Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast you for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day…
The absence throughout this book of any reference to God is a most peculiar feature. Some have, on this ground, gone the length of denying its Divine authority. But the religious spirit is so prominent in this verse as to deprive such an objection of its force. Note that the proof of piety should not be sought in the language men employ, but rather in the principles which guide their conduct. There are circumstances which compel men to be real. In the presence of a great disaster, a great sorrow, or a great danger they manifest their true character. Esther had at this time comprehended the awful possibilities of the situation; cruel, speedy, certain death stared her in the face; and the first thing she did in her agony was to appeal to God, the God of her fathers, whom she now openly acknowledged as the arbiter of events. Observe -
I. THAT THE BELIEVER NEVER ENTERS UPON A SOLEMN UNDERTAKING WITHOUT INVOKING THE FAVOUR OF GOD. "Go and gather all the Jews," etc. The fast was to be long and general, such as became the solemnity of the occasion. Fasting must be regarded as an Oriental custom, which well suits the demonstrative disposition of the people, who give vent to their griefs, their joys, and their religious ardour in extravagant outward manifestations. The custom is not enjoined upon us in Scripture, though doubtless it ought not to be prohibited in cases where it may be of spiritual advantage. But the principle which underlies the custom is universal, namely, that increased devotion gives strength for the performance of duty.
1. Esther desired others to interest themselves in her behalf. "Fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day. The human heart craves for sympathy, which, when obtained, gives courage in the hour of trial. Thus the missionary in foreign lands, when he remembers that thousands of his brethren are pleading his cause with God at a certain appointed season, forgets his isolation and nerves himself afresh for his work. Besides this, we have reason to believe that the fervent prayers of righteous men, even when offered for others, avail on high.
2. Esther, while she sought the sympathy of others, was careful also to perform her own part. "I also and my maidens will fast likewise." The aid of others is liable to be over-estimated, and thus may become a snare to those who seek it. No scene on earth is more deeply affecting than that presented by a minister of religion kneeling at the bedside of a dying sinner, praying God to have mercy upon his soul; but if the dying man relies solely upon what the minister can do for him he is the victim of a terrible delusion. "The consolations of the Church," administered to the impenitent in his extremity, are sometimes worse than a mockery; for a notion is entertained that the priest relieves him of all responsibility as regards his spiritual condition. The prayers of others may help our own, but can never make them unnecessary. Observe again -
II. ESTHER'S APPEAL TO THE KING AS COMPARED WITH THE PENITENT'S APPEAL TO GOD. "And so will I go unto the king," etc. We are struck, in the first place, by several points of resemblance.
1. Esther was bowed down by a crushing load of sorrow. Her nation, her kindred, and even her own life, were in jeopardy. Their enemies were already making preparations for the ghastly carnival of blood. The thought of innocent babes and helpless women being dragged to the slaughter, amidst the derisive shouts of furious crowds, thrilled her heart with unutterable anguish. The penitent has been brought face to face with his lost condition. Ruin, death, despair, encompass him round about. Like the publican, he smites upon his breast and cries, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner."
2. Esther felt that no one besides the king had power to help her. To propitiate Haman would have been impossible, for the infamous plot was of his contrivance. To gain the favour of any other prince would have been useless so long as Haman occupied such an exalted position. There was no one left but the king to whom it was advisable to appeal. The penitent looks up to God as his only refuge. He abandons indifference, he renounces pleasure, he spurns self-righteousness; for he perceives how utterly powerless they are to shelter him from the wrath to come. He is persuaded that if he is to be rescued it must be through the intervention of the Almighty.
3. Esther was willing to stake all upon one bold appeal. "If I perish, I perish!" She knew the stern law which ordained certain death for those who came unbidden into the king's presence, unless he held out the golden sceptre to them. She knew also the capricious temper of the king, who, after such ardent professions of attachment, had not wished to see her for the last thirty days. Still she had sufficient faith in his generosity to put it to the test, in spite, of unfavourable appearances. The penitent is probably not without some misgivings when he first turns to God. Not that he doubts for a moment the goodness; mercy, and loving-kindness of God, but because he sees the enormity of his own guilt. Yet he ventures into the Divine presence; and when he remembers that God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, he is confident that his suit will not be in vain. But we are struck, in the second place, with several points of contrast.
1. The penitent is encouraged by God's express invitation - Esther had no encouragement of the kind. For various reasons the king desired that his privacy should be undisturbed. Hence the severity of the law in reference to intruders. But God's heart yearns over the penitent, and, like the prodigal's father in the parable, eagerly watches for his approach. "Look unto me," saith he, "and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else." "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
2. The penitent appeals to God with the certainty of being heard - Esther had no certainty of the kind. Her confidence at best amounted to no more than a hope; and we can easily conceive that this hope varied in strength, from hour to hour, according to her frame of mind. But not a shadow of doubt need ever cross the penitent's mind. He can lay hold on the Divine promises - promises whose foundations are firmer than those of the eternal bills.
3. The penitent can appeal to God whenever and wherever he will - Esther had to wait her opportunity. The king, no doubt, had his own way of spending his time, with which Esther must have been well acquainted. He would not be seen anywhere and at any time even by those who might venture into his presence without permission. And had he been far from home at this very time, a circumstance which sometimes happened, access to him would have been absolutely impossible. But God is not subject to the limitations of time and space. At midnight as at midday, in the wilderness as in the city, in adversity as in prosperity, the penitent can always find him. "Out of the depths," saith the Psalmist, "have I cried unto thee, O Lord." - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day. I and my maidens will also fast the same way. Then I will go in to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish."