Read: Esther 2:19-4:17
With Ether’s role now established, the stories begin to unfold: plots, deception, risks and faith.
To set the stage, we’re given a sound-bite story about Mordecai overhearing a plot to assassinate King Xerxes. We actually learn a lot in just three verses, verse 22 in particular:
But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. Esther 2:22
- Mordecai’s presence at the king’s gate was so common that the conspirators didn’t think twice about him overhearing their conversation
- Mordecai had access to Queen Esther
- Esther had learned how to communicate with the king, no doubt some complex royal protocol
- When she made her report, Mordecai’s name didn’t surprise anyone
Sitting at the king’s gate may not be as trivial as it looks. Looking at various translations, it appears that after Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2, he took his place at the king’s gate (Daniel 2:49) while Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego served elsewhere in the king’s administration. Interesting.
Chapter 3 begins with Haman being promoted above other nobles (without any particular reason). Back at the king’s gate, everyone bows down to honor Haman–with the notable exception of Mordecai. This wasn’t a one-time event, Mordecai was continuously defiant.
Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew. Esther 3:4
Can you imagine the pressure? In my mind I see dozens of people bowing as Haman passes while one guy stays standing, perhaps not even paying attention to the mighty Haman. The NIV Study Bible notes suggest Haman is from the Amalekites and therefore the descension is the result of historical roots. This perspective helps to understand Haman’s response and perhaps the reason why he let it go on for “day after day” to reinforce his rationale that Mordecai disobedience and the need for such a visceral response.
All of this is necessary to the main theme in Esther and it’s important to note that these few verses encompass years, not days or even weeks. The book of Esther begins as Xerxes celebrates his reign in his third year. By this time (Esther 3:7), we are in the twelfth year — some nine years later! As I look deep at the sub-themes in the text, the story takes on many dimensions and becomes very real as the drama unfolds.
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. Esther 3:8
Haman was patient in establishing himself as trustworthy to Xerxes and sets the date for execution some 11 months in advance. All indications that this is a well conceived, methodical plan to rid the king of the infestation of “a certain people” and not an emotional response to a mere Jew not bowing down to Haman.
This should give us some insight into Satan’s playbook, the schemes that are designed to trap us, to turn governments against Christians and churches. It’s difficult to appreciate the tenacity because the text is so brief, but worth pausing a moment and considering how the plans are carefully constructed.
Torn robes, sackcloth and ashes became the wardrobe for Mordecai and many Jews throughout the land. Loud wailing was heard in the city. This was not suppressed by any stretch of the imagination — everyone must have known! CNN would have run 15-second soundbites for days.
Through couriers, Mordecai gets the words to Esther (he couldn’t see her while dressed in sackcloth) and asks her to appeal to the king. She’s learned a lot about royal protocol and responds:
any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. Esther 4:11
Mordecai’s response is one we’ve heard many times, so significant to remember as we go about doing the work of Christ even today:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14
The pressure is on Esther and her response is to have everyone fast and pray for three days to build up support. In my mind, this was not a delay tactic or in any way some hope that this would pass. Far too many gears are in motion at this point, Esther knows this will happen if she doesn’t do something.
When this is done, I will go to the king,
even though it is against the law.
And if I perish, I perish.
Almighty and Sovereign Lord, I pray that we would have the courage to see the giants in front of us and pray this prayer–and if I perish, I perish.