Esther 4
Pulpit Commentary
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;
Verse 1. - Mordecai rent his clothes. Compare Ezra 9:3, 5 with the comment. The meaning of the act was well understood by the Persians. Put on sackcloth with ashes. So Daniel (Daniel 9:3), and the king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6). Either act by itself was a sign of deep grief; both combined betokened the deepest grief possible. And went out into the midst of the city. The palace was not to be saddened by private griefs (see the next verse). Mordecai, therefore, having assumed the outward signs of extreme sorrow, quitted the palace, and entered the streets of the town. There, overcome by his feelings, he vented them, as Asiatics are wont to do, in loud and piercing cries (comp. Nehemiah 5:1).
And came even before the king's gate: for none might enter into the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.
Verse 2. - And came even before the king's gate. After some aimless wandering Mordecai as returned toward the palace, either his proper place, or with some incipient notion of obtaining Esther's help. He was not allowed, however, to pass the outer gate on account of his garb of woe, and he remained outside (see ver. 6).
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.
Verse 3. - And in every province. As fast as the news spread, as province after province received the decree, the Jews spontaneously did as Mordecai had done - everywhere there was great sorrow, shown commonly by fasting, weeping, and wailing, while in numerous instances the mourners even went the length of putting on sackcloth and ashes. Thus an ever-increasing cloud of grief overshadowed the land. GRIEF OF ESTHER. HER COMMUNICATIONS WITH MORDECAI. SHE CONSENTS TO RISK MAKING AN APPEAL TO THE KING (Esther 4:4-17). Esther, in the seclusion of the harem, knew nothing of what the king and Haman had determined on. No one in the palace suspected how vitally she was concerned in the matter, since none knew that she was a Jewess, and state affairs are not commonly discussed between an Oriental monarch and a young wife. It was known, however, that she took an interest in Mordecai; and when that official was seen outside the palace gate in his mourning garb, it was reported to the queen. Not being aware why he grieved, but thinking that perhaps it was some light matter which he took too much to heart, she sent him a change of raiment, and requested him to put off his sackcloth. But Mordecai, without assigning any reason, refused (ver. 4). Esther upon this caused inquiry to be made of Mordecai concerning the reason of his mourning, and in this way became acquainted with what had happened (vers. 5-9). At the same time she found herself called on by Mordecai to incur a great danger, since he requested her to go at once to the king, and to intercede with him for her people (ver. 8). In reply, the queen pointed out the extreme risk which she would run in entering the royal presence uninvited, and the little chance that there was of her receiving a summons, since she had not had one for thirty days (ver. 11). Mordecai, however, was inexorable. He reminded Esther that she herself was threatened by the decree, and was not more likely to escape than any other Jew or Jewess; declared his belief that, if she withheld her aid, deliverance would arise from some other quarter; warned her that neglect of duty was apt to provoke a heavy retribution, and suggested that she might have been raised to her queenly dignity for the express purpose of her being thus able to save her nation (vers. 13, 14). The dutiful daughter, the true Jewess, could resist no longer; she only asked that Mordecai and the other Jews in Susa would fast for her three days, while she and her maidens also fasted, and then she would take her life in her hand, and enter the royal presence uninvited, though it was contrary to the law; the risk should be run, and then, as she said with a simple pathos never excelled, "if I perish, I perish" (ver. 16). Satisfied with this reply, Mordecai "went his way," and held the three days' fast which Esther had requested (ver. 17).
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.
Verse 4. - Esther's maids and her chamberlains. A queen consort at an Oriental court is sure to have, besides her train of maids, a numerous body of eunuchs, who are at her entire disposal, and are especially employed in going her errands and maintaining her communications with the outer world. Told her. Esther's interest in Mordecai would be known to the maids and eunuchs by Mordecai's inquiries about her (Esther 1:11) and communications with her (ibid. ver. 22).
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.
Verse 5. - To know what it was, and why it was. i.e. "to know what the mourning garb exactly meant, and for what reason he had assumed it."
So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king's gate.
Verse 6. - The street of the city. Rather, "the square."
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.
Verse 7. - The sum of money. Mordecai evidently considered that the money was an important item in the transaction, and had mainly influenced Ahasuerus. This would not have been the case if Ahasuerus had at once given it back (see the comment on Esther 3:9).
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.
Verse 8. - Also he gave him the copy. In the original it is "a copy." Mordecai had had a copy made for the purpose of handing it to Esther. To make request to him for her people. If this was the phrase used by Mordecai to Hatach, Esther's nationality must now have ceased to be a secret, at any rate so far as her immediate attendants were concerned. Probably Mordecai felt that the truth must now be declared. It was only as the compatriots of the queen that he could expect to get the Jews spared.
And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai;
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.
Verse 11. - All the king's servants seems to mean here "all the court," "all those in the immediate service of the king." The inner court. The palace had, as it would seem, only two courts, the "outward court" of ch. 6:4, and the "inner court" of the present passage. There is one law of his to put him to death. Rather, "there is one law for him. 'Whoever he be, there is one and the same law regarding him - he must suffer death. Herodotus excepts six persons from the operation of this law (3:84, 118), but in making the exception shows the general rule to have been such as here represented. Except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre. No other writer tells us of this custom, but it is in perfect harmony with Oriental habits and modes of thought. Some have objected that the king would not always have a golden sceptre by him; but the Persepolitan sculptures uniformly represent him with a long tapering staff in his hand, which is probably the "sceptre" (sharbith) of Esther. I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. The king s passion had cooled, and Esther now, like his other wives, waited her occasional summons to his presence. She had not been called for a whole month, and did not know when a summons might come. It would not do to trust to so mere a chance; and therefore, if she was to interpose on behalf of her nation, she must intrude on the king uninvited, and risk being put to death.
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.
Verse 13. - Think not with thyself. Literally, "imagine not in thy mind." That thou shalt escape in the king's house. i.e. "that being an inmate of the palace will be any protection to thee ;" it will be no protection - you will no more escape than any other Jew.
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?
Verse 14. - Then shall there enlargemt, or respiration (marg. literally, "breath"), and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place. Mordecai is confident that God will not allow the destruction of his people. Without naming his name, he implies a trust in his gracious promises, and a conviction that Haman's purpose will be frustrated; how, he knows not, but certainly in some way or other. If deliverance does not come through Esther, then it will arise from some other quarter. But thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed. A denunciation of Divine vengeance. Though the nation will be saved, it will not benefit you. On you will fall a just judgment - having endeavoured to save your life, you will lose it - and your "father's house will be involved in your ruin. We may gather from this that Esther was not Abihail's only child. Who knoweth, etc. Consider this also. Perhaps (who knows?) God has raised you up to your royal dignity for this very purpose, and none other, that you should be in a position to save your nation in this crisis.
Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
Verse 15. - Fast ye for me. Fasting for another is fasting to obtain God's blessing on that other, and is naturally accompanied with earnest prayer to God for the person who is the object of the fast. Thus here again the thought of God underlies the narrative. It has been supposed that Esther could not have meant an absolute fast - complete abstinence from both food and drink - for so long a period as three days; but Oriental abstemiousness would not be very severely taxed by a fast of this length. The time intended - from the evening of the first to the morning of the third day - need not have much exceeded thirty-six hours. I also and my maidens will fast likewise. "Likewise" is to be taken here in its proper sense, as meaning "in like manner." We also will abstain both from meat and drink during the same Period.
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.
So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
Verse 17. - Mordecai... did according to all that Esther had commanded. i.e. gathered the Jews together, and proclaimed a three days fast. Though without authority, he would naturally, under the circumstances, have sufficient influence over his countrymen to induce them to do his bidding.

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