Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry;1. rent his clothes] So e.g. Reuben, when his brother Joseph was sold to the Midianites (Genesis 37:29), and Jacob, when he thought that his son had perished (Genesis 37:34). Cp. 2 Kings 18:37; Matthew 26:65.
put on sackcloth with ashes] the two things together constituting an expression of the deepest grief. So Daniel (Daniel 9:3) and the king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6).
went out into the midst of the city] Utterances and other signs of mourning not being permitted within the royal precincts, he went where it was possible to exhibit his grief more unrestrainedly.
Chap. Esther 4:1-3. Dismay of Mordecai and the Jews
Mordecai not only shares with the other dwellers in Susa the knowledge of the impending calamity, but also has obtained (Esther 4:7) information as to the nature of the transactions between the king and Haman. He exhibits the usual Oriental tokens of grief and horror.
And came even before the king's gate: for none might enter into the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.2. and he came even before the king’s gate] either as being his usual place of resort, or with the hope that in this time of distress he might have some chance of communication with Esther, even though his garb precluded him from nearer approach.
And in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.3. many lay in sackcloth and ashes] lit. sackcloth and ashes were spread under many.
So Esther's maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him: but he received it not.4–17. Esther’s grief and the communications between her and Mordecai
4. came and told it her] Although unaware, according to the story, of the queen’s relationship to Mordecai, her attendants knew (see Esther 2:11) the importance which he attached to her welfare, and therefore they presumed that his mourning garb would bespeak her interest.
she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai] so that he might come within the gate and tell her the cause of his distress.
but he received it not] by this refusal indicating the dire nature of the calamity of which it was the symbol.
Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king's chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.5. Hathach] The LXX. call him Achrathaeus (Ἀχραθαῖος), while the Targum makes him to be Daniel!
to know what this was, and why it was] to know what his mourning attire meant.
So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king's gate.6. the broad place] the open space in front of the entrance to the palace, where Mordecai still lingered.
And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.7. the exact sum] The A.V. less closely the sum. The Heb. word is derived from a root meaning to distinguish, explain. It occurs again in Esther 10:2 (‘the full account of the greatness of Mordecai’).
that Haman had promised to pay] See on Esther 3:11.
for the Jews] as the price of the destruction of the Jews.
Also he gave him the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.8. to make request before him, for her people] See Esther 2:10. It was now necessary for Esther to declare her nationality. It was only by identifying herself with the imperilled nation that their deliverance could be hoped for.
And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai;10. gave him a message] A.V. gave him commandment; but, although the word in the original often bears this sense, yet here the point of the expression is not the order to convey her communication but that that communication was to the effect that follows.
All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.11. Esther points out that it is a matter of common notoriety, not only among the courtiers but throughout the Empire, that death would be the penalty for entering the king’s presence unsummoned, unless he should hold out the golden sceptre. Herodotus puts the rule in a modified form, saying that those who sought the interview had to be announced (Herod. iii. 118, and cp. 140). But Esther might very well have hesitated to make application in this way, from the likelihood to her mind that she was no longer in favour with the king, and that therefore a request for an audience would certainly prove futile, whereas in the method which she actually adopted there was at least a chance of success. Josephus makes the law to have been that none of the king’s own people (that is, members of the royal family) should approach him unsummoned, when he sat on his throne (Ant. xi. 6. 3).
there is one law for him] i.e. the law is without exception, the pronoun referring to the law-breaker. The A.V. (‘there is one law of his’) wrongly makes it refer to the king.
And they told to Mordecai Esther's words.
Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews.13. Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house] Rank and position will avail nothing against so absolute an edict.
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?14. relief] A.V. enlargement, a word now obsolete in the sense of relief or deliverance. It does not occur elsewhere in the A.V., but we find the corresponding verb, meaning to set at large, to give freedom to move without obstruction, in 2 Samuel 22:37 (= Psalm 18:36) (‘Thou hast enlarged my steps under me’); Psalm 4:1 (‘Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress’). For the same use of the verb in Old English compare
“Thrice hath this Hotspur …
Discomfited great Douglas, ta’en him once,
I Henry IV. iii. 2. 115.
“Enlarge the man committed yesterday.”
Henry V. ii. 2. 40.
from another place] not meaning simply from some human source, as when Judas Maccabaeus sent an embassy to Rome to ask aid against Greek oppression (1Ma 8:17), or later, when his brother Jonathan applied in the same quarter and for the same object (1Ma 12:1). The reference here, though veiled after the reticent fashion of this Book, is to the Divine agency, whether working through earthly means or not. Israel cannot perish.
but thou and thy father’s house shall perish] Her inactivity would involve not only herself but her family in ruin. Thus she has nothing to hope from that alternative. It ensures her death; the other course but risks it.
who knoweth whether] = perhaps. Cp. the same expression in Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9.
whether thou art not come] A.V. whether thou art come. It is true that the ‘not’ has no literal equivalent in the original Hebrew, but still the R.V. is a more accurate translation of the exact sense. Mordecai means, We cannot say that Providence has not shaped thy fortunes to this very end, and given thee a position enabling thee to deliver thy whole nation in the impending crisis.
Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.16. all the Jews that are present in Shushan] We are to suppose them to be a considerable number, if they were subsequently able to dispose of three hundred of their foes (Esther 9:15).
fast ye for me] in connexion with intercession on my behalf. Prayer and fasting went together in time of sorrow or anxiety or penitence. So David (2 Samuel 12:16), Ahab (1 Kings 21:27), Daniel (Daniel 9:3).
neither eat nor drink three days, night or day] This sounds a very explicit direction to abstain from all food for seventy-two hours. It is, however, possible that for the general body of the Jews here referred to it may not have really meant more than two nights and the intervening day, a part of the twenty-four hour day being for certain purposes reckoned as a whole one. Cp. Matthew 12:40 with Matthew 28:1. Nevertheless to fast for the longer period is not beyond the limits of Oriental abstemiousness.
I also and my maidens will fast in like manner] Esther herself cannot have carried out this abstinence in its most rigid form. The appearance which she must in that case have presented before the king would have militated strongly against her chances of success, slender as those chances were in any case.
if I perish, I perish] She accepts the risk, acknowledging the necessity. For form of expression cp. Jacob’s words in Genesis 43:14.
So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.17. went his way] The Targum takes advantage of the frequent though by no means exclusive use of the original verb in the sense to pass beyond, transgress, to interpret it as indicating that Mordecai transgressed the rule of Passover, which prohibited fasting at that season. It is true that the Passover feast commenced on the evening which, with the following morning, constituted the fifteenth day of the month Nisan, but from the date at which the king’s scribes were convened, as given in Esther 3:12, we need by no means conclude that the arrangement made between Mordecai and Esther followed so closely as this interpretation would imply.
 The Passover lamb was eaten on the fourteenth day (Exodus 12:6), just before the sunset which introduced the fifteenth.