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Grief and Courage

Esther 4:1 - 5:8

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In this section the threat of persecution suddenly becomes much more real; the Jews are given a death sentence. From action and reaction we may take an example of how the Christian is to behave under threat.


When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly. He went as far as the king's gate, for no one was to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth. In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes. Then Esther's maidens and her eunuchs came and told her, and the queen writhed in great anguish. And she sent garments to clothe Mordecai that he might remove his sackcloth from him, but he did not accept them.

(Est 4:1-4 NASB)

Grief, when it is upon us, seems overwhelming. But we must remember that the children of God receive their grief as is passes through the hand of Almighty God. He regulates our afflictions:

  • He regulates how much grief one gets. Do you remember Job? Satan came and asked permission to afflict him. The Lord specified what could, and could not, be done with him.
  • He regulates how long the affliction lasts. He knows that our endurance is not eternal.
  • Most importantly, he regulates it so that it does not necessarily overwhelm you. Most of what we get is common to mankind; it is bitter, but it will pass with time.

We see grief and affliction as being something that “just happens.” God sees it as a tool to benefit us:

  • Often, from our affliction and grief, He teaches us His ways. Who among us has never attended a Christian funeral? If you have, you know that death looks you in the face – but also the sure and certain resurrection.
  • He uses it to refine us. In our afflictions we often find ourselves faced with choices – what to keep in our lives, what to discard. As we choose His ways over our ways, we grow closer to Him in purity of spirit.
  • Remarkably, He often uses the grief and affliction of His people to show His kingdom to the world.

That last is particularly important. A friend and coworker lost his wife to cancer. She left him with eight children. When I arrived at the church for the funeral, his first words were, “John, how does anyone get through this without Jesus Christ?” My answer: “I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.” Standing next to us was my boss, thinking.

Remember, too, that you have a duty to those who are grieving. The afflicted are in our care, like it or not. This applies both to those suddenly afflicted (death of a spouse, for example) or those who are continually afflicted[1]. Who could not be moved by the death of the farm workers toiling in 100+ heat? Their deaths made it news, but their treatment has been like this for many years. Would you have imagined that the law of this land lacked a provision that such workers be provided both shade and water? When the governor issued his emergency orders on same, even the farmers who pay these workers had to agree that this is just and right.

More commonly, we get the privilege of being Good Samaritans[2]. Privilege? Yes, it costs you in time, money and effort – but by this you become more like God, whose rain falls on the just, the unjust and even the unknown.

One very important reason for rendering comfort during a time of grief is this:

"For the despairing man there should be kindness from his friend; So that he does not forsake the fear of the Almighty.

(Job 6:14 NASB)

To allow our Christian brother or sister to go through grief uncomforted is to risk them losing the faith. The fear of God comes from the presence of God; often enough, you and I are that presence.


Then Esther summoned Hathach from the king's eunuchs, whom the king had appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. So Hathach went out to Mordecai to the city square in front of the king's gate. Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact amount of money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people. Hathach came back and related Mordecai's words to Esther. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and ordered him to reply to Mordecai: "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that for any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned, he has but one law, that he be put to death, unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live. And I have not been summoned to come to the king for these thirty days." They related Esther's words to Mordecai. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, "Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa, and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens also will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish." So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.

(Est 4:5-17 NASB)

Somehow, there always seems to be a problem between us and a just solution.

  • Sometimes the problem is in “the system.” This is particularly tough for Christians, as we are taught to be obedient to civil rulers as an example for Christ.
  • Sometimes, it’s just one person. A rich, powerful person, usually, but none the less one. We compare our strengths, and despair. (But the battle belongs to the Lord).[3]
  • Often enough the problem is not external so much as it is internal. The inner man says, simply, “I can’t”.

We need to remember that we are not alone in this. Mordecai puts the point personally to Esther.

  • God has charge of this; He will provide deliverance for His people.
  • Don’t think you can skate by denying Him; He remembers.
  • Most important – maybe God has selected you to work his works.

The is a sureness about God that we should rely on. Solomon says that God directs the steps no matter what we plan.[4] We can share in that sureness of God by being his children. How so? Look at it this way: those who are devious and hateful quite naturally assume everyone else is too. So when it comes to taking courage, they need a lot more to get past the enemies they don’t really have. It is by the pure heart we see God; seeing God, the pure heart knows its deliverer.

There is also the “Indiana Jones” principle: you and I have read the end of the Book. We know how it all turns out.

Taking courage – note that verb – is something that is commanded by God rather frequently in the Bible. It therefore must be something which can be taken. In other words, it’s not something built in – but a decision we make.

That’s how God turns the obedient chicken hearted into the courageous. The armies of the world look for courageous men, to beat them into being obedient soldiers; the armies of God are composed of obedient ones commanded to be courageous.[5]

Two Banquets

Now it came about on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace in front of the king's rooms, and the king was sitting on his royal throne in the throne room, opposite the entrance to the palace. When the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, she obtained favor in his sight; and the king extended to Esther the golden scepter which was in his hand. So Esther came near and touched the top of the scepter. Then the king said to her, "What is troubling you, Queen Esther? And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you." Esther said, "If it pleases the king, may the king and Haman come this day to the banquet that I have prepared for him." Then the king said, "Bring Haman quickly that we may do as Esther desires." So the king and Haman came to the banquet which Esther had prepared. As they drank their wine at the banquet, the king said to Esther, "What is your petition, for it shall be granted to you. And what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be done." So Esther replied, "My petition and my request is: if I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and do what I request, may the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king says."

(Est 5:1-8 NASB)

There is a fascinating puzzle in here: how did Esther know, or decide, to have two banquets?

Looking back on the whole story, we can see how two banquets make sense in the economy of God:

  • God needs that extra night for the king’s insomnia.
  • It’s also the night in which Haman’s pride precedes his fall.
  • And of course in the second banquet Esther exposes Haman.

So it all makes sense – in hindsight. But what was Esther thinking?

  • Perhaps it was simply that she was timid and hesitant – and thus decided to put off the actual challenge until the next day. If so, we can see how God can still use us for His purposes.
  • It’s possible that Esther had mastered feminine wiles, and she knew the value of keeping the king in suspense.
  • Or did God reveal this to her, commanding her to make it twice?

We may never know.

But whatever the reason, we see here three characteristics of the providence of God:

  • God’s providence is given in His timing. It is not something we can command; it is His.
  • God will do this using the things of this world.
  • God will do this using the people of this world – who won’t understand a bit of it.

[1] Isaiah 58:6-10

[2] Luke 10:30-37

[3] Proverbs 21:31

[4] Proverbs 16:9

[5] See, for example, Elijah and Jezebel.

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