Esther 4:1-17 - Three Reactions To The Terrifying Edict
Let’s begin this morning by recalling what was in the decree that Haman sent out throughout the Persian Empire. We read in Esther 3:13 these words, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”
If you were a Jew who was living in Persia at this time how would you react to this?
What would your response be?
What would be the very first thing that you would do when you realized that you, your family and all your friends had just received a death sentence?
Would you begin making plans to flee as far away? Would you quickly begin to despair and become hopeless? Would you wallow in self-pity? Would you promptly grab your firearm and fortify your homes?
In Esther 4:1-17 we are shown the reaction of the Jewish people when they become aware of the decree that has gone forth throughout the whole kingdom. Their response should surprise us. The truth is, their response is not really all that common in scripture among those who find themselves in similar situations.
Before we turn our attention to Esther 4 I would like to look at Isaiah 22. In that text we will see how the people responded to a day of disaster and in the day of calamity. It is a day that is described in Isaiah 22:5 in this way, “For the Lord God of hosts has a day of tumult, and trampling and confusion…”.
In the day of tumult the leaders had fled from the city of Jerusalem. Even the ones who had fled far away were eventually captured by their enemies without one arrow being fired from their bows (3). When the enemy surrounded the city of Jerusalem the people sought to reinforce the walls of the city and they looked to their weapons to save them (8-11).
But we read these words in Isaiah 22:11, “But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.” In other words, they fled, they fortified the city and it’s walls, and they looked to their firearms; but they did not do the one thing that they were supposed to do. They did not respond to the prophets who came preaching to them that through repentance this day of calamity and tumult could be adverted.
This should be a warning for all who would say that they will not repent today. There are many who say that they will repent some time in the future, on a day of their own choosing. They say that they will repent when they are good and ready to do it. They plan to repent at a time, a place of their own choosing. If you won’t do it today, you probably will not find a reason to do it in the future.
In Isaiah 22:12 we see that God wanted to see them repent. We read, “In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth…”. Instead of fleeing in fear, instead of fortifying the walls, instead of looking to their firearms for deliverance; God wanted them to repent.
But the picture gets even worse. They did not simply flee, fortify the walls and grab their firearms; but they showed that they had no hope in God at all. God expected to see them weep and mourn. God expected to see them go about with baldness and wearing sackcloth; but instead of these signs of humility and repentance they do something far worse.
Let’s read verses 12-13 because it is all one sentence that exposes a shocking contrast. We read, “In that day the Lord God of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth; and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’”
This moment was so shocking that the LORD says in verse 14, “Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die.” It is as if all of these other sins had led to this great iniquity. In their faithlessness and hopelessness they did what should never have been done (Romans 1:28). It is to their shame that these people prove that they have no knowledge of God and it is evidenced by what they begin to do (1 Corinthians 15:34).
In Esther 4:1-17 we are shown the reactions of the Jews concerning Haman’s command to destroy, annihilate and to kill all of them, and there could not be a greater contrast between the reaction that we see in them and the reaction that we just witnessed in Isaiah 22.
We will approach this text by looking at the three different reactions.
The reaction of Mordecai (1-2)
The reaction of the Jews (3)
The reaction of Esther (4-17)
The Reaction of Mordecai (1-2)
We read, “When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 2 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.”
Notice the contrast between Mordecai and the people that we considered in