SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS
Commentary by Walter Albritton
Esther 3, 4
Key Verse: So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish. – Esther 4:16
The little Book of Esther paints a striking picture of good and evil. We have, on one hand, the evil man Haman, and on the other, the good man Mordecai. Haman makes decisions that lead to shame and death. Mordecai’s choices make him a man whose bravery is exemplary. Add to this drama the courage of Esther, Mordecai’s adopted daughter, and you have a beautiful story.
This drama occurs during the reign of King Xerxes (also known as King Ahasuerus) who ruled the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C. The time period was about 50 years after the time of Daniel, and about 25 years before the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.
A remarkable statement made to her by Mordecai evokes Queen Esther’s courage. These words are the most famous line in the Book of Ester: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” This question was the “punch line” in Mordecai’s request that Esther risk her life by asking King Xerxes to spare the lives of the Jews within his kingdom. The evil Haman had engineered a plot to persuade the King to order all the Jews in the empire executed.
Why did Haman hatch this plot? It grew out of his hatred for Mordecai, who refused to bow down to Haman. Haman had won the king’s favor, even to the extent of ordering that everyone must bow down before Haman’s presence. Sadly, Haman was so impressed with his own importance that he could not tolerate even one man refusing to bow in reverence before him.
Why did Mordecai refuse to bow before Haman as all others did? We cannot be sure. Perhaps Mordecai felt that to do so would have been an act of worship, not merely respect, and he, a devout Jew, would worship no one but the Lord God. It may have been that Mordecai recognized Haman as an evil man who was not worthy of the respect he demanded. The scripture leads us to believe Mordecai’s refusal was a matter of integrity, not of stubbornness.
Mordecai’s behavior would have gone unnoticed had not his companions “tattle-taled.” At first they tried to persuade Mordecai to bow down. When he refused, they reported his action to Haman. When Haman sees for himself that Mordecai does not bow before him, he becomes furious, or “full of wrath.”
Aware now that Mordecai is a Jew, Haman concocts his evil plan to have not only Mordecai but all the Jews slaughtered. His hatred for Mordecai was so great that having the stubborn Jew imprisoned or executed was not enough. He would slaughter every Jew, even women and children, living in the empire of King Xerxes.
Deceitfully, Haman convinces the king that he should eliminate “a certain people” who were refusing to obey the king’s laws. By this time Esther had been the queen of the king for five years. She had never told the king that she was a Jew. So King Xerxes is unaware that his own queen is included in the slaughter he has approved.
Learning of Haman’s plan, Mordecai begins to mourn, publicly wearing sackcloth and ashes. Other Jews are mourning as well when the news spreads. When Esther learns that Mordecai, who had been like a father to her, she sends him new clothes, pleading with him to come into the king’s court. He refuses. One of her aides, Hatach, is sent to find out why Mordecai is so distressed.
Mordecai explains Haman’s plot to Hatach and sends him back to Esther with a copy of the king’s decree and an impassioned appeal to the queen. The only hope for the Jews is for Esther to go before the king, inform him of Haman’s treachery, and plead for the Jews to be spared. Mordecai reminds Esther that she cannot hope to escape the massacre herself since Haman knows that she too is a Jew.
Esther has a major problem. If she does nothing, death seems certain. Yet if she goes before the king without having been called, she could be put to death. This was one of the laws designed to protect the king. Mordecai does not make the inward tussle easy for Esther. Here is where he applies the great pressure of his memorable words, “Who knows whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Those words must have been ringing in Esther’s ears as struggled to decide how to respond.
That Esther asked Mordecai and the other Jews to join her in fasting for three days suggests that she was also praying, although no mention of God is made in the entire Book of Esther. After fasting, without food or drink, for three days, and surely praying to God to deliver her people, she sent Mordecai the news that she would seek an audience with the king even if it cost her life. With unusual courage she said, “If I perish, I perish.”
What are the lessons for us in this remarkable story? I offer these:
1) God answers earnest prayer! He releases grace and courage to those who turn to him in fasting and prayer. There are many situations in our lives when the best thing, not the last thing, we can do is to get on our knees with other believers and pray for God to intervene.
2) Throughout our lives we face the challenge to do what is right rather than go along with the crowd. Mordecai and Esther are beautiful examples to us of God’s willingness to give his people moral courage when tough decisions have to be made.
3) God uses the experiences of our lives to prepare us to be in the right place at the right time to do the right thing. We should seek the Spirit’s guidance to understand those occasions when God has positioned us to offer courageous leadership despite fierce opposition from the Enemy. The Inner Voice can make us aware of those moments when we are certain that we were born “for such a time as this.”
4) Our decisions sometimes influence the eternal destiny of other people. Family members, a son or a daughter, a friend or neighbor, may be inspired to serve Christ by our courage to do the right thing rather than what is expedient. Even if our integrity influences but one person to honor Christ, we will have lived a life worth living.
+ + + + (Walter may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)