Passage – Esther 4
The older ones amongst us will remember the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks that ran for a mere 41 years, ending in 1990. It set the tone for follow up lookalike contests like X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Different people would get the opportunity to display their talent, be it dancing, singing, magic, comedy, impressions etc, and then the public would vote for their winner. Many stars of stage and screen made their first appearance on the programme. Opportunity knocked and they grabbed it!! But this is not just the stuff of the entertainment industry, it’s life! Maybe there was an opportunity that knocked in your life and you seized it and never looked back! Maybe, an opportunity knocked but you missed it, and you’ve been kicking yourself ever since! In this week’s Pep Talk we’re looking at a woman in the Bible for whom opportunity knocked and she grabbed it. Her name is Esther. Her opportunity was not a song or dance routine, but the opportunity to save her people from destruction.
The story so far
The Book of Esther is set in the Persian city of Susa where King Xerxes reigned (around 485-465BC). As leader of the Persian Empire, he was the most powerful man at the time. He dismissed his previous Queen (Vashti) in a drunken fit of temper, and she was replaced by Esther, a Jew (unbeknown to the King). Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who raised her, came to fame in chapter 2 by foiling a plot to assassinate the King. In chapter 3 the villain of the story, Haman, is revealed. The King promotes Haman and everyone’s frightened of him except Mordecai, who refuses to bow before him as Haman was an Amalekite and as such an enemy of God and his people. As a result, Haman is allowed to issue an edict on behalf of the King, that on the 13th Day of the 12th Month all the Jews are to be annihilated. Cue the tense music!
A time to mourn (v1-3)
“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no-one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (v1-3) Mordecai’s very public demonstration of mourning was not because someone had died, but because something was not right. Haman’s evil edict threatened the fulfilment of God’s promises to His People. It went against everything that Mordecai knew to be true and right, and it moved him to be full of sorrow and grief. I wonder, when was the last time that you mourned evil? The presence of sin and evil in our own hearts and in our world should upset us. Ok, we don’t tear our clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes and wail, but we should mourn.
A time to wake-up (v4-14)
Esther is in luxury in the royal palace and Mordecai is in sackcloth outside the king’s gate, and they conduct a series of exchanges via a palace official, Hathach. When Esther initially hears about Mordecai, she was in ‘great distress’, and sends him some clothes. This well-meaning action was quick, superficial and rejected. So Esther gets Hathach to find out what’s really troubling Mordecai, and so Mordecai tells him everything. “He told him to urge her to go into the King’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.” (v8) When this is reported to Esther, she sends a reply to Mordecai informing him of the little matter of royal protocol. No-one can just approach the King! If they did, they might find themselves dead quite quickly. The only exception being if the King extended his gold sceptre. She also mentioned that she’d not been with the King for 30 days which may have been a sign of her declining popularity. Maybe Esther was looking for excuses not to act, but Mordecai doesn’t give up and sends this reply- “Do not think 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.” (v13-14a) Mordecai sincerely believes that God has sovereignly ordered the events of Esther’s life- “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.” (V14b) This is the wake-up call Esther needed. God uses all sorts of things to wake-up his people today, not least suffering. It’s often at such times (like the Pandemic we’ve been experiencing) that we re-engage with His eternal plans.
A time to act (v15-17)
“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.” (v15-17) Momentum shifts as it’s no longer Mordecai making the running but Esther. The first thing she wants God’s people to do is to fast. In almost all occurrences of fasting in the Bible it’s accompanied by prayer. So all God’s people, including Esther and her maids, fast and pray for her visit to the King. Her statement that- “If I perish, I perish” is not fatalism or a cavalier attitude but reflects a person who realises that her life is entirely in God’s hands. So opportunity knocks and Esther grabs it! You’ll have to read the next chapters to find out what happens! When opportunity knocks for you, and God calls you to step out in faith for Him, what will you do? Jesus puts it like this- “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
Prayer- Dear Lord God. Please help me to marvel afresh at the fact that Jesus laid down his life for me, that I might seek first your kingdom above all else in my life. Amen