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Esther 4

When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly. 2 He went only as far as the King’s Gate, since the law prohibited anyone wearing a sackcloth from entering the King’s Gate. 3 There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict reached. They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

4 Esther’s female servants and her eunuchs came and reported the news to her, and the queen was overcome with fear. She sent clothes for Mordecai to wear so that he would take off his sackcloth, but he did not accept them. 5 Esther summoned Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who attended her, and dispatched him to Mordecai to learn what he was doing and why. 6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the King’s Gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened as well as the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay the royal treasury for the slaughter of the Jews.

8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and command her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people. 9 Hathach came and repeated Mordecai’s response to Esther.

10 Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, 11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—the death penalty—unless the king extends the gold scepter, allowing that person to live. I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last thirty days.” 12 Esther’s response was reported to Mordecai.

13 Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14 If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

15 Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had commanded him.

The Original Intent

1) What is biblical fasting and what is its purpose? (verse 1)

True biblical fasting is both a heart and body posture of seeking God above all else. We do away with the comforts of food or drink in order to display our desperate need, seek repentance for sin, or ask God’s guidance.

In his fasting, Mordecai also wept and lamented. Is there a difference between the two?

Lament is to be mournful or regretful, but in biblical settings the intonation is that the lament is directed in prayer to God. To weep is to cry aloud. Both actions denote deep, anguished grief, especially when combined together. Mordecai’s response to learning of the genocide of his people was to fast, weep, and lament in prayer. (verse 3)

Many people who were mourning went a step further and wore sackcloth, functional garments made of coarse material from either goat or camel hair. God instructed the Israelites to wear sackcloth when repenting.

On that day the Lord God of Armies called for weeping, for wailing, for shaven heads, and for the wearing of sackcloth.” (Isaiah 22:12)

The uncomfortable fabric would have been a reminder of brokenness resulting from sin. Ashes were a sign of self-humiliation and mourning. Others would notice the sackcloth garment, see the ashes, and hear the laments. These outward signs were intended to usher in repentance as participants publicly declared the internal state of their heart for either humility in asking guidance or sorrow over sin.

The Everyday Application

1) What is biblical fasting and what is its purpose? (verse 1)

Mordecai was in anguish at Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews because of their ethnicity and beliefs. Division between cultures and races is evidenced throughout the Old Testament between Jews and any other population outside the tribes of Israel. The best example of this division, and Jesus’ loving, invitational response to know Him, is displayed in the dialogue between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. 

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. “Give me a drink,” Jesus said to her, because His disciples had gone into town to buy food. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” (John 4:7-9)

Jesus invited a relationship across cultural-racial boundaries because God’s heart is love towards all people to know Him as the God who rescues from sin and condemnation. When we fast as Mordecai did for his people, we are bearing up the burden of reconciliation and bringing it to the Lord who loves to bring unity.

Mordecai was heartbroken for his people and desired their preservation, so his response was to bring his burden to the Lord through fasting, weeping, and lamenting. Jesus came for the sins of the entire world (John 3:16), therefore we should be concerned for the salvation of our world.

Lamenting over our division through fasting and prayer as Mordecai exemplified is the place to begin. God would have us preach the gospel to all the nations. (Mark 13:10)

The Original Intent

2) Why was there great mourning among the Jewish people? (verse 3)

King Xerxes had a servant, Haman, who was elevated to a seat of honor higher than any of the other king’s nobles. (Esther 3:1) Everyone knelt to give him honor at the king’s gate except one man, Mordecai. (Esther 3:2) This infuriated Haman and irked his pride. (Esther 3:5)

On learning of Mordecai’s Jewish heritage, Haman loathed the Jews even more; incited by Mordecai’s refusal to bow in Haman’s presence, Haman “planned to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews”. (Esther 3:6) In effort to preserve his own arrogance, Haman plotted the extermination of an entire people group, effectively eradicating the race he hated.

Through trickery, Haman involved the king and gained his approval. (Esther 3:8-9) Within days, the king sealed an edict with his signet ring condemning all Jews to death. (Esther 3:10-13) This horrific legalization of mass genocide was the reason Mordecai and all his people came before the Lord in fasting, weeping, and lament.

The Everyday Application

2) Why was there great mourning among the Jewish people? (verse 3)

The Jews were to be annihilated because of the selfish ambitions of one man, Haman. (Esther 3:1-6) Haman was “filled with rage” because Mordecai would not pay him the respect he thought he deserved.

It’s easy to read this account and condemn Haman for such arrogance, but what happens to us when we don’t get our way or are wronged by another? Surges of anger? Feelings of indignation?  Perhaps even disgust?

The rest of Esther’s narrative shows us that Haman grew so angry he not only plotted the destruction of an entire nation of people, but also constructed towering gallows on which to personally hang Mordecai. (Esther 5:14) Anger and rage burn inside us until we make poor judgments. (James 1:14-15)

The Bible reminds us not to sin when we are angry and not to let the sun go down on the anger we feel. (Ephesians 4:26-27) Scripture also reminds us that God has final judgment on all actions. (Psalm 50:6Psalm 75:6-8)

In light of God and His righteous judgment, consider the comfort of Psalm 54:7, “For He has rescued me from every trouble, and my eye has looked down on my enemies. God is our refuge and strength, but he is also our defender!” 

God offers rescue to all who trust entirely upon Him! He removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12) and gives His own righteousness to us in exchange for our great sinfulness. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The Original Intent

3) What role did fasting play in saving the Jews? (verse 16)

Esther commanded Mordecai to commission the Jewish people to fast and pray for three days. (Esther 4:16) Esther also included herself and her maidservant in the fast as well. (Esther 4:16) Fasting is a biblical discipline intended to petition the Lord for His assistance, often on behalf of another. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

We are to practice this with intentionality.

In the Old Testament law given to Israel, God declared, “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the alien who resides among you.” (Leviticus 16:29 

Fasting is a sacrifice and, as such, we recognize it will be uncommon and uncomfortable but not unrecognized by our Lord. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Esther was willing to go to the king on behalf of the Jews, but only after she had fasted and prayed. Fasting demonstrates both a humble heart and willing submission to the authority of the Lord God. In recognition that all things are sustained and upheld by God (Colossians 1:16-17), fasting with prayer displays a pleading for mercy.

The Everyday Application

3) What role did fasting play in saving the Jews? (verse 16)

When the Holy Spirit prompts us to fast we need to examine the reason. Have we sinned and are seeking forgiveness? Is there a decision to be made? Is there a certain calamity our family, employer, or nation is facing? When called to fast, how will we prepare our hearts? Will our focus be on reflecting God’s glory or on obtaining our desires? (John 14:13)

When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly. (Esther 4:1)

How will you respond to the discipline of fasting?If you are in another’s presence, can you lament? If there is a party or event planned can you dress in sackcloth? Should you fast from food in the presence of others?

Although these might seem legalistic, they each have their importance in the picture of fasting. These are questions you must take to God in prayer. Jesus fasted before entering His earthly ministry. (Matthew 4:2) The prophetess, Anna, fasted in the temple as a routine discipline of her faith. (Luke 2:37) Esther fasted before petitioning the king. (Esther 4:16)

Seek your own posture of fasting and allow God to direct the type of fast you will offer as a sacrifice to Him.

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