from their atheism.
They rejoice to think that there is no God; or, if there be one,
that He has left the world to manage for itself. As well might the
passengers in a railway train be jubilant because they had got rid
of the engineer, and were left to the mercy of an unguided
That the designs of
Jews had not yet fulfilled their mission. The great Deliverer of
mankind who was to come out of
knew that until the Divine purposes were accomplished the nation
could not be destroyed. Hence the sublime assurance of his speech.
The Jews had passed through a similar crisis before, when Pharaoh
pursued them through the
like instances. The Greeks were about to be crushed by the iron heel
of the invader when they won the battle of
nearly lost their independence through the Spanish Armada, which
the tempest scattered to the four winds of heaven. We should never be
bowed down by calamities. If we are children of the great Father we
need not fear. Above, beneath, and around us there are unseen powers
which steadily carry out His eternal decrees.
could the Jews have appealed in their dire distress. The wealth, and
rank, and influence of the greatest empire in the world were against
them. We need not wonder if they gave way to despair. But the God
of Abraham had arranged for their sure deliverance. The labors of
legislators, philanthropists, and divines had been powerless to release
the black race in the
bondage. Their wrongs seemed to multiply, and their fetters to be
more securely fastened, as the years rolled on. But an incident as
terrible as it was unexpected — the civil war — led them to liberty.
Let the oppressor tremble, and the oppressed be encouraged; for the
triumph of might over right cannot be permanent.
“But thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth
whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
is not a synonym for fate. While it employs human agency, it never
interferes with individual liberty; it leaves every man accountable for his
conduct, whether of omission or commission. The words of Mordecai
“Who knoweth,” etc. The supposition in this case was natural. The
elevation of Esther, just before the threatened destruction of the Jews,
was most significant. It pointed out to her the way of duty with
unmistakable precision. Are we in difficulties as to what our own
life-work may be? If so, it must be due to want of reflection. Rulers
and subjects, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, have their distinct
spheres of action in reference to material interests; their work is cut out
for them, so to speak, by the very circumstances in which they are
placed. In like manner we might nearly always answer the question,
“Lord, what wilt thou have us to do?” by answering another question
far less profound, “What can we do?”
thy father’s house shall be destroyed.” Mordecai felt certain that if Esther
failed to do what lay in her power to avert the coming calamity she would
be singled out for retribution. To be in a position of influence at the very
time when that influence could be turned to such a noble account, and yet
remain culpably inactive, would have been to invite the reproaches of men
and the anger of God. Deliverance would doubtless have arisen from
another quarter, and in that case she might have persuaded herself that her
own efforts were superfluous; but the sophistry which so easily deluded her
own mind would have been powerless to arrest the course of righteous
punishment. The ways of
pass in the most inexplicable manner; but we need not be baffled thereby.
What is to be will be, in spite of our negligence, in spite of our indolence,
in spite of our opposition; but woe be to us, for all that, if we fulfil not the
duties of our position. In the checking of war, in the progress of
civilization, in the diffusion of knowledge, in the advancement of religion,
we have each his allotted share, and there is a tribunal before which we
must all answer for the manner in which we acquit ourselves. The Jews in
the time of Deborah and Barak triumphed over their enemies, but Meroz
was not therefore excused for its cowardly inactivity. “Curse ye Meroz,
said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because
they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the
mighty.” (Judges 5:23)
15 “Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
16 Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and
fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I
also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the
king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”
Fast ye for me. Fasting for another is fasting to obtain God’s
blessing on that other, and is naturally accompanied with earnest prayer to
God for the person who is the object of the fast. Thus here again the
thought of God underlies the narrative. It has been supposed that Esther
could not have meant an absolute fast — complete abstinence from both
food and drink — for so long a period as three days; but Oriental
abstemiousness would not be very severely taxed by a fast of this length.
The time intended — from the evening of the first to the morning of the
third day — need not have much exceeded thirty-six hours. I also and my
maidens will fast likewise. “Likewise” is to be taken here in its proper
sense, as meaning “in like manner.” We also will abstain both from meat
and drink during the same Period.
A Fast (v. 16)
Fasting is often mere superstition, as when men suppose that there is merit
in their abstaining on certain days from certain kinds of food, thinking that
mortification of appetite is in itself a virtue, and that God must needs be
pleased with what pains or distresses His creatures. Fasting is sometimes a
mockery. It is well known that many religionists keep the letter whilst they
break the spirit of a fast. It is certainly difficult to sympathize with the
asceticism of those who fast on Fridays upon salmon and champagne. Yet
this, like other religious observances that are now largely superstitious, or
at all events formal, has its origin in laudable desires, and springs from
good tendencies in human nature.
EXPRESSION. When a community is smitten by a general calamity, it is
unbecoming that any members of that community should indulge in
feasting and mirth. When the Jews were threatened with destruction, how
natural that, at Esther’s suggestion, the Hebrew population of the city
should join in a general fast.
SUPPLICATION. Together the people were endangered; together they
sought deliverance from their redeeming God. A fast is not only a time of
abstinence from pleasure, it is a time of prayer; and God in heaven is
gratified by conjoined and blended supplication and intercession. What
mercies await the society, the city, the nation which will agree with one
heart to seek the Lord.
THE SEARCHER OF HEARTS. Often, in the presence of fasts which are
merely outward, has He addressed the indignant question to formal
religionists, “Is it such a fast that I have chosen?” (Isaiah 58:5) Often has
the appeal been addressed to such, “Rend your hearts, and not your
garments!” (Joel 2:13) The case of the Ninevites (Jonah 4) is an illustration
of the combination of a formal with a real fast, and is a proof that such a fast
is not disregarded by God. Let the words of our Savior be remembered:
“When thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear
not unto men to fast; and thy Father who seeth in secret shall reward
thee openly.” (Matthew 6:17-18)
“If I perish, I perish!” (v. 16)
The bosom of the queen must, when she uttered these affecting words,
have been rent with diverse emotions. The entreaty of Mordecai, the
danger of her people, the benevolence of her own nature, all urged her to
venture into the presence of the august yet capricious king. Yet her
knowledge of the court rules, her fears for herself, must have withheld her
from the daring act. She faced the possible consequences, she prepared
herself for the worst. Doubtless she commended herself to the care of
Heaven, and, forming the resolve, exclaimed, “If I perish, I perish!”
Hearers of the gospel have sometimes been convinced of their sin, and yet
have not been able to appropriate to themselves the promises of God’s
word. They have felt that there is no refuge save in the cross of Christ, and
no hope save in the mercy of God. After long, sore conflict, such
anguished sufferers, with a faith which is half despair, have been able to
cast themselves before the feet of the King, whose displeasure they dread,
and in whose mercy they scarcely dare to hope. They have ventured all
upon Divine compassion, and the earnestness, the distress, the utter
helplessness of their hearts have found utterance in the cry of Esther,
“If I perish, I perish!”
language is full of feeling, of passion. It was no feeble emotion which
could prompt to such a determination. This is the spirit in which a
sinner should come into the presence of the King, seeking for pardon.
aright unto God save he who comes with the cry of the penitent publican,
“God be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
sense of the necessity of the case could have impelled Esther to the course
of action she took. Similar is the motive which brings the sinner to the
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.”
dread mingled in the queen’s mind with some gleam of hope. It is not
unnatural that the poor helpless sinner should shrink from the view of a
holy God, should scarcely dare to hope for His favor.
HAVE MERCY. As Esther’s fears were dispelled by the attitude and
language of her consort, so the penitent, lowly, believing, and prayerful
suppliant shall never be rejected by a God who delighteth in mercy.
(Micah 7:18) The spirit which God will not disdain is that of the lowly
suppliant who casts aside every plea save the Divine compassion.
“I have tried, and tried in vain,
Many ways to ease my pain;
Now all other hope is past,
Only this is left at last:
Here before thy cross I lie,
Here I live, or here I die.
“If I perish, be it here,
With the Friend of sinners near;
Lord, it is enough — I know
Never sinner perished so:
Here before thy cross I lie,
Here I cannot, cannot die!”
often tempted to act in opposition to the dictates of our inward judgment.
The will may fail to be governed even by the deepest conviction. It is sad
when acknowledged truth and actual conduct are at variance with each
other. Esther affords us an example of loyal obedience to conviction, in
face of the weightiest temptation to set it aside. Having been convinced by
Mordecai’s representations, she resolved to do what these urged upon her
as a sacred duty. And in the words by which she conveyed her purpose to
Mordecai she gave a remarkable display of piety and heroism. The three days’
fast which she laid on herself and her maidens inside the palace, and on
Mordecai and the Jews of Shushan, was a humble and prayerful casting
of the whole matter on Divine help. Esther felt that the work
was God’s, and that she was but a feeble instrument in His hands; and,
therefore, she desired her countrymen to unite with her in humiliation and
supplication before the God of Israel. Trial achieves much of its purpose
when it brings a soul thus to the feet of God under a sense of dependence
on His merciful succor. Victory is really won when endangered weakness
feels itself under the shadow of the Almighty. “If I perish, I perish.”
Esther’s words were not emotional, or self-confident, or desperate; they
were the result of earnest meditation, and must not be separated from her
proposal of a three days’ fast. We are reminded by them of the words of
our Lord when communing with his Father before He went to the cross:
“Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”
OPEN AND FREE TO ALL who truly seek Him. To the earnest suppliant
or loving child the Divine majesty is not hedged round by formalities that
create distance and terror. God is near to all who call upon Him. He dwells
with the humble and contrite. (Isaiah 66:2) All may come to Him by the way
that He has consecrated in His Son, and come at any time. None are refused
a hearing and a welcome. There is joy in the presence of His angels over every
one that seeks His face.
“If I perish, I perish.” The lessons suggested by the language of this supreme scene in
the conflict of Esther are numerous, and of a remarkably diversified kind.
vicarious suffering, though it were only consent; in its love, and solicitude,
and obedience, and in the conduct of its own struggles.
of one who feels himself a real sinner against the law of God, and finds
himself as yet more “driven” because of the conviction of that sin, and the
overshading dread of its liability to punishment, than he finds himself drawn
of the mercy of his God, and able to repose deep, calm trust in his Saviour.
The soul urged by conviction of sin, oppressed with the sense of its desert
of wrath, and tremblingly afraid of death, has often found its way aright to
the cross, though to use words carrying the most impossible of
significations for any, once arrived there — “If I perish, I perish!”
and of the steps by which she rose to it as she contemplated her own
possible and, as she thought, likely sacrifice, how glad we are to turn away
to the tremendously favorable contrast of Jesus Christ whose vicarious
sufferings, whose infinite love, whose eternal sacrifice, was certain, was
voluntary, was cheerful amid surpassing anguish, and patient with the
patience of the lamb sacrificed.
Prayer and Resolve (v. 16)
“Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye
for me,” etc.
has faith not only in her own prayers, but in those of others. She feels her
need of the prayers of others. She is ready to share that which she enjoins
under her influence that she knows that they all will be ready to join in the
observance of fasting and in offering prayer to the God of Israel. This was
a remarkable thing, remembering that these maidens belonged to an
Oriental and pagan court.
OF OTHERS. Great her decision of character! She will not let the
opportunity for helping others pass, and then strive to atone for her neglect
by useless regrets. How great her devotion! “If I perish, I perish!” She
would certainly have perished if she had not gone in to the king. (So will
any man who refuses to go to and through Jesus Christ, the King of Kings!
The attitude of Job is parallel when he said of God, “Though He slay me,
yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15) The decrees of a Persian monarch were
unalterable. Remember how Darius was sore displeased with himself, and
set his heart on Daniel to deliver him, and labored to the going down of the
sun to deliver him. He doubtless sought to devise means of maintaining the
law and yet evading its import. Into the den of ]ions Daniel, the king’s favorite,
was cast, and to the slaughter Esther, though queen, would have been, by
ruthless decree, when the time was come; but prayer, fasting, decision,
saved her. God interposed to soften the heart of the king, as well as to
give him a sleepless night, perhaps from a disturbed conscience.
17 “So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had
commanded him.” i.e. gathered the Jews together, and proclaimed a three days
fast. Though without authority, he would naturally, under the circumstances,
have sufficient influence over his countrymen to induce them to do his bidding.
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