Commentary on Esther 4

Notes (NET Translation)

1 Now when Mordecai became aware of all that had been done, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice.

Mordecai’s mourning is traditional (e.g., 2 Sam 1:11-12; Neh 9:1; Jon 3:6).

Mordecai was making a public demonstration of his distress. He went into the midst of the city, where he could gather an audience. His cry was not a wail of repentance for having brought down this injustice on the Jews. Rather, it was a cry for justice, a public statement that a wrong had been committed, and that Mordecai sought for it to be made right.

Gerleman has argued that Mordecai’s outcry at the king’s gate constituted a formal legal protest intended to move the king to intervene. Similarly, Clines interprets the cry as a gesture of protest against the king. Bush rejects both ideas, claiming instead that the action was meant only to get the attention of Queen Esther. But it is impossible to imagine that someone wearing sackcloth and ashes, crying out before the king’s doors, would not be trying to get the attention of the king. Indeed, this behavior was typical of those who sought the king’s intervention on their behalf (2 Sam 15:1ā€“6; 2 Kgs 6:26ā€“28; Hist. 3.117). While perhaps not a formal complaint against the king, Mordecai’s actions surely amounted to a formal complaint to the king.1

2 But he went no further than the king’s gate, for no one was permitted to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth.

The king’s gate is probably the entrance to the palace, not a city gate named after the king.

3 Throughout each and every province where the king’s edict and law were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many.

The Jews throughout the empire appeal to God for help because, unlike Mordecai, they do not have access to the king.

4 When Esther’s female attendants and her eunuchs came and informed her about Mordecai’s behavior, the queen was overcome with anguish. Although she sent garments for Mordecai to put on so that he could remove his sackcloth, he would not accept them.

Mordecai may have refused the garments because the crisis had not ceased or as an indication that a public crisis was afoot.

5 So Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who had been placed at her service, and instructed him to find out the cause and reason for Mordecai’s behavior.

6 So Hathach went to Mordecai at the plaza of the city in front of the king’s gate.

The city square of Susa has been excavated by archaeologists. These locations often served as markets and public meeting places in ancient times. It would have been a very crowded, bustling location. Mordecai and Hatach could meet in such a place without drawing attention to themselves.2

7 Then Mordecai related to him everything that had happened to him, even the specific amount of money that Haman had offered to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews to be destroyed.

8 He also gave him a written copy of the law that had been disseminated in Susa for their destruction so that he could show it to Esther and talk to her about it. He also gave instructions that she should go to the king to implore him and petition him on behalf of her people.

9 So Hathach returned and related Mordecai’s instructions to Esther.

10 Then Esther replied to Hathach with instructions for Mordecai:

11 “All the servants of the king and the people of the king’s provinces know that there is only one law applicable to any man or woman who comes uninvited to the king in the inner court – that person will be put to death, unless the king extends to him the gold scepter, permitting him to be spared. Now I have not been invited to come to the king for some thirty days!”

Everyone knows about going uninvited to the king so this is not new information for Mordecai. Rather, Esther is rebuffing Mordecai’s request. No reason is given for why Esther did not request an audience with the king. The note that Esther had not been invited to come to the king for some thirty days may imply that she had fallen out of the king’s favor.

12 When Esther’s reply was conveyed to Mordecai, 13 he said to take back this answer to Esther:

14 “Don’t imagine that because you are part of the king’s household you will be the one Jew who will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, liberation and protection for the Jews will appear from another source, while you and your father’s household perish. It may very well be that you have achieved royal status for such a time as this!”

Mordecai’s confidence for the Jews’ deliverance is based on God’s sovereignty in working out his purposes and fulfilling his promises. Their deliverance will come, even if through some means other than Esther. Yet that sovereignty is not fatalistic: Unless Esther exercises her individual responsibility, she and her family will perish.3

Help from another place could refer to divine or human intervention. Divine providence stands behind the phrase “for such a time as this.”

15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai:

16 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa and fast in my behalf. Don’t eat and don’t drink for three days, night or day. My female attendants and I will also fast in the same way. Afterward I will go to the king, even though it violates the law. If I perish, I perish!”

Esther and her maids once had food and drink brought to them (2:9) but now they share a fast. This fast contrasts with the many banquets in the book. Presumably, the female attendants would now know that Esther was Jewish.

From this point on Esther is transformed from one who is passive and obedient to one who takes charge and directs actions to save her people. Mordecai, by contrast, now becomes passive and obedient to her.4

17 So Mordecai set out to do everything that Esther had instructed him.

The development of Esther’s character is evident in this verse: Mordecai did what Esther ordered. In Esth 2:20, Esther did everything that Mordecai commanded her to do. Now, it is Esther who gives the orders, and Mordecai who obeys. It is important to notice the language here: Esther did not “instruct” Mordecai (as in the NIV) or simply “tell” him what to do (CEB; NCV). The verb sawa is the same word used in Esth 2:10 for Mordecai’s commands of Esther, in 3:2 of the king’s commandment regarding Haman, and in 3:12 of Haman’s commandment. The vocabulary here clearly demonstrates a reversal is taking place: Esther is growing into her role as queen, and even her uncle is subject to her will.5

Bibliography

Barker, Kenneth L. ed. The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Brown, Raymond E. ed. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Mays, James L. ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (Revised Edition). San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2000.

Meeks, Wayne A. ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Tomasino, Anthony. Esther. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013.


  1. Tomasino EEC 4:1 
  2. Tomasino EEC 4:6 
  3. Barker 715 
  4. Meeks 742 
  5. Tomasino EEC 4:17 
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