Esther 2:5-7 - Mordecai and Esther Are Finally Introduced
Our text is found in Esther 2:5-7,
Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, 6 who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away. 7 He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.
This is our fifth sermon in the book of Esther and we are just now being introduced to two of the most important individuals in this story: Mordecai and Esther. Our text begins with some rather surprising words, “Now there was a Jew in Susa…”.
This is surprising because Mordecai was not in the Promised Land, but he was in the capital city of Susa. Mordecai was not visiting Susa on a business trip. He was not vacationing there for a few weeks when he gets caught up in the drama of this story. Mordecai, who was by descent a member of the household of Saul, was not there as an ambassador on behalf of the Jewish people. No, Mordecai lived in Susa.
It even appears that Mordecai worked within the government in Susa and administered certain aspects of the government. For example, we often see Mordecai sitting at the kings gate where business was often done.
Esther 2:21- In those days, Mordecai was sitting at the kings gate.
Esther 3:2 – And all the kings servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him.
In Esther 2:11 we also see that Mordecai had access to the court of the harem where he would check in on Esther. We read, “And every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her.” Not just anyone was allowed into these areas within the citadel. There was a time which lasted for seven days when the king allowed everyone in Susa, both great and small, into the court of the palace for a party, but this was not something that was done all the time. (1:5-9)
Up until chapter four we always see that Mordecai had access to important places within the king’s palace. The reason that this changes in chapter 4 is because Mordecai learns that there was a plot to destroy the Jews. Upon hearing this news he does not rush into the palace and frantically demand to see the king. Instead, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. Then in Esther 4:2 we read, “He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth.”
Mordecai was not allowed to enter the king’s gate because he was in sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai limits his access into the palace to grieve and mourn over this evil plot. In fact, consider that when Esther hears that Mordecai is dressed in sackcloth and in distress she sends him some clothes to put on so that he can come in. But he would not accept them even in this moment (4:4).
I find this humble display of lament refreshing to consider. We have seen so few examples of wisdom and temperance within the characters of this story when things became difficult. In this very intense moment Mordecai does not do something irrational and unwise like we have seen done time and time again in this moment.Mordecai is acting very differently that all of the other characters that we see in this book. For example,
In Esther 1 the king becomes angry and deposes Vashti and decrees that he will never see her again.
In Esther 1 the kings officials overreact when they believe Vashti’s actions will bring contempt and wrath into their homes.
In Esther 2 some men, Bigthan and Teresh, become angry and sought to lay hold of King Ahasuerus and assassinate him. (2:21)
In Esther 3 the king promotes Haman and he becomes angry with Mordecai when he does not show him honor so he plots to kill all the Jews (3:5-6).
In this shocking and difficult moment Mordecai does what he ought to do. He does the best thing that he could do, he grieves, laments, he humbles himself and cries out on behalf of the Jewish people. In all of this we get to see something refreshing that we have not seen so far in this book. Mordecai, even under this stress, is wise and tempered.
We are also introduced to Esther in our text today. We read, “He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.”
Although God had blessed Esther with great beauty we also see that life had been difficult for her in other ways. At some point her parents had both died and she was left alone. Yet, God provided for her by placing her in Mordecai’s home where he loved her as if she was one of his very own daughters. Through all of these things God produced in her the qualities that she would need in abundance in what she is about to experience.
Like Mordecai, Esther will also be a refreshing character for us to consider from this point on in the book.
Esther will prove that a woman can be submissive and stunning.
Esther will prove that a woman can be dazzling and non-dominant.
Esther will prove that a woman can be powerful and pious.
Esther will prove that a woman can be gorgeous and God-glorifying.
Esther will prove that a woman can be lovely and loyal.
Esther will prove that a woman can be other-oriented and not self-oriented.1
How is it that these two people end up in Susa at such a time as this?
The easy answer would be to say that by God’s providence these two people were put at the right time, in the right place, to do the right things; so that, God’s people would be saved from an evil plot. However, one interesting aspect of this story is that Mordecai was living in Susa because he had not obeyed the LORD and His clear commands that the Jewish people were to return to Zion. Mordecai was one of many Jews who had chosen not to obey God and stayed in the places that they had been exiled too. For some reason they liked living in a pagan country, rather than, in the promised land.
Mordecai, nor any other Jew, had an excuse for not having returned to Israel. They had been commanded by God to return, they had been given permission to return by the gentile kings who ruled over them, and they had been given resources and safe passage to do what God was calling the Jewish people to do.
The Jews who had returned to Israel struggled in many ways. It is always better to serve the LORD faithfully even if it is difficult, than to disobey the LORD and experience comfort. Jed Hass writes, “The people (who returned to Israel) had great intentions, motivation and support in rebuilding their faith and rhythm of worship. Yet, their time away from God’s Word, their waning interest in living according to God’s Law, and their lack of generational and cultural discipleship left them broken and discouraged.”2
If the Jews who were obedient to return to the promised land struggled then we can be certain that those who did not return would face their own set of struggles and probably even greater ones.
We have seen this already. God provided great spiritual leaders for those who returned to Israel to help His people. He raised up men like Ezra, Nehemiah, Joshua, Haggai, Zechariah, etc. Contrast these great godly men of faith with those that we have seen ruling over the Jews who did not return.
Let’s consider some passages where the LORD instructed His people to return from Babylon so that we may discover that the LORD was clear about what His will was. As we do so, you will notice that sometimes the motivation for them to return was in the form of a blessing. At other times, however, the motivation was in avoiding a calamity. There were both positive motivations to return to Israel and there were also negative reasons to motivate the Jewish people to return.
Consider Isaiah who lived in the mid 700 BC’s. That is about 300 years before the time of Esther. As we read Isaiah 48:20we will see these two motivations present in the prophets words. Isaiah says, “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it out to the end of the earth; say, ‘The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob!’ They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; He split the rock and water gushed out. ‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked.’”
This text is full of positive motivations for the people of God to return to Israel. For example, the call to go out from Babylon is to be done with a shout of joy. Leaving Babylon is described as being similar to being delivered from Egypt. Just as the LORD provided for His people on that journey, He will also provide for this generation as they return to the promised land.
Yet, you see the negative motivation in that they are to flee from Chaldea. They are to depart quickly. They are to immediately obey the LORD’s command or else they will not experience peace. “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea...‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked.’”
Let’s consider the words of the prophet who prophesied during the destruction of Jerusalem. Let’s look at Jeremiah 50:8-10, “Flee from the midst of Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as male goats before the flock. For behold, I am stirring up and bringing against Babylon a gathering of great nations, from the north country. And they shall array themselves against her. From there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed. Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated (fully satisfied), declares the LORD.”
This text is full of negative motivations to flee from Babylon when the time comes. Those who stay will find themselves facing an invader from the north who is described as a ‘gathering of great nations’. Babylon’s doom is sure and her enemies arrows will not miss the mark. They will pierce through their intended target. Babylon will be plundered completely. And, as if to emphasize the truthfulness of these statements we read at the end, ‘Declares the LORD’.
In Jeremiah 51:6 we read, “Flee from the midst of Babylon; let every one save his life! Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance, the repayment He is rendering her.”
The prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah could not be more clear. They were telling the people of God that there would be a time when they would be allowed to flee from Babylon to save their own lives. When the door opens they should go. When the opportunity comes they should not delay.
I remember one time learning how to fish with my dad. As he threw my line in the water I asked, ‘How will I know when I catch one?’ My dad said, ‘You’ll know, it will be obvious.’ He was right, it was obvious when it happened.
Similarly, God showed His people how they would know that they ought to flee from Babylon. In Jeremiah 29:10 we read, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
The LORD is promising to do a profound work in the hearts of those who would return after seventy years of captivity. We see the fulfillment of this in Ezra 1:5 when we read, “Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.”
We also see a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s words about prayer when God raised up Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. When Nehemiah heard about the condition of Jerusalem and he was moved and he began to pray to the LORD. Nehemiah 1:5-11,
And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Now I was a cupbearer to the king.
Lastly, let us consider Zechariah who prophesied just before these events that take place in the book of Esther. He wrote to encourage God’s people to return by giving them a positive motivation. He said, “Run, say to that young man, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it. And I will be to it a wall of fire, all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.” (4-5)
Then in the next verse we read of a negative motivation to return to the LORD, “Up! Up! Flee from the land of the north, declares the LORD. For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the LORD. Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.” (6-7)
These passages plead for God’s people to flee from Babylon. But more importantly the LORD wanted them to return to the place where God had promised to provide a savior who would make purification for the sins of the people.
Mordecai and Esther were lost in the midst of a huge gentile kingdom. They made their home far from the promised land but God never forgot about them. Similarly, God never forget about His people that remained scattered throughout the entire Persian Empire.
Throughout the scriptures, God consistently displays His sovereign power and wisdom as He uses sinners to accomplish His will. This is especially true throughout the book of Esther. This is remarkable and it is worthy of our awe and wonder. But as remarkable as this is, there is one thing that must be said. To save any sinner God needed a perfect and sinless representative. God could use Mordecai and Esther to save his people from certain calamity and death, but to save their souls God would have to provide a sinless savior.
In Zechariah 3 God shows us that He would do just that. Zechariah is shown Joshua the High Priest standing in heaven. While on earth Joshua probably appeared to be more righteous than anyone. But in heaven he stood before the Judge of the universe wearing dirty clothes. And to make this moment even more tense, Satan stood at his right side to accuse him.
Remarkably, however, God rebukes Satan and does not allow him to make even one accusation. Joshua stands before the LORD in dirty and soiled clothes but the LORD says, “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” (2) You see, all who are saved have been redeemed from the fire. All who have ever been shown mercy by God have been plucked from a hopeless situation. For God to save His people in Babylon was impressive, but how much greater is it to consider that every person that the LORD grants life has been saved from the gates of hell.
In Zechariah 3:4 we see that the LORD then removes Joshua’s filthy garments and says to him, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”
I cannot help but think of Mordecai as he stood at the king’s gate in sackcloth and ashes refusing to receive the new garments from Esther. That was a small reminder that there are some things that only the LORD can provide. Unlike the King of Persia who has often failed to respond well in difficult moments, and who always took the easy and convenient path, we see that Mordecai is responding differently.
After being stripped of his filthy garments and then given new clothes, Joshua is solemnly told to keep the ways of the LORD so that he can rule over the LORD’s house and have charge over the courts. Yet, in all of this we realize that the LORD must provide a better representative and a better High Priest if sinful men like Joshua are to be saved. Therefore, the LORD says in 8b-10, “Behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
This week we celebrate at Christmas the fact that God has provided the Savior of the world who took away the iniquity of His people in a single day. Have you received this gift of eternal life? Have you welcomed into your heart the Savior of the world? He alone can take away your sins and clothe you in righteousness. He is the only one who can silence Satan when he comes to accuse you before the Judge of all mankind.
1Dr. David Thomas, Exposition of the Book of Esther, Message 1, p.1
2The BIG3, Session One, pg.3