Esther 4:1-17 The Dog that didn’t bark

In the whole Book of Esther there is one character who never appears on stage, never speaks, and is never actually spoken to: God. Nowhere is that truer than in chapter 4, where Esther must place her life in the hands of the unseen, unheard, and unrecognized God. The fate of the whole community lies in the balance. Verse 3 is how the community responded – but notice what is missing.

Mordecai too mourned the decree (vv. 1-2). Even though the empire had turned against him, Mordecai was still carefully law-abiding in everything (except bowing to Haman). He didn’t enter the king’s gate dressed in sackcloth because that was forbidden under Persian law. Yet instead of crying out to God, Mordecai’s first thought was to appeal to the king through Esther. He couldn’t go and speak to her directly, sequestered as she was, so he went to the entrance of the king’s gate in his sackcloth and ashes, knowing that word would get back to Esther of his condition. And so, it did (vv.4-5).

Notice how isolated Esther had become from the rest of the covenant community. Every Jew from India to Ethiopia was mourning and lamenting Haman’s edict, but Esther had no clue. She was apparently the only person in the whole Persian Empire who had not heard the news. Esther was not allowed to remain comfortably in the dark for long. Through her messenger, Mordecai informed her of the details of the plot (vv. 6-8).

Esther’s response to Mordecai’s first request was neutral. She didn’t say whether she would or wouldn’t go to the king. However, she underlined the risk that such a strategy would involve for her personally (vv. 9-11). According to custom, visitors had to be summoned into the presence of King Ahasuerus; no one could appear unannounced. The penalty for violating this law was death, unless the king extended his scepter in welcome. Everyone knew this, even people from outlying provinces. What is more, Esther hadn’t been summoned into the royal presence for thirty days – not a good sign, since doubtless the king had not been sleeping alone.

Mordecai was not so easily deterred. His second request to Esther was even stronger (vv. 12-14). In other words, Esther should not count on her comfortably isolated position in the royal palace. She too was part of the Jewish community, and her fate was intertwined with theirs. If they were to die, she would likely die too. If she didn’t act to help her community, though, she would be judged for failing to do her part and would suffer the consequences. But if she did intervene, things might perhaps turn out well after all. As Mordecai said, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Faced with these unpalatable alternatives, Esther made her choice (vv. 15-17). So, Esther agreed to show solidarity with the Jewish community. A mark of this new connection was that she asked Mordecai to gather the Jews in Susa together to fast for her for three days (v. 16). She and her maids would do likewise, and then she would go to see the king. Esther’s only recorded words were “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish (v. 16). However, the Hebrew construction makes it clear that she is not talking about death simply as one possible outcome of her obedience to Mordecai, but as an almost inevitable outcome of choosing that course.

The Book of Esther highlights a very real conundrum that pastors wrestle with on a weekly basis. Simply put, it is this: “How can people who confess an orthodox creed week after week so easily and completely lose track of the implications of that theology whenever problems emerge in daily life?” Mordecai’s worldview may have been based on a solid theology, but he had difficulty connecting that theology to the issues of everyday life. If we know people, and the motions of our own hearts, we will not have to travel to ancient Susa for examples of this phenomenon. In times of crisis, for all our orthodox theology, our own first response is frequently the whimper resignation or human strategy rather than the bark of robust faith in God. We believe in God, but in practice react to life’s crisis as if we were virtual atheists. This is a world at enmity with God and at enmity with His people, as Jesus reminded us in John 15:18-21.

Esther’s actions raise serious questions for each of us to answer. Am I still blind to the true nature of the world and the plight of many of God’s people around me? Do I know enough about what is going on in the world to mourn and lament the situation of God’s persecuted people? Often, we not know the burdens of our brothers and sisters in the church well enough or care about them deeply enough to fast and pray. We do not even know enough about what is going on in our own hearts to mourn and lament our sin. We are so blinded by our own good lives that we neither hear, nor heed the cries of God’s people. If our eyes are opened to the true nature of our world, then surely, we will find plenty of reasons to fast and cry out to God.

In fact, our actions will reveal whom we regard as our true community. When those around us in school or at work mock Christianity and we remain silent, we deny that we are part of God’s people by our silence (the dog that didn’t bark), effectively declaring instead that the world is our true community. When we judge ourselves and others according to the world’s values of what is fashionable and desirable, we declare that the world and not the people of God is our true community. What do our speech and our silence say about who our people are?

By itself, however, all the fasting in the world would accomplish nothing for God’s covenant people in Persia. What they needed was a mediator. They needed someone who was willing and able to go and plead their case where they could not go, into the presence of the king. They could not appear in the king’s presence to seek mercy for themselves; someone else had to do it for them.

Esther therefore had to act as well as to fast. She needed to take her life in her hands, risking everything for her people. She did so without any explicit promises from God to protect her, or to bring about a successful conclusion to her mission. Perhaps God would remain hidden and allow many of His people to die, including Esther herself, as He has done on other occasions in history. Yet at another level, Esther’s success was guaranteed. God had committed Himself to maintain a people for Himself, not so that they could be comfortable, but so that they could bring Him glory. No matter what sinful paths had led Esther to where she was, she was undeniably now in a position to give God glory by publicly identifying with her people and, if necessary, laying down her life through that identification. It was up to God how to glorify Himself through Esther’s obedience, whether by delivering the people through her or allowing her to be martyred in His service, but He would be glorified one way or another.

It is the same for us, when we step out in faith, however weak and trembling. We cannot know ahead of time how God will choose to use us. He may heal our diseases, transform our breaking marriages, and plant thriving ministries through us. Or He may sustain us in obedient submission to Him as our earthly hopes are dashed and our lives poured out for apparently little purpose. Either way, though, we have the guarantee that He will use even our faint faith as the means of bringing glory to Himself.

If it is true that a mediator was needed with King Ahasuerus, how much more do we need a mediator to intercede for us with God, the Great King. God is the great King of kings, the sovereign ruler of the universe, against whom we have rebelled. Fallen, sinful people cannot therefore simply saunter into His presence, unannounced and uninvited. On the contrary, His edict has gone forth against us, declaring us worthy of death because of our sin. The truth has been disseminated throughout His empire that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). His decree is settled and determined, all the more so because it was not formulated in ignorance and haste, but by perfect wisdom before the foundation of the world. Who then will argue our case? Who will come to bring relief and deliverance for us?

The answer is Jesus Christ! The true Mediator between God and man, in the fullness of time He took flesh and appeared in this world. He went before the Father, knowing that He was not just risking His life but laying it down. There was no other way in which our sin could be judged and we could be saved. Through His death, we have received life. Raised from the dead, Jesus Christ once again appears before the Father, where He continues to intercede for us.

Esther 4:1-17 Study Questions:

As the passage opens, how are the Jewish people responding to the announcement that has just been circulated throughout the kingdom (v. 3)? What is missing from their response? What might that tell you about the spiritual state of many Jews who were living in Persia?

What does verses 4-8 tell us about Esther’s awareness of the decree of the king? How does she seek to comfort Mordecai? What might that attempt at comfort reveal about her initial understanding of the imminent danger that is faced by the Jewish people?

What do you make of Esther’s initial response to Mordecai’s request of her (vv. 9-11)? What seems to worry Esther, as she considers going before the king to make an appeal?

Consider the choice Esther now has before her. What might her fears be? What additional challenge and perspective has Mordecai set before her? What do her final words in the chapter reveal about her heart and intentions (v. 17)?

Weekly Seed of Faith 5/16/2023

Seed of Faith – Just Show Up  By Pastor Dave  

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

Dear Faithful Seed Sowers,

After Easter worship, my wife and I jumped on a plane! That’s right, as soon as worship services and the egg hunt were completed, my wife and I flew to Texas in order to show up for five of our two grandsons’ baseball games for the week. What a joy and blessing it was to be there. Our younger grandson plays high school base ball and had two great games.  Of course, I could brag and show you videos and pictures. His older brother is a freshman in college. If you don’t know this, college sports are a whole other beast of athletism. Mason is a lefthanded pitcher. He is one pitcher on a team of 20 pitchers. Freshman usually have to pay their dues and that translates to: we sat in the stands and watched an all-day during double hitter and only saw our grandson warm up! We left Waco at 10 am, drove to Dallas, spent the day and returned home at 10 pm. It was a long, 12-hour day. Our grandson may not have gotten the chance to pitch in the game but the important thing is that we showed up. We cheered the team on (they won one, lost one.) We were able to watch our grandson snag balls during infield practice, and warm up in the dugout. After the first game, he was able to talk with us for a few minutes in the stands. He apologized for not playing and that we drove such along way for that. We told him, “Mason, just remember to show up. Life isn’t about showing up because you’re the star of the game. Life is just about showing up no matter what.”

When Jesus met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary in the garden by the empty tomb, He told them not to be afraid, but He actually told them more. Listen to Jesus’ words … Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:10

If you have read the Bible, you know that there are many resurrection appearances of Jesus that have been recorded. The New Testament indicates that there were at least ten appearances of the risen Lord, plus another appearance to Paul some years later. As we noted in our opening reading of the Gospel of John, Jesus appeared in the Upper room not once but twice. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appears to the disciples walking down the road to Emmaus after the resurrection.  In John we find Jesus appearing to the disciples on the seashore in Galilee and cooking fish tacos for their morning breakfast. We hear of Jesus forgiving Peter three times by asking Peter to love Him and feed His sheep. Did Jesus do that so that He and bff Pete were “even up” for the three times that Peter denied knowing Jesus? Maybe.  In eight of these appearance accounts, Christ gives an explicit commission, and in five of the eight he commands his followers to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

Our reading in Matthew comes after breakfast by the sea. Some scholars suggest that the timing of Matthew’s account is some fifty to fifty-five days after the resurrection. We could spend some time trying to put all the pieces together chronologically, but I do not think that is what we are called to do.

In Matthew, Jesus gives some powerful action points that are necessary for His followers to follow in order to fulfill their supreme mission on earth–to reach the mountain peak of their calling, as it were. These action points I would like to address over the next few Seeds of Faith: show up, worship, obedience — go make, baptize, and teach.

Notice the ending of verse 10 and the action in verse 11.  The women were told to go and tell the disciples (hiding in the upper room) to go the Galilee for there they would see Jesus. You know what the disciples did? They went.  That is what verse eleven tells us. They showed up, they were available.

I wonder how often I have failed to show up. I try and listen to what God is trying to tell and ask of me through the Holy Spirit each moment of each day. Sometimes I miss the boat and the result is I miss the opportunity to see God at work in my life and in the lives of others.

While we were in Texas, my wife and I went to one of my favorite Christian book stores (Mardel) to walk around and browse the books and Christian art. We picked out only a few books this trip knowing that we only had so much room in our 48 pound suitcases! We were standing in the checkout line—which was long—and my wife started waving all the other people behind us to go ahead of us. They only had one or two items and we had 7 books and we were in no hurry. The lady just in front of my wife thanked us because she only had a small amount of time before she had to go pick up her kids and she had prayed that she’d get in and out in record time. You know my wife, they talked about kids and then my wife noticed the title of the two books this woman was buying, The books were by Lysa Terkeurst! She was buying Lysa’s newest book called, “You’ll Get Through This”. The woman saw my cross and asked if I was a pastor. Then she shared with us that she was going through a messy divorce. They had been married 35 years and he just left for another younger woman. By now she was crying. Jac asked her about the books she has read by Lysa. Turns out, she has read almost all of them—except, she missed GOOD  BOUNDARIES AND GOODBYES—the very study our SEED BOSSY women are studying this Spring! Jac was like, “NO! NO! You need to get this book before you get that book! This boundaries book is the precursor and foundation of that book! First, you need to know about boundaries and good byes!” You got it, I had already left the line and had gone to pick up the study guide and the book. Jac is leading the women’s study at the SEED. While I was gone, the woman told Jac, “OK. I will go home, go to work and make more money and come back and get that study in two weeks.” After the woman checked out, Jac asked her if she could wait just another moment for a blessing. You got it. THE SEED bought this woman the tools she needed to finish her mountain climbing for this season. Oh, how she cried. After we were done checking out our own 7 books, we went off to the side of the checkout aisle and prayed for this broken-hearted person. Jac wrote down an encouraging note in her book, showed her how to access the 6 videos online and left her cell phone number.


Point number one!  Show up — be available. As we were listening to the Christian radio in Waco, a caller shared that she had participated in the local PAY IT FORWARD TUESDAY last week. You know, you’re in the drive up line and someone pays for the car behind them? This person drove through the bistro and said, “ I want to pay for mine and for the car behind me.” The next Tuesday this woman showed up again and the bistro told her that the last time they paid it forward—20 cars!

What I’m trying to tell you is that you don’t always go out and say, “Here I am. Showing up!” Sometimes you simply are nothing but available. You’re there and ALL OF A SUDDENLY…there’s an opportunity to watch God work…and God may even be using you to do just that!

That’s what Jesus is commanding here. “Go tell the family of God to JUST SHOW UP. I’ll take care of the rest.”

See you Sunday!
God loves you and so do I,
Pastor Dave

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Esther 3:1-15 Mordecai Makes a Stand

In Esther 3 (vv. 1-2), Mordecai refused to pay homage to the newly appointed high official, Haman. Opinions vary as to why exactly Mordecai refused to bow. The king had commanded it, and everyone else was doing it – but not Mordecai. He alone was refusing to bow. Why? Some scholars have thought that Mordecai didn’t want bow down before any human being, giving worship to man that is due to God alone. Other scholars have argued that Mordecai was being obstinately arrogant in his refusal to bow, or that he was jealous of Haman for having been promoted to the office of a high official. But there is no hint of either of those attitudes in the text.

Actually, the text itself suggests the reason why Mordecai didn’t bow, if we look closely enough. Haman was an Agagite. He was thus a descendent of Agag the Amalekite, the ancient tribal enemy of the Jews. When Israel came out of Egypt, the Amalekites attacked them in the wilderness, for which God cursed them and condemned them to extinction (Ex. 17: 8-16). Because of that assault, God declared that there would be a lasting enmity between the two peoples, and He committed Himself to blot out all remembrance of Amalek from the face of heaven. In the time of King Saul, God sent Israel to carry out that sentence on Amalek, destroying man and beast (1 Sam. 15). But Saul failed to carry out the terms of holy war, as God had commanded him to do. Instead, he spared the best animals and King Agag himself. Even though Saul had good intentions, in God’s sight however, obedience is better than sacrifice. Doing what God says is better than creatively attempting to produce our own plan to serve Him. For this act of disobedience, Saul was abandoned by God and rejected (1 Sam. 15:28).

So, for Mordecai, whose genealogy links him to King Saul’s family (see Esther 2:5), to bow to Haman, a descendant of King Agag’s family, was just too much to swallow. It would have seemed to be giving in to a hated enemy, whom God had cursed. Bowing to King Ahasuerus, the pagan authority set over God’s people by God on account of their sin, was one thing; bowing to Haman was another thing altogether. Further evidence for this interpretation comes in the ensuing events in verses 3-4. Mordecai presumably recounted the history of his people to the other servants of the king when they challenged him over his repeated refusal to bow to Haman. This explains why, when they finally reported him to Haman for his subordination, Mordecai’s Jewishness was a key element of their report.

Bowing to Haman was only a secondary issue. It was an issue only because of past failure on the part of God’s people. If King Saul had carried out his commission properly in the first place, there wouldn’t have been any Agagites left to threaten his descendants. This is a perennial problem. Past sins have a way of coming back repeatedly to haunt us, and sometimes our children after us.

Once the complications begin, they tend to proliferate. So, it was for Mordecai. It didn’t take long before Mordecai’s behavior was brought to Hamman’s attention. Mordecai’s associates were interested to see what their mutual boss would think of his behavior (v. 4). The result of their report was a quick change for the worse in Mordecai’s prospects (vv. 5-6).

Haman scorned a simple revenge upon Mordecai as a personal enemy. Eliminating a single individual was far too small a payback for his wounded vanity. Instead, he planned an end to all of Mordecai’s people throughout the empire. Mordecai’s stand for truth would have repercussions not just in his own life but also in those of his family, his friends, and his community (v. 6). The whole people group would have pay for the actions of a single individual.

This remains a reality in many parts of the world. There are powerful enemies who wish to harm Christians, and we can’t always count on the empire bailing us out. Christians who stand up for their faith may suffer not merely the loss of their own goods, but in some cases, they are forced to watch as their loved ones suffer for their commitment to the cause of the gospel. Does this mean that we should not make a stand for the gospel? By no means. There are times when we all need to stand up and be counted. However, it does mean that we need to count the cost carefully and pick our battles wisely.

Having decided on a plan to eliminate the Jewish people, Haman needed to put it into action. The first thing to do was to find the most suitable date for this massacre. So, Haman held a lottery to determine when the ugly deed would take place (v. 7). Haman’s plan to destroy an entire people group could not be carried out on his authority either. In order to make it work, he needed the compliance of King Ahasuerus. Not that such permission was hard to come by. The empire could be manipulated by a skilled political operator, its laws used to oppress and destroy. All that was needed was for those who should have been in charge to stand by and let it happen (vv. 8-11).

So why did Ahasuerus allow Haman to pass his decree? In the first place, he didn’t care enough to find out what was really going on. Second, Ahasuerus was motivated by simple greed. Haman offered him a vast sum of money, ten thousand talents of silver – more than half of the annual tax revenue of the entire empire. Where Haman proposed to come up with such a vast sum in not clear. Yet Ahasuerus seemed as unconcerned by that question as he was by any others. When he weighed the potential financial benefit against the cost of signing off to destruction an obscure, unidentified people, there was no contest. The result was that he handed his power over to an evil man, who used it to plot genocide. Meanwhile, the king and his trusted advisor gave the ramifications of the whole matter so little thought that they went off to celebrate the deal with a drink or two (v. 15).

So, the edict for the destruction of God’s people was signed, sealed, and delivered to the furthest corners of the empire, in the various languages of the peoples (vv. 12-15). The mail delivery system that had carried the king’s fatuous decree declaring men heads in their own households now carried this darker decree with the same haste. The city of Susa was thrown into confusion, showing that not everyone in the empire was against the Jews.

Haman was wrong when he thought that the future lay in the stars, to be decerned by the casting of lots. As Proverbs 16:33 put it: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” So, it transpired. The date selected by lot was far enough away that God’s rescue plan had plenty of time to unfold. Similarly, Ahasuerus was wrong when he said to Haman, “The people also [are given to you], to do with them as it seems good to you” (v. 11). The people were ultimately not his to give into Haman’s power. They were God’s people, and He would not allow them to be destroyed at the whim of the empire. Proverbs 16:9 addresses this fundamental reality too: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Ironically, God Himself has far more reason to act against us and our families than Ahasuerus did against the Jews. We have not kept God’s law. We have refused to bow down before Him and submit to Him as we ought, giving Him the honor that is His by rights as our Creator. It is actually true in our case that it is not to God’s profit to tolerate us, since we are born cosmic rebels against His goodness and grace. What is more, we have a cosmic enemy, Satan, who would happily present of valid reasons why we should not be allowed to live. The edict for our destruction could legitimately have been signed against us by our Great King. But that is not how God, the true sovereign King, has chosen to deal with us.

Esther 3:1-15 Study Questions:

As the narrator describes the promotion of Haman (v. 1), what does he include about Haman’s family and lineage? Why might it be an important detail for understanding Mordecai’s response to Haman?

In what ways do Mordecai’s peers respond to his refusal to bow to Haman? How and why does Haman’s hostility expand from Mordecai to encompass to all of the Jewish people (vv. 5-6)?

How is Haman able to manipulate King Ahasuerus into complying with his plan to destroy the Jews (vv. 8-11)? What do we know about God, which Haman and King Ahasuerus ultimately do not know?

As you consider the stand that Mordecai takes against bowing to Haman, how are you challenged to stand more boldly for God and His Word in your daily life? In what ways have you been guilty of standing boldly for peripheral issues while failing to stand courageously for core gospel concerns?