Hebrews 13:5b, 6, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me”
Our text – Esther 4:1-17
A Jewish orphan living in exile becomes the Queen of Persia and then risks it all to save her people. The Cast is Ahasuerus, the King of Persia; Vashti, the Queen who dared to say no; Haman, the self-absorbed Prime Minister of Persia; Esther, a Jewish exile destined to be Queen of Persia; Mordecai, the older cousin and guardian of Esther; God, the invisible unmentioned presence.
The character of Esther, as presented in God’s Eternal Word, is a woman of deep piety, faith, courage, patriotism, and caution, combined with resolution; an obedient daughter to her adopted father, submissive to his counsels, and anxious to share the king’s favor with him for the good of the Jewish people.
She was a virtuous woman, and, as far as her situation made it possible, her continued influence over the king for so long a time warrants us to conclude that she was a good wife to him. There must have been a singular charm in her aspect and manners since she obtained favor in the sight of all that looked upon her. As our study unfolds, we will examine how:
(1) Esther was faced with fear,
(2) She struggled with it,
(3) She overcame it, and
(4) God honored her courage and protected her.
However, before we get into our study let’s talk about fear for awhile. We live in a world plagued by fear. People worry about illness, poverty, family, war, and famine. I’m sure you can add your own fear to the brief list. Fear is a fact of life, just as stress is. I have a healthy fear of water. I know it can kill me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love to go swimming. I do. Yet, the whole time I’m enjoying the river, lake, or ocean, I’m aware of its life-taking potential. In the same way, I also fear electricity. To enjoy its benefit without recognizing its danger would be foolish. We all have phobias, both real and imagined.
Sometimes our phobias seem overwhelming and even paralyzing at times. We may fear the dark; towering heights, lonely nights; crawling creatures; public speaking, a drunken dad, a mom who’s mad. So, how do people handle their fears, but more importantly how do you handle your fears? Some turn to alcohol, others turn to food, and some to busyness. However, the psalmist gave us a better solution to the problem of fear. These solutions are found in the following Scriptures:
(1) Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom …”;
(2) Psalm 56:3, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You”
(3) Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction”; and,
It’s very tragic when we turn to something other than the Lord to fill the void or to cover up the pain we’re feeling. The Apostle Paul was caught between an angry Jerusalem mob and a garrison of Roman soldiers. Not a very comfortable position to be in. The crowd was out of control, so the Roman guards escorted Paul to “the barracks” (Acts 21:37) in the Tower of Antonia. Just before Paul was dragged inside, he asked permission to speak to the hostile mob. He gave them a powerful account of his background, conversion, and call to proclaim Christ. His speech so agitated the crowd that they were beating their cloaks on the ground and throwing dirt in the air.
The apostle Paul was quite a man. He gave his testimony to a frantic mob. He told it like it was, and showed us that the God who called us to be witnesses will fill us with grace, courage, and the right words to say. Trouble is, when we are with unbelievers and are presented with a great opportunity to speak out for the Lord, we don’t. We generalize. We change the subject. We look for a way to escape. We clam up. Fearful as it may be, to witness to our fellow employee or neighbor, we need to do so when the opportunity presents itself.
Speaking out for the Lord Jesus requires courage. When the opportunity presents itself, we must be brave of heart and speak out boldly as Paul did in Jerusalem. If we have put our faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we can have confidence that our heavenly Father sees us in our trials and has promised His protection. In times of distress, we can place our trust in the Lord. He wants us to call on Him so that He can encourage us with His presence and give us His peace. As you rest in the Lord and rely on Him today, you will be able to say with the psalmist, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.”
One of the major obstacles that we must overcome in being God’s representatives is fear, which has a great impact on what we say and do. Fear can immobilize us, keeping us from fulfilling God’s purpose of serving as His representatives to our generation. The focal point of this Study is developing a courageous faith that overcomes our fear of standing up for God. While fear has a great impact on us, faith in God should have a greater impact. The Word of God constantly reminds and exhorts us, “Be not afraid”. Moreover, often a promise accompanies that command: “For I am with you.” The Bible often repeats that challenge and encouragement because we continually battle fear. After it is defeated, it will rise again to confront us at the next opportunity.
As our study unfolds, we will examine how Esther was faced with fear, how she struggled with it, how she overcame it, and how God honored her courage and protected her. More than anything else, we as believers in Christ need courage to live in harmony with our calling. God has called us to stand for Christ and to represent or be His ambassadors to our generation. Yet, few believers have the courage to do so. We are immobilized by fear instead of energized by faith. When a crisis comes or conflicts arise, we tend to go the way of the crowd instead of the way of the cross. Snared by the fear of man, we fail to speak for God (Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe”).
How we need the courage of an Esther who said, “If I perish, I perish”. We must recognize the divine appointment of God’s providence and serve Him in our generation. We need courage to face the conflict and not fear so that we follow Christ, and finish the course He has set before us.
Esther’s Interchange with Mordecai
We must understand that conflict is unavoidable for the people of God. We are to expect it, and if we determine to live truly for Him, we can expect it to intensify. The apostle Paul reminded us, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29) and “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
A. Her Anguish – (Esther 4:1-6)
4:1 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; 4:2 And came even before the king’s gate: for none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 4:3 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. 4:4 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. 4:5 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. 4:6 So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king’s gate.
The beginning of this Chapter exposes Mordecai as a man in agony as the conflict had indeed escalated to the point of crisis for God’s chosen people. Apparently, friends in the king’s gate had informed Mordecai concerning the details of the proclamation and the way Haman had proposed it, including the financial arrangements. Furthermore, his inside information had provided him with a copy of the writing of the decree (v. 8). Recognizing that his refusal to acknowledge Haman had fueled that man’s prejudice to initiate his plan. Mordecai went into a time of great mourning.
In bitter anguish, Mordecai had torn his clothes, donned sackcloth, and covered himself with ashes in response to the king’s edict. As word of Haman’s destructive plan swept the empire, the lamentation of God’s chosen people could be heard in every province. Esther learned of Mordecai’s actions through her chamberlains and maids. Grieved by Mordecai’s condition, she sent new clothes to replace his dress of mourning. However, Mordecai refused to receive the clothing, thus indicating that his mourning was not merely personal, but national. Confused by his response, Esther sent a trusted chamberlain, Hatach, to discover the reason for her cousin’s great sorrow.
B. Her Assignment – (Esther 4:7-9)
4:7 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. 4:8 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. 4:9 And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
Mordecai responded to Esther’s inquiry by informing her of Haman’s plan, the king’s edict, and the vast sum of money involved. He also sent her a copy of the edict so that she could read it for herself. Along with the information, Mordecai also sent special instructions. Esther must go to the king and intercede on behalf of her people. Standing alone and sacrificing, all is a high price tag for representing God. However, someone stood alone and sacrificed everything for us. Jesus Christ was truly alone, as both God and man forsook Him. He made the greatest sacrifice, shedding His blood for us, taking our sin that we might receive His righteousness. Moreover, when we take a stand for God, we are never alone, for God stands with us. So what about us, what is our assignment as born again believers in Jesus Christ? Well I submit to you as stated in 2 Corinthians 5:20 that, “Now we are ambassadors for Christ … “
As a believer in Christ I am an ambassador in a land that is not my real home, and so is every born-again-believer who has put their trust and faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. According to the apostle Paul, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Through Christ, God has made each of us into a new creation and reconciled us to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). Meanwhile, we serve as Christ’s ambassadors (v.20) to a world that is perishing under a hostile ruler. But what does it mean to be Christ’s ambassador? It means we are to urge others to be reconciled to God (vv.18-20).
Our task is to lead people to the Savior so that they become citizens of the eternal kingdom we represent. Together with them we anticipate His return for us and the time when the kingdoms of this world will become the “kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15). However, until then, we must take our assignment seriously. It’s a great privilege to have our citizenship in heaven. It’s an equally great responsibility to be an ambassador of that heavenly kingdom. Our citizenship in heaven defines our duties here on earth.
C. Her Apprehension – (Esther 4:10-12)
4:10 Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; 4:11 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 scepter, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. 4:12 And they told to Mordecai Esther’s words.
Mordecai’s instructions presented a great dilemma for Esther. According to Persian law, a person entering the king’s court uninvited would be put to death. This law provided the king with protection from unwanted intruders. The historian Herodotus stated that the only exceptions were the seven conspirators who help Darius in his rise to power in 522 BC. Here in the book of Esther, the Word of God has preserved for us another exception.
If the king were to extend his golden scepter to the uninvited guest, death would be averted. Nevertheless, the king had not summoned Esther for more than thirty days. However, Esther’s mention of it as significant indicates that it would not play favorably for her. Evidently, the king had not thought about her in a month’s time. She could not expect him to receive her if her visit were unsolicited and unannounced. She had no way of knowing how Ahasuerus might respond, but she knew that she could possibly forfeit her life for such a brazen act.
D. Her Appointment – (Esther 4:13-14)
4:13 Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. 4:14 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?
Mordecai pointed out that Esther’s position in the king’s house would not deliver her. His statement raises the question, “If Esther’s identity had not yet been revealed, and why couldn’t she stay quiet and survive undetected in the king’s house?” One possible answer is that a few individuals in the harem or among the servants already knew her nationality and would be willing to reveal her identity. A second plausible explanation is that Mordecai’s words intimate divine judgment. In essence, he was telling Esther that if she did not intercede on behalf of her people, God would hold her accountable.
The words of the following verse support this interpretation further: “Thou and thy father’s house will be destroyed” Mordecai’s words in verse 14 serve as the pivotal text and central message of the book of Esther: 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?
If Esther had decided not to take action, deliverance would still have come, but it would have come from another place. That is the message of the book of Esther, deliverance will arise. You can depend on it. God has promised to preserve and protect His people. His providence will not allow His promise to fail. Where is that “other place”? It can be wherever and however God’s providence determines. God’s options are unlimited. God has promised to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel (Genesis 12:3). Divine protection and the judgment of her enemies is part of God’s unconditional promise to Israel.
He will not cast her off but has maintained a remnant throughout history and will do so until He restores her as He has promised (Romans 11:1-3, 26-28). As He works on behalf of Israel, He works on behalf of the church, preserving and perfecting His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Mordecai, having made a statement concerning the providential purposes of God for Israel, then brought the message down to the personal level for Esther. His words are challenging: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Despite their past motivations, their new understanding of the situation made it obvious that Esther and Mordecai had a purpose to fulfill. This was Esther’s moment of destiny. God’s promises to Israel and His providence in keeping them had become clear.
The hand of God is very evident throughout the book of Esther, throughout history, and even in your life this very day. God has placed each of you in a certain position to be used by Him. Are you skeptical? So was Esther. Are you scared? So was Esther. However, God used her and He will most certainly use you if you let Him. Thank about it. God can use you to help others in your community who are struggling. You can stand up for what’s right in the face of co-workers who steal on the job. You can use events in your past to encourage others who are facing similar circumstances.
Esther was a person of privilege and responsibility and so are we. Too often, we lose perspective on what happens in our lives. We happen to be in the right place at the right time for a promotion, or we inherit money, or we are born with beauty, great talent, or ability, things that are, in reality, completely out of our control. God providentially gives them to us. Many times, we rejoice in the blessings, but we fail to recognize the responsibility. If we’re not careful, we can begin to believe that we were the cause of everything that has happened to us and take credit for things we had no control over. We can start taking bows for God’ work in our life.
My beloved, God puts you where He wants you to be, just as He did Esther, and He’ll use you, just as He did Esther. Whatever position you’re in, remember the words of Mordecai to the queen of Persia, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Remember, we see in Esther a person of physical beauty and high social standing who uses those blessings for the preservation of those less fortunate. A couple of questions to think about:
(1) In what ways can God use you where you are right now?
(2) How has God used other people in your life when you needed them?
E. Her Answer – (Esther 4:15-17)
4:15 Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer, 4:16 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. 4:17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
The number of Jews in Susa may have been quite large, as they would later kill three hundred of their enemies (9:15). Esther instructed Mordecai to gather them together and ask them to fast on her behalf for three days and nights. Though the account does not mention prayer, it implies that they prayed. The Jews always accompanied fasting with prayer and would consider it worthless without prayer. Esther then proceeded to take her stand and to throw in her lot with the people of God.
She overcame her fear and stepped out in faith. Her reluctance changed to resolve. No longer concerned for her own personal safety, she focused upon the safety of her people. Like others before and after her, Esther was willing to sacrifice her life. She overcame her lack of courage and love of comfort to take a stand. Her words are reminiscent of Job’s statement, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15); Paul’s profession, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself (Acts 20:24); and Daniel’s three companions’ declaration, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou has set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18).
Like Esther, we must be willing to dash our desire for comfort on the rock of obedience. We must commit ourselves to follow the course of Christ, who walked in opposition to established order, or both organized religion and pagan culture. We must count it greater gain to lose our life for Christ. We must determine that the greater honor is ours when the world considers us fools for Christ and condemns us rather than commends us. If we are going to be faithful to our calling and represent God to our generation, we must have courage to go against the current of our culture, facing the conflict and following Christ.
Esther’s Intercession with Ahasuerus – (Esther 5:1-8)
Esther followed through on her commitment. On the third day of the fast, she presented herself to the king and set in motion a flurry of events that God providentially used to accomplish His purposes.
A. His Acceptance of Her – (Esther 5:1-3)
5:1 Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king’s house, over against the king’s house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house. 5:2 And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. So, Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter. 5:3 Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? And what is thy request? It shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.
Scholars have estimated that the fasting lasted approximately forty hours, long enough to prepare Esther for her task. It was on the third day that she put on her royal apparel and entered the king’s throne room. Note: The excavations of this palace in Susa have revealed many facts. The palace itself sits on 123 acres. The king’s throne room has been identified in detail. A great Hypostyle Hall covered nearly an acre of ground. It had thirty-six pillars (six rows of six) intricately carved and spanned by long beams of cedar from Lebanon. The floor was a pavement of red, blue, white, and black marble; just as Esther, 1:6 described it. Esther stepped into that very room at the risk of her life. She would have approached the canopied throne and stopped just short of the carpet on which only the king was to walk.
Truly, the Lord held this king’s heart in His hand, and He turned it to receive the queen (Proverbs 21:1). Ahasuerus extended to Esther the golden scepter. She then stepped forward and touched the top of the scepter, accepting with gratitude the king’s gracious reception. His response to her, pictures God’s gracious acceptance of sinners. We have no merit to grant us access into His holy presence whereby we could enter and live. However, He has extended to us His grace through the cross of Jesus Christ, which touches our lives. And because of His grace, we are granted access to His throne (Hebrews 4:15, 16). Certainly, Esther must have been overwhelmed with emotion. Her fears were alleviated as the king accepted her. Not only did the king accept her into his presence, but he also offered to grant her request up to half of the kingdom. If the matter must be urgent and important for Esther to risk her life, the king was eager to meet her need.
B. Her Appeal to Him – (Esther 5:4-8)
5:4 And Esther answered, if it seems good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him. 5:5 Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther, hath said. So the king and Haman came to the banquet that Esther had prepared. 5:6 And the king said unto Esther at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed. 5:7 Then answered Esther, and said, My petition and my request is; 5:8 If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do tomorrow as the king hath said.
Apparently, during her days of fasting, Esther had planned her approach to the king concerning this matter. She requested the king’s presence at a private banquet and asked that Haman join them. For reasons known only to Esther, she determined that the first banquet was not the best time to make her request. Some believe she “tempted fate” by postponing her request. Others suggest that she didn’t believe she had sufficient influence with the king yet. What she had accomplished was success enough for one day. She didn’t want to push it. Regardless of what Esther may have been thinking, God had a purpose in the delay, a purpose that became obvious as the next day unfolded. For the time being, Esther could sleep in peace knowing that she had faced her fear, acted in faith, and discovered God’s faithfulness. She would soon discover how truly faithful God is.
Esther is a Story for Today
One of the most significant facts about the story of Esther is that the name of God is not mentioned once. For this reason many have wondered whether it belongs in the Bible. Yet, what this amazing chapter of history shows is that God doesn’t have to be named to be present. To the eye of faith, our Protector is everywhere, orchestrating the most unlikely events, and giving Mordecai and Esther an opportunity to be God’s man and woman of the hour. What was true of Esther is true for us. God is not dependent on us, but who knows when and how often He works through the confusion of our own circumstances to change the eternal destiny of one or thousand of His people. Who can say when we will find ourselves looking in the eye of destiny as we contemplate the needs of a lonely child, a hurting neighbor, a frightened co-worker, or a disillusioned mate? Who can say that heaven has not brought us to this place – for just such a moment?
This is a true account of what courage is all about. It was during the student revolution that took place in China in the spring and summer of 1989, a young man demonstrated what courage is all about. Every news agency carried the footage of an amazing scene that took place in Tiananmen Square in the city of Beijing. One young man, alone and unidentified, stood in the path of a convoy of tanks. As the lead tank attempted to maneuver around him, the man moved to prevent it. He simply refused to bow to the military might that confronted him. He did not run in fear. He did not stay where it was comfortable.
He courageously stood his ground on the front lines. That is what Esther did, and that is what God wants you and I to do. He wants us to face the conflict, follow Christ, and finish the course. Overcome your lack of courage and love of comfort. Don’t fear the conflict. Don’t forsake Christ. He wants you to represent Him to your generation. He wants you to be like David, Gideon, Joshua, and Caleb. He wants you to stand for him and not bow with the crowd. Don’t cave in! Don’t deny Christ in the crisis. Esther didn’t and we must not either.
Our times are in God’s hands; our souls are in His keeping.