We left our story last week with Haman the Agagite announcing a decree that by the end of the year, on the 13th day of the 12th month, all Jews were to be killed and their property plundered. Since Haman’s specific target was Mordecai, it would be easy to say Mordecai caused this problem. Had he simply bowed to Haman like everyone else the plot never would have unfolded. But don’t forget there are hundreds of years of historical animosity between the Amalekites and the Jews. More was going on here than personal revenge.
Prov 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
Esther 4:1-3 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. 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. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
Mordecai’s reaction, though strange to us, was typical to the Jews. When grief and anguish are far too great to hold inside, they have to be expressed. We cry, we scream, we throw things. In that day tearing your clothes identified you as one who had a broken heart. Even today, the Torah tells Jews tearing the clothing is an expression of pain and sorrow when a loved one has died. It exposes the broken heart.
That’s what Mordecai was doing. Distraught at the dark future for God’s people, he was exposing his broken heart. But he didn’t stop there. He took it a step further. He put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes.
Sackcloth was a coarse material, similar in some ways to burlap. It was typically made from a black goat’s hair – the fibers of which were extra stiff and pricked the skin with uncompromising vengeance, making it miserable to wear. Where tearing of the clothes indicated a broken heart, sackcloth demonstrated a broken man. Tearing the garment was to let people know you were in anguish. The sackcloth was a sign to God to show brokenness and abject poverty before Him. Coupled with ashes, you were saying to the Lord, “I am in desolation and absolute ruin. You are my only hope.” It was a cry for the mercy of God to be enacted upon your life.
In the story of Jonah, after Jonah had spoken God’s message of destruction, Jonah 3:6-9 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
The message is clear, but…we throw ourselves onto the mercy of God. We have heard our verdict, but…maybe there is room for another answer. We hear what seems a settled matter, but…is this God’s final answer? We can’t change the outcome, but…we can submit the matter to God and wait. Perhaps He will change the outcome as He has in the past.
Tearing the garment, sackcloth and ashes are all outward signs of Mordecai’s inward condition. It revealed his grief. But by these symbols, Mordecai isn’t grieving as those without hope. He is saying: but God. His eyes are turned upward, anticipating God’s intervention. In his desperation and without his own solution, he says: only God can fix this. This seems a bit over the top, but you understand this if you have ever gotten to the point in life where God is Your only answer.
It’s called Mental Anguish
- Suffering that someone experiences as the result of a traumatizing experience or the anticipation of a traumatizing experience.
- A high degree of emotional torment, distress, or suffering.
Esther 4:4-9 When Esther's young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king's eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was all about and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said.
We have the old saying that ignorance is bliss or [what I used to raise my parents]: what you don’t know can’t hurt you. But all that does is delay the moment when reality catches up to us. Even though Esther didn’t know what was going on, she was nonetheless affected by it. Her life wouldn’t be spared any more than Mordecai’s or any of the Jews living in Persia, just because she lived in the palace. But her ignorance didn’t stop God’s plan.
Prov 24:12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it?
Write this down somewhere, preferably on your heart: God knows!
What fights within us against believing God knows? It’s what God said through David Ps 50:21 You thought that I was just like you…
We often get God confused with someone else. If we don’t understand God as He is, we’ll give Him characteristics He doesn’t have. We’ll make Him human, more like us. Problem? He isn’t just like us. His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
We look at ourselves and, since we’re untrustworthy, we’ll think God is untrustworthy. Since we’re unfaithful, we’ll think God is unfaithful. Since we’re unmerciful, we’ll think God is unmerciful. Since others have let others down, we’ll think God will let us down.
It goes on: if we don’t know something, we’ll assume God doesn’t know it either. If we can’t change things, we’ll assume God can’t change things. If we have no plan, we’ll assume neither does God.
So, without more details, Mordecai tells Esther, “Here’s what you must do. Use your position as Queen to speak to the King and get this ruling changed.”
Esther 4:10-12 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, “All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.” And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Which basically was her saying, “I can’t do that. You’re asking too much of me.”
Why do we say we can’t do something?
- We don’t want to.
- We feel we don’t have what it takes.
- We’re afraid we might fail.
- It’s asking more from us than we’re willing to do.
Esther felt she had legitimate reasons:
- I haven’t seen him in a month.
- There is a rule that no one goes before the King without being summoned under penalty of death.
- Even if I get summoned, unless he acknowledges me by extending his scepter, I will be killed on the spot.
“Do you understand what’s at risk? This is my life we’re talking about.”
Ever hear the expression: not my monkey, not my parade? We use it when someone’s asked to take responsibility for something that isn’t their responsibility. They’re asked to commit to the feeding and care of an obligation that isn’t their job. Esther is saying: “This isn’t my monkey; this isn’t my parade. I’m not responsible for fixing this problem.”
But all of that is about to change. There are two profound statements in the Book of Esther. Here’s the first:
Esther 4:13-14 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Mordecai is saying, “This is why you must do this anyway. You are the right person at the right place at the right time. There could be no greater reason for why you are Queen than this moment.”
It’s the wake-up call for action. It’s the moment the hero decides to do what places him or her at greatest risk. It’s when the first responders rush into a disaster scene. It’s when the military takes off on a dangerous mission. It’s when we decide God’s way is the best way.
King Asa was facing an unbeatable foe. The Israeli army didn’t match up with what was coming against them. But they had to fight. It was a defining moment for what kind of king Asa would be. He prayed: 2Chron 14:11 “O LORD, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O LORD, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.”
“God this moment is bigger than we are. We’re too small for what we face. But here we are. And because we believe you have placed us here in this moment, at this time, you have plans for us that go beyond what we can see. We surrender to whatever you choose.”
Esther 4:15-17 Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
This is the second most profound statement in the Book of Esther, perhaps in much of the whole Bible. It defines the moment of surrender to what God wants, saying what God wants is more important than what we want for ourselves. It’s Jesus in the Garden praying, “Not My will but Yours be done.” Regardless of the outcome, we will trust God.
Jim Elliot was to be a missionary to the Acua Tribe in Ecuador. On the first trip in to make contact with these hostile people, he and his team were attacked and killed. People wondered how God could let this happen. They were on a holy mission. Why didn’t he rescue them, or at least prevent them from going? Later, among Jim’s writings, they found this statement: He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.
What was Jim Elliot saying? Regardless of the outcome, I will trust the Lord. And if in doing so I perish, I perish.
Esther was just an ordinary person, yet God had plans to use her to do something extraordinary. Something nobody but she could do. She had a choice, but yielded her choice to courageously allow herself to be used by God. Even though she had become Queen, she was willing to give up her crown, her status and her life, to do what God had positioned her to do. Only she was in the right place at the right time to make a difference.
There is no mention of what Esther wore to go before the King. It is obvious she didn’t tear her clothing, put on sackcloth and pour ashes over her head. What did she wear that expressed the content of her heart? Peace.
I believe when she chose to go before the King, that though she started out carrying the burden of her people and even her own life, she laid that aside and covered herself in peace. Look at what she decided to do. Fear doesn’t make decisions like that. Grief doesn’t push us to selflessness. Anguish doesn’t move us to sacrifice. Only peace. Peace comes when we release the burden to the One who controls the outcome.
Col 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
Rule means letting peace settle the matter. It is the picture of an umpire controlling a game. The umpire decides the outcome of the plays, not they players. What he says goes. Paul is saying: Let peace be the deciding factor. Choose to let peace overrule our emotions, our anxiety and our fears.
Prov 27:19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.
If our heart is being exposed on the outside, revealing all that’s going on inside, what is it showing? The distress of our anguish, the fear of our panic, the blackness of our grief, the agony of our heartbreak, or the peace that passes all understanding?
Two little girls gave their mom a very nice potted plant for Mother’s Day. They bought it with their own money, and mom was very happy, until she read the pretty ribbon that said, ‘Rest In Peace.’ One of the little girls beamed and said, “We knew this was perfect for you since you’re always asking for a little peace so you can rest.”
For such a time as this, we must let the peace of Christ rule over us. Without peace there will be no rest. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, we must allow the peace of God to decide the outcome. We must surrender ourselves to His best.
One of Winston Churchill’s most famous speeches came after France fell to Germany in June, 1940. And it was clean Britain was next. He said:
“What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over... the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
This was Esther’s finest hour. This was why she had become Queen – for such a time as this. Next week, we’ll find out what she did next.
- Wherever we are is the perfect place for God to work.
- He doesn’t have to change our location or our circumstances to fix our problems, most of the time He only has to change our hearts.
- When our hearts agree with God’s purposes, peace rules over us and gives us rest.
- If we don’t have rest, it’s because we don’t have peace.
- If we don’t have peace, it’s because we haven’t surrendered the outcome of our circumstances to the Lord.