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"For Such a Time as This" (Esther 4) December 5-6

On hearing all that had happened, Mordecai engaged in public mourning—as did the Jews in all provinces where the new decree arrived (4:1-3). Indeed, we see in verse 3 that the mourning was accompanied by fasting—a spiritual tool linked with prayer in Scripture (see 1 Samuel 1:7-10; 2 Samuel 12:16-17; Ezra 8:23 Nehemiah 9:1; Isaiah 58:2-5; Jeremiah 14:12; Daniel 9:3; Joel 1:14; Zechariah 7:3-5; Acts 13:3). Even though God is not directly mentioned, the clear implication is that the Jews in the Persian Empire, threatened with imminent extermination, urgently cried out to Him as they fasted.

Encouragingly, we see signs of God's overseeing care in the very fact of what Mordecai had learned of the situation—information that would prove important to opposing the aim of the decree. "If Mordecai had not been appointed as a high official at the king's gate, it is unlikely that he would have known about Haman's bribe to the king. He was providentially placed by God in an exalted position in a foreign government, as were Joseph (see Gen. 41), Daniel (see Dan. 2:48), and Nehemiah (see Neh. 1:11)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Esther 4:7).

Mordecai informed Esther of her need to plead the case of her people before the king. Yet her Jewish identity was still a secret. Given the circumstances, it no doubt seemed that revealing it at that time would have been extremely dangerous. Moreover, Esther was at first fearful to act for another serious reason. She instructed her attendant "to return to her cousin to remind him that no one could approach the king in the inner court without a royal summons. The penalty for such a transgression was death. On occasion the king had been known to extend his golden scepter to an uninvited person as a gesture of mercy. Herodotus (3.118) mentions the Persian custom that anyone who approached the king uninvited would be put to death unless pardoned by the king. Herodotus also said, however, that a person could send a letter to the king asking for an audience. Why this procedure did not occur to Esther can only be surmised. Since she had not been summoned by the king for a month, Esther did not know whether he would forgive her if she approached him without a royal summons. She may have concluded that she had lost the king's favor. It appears that initially Esther was more concerned about her own welfare than about her people" (Expositor's, note on verses 9-11). But that was about to change.

Mordecai responds in verses 13-14 with the central message of the entire book. His confidence that deliverance for the Jews would come from another place even if Esther refused to act is more than simple optimism. It embraced the whole of Jewish national history. There was no question as to why the Jews still existed as a people. They had been delivered, time and time again, by the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel). Over the centuries, God had made many promises that could not be fulfilled if the race was wiped out. Mordecai knew that God would save His people even now. The statement that Esther refusing to act would lead to her and her father's house perishing was probably a warning of divine judgment, reminiscent of Christ's later remark, concerning the end time, that "whoever seeks to save his life will lose it" (Luke 17:33). And then the remarkable statement at the end of Esther 4:14: "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" The obvious suggestion is that it was no mere coincidence that the young Jewish woman Hadassah had become queen of the Persian Empire at this very time in history. It was the work of God. Of course, the all-powerful God clearly did not need her. But He had placed her in her current position to use her if she were willing. And if she were not willing, then He would reject her and work out the deliverance of His people another way.

Mordecai's message succeeded. Esther would go to the king about the matter even if it meant her death. But first she called for a three-day fast of all the Jews in Shushan. Again, the focus is clearly religious. What was the purpose for this fast if not for spiritual preparedness and direction and help from God? Yet again, God is not directly mentioned in the account in any way—which is most remarkable. As mentioned in the Bible Reading Program's introductory comments on Esther, even if it were written as a Persian state chronicle, we might expect the account to say something to the effect of "the Jews besought their God for help." But it does not. It may well be that the point is to teach us to see the work of God not in explicit references but in His general providential guidance of events for our welfare. As The Bible Reader's Companion notes on its introduction to the book, "God, although hidden from our view, works through circumstances and human choices to accomplish His own ends. Esther teaches us to see the hidden God revealed in the ebb and flow of personal and world events and to praise Him for His continual care."

And no matter what happens, like Esther all of us have the personal responsibility to do whatever is in our power to serve God and His people—even if it means sacrificing our own comfort or, should it be necessary, even our own lives. If we are in a position to speak out for the welfare of others in dire need, then that is what we must do. If human laws forbid us from obeying God, we must decide to obey Him anyway. Our task is ever and always to do the will of God—whatever it is. When hard times come and it's difficult to make the right choice, remember this scriptural example and ask yourself, "Who knows whether you have come to your particular situation for such a time as this?"

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