The Bible makes it clear that God in His providence will carry His people through trials, even if it's not exactly how we might expect it.
What does God do when we are reluctant to risk our personal security, our safety to stand up for Him or to stand up for His people? We'll find out today on Truth for Life as we continue our study in the book of Esther. Alistair Begg is teaching from the opening verses of chapter 4. The word was out that on a certain day this pogrom was to take place. Those who named the name of God were to be swept up and carried away into extinction. And chapter 4 begins with the reaction of Mordecai to this. Let's just notice in verses 1, 2, and 3 Mordecai's reaction.
His outfit, with torn clothes and sackcloth and ashes, is not a fashion statement. Read the Old Testament, and you discover that this was a commonplace reaction by the people of God. It was a public display of mourning, of agitation, of consternation. Now look at the pathetic picture of him there, crying aloud, and his actions are duplicated throughout the provinces where the news has spread. Once again, you will see that the response of the people is not one of celebration but one of consternation. There was great mourning among the Jews.
Verse 3 says, there was fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them were lying around in sackcloth and in ashes. Lawson, the old commentator, makes the point—and I think it's helpful—the faith of God's people does not interfere with the exercise of emotion suited to mournful dispensations of providence. And that ought to be, for some of us, a real liberation, especially if we're hanging around with a group of people who have told us that if you were a real, solid, faithful, believing soul, you would not be lying around on the ground wailing and mourning and lamenting and creating such a ruckus. What do they know?
What do they know of faith? What do they know of the exercise of emotion suited to the mournful dispensations of providence? The mournful dispensation of providence that takes your spouse when you want her to stay living with you. That takes your child when you expect her to grow to the fullness of life.
That takes your life from you when you have an expectancy, in human terms, that runs out before you. What is the emotion then, you see? And here we find in the reaction of this man an understandable reaction, an honest reaction, and an action which sets many of us free from some of the silly stuff that has been foisted upon us, which owes more to self-help books than it does to an understanding of the Bible. The hymn writer gets it, doesn't he? When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie.
Not when over fiery trials. If you've been flying a lot in these last three weeks, especially around the south as well, you know that we can't just keep going over this stuff. We're going through it. We've asked everyone to be seated. You know the routine. We've asked them all to be seated.
We have suspended the service. It's like, Okay, here we go. Buckle up and hang in there. Through it. Not over it.
Through it. I find that tremendously encouraging. I hope you do too. When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie. His grace, all sufficient, will be your supply. For he will be with you in trouble to bless and sanctify to you your deepest distress. Your deepest distress.
What is your deepest distress this morning? God will sanctify that to you. Yeah, but please remove it from me. No, I'm not removing it from you. I'll sanctify it to you. I'll make it a means of grace to you. I promise to be with you. I will not forsake my people. I am committed to bring into fulfillment the promise that I made to Abraham, although it seems to be rocking and rolling in the middle of Persia five centuries before Jesus. Mordecai's reaction.
Boy, we spent a long time on that, didn't we? Secondly, Esther's isolation. If Mordecai's reaction is striking, Esther's isolation is worthy of our note as well. We've come through chapter 3, and she was never mentioned in it. She has been removed from the mainstream of life in Susa. She's not out at the stores. She's not out at the marketplace. She's not there to hear the buzz on the street. She's not attending worship with the people of God. She is isolated. She doesn't have the pulse of the people.
She's not identified with them at this point in any significant way at all. Indeed, Mordecai, her cousin, had told her, it'd be better if you didn't come clean about being a Jewess. And so she hadn't. And so news of the edict had reverberated through all the provinces, but it hadn't reached her in the palace. And it's only through her support team, through her young women, those who served her, and through the eunuchs who also were in servitude to her, that she discovers the news of what her controversial cousin has been up to. And when they came and told her verse 4 what was going on with Mordecai, the queen was deeply distressed.
"'Well, that's nice. If he's sad, I'm sad,' she says. I don't like to see my cousin like that, lying around in the street, wailing like a crazy man. And what kind of clothes is he wearing out there in any case?' Well, they said, he's got sackcloth and ashes, everything's ripped up, he's a royal mess.
He's been lying around the street screaming. No, she said, well, I think what we should do is, let's just send him some clothes. I mean, it's obvious he's got a problem with his wardrobe.
If we can get him just clothed up nicely, then maybe he'll cut this nonsense out.' Well, she's very sincere in her response, but she's completely clueless. Why? Because she's isolated! She's not involved! She is now away somewhere else! She doesn't watch the news!
She's like you! She doesn't read the newspapers either! And as a result, she hasn't a clue what's going on.
And when the news reaches her, she responds in what she would regard as an appropriate fashion, but she's completely deluded as to the nature of the problem. And it is only when, having sent the new wardrobe out, that she discovers that Mordecai refuses to wear it that she then says, well, wait a minute, I need to find out exactly what in the world is going on here. He wouldn't accept them, verse 4, and so Esther called for Haphak, one of the king's eunuchs, who'd been appointed to attend to her, and she ordered him to go to Mordecai. So someone has already gone to Mordecai, given him the clothes.
He came back, says he doesn't want the clothes. She says, Haphak, go down there and find out what's going on. Let me understand what this was. I need to know what this was and why it was.
Okay? So she realizes that she is isolated, and Haphak is dispatched. Incidentally, if you just watch Haphak here, it's almost humorous, if you read it in a certain way, you know. She says, okay, Haphak, go to Mordecai and say this. So he goes to Mordecai and says it, and Mordecai says, okay, go to Esther and say this. So he comes back and says, Mordecai said this. She said, well, listen, why don't you go to Mordecai? And Mordecai said, oh, Esther, yeah, let's head back to Esther. It's really… It's good, if you see it visually. No?
Okay. So, if, incidentally, Mordecai had operated on this very public display in order to get to the queen, then he must be absolutely delighted. Because think about it, he didn't have any access to the queen. She was isolated.
She lived in a palace. Earlier we've seen that he walked up and down the street outside the entrance to the king's gate in order that he might be able to pick up snippets of information and then in turn relay information to the queen. But he wasn't able to text her. He couldn't directly contact her.
He was isolated from her. And so his public display, which was obvious to all who were in the third affair of life, then achieved what may well have been his objective to actually get to the queen's attention, because he recognized that the queen may well be about to play an important role in the unfolding drama of God's purposes. And so he was ready when Hayfack came with his questions. And you'll notice that he then explained exactly what was going on. Verse 7, Mordecai told him all that had happened to him. He must have said to him, listen, this whole thing started when Haman wanted me to bow down to him.
I wouldn't bow down to him. Haman's gone over the top, and he's ordered this extermination of the entire Jewish population. I have to acknowledge my part in it. He also told him the exact sum of money that was involved. This was a huge commitment on the part of Haman, because he recognized that revenue would be lost as a result of the extermination of these people. And he was able at the same time to give a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction. So we can only assume that there were a number of these decrees written.
Whether they were written on papyrus or whether they were hacked out on stone or whatever they were done, they must have been rather freely distributed, and Mordecai had got his hands on one of them, and he was able to say, Why don't you just take this back to Esther? When she sees this, she'll understand exactly what's going on. And actually, this is what I want you to do, he says to Hayfack. I want you to go to the queen. Go to the queen. And you just tell her what's happened, and have her go to the king—this is verse 8—and beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. Her people.
So, the secret is out. Her people? If no one had known before, Hayfack knows now that the queen is actually a Jew. That she is included in this edict of extermination. That she then personally and her family faces the threat that has been unleashed as a result of this plot by him, and go to the king, beg, and plead on behalf of her people. Well, Esther then responds.
You see that in verse 9. And Hayfack went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Here we go again. Then Esther spoke to Hayfack and commanded him to go to Mordecai. Okay, go back again.
This is what you need to say to him. So, you have the reaction of Mordecai, you have the elevation of Esther, you have Esther's isolation, you have Hayfack's intervention, and then you have Esther's response. And this will be all we'll be able to do before we wrap this up. What's the response of Esther? Go back to Mordecai and say—now, let me just try and summarize it. Basically, she says, go back to Mordecai and say, that's easy for you to say. That's easy for you to say.
You're not the one that's going to do this. She is essentially saying to Hayfack, go back to Mordecai and say, let's be practical about things. Let's use our minds on this one. Let's not get carried away here. Let's be sensible. All the kinds of things that people say when there is some great drama before us, when there is some adventure that awaits us, when there is some challenge that faces us—there's always somebody who's very quick to say, well, now, let's just make sure that we're very sensible about this. We don't want to do anything crazy. We don't want to really start trusting God in this situation.
I mean, they're going to think we're nuts if we start that kind of conversation. Now, she says, listen, you just don't walk into the king's presence. It's a risky business. She says, everyone knows, all the people of the king's provinces know. And therefore, the inference is—and Mordecai ought to know as well—that the law forbids anyone who is unsummoned to enter.
And if you do enter, the penalty is death. Now, I said to you that this story is full of irony. Here's one of the ironies just in passing, for those of you who like stories. And think about it in chapter 1, Vashti—Vashti is gone. Why? Because she wouldn't come when the king told her to. Now, apparently, Esther faces the possibility of being gone, because she's going to go when the king hasn't told her to. So we might be down two queens here before we get to chapter 5. But there's only one queen in a chess game, so that couldn't be.
The chances of her losing her head are significant. In fact, the only chance of being able to pull this off is if the king gives a nod and a wink to the henchmen that stand around him. It actually says that he would motion with his royal scepter, that when somebody intruded in the king's presence, immediately he would go on to full alert, and the men who were ready to deal with the predicament would look to the king to see whether he said, Oh no, it's okay, you can let her stay. But she doesn't know whether the king will treat her in that way or not.
Josephus in his antiquities—he's a Jewish historian writing of this time—he says, "'Round his throne"—that's the throne of King Ahasuerus—"stood men with axes to punish anyone who approached the throne without being summoned." That's pretty straightforward. You might find it's difficult to get in to see your doctor unless he, you know, holds up his royal stethoscope or something to let you in.
But as difficult as it might be, and the chances of him having a group of people with axes, you know, out in the corridor ready to chop your head off if you happen to come back through the outer bit into the first part of the inner bit before you get into the inner inner bit after you've sat for an hour and a half being weighed and finally get in. I say that with the greatest respect. Our doctors are busy people. They need to be protected. Their privacy needs to be protected. Their time needs to be protected. And their lives need to be protected.
And that is exactly why they were protecting this man. You couldn't just go running in there to see the king. And furthermore, Esther says, I'm no longer at the top of his list.
I haven't slept with him in a month. I mean, so you can't—don't think you're gonna use me just to go like, Hey, hey, hey, king! Got a real problem here with a—it's not gonna happen. So she's not gonna play the beauty card. She's not gonna play I'm the queen card. Frankly, we don't know if she's gonna play any card. You know? What's gonna happen next? Well, we have to wait till next time.
Two observations to close. Number one, I hope you're encouraged by the faint-heartedness of Esther. I hope you're encouraged by the fact that when the Word reaches her, she doesn't immediately go, Oh yeah, I'll do that. She goes, I'm not doing that. Why would you be encouraged by that as a believer?
Because if you're honest, you see your face in that response. Most of us are not stepping up to say, Oh yeah, I'll put my life in jeopardy for you, for the people of God, for the living God. All I have is Christ.
He's everything. Yeah. No, I'm not going. Well, you just sang the song.
Yeah, I sang the song, but I mean, singing the song's not the same as going. Clearly it isn't. Isn't it fantastic that God uses the faint-hearted people like Esther? He doesn't set her aside, as we'll see as the story continues. So observation number one is, God uses faint-hearted people in order to achieve his purposes, even when we say no the first, second, and third time.
It's remarkable. And second observation is this, that the king who bids us come to him is nothing like Ahazuerus at all. The palace has been on the news all last week, hasn't it? But I didn't see anybody just strolling in through the gates, did you?
No! There's loads of people gazing through the railings, completely inaccessible. Whoever's in there, unless they come out to us, we're never of a chance of even catching a glimpse of them, let alone having a conversation with them. That's how some people think of God. That's not God.
That's not what God is like. That is not the king. King Jesus is not sequestered behind bars. King Jesus stepped out of his throne and down into time and stood on the streets accessible to the masses and said, Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest and take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and lowly and hard, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Here's the encouragement for the believer, Go, even though you're faint-hearted. And here is the exhortation to the unbeliever, Come to this king, come bow before him now, accept his mercy, accept his grace, and trust resolutely in him.
And when we come back next time, God willing, we will pick up the story from here. That is Alistair Begg concluding a message titled Fasting, Weeping, Lamenting. This is Truth for Life.
Alistair returns in just a moment to close today's program. We love to share the gospel message here at Truth for Life, and we trust that God, by his grace, is using this program to convert unbelievers, to bring believers into a closer relationship with Jesus, and in the process, to build up and strengthen local churches. Since part of our mission at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible with clarity and relevance, you will find available on our website study guides on several topics to help you deepen your understanding of God's Word. New to the collection of study guides is one of the most famous chapters in Scripture, Romans chapter 12. Alistair unpacks this section of Romans in 14 messages in a series called Shaped by Grace. He teaches us how our identity in Christ should cause us to be different from the world around us and what that should look like practically. You can explore this topic on your own or with a group by listening to the messages or using the corresponding 14-part Shaped by Grace study guide. It's free to download, or you can purchase a printed booklet for just a dollar when you select study guides in our online store at truthforlife.org slash store. And if you'd like a study that your whole family can enjoy together, we've got a book we want to recommend to you.
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Or you can call us at 888-588-7884. Now here's Alistair to close today with prayer. O God our Father, thank you for your word. We bow down before you a great and good God. Help us even in our faint-heartedness to the challenges of our day to say, Here am I, send me. And help us, Lord, to give up our flawed notions of the kingdom of Christ, of his kingly rule.
Help us to understand that this king rode a donkey, that this king was crowned with thorns, that this king entered into the very depths of our predicament, bore the edict that was the penalty of sin in order that we might come to him. O help us then to do so, Lord, we pray. And grant that our gaze may be filled with you, the living God, not substitute gods, the gods of our contemporary world, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that we might behold him in all of his power and majesty and glory. For in his name we pray, Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship together with your local church family this weekend. Most of us are reticent to rock the boat when we're in a season of safety and security. On Monday, we'll find out what Esther did when she faced a potentially life-threatening dilemma. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the learning is for nothing.
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