“…Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, N.K.J.V.)
The book of Esther opens up with Esther, Mordecai, and their fellow Jews living under the rule of the Persians. A century or so earlier the Jews had been conquered by the Babylonians, with the Jewish survivors being exiled to Babylon. Several decades later, however, the Persians (in an alliance with the Medes) had conquered the Babylonians. After the transfer of power, the Persians had allowed the Jews the opportunity to return home to Israel, and a remnant of the Jews had done that in order to build a new temple to replace the Solomonic one the Babylonians had destroyed. As for all the Jews who had chosen not to return to Israel, they had remained under Persia rule.
As it so happened, Esther was a real looker. How beautiful was she? She was beautiful enough to win what amounted to a national beauty contest to become the new queen for the Persian ruler Ahasuerus. That lofty position should have been enough to ensure that both Esther and Mordecai could live out their lives in safety, but it wasn’t because they were Jews and there was a man named Haman who absolutely hated all Jews. Haman, as it so happened, was Ahasuerus’ second-in-command.
Mordecai was a servant who served in close proximity to Ahasuerus — he “sat within the king’s gate” (Esther 2:19-21). But when Ahasuerus sent out word that his servants should bow and pay homage to Haman whenever Haman walked by, Mordecai refused to obey the command. While that might have had something to do with Mordecai reserving his bowing for God alone, it’s more likely that it had to do with Haman’s lineage. Haman, you see, was a descendant of Agag, an Amalekite king whom Israel’s prophet Samuel had put to death centuries earlier by hacking him to pieces (1 Samuel 15:1-9). Samuel had done that as part of God’s command that all the Amalekites were to be destroyed.
To Israel’s shame, the Jews had historically failed to carry out that command completely, and that was evidenced by the fact that Amalekites kept popping up periodically in the Old Testament storyline (1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1-2; 2 Samuel 1:1-8; 1 Chronicles 4:43). Haman, as I mentioned, was yet another example, and he no doubt knew his family tree’s long history of being killed by Jews. Because of this, he would have despised Mordecai (who was well known for being Jewish) even if Mordecai had bowed to him and paid him homage. The point is that Mordecai refusing to give Haman the public show of respect everyone else did simply lit the fuse on what was already a powder-keg relationship. As for Mordecai, he too no doubt knew about the longstanding war between his people and Haman’s people.
In Haman’s rage against Mordecai, he convinced Ahasuerus that the Jews were a threat to the Persian empire because they kept their God’s laws rather than the laws of the Persians. That, of course, was a gross exaggeration, but it was enough to get Ahasuerus to agree to allow Haman to have each and every Jew, young and old alike, executed on a certain day. As part of the plan, Haman would even donate a large sum of money out of his own pocket to the royal treasury to pay the men who did the rounding up and executing. What neither Ahasuerus nor Haman knew was that Esther, Ahasuerus’ beautiful queen, was Mordecai’s cousin and a Jew herself. She and Mordecai had kept her lineage a secret for fear that it would have prevented Ahasuerus from selecting her to be his queen.
This, then, brings us to our text passage. Once word was sent out about Haman’s plan, Mordecai began to make a public spectacle of himself in the city square of Shushan where the palace of Ahasuerus was located. Mordecai tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and cried out loudly. Even though these were all traditional acts of mourning among the Jewish people, Mordecai’s behavior embarrassed Esther and she had new clothes sent to him. Mordecai, however, refused to change his attire. Then Esther sent her trusted servant Hathach to talk to Mordecai and find out why he was acting so strangely. She either hadn’t heard about Haman’s plan to execute all the Jews or she somehow didn’t understand that the plan would extend to Mordecai and could possibly extend to her as well if her nationality was discovered.
After Mordecai explained things to Hathac, he gave Hathac a copy of the execution decree and told him to tell Esther to go to Ahasuerus and plead for the Jewish people. Esther responded by sending Hathac back to Mordecai with the message that if she attempted to approach Ahasuerus without being invited to approach his throne, she might be put to death for that egregious breach of royal etiquette. To bolster her argument, she added in that Ahasuerus hadn’t asked to see her once in the past thirty days.
Esther probably thought her reasoning was sound, but Mordecai wasn’t buying it in the least. By way of Hathac, he sent word back to her that she shouldn’t think that her being the queen would keep her safe while all her fellow Jews died. He even told her that if she remained silent and refused to help her people, not only would God deliver the Jews through some other means but He would also see to it that she and all her father’s family would perish. Then came the famous words of our text: “…Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Mordecai wanted Esther to understand that she hadn’t become queen by accident. He wanted her to acknowledge that her winning that beauty contest hadn’t been a fluke. He wanted her to realize that God was the one who had raised her up to that lofty position, and He had done it because His perfect foreknowledge had shown Him what Haman would ultimately try to pull. In Mordecai’s way of looking at the situation, it was now time for Esther to play the role that God had placed her in perfect position to play.
To her credit, once Esther received this answer from Mordecai, she sent him a return reply that instructed him to get all the Jews in Shushan to fast for her for three days while she and her servants did likewise. At the end of the three days, she would attempt to approach Ahasuerus. She closed her reply by saying, “And if I perish, I perish!”
So, how did things turn out? Well, it’s a fairly complicated story and this post has already gotten longer than I wanted it to get, so let me just give you the basics. They are: Ahasuerus received Esther gladly, the Jewish people were saved, Haman was executed by way of hanging, Ahasuerus gave Esther all of Haman’s wealth and property, and Mordecai was elevated to the second-in-command status that Haman had once held. You talk about a happy ending!
As I close, though, I want you to consider this story in relation to your own life. As we live in these strange days, these days in which we are witnessing events the likes of which we have never seen, have you considered how God wants to use you in His service in the midst of it all? The truth is that He has you stationed right there in your specific corner of the world to be the vessel through whom He works. But you, like Esther, must submit yourself to the role no matter what it might cost you. Basically, the question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to accept God’s assignment and play my role for such a time as this?” If you are, then get alone with God and ask Him, “Lord, how do you want me to serve You here where You have me right now?” Then listen carefully for His answer and go out and do it.