A Repentance Like Esther’s

Have you had your DNA tested? I have some friends who have spent a considerable amount of time over the years investigating their ancestors. For some, it’s a hobby, but for others, it’s out of peer pressure and curiosity about this fad. If you did get yours tested, did it affect your life positively or negatively? Or was it just a distraction from the life that is going on all around you? I haven’t used a DNA service because right now I am very busy with things in my here-and-now life but I will when I transition out of this season of ministry. I briefly considered getting my DNA tested for a new reason that just came up recently. Since I was born into a Jewish family, I am often asked about my heritage, especially by those fascinated with all things Jewish or Israel. Knowing my DNA will probably not change anything in the way I minister or view myself. Lately I am learned that people are fascinated by supposed “Jewish DNA.” Some even believe that the Jews have Abraham’s DNA. I wonder how anyone could possibly know what Abraham’s DNA was, as I am not aware of any archeological finding of his physical body. I spent a few days thinking about it and was distracted from my Bible studies and writing. I’m beginning to think that my ministry should include a caution about not getting distracted from Christ and the gospel. This week I was led to meditate on and write about one well-known Old Testament personality’s repentance. Esther was faced with a conundrum and so are we when distracted by the world’s influences. 

Esther’s Persian Life Verses Mordechai’s Jewish Loyalty

Esther was a young Jewish woman married to the Persian King, living in his palace, detached from the Jewish community. When the Jews were threatened with extinction in Persia, she was confronted by her uncle Mordecai. Esther repented of her disinterest, called on her community of faith to pray, and acted upon her new freedom to be faithful to God. Like Esther, we should recognize and confess our detachment from the world’s pressures to conform, even to the DNA craze, and refocus on Christ, to bear the fruit of repentance by our fellowship in the body of Christ and witness for God. “The whole Book of Esther is…about the one character who never appears on stage, never speaks, and is never actually spoken to: God. Nowhere is that more true than in chapter 4, where Esther must place her life in the hands of the unseen, unheard, and unrecognized God. This portrayal of Mordecai and Esther and the Jewish community with them as…people whose entire lives are built around theological presuppositions whose existence and implications they studiously ignore…The author’s literary artistry…highlights a very real conundrum that pastors wrestle with on a weekly basis. Simply put, it is this: ‘How can people who confess an orthodox creed week after week so easily and completely lose track of the implications of that theology whenever problems emerge in daily life?’ Mordecai’s worldview may have been based on a solid theology, but he had difficulty connecting that theology to the issues of everyday life. In times of crisis, for all our orthodox theology, our own first response is frequently the whimper of resignation or human strategy rather than the bark of robust faith in God. We believe in God, but in practice react to life’s crises as if we were virtual atheists.” (1) 

Mordecai’s Faulty Practical Theology and Esther’s Ignorance

Mordecai’s partial practical theology caused him to respond to Haman’s hatred of him and his people by lamenting and fasting as letters went out “in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, [and] there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.” (Esther 4:1-4) The text reads that Esther was “deeply distressed,” but most commentators hold the view that what disturbed her was Mordecai’s appearance and actions, not the reason for them since she probably didn’t know about the king’s decree “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (3:13). It’s possible for us to be so engrossed in politics, work, family lineage, sports, shopping, or TV watching that we don’t see and appreciate the need for a gospel influence and biblical worldview. I can’t help thinking of the present situation in Afghanistan as we approach the deadline for the U.S. to evacuate people. We should be openly lamenting and praying while Christians are hiding, targeted for execution by the Taliban. We should recognize and confess our detachment from the world’s pressures to conform and refocus on Christ, to bear the fruit of repentance by our fellowship in the body of Christ, and witness for God. 

Mordecai’s Good Theology and Esther’s Repentance

After Mordecai refuses to remove his sackcloth and ashes—to stop grieving and lamenting with the Jews—Esther sent a messenger to learn the reason for his anguish (4:4). Mordecai held nothing back from Esther: Haman’s fury that Mordecai wouldn’t bow to him, Haman’s determination to kill Mordecai and the Jews, and the vast sum of money Haman promised to give to the King. In particular, “Mordecai also gave [Esther’s messenger] a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people” (4:8) Mordecai’s response isn’t entirely faultless, as he seems to appeal to the King rather than to God, or at least it appears that way. He’s human, like us. And Esther’s first response is one born of fear because anyone who wasn’t invited to speak to the king was doomed. Ironically, Esther’s fear of execution was the same fear that Mordecai had for the Jewish people. He sent her a message with a confrontation: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.” (4:13-14a).Mordecai’s statement reveals his trust in God’s sovereignty lies his: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’” (4:12) Esther not only embraced his admonishment but acted biblically after her repentance. “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’” (Esther 4:15-16)

Esther’s God-Given Courage

When we sincerely confess and enjoy repentance, the Holy Spirit is unfettered to give us the power to act boldly, joyfully, and biblically. Esther acted “without any explicit promises from God to protect her, or to bring about a successful conclusion to her mission…There are no guarantees of success when we stand up for God, if success means getting what we want…God had committed himself to maintain a people for himself, not so that they could be comfortable, but so that they could bring him glory…It was up to God how to glorify himself through Esther’s obedience, whether by delivering the people through her or allowing her to be martyred in his service, but he would be glorified one way or another. It is the same for us, when we step out in faith, however weak and trembling. We cannot know ahead of time how God will choose to use us…[And] if it is true that a mediator was needed to intercede with King Ahasuerus, how much more do we need a mediator to intercede for us with God, the Great King…he is the great King of kings, the sovereign ruler of the universe, against whom we have rebelled. Fallen, sinful people cannot therefore simply saunter into his presence, unannounced and uninvited. On the contrary, his edict has gone forth against us, declaring us worthy of death because of our sin…Jesus Christ is the true mediator between God and man…far from being comfortably isolated from his community, as Esther was, Jesus identified with us fully…For him, ‘If I perish, I perish’ meant not just the potential probability of death, but the absolute certainty of the cross.” (3) We have been invited to seek our Father’s mercy through this lovely Old Testament picture of intercession on behalf of God’s vulnerable people, whether they be Jews, Afghans, Haitians, or any other people group of unbelievers. But before we can intercede prayerfully, we must repent of our indifference, detachment, self-absorption. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)

Related Scripture: Genesis 43:14; Nehemiah 1:4-11; Daniel 6:1-9; Romans 13:11-13.

Notes:

  1. Duguid, Iain, Esther and Ruth – Reformed Expository Commentary, Esther Chapter 4, P & R Publishing, 2005.
  2. Duguid, Ibid.
  3. Duguid, Ibid 

* I highly recommend reading Duguid’s Commentary.August 26, 2021

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