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Esther 4

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Esther Agrees to Help the Jews The Appeal to Esther Mordecai Asks for Esther's Help Mordecai and Esther Try to Avert the Danger
4:1-3 4:1-3 4:1-3 4:1-3
4:4-9 4:4-8 4:4-11 4:4-5
      4:6-8
  4:9-17   4:9-11
4:10-12      
    4:12-14 4:12-14
4:13-17      
    4:15-16 4:15-17
    4:17  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:1-3
 1When 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. 2He went as far as the king's gate, for no one was to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth. 3In 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.

4:1 "he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went in the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly" These were Jewish mourning rites; more are listed in v. 3:

1. tore his clothes, v. 1

2. put on sackcloth, vv. 1,3

3. put on ashes (or dust, but on the head), vv. 1,3

4. wailed loudly and bitterly, vv. 1,3

5. fasted, v. 3

6. wept, v. 3

Numbers 1 and 2 are often done together (cf. Isa. 58:5; Jer. 6:26; Jonah 3:6). The Persians also practiced #1 (cf. Herodotus, Hist. 8.99).

4:2 Expressing personal emotions in the king's presence or palace was inappropriate (cf. Neh. 2:1-2).

4:3

NASB, NKJV,
NJB, NIV"many"
NRSV, TEV,
REB"most"
JPSOA"everybody"
NAB"all"

The Hebrew has "many," but this term often has the connotation of "all" (cf. Isa. 53:11,12 vs. 53:6; Rom. 5:19 vs. 5:18).

▣ "lay on sackcloth" Sackcloth was made of coarse goat or camel hair. It was rough and most uncomfortable when worn close to the skin. The Jews wore it as an outer garment and even slept on it (cf. II Sam. 21:10; I Kgs. 21:27; Isa. 58:5).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:4-8
 4Then 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. 5Then 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. 6So Hathach went out to Mordecai to the city square in front of the king's gate. 7Mordecai 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. 8He 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.

4:4

NASB"the queen writhed in great anguish"
NKJV, NRSV"the queen was deeply distressed"
TEV"she was deeply disturbed"
NJB"she was overcome with grief"

The VERB (BDB 296 I; KB 297; Hithpalpel IMPERFECT) means to writhe in anxiety. The term is often used of child birth (cf. Ps. 29:8; 55:4-5; Isa. 26:17; 51:2), as well as the pain of the wicked in judgment (cf. Job 15:20). The ADVERB "deeply" (BDB 547) is added for emphasis. This term is used for both physical and psychological pain.

Her servants evidently knew her close relationship to Mordecai even though they may not have known that they were blood relations. Esther was greatly concerned about her uncle's actions.

4:7-8 Mordecai tells Esther's servant (Hathach) the situation and even gives him a copy of the posted edict to show Esther.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:9-12
 9Hathach came back and related Mordecai's words to Esther. 10Then Esther spoke to Hathach and ordered him to reply to Mordecai: 11"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." 12They related Esther's words to Mordecai.

4:9-12 She seemed to fear for her own life in breaking Persian court customs more than for the slaughter of her people! We learn of some of these customs from Herodotus (Hist. 3.118,140), which implies that only members of the seven special Persian families could approach the king without his permission.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 4:13-17
 13Then 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. 14For 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?" 15Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, 16"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." 17So Mordecai went away and did just as Esther had commanded him.

4:13 Mordecai seems to be somewhat upset at Esther's response. Mordecai plainly tells Esther that if all the Jews die, then she will also die!

4:14 "relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place" This is where most commentators assert that a strong allusion to God is assumed (as in v. 16, cf. the Targums and Josephus' Antiq. 6.7). This is the Hebrew doctrine of God's providence. The Jews were an integral part of God's redemptive plan for all humanity (cf. Rom. 9:4-5).

The term "relief" (BDB 926, KB 1194) has a wide semantic field (possibly reflects two separate roots). Its primary meaning was "to be wide or spacious," but the same three consonants can also mean

1. liberation

2. air, breath, wind, spirit

3. smell, odor, scent

Here it means deliverance as in Gen. 32:16.

As God delivered His people from Egypt (cf. Gen. 45:5-7) He will deliver them from Haman. Esther has been placed in a special place for God to use (like Joseph) at this critical time (i.e., the unseen hand of God).

▣ "And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this" This is the most famous phrase in the book of Esther. It encourages great faith in God's unseen, but present, care and providence (the unseen, but ever-present, hand of God)!

▣ "you and your father's house will perish" Although Mordecai has confidence that God will deliver His people, Esther must choose if she will allow God to work through her life. This is the biblical tension between God's unconditional covenant (i.e., human redemption) and the conditional individual response.

4:16 "do not eat or drink for three days" There is a series of IMPERATIVES (3) and two IMPERFECTS used in a JUSSIVE sense.

1. go (BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE)

2. assemble (BEB 488, KB 484, Qal IMPERATIVE)

3. fast (BDB 847, KB 1012, Qal IMPERATIVE)

4. do not eat (BDB 27, KB 40, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense)

5. do not drink (BDB 1059, KB 1667, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense)

This verse vividly communicates Esther's fear ad faith!

Although prayer is not specifically mentioned, prayer and fasting are definitely linked in the OT.

This verse alludes to the mystery of prayer and providence. It is obviously God's will that the Jewish people survive in order for the Messiah to come. Why then such extraordinary means: (1) fasting (three days and nights with no food or water, a total fast) and (2) the numbers of people? Will God not act unless His people humble themselves and pray? God's redemptive will must have priority over human action! Does this whole context imply that God will surely accomplish His purposes, but possibly not through Esther and Mordecai (cf. v. 14)?

These questions are mysteries. Mystery about (1) a sovereign God and a covenant people; (2) prayer and providence; and (3) the new modern theological emphasis on open-theism (cf. Clark Pinnock, The Most Moved Mover). See SPECIAL TOPIC: ELECTION/PREDESTINATION AND THE NEED FOR A THEOLOGICAL BALANCE Versus Human Free Will at Neh. 9:7.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Explain Mordecai's statements in v. 14 and how they relate to your understanding of God's activity in your life.

2. Where in this chapter is God's presence and care assumed but not specifically stated?

3. Why does the book never mention God?