By Brenda Black
The scene opens with old Mordecai weeping and wailing. He wears shabby clothes, his face unwashed, hair uncombed. He has sworn off food and wanders down city streets, expressing his great fear and grief. His niece Esther learns of her uncle's anguish from within the king's palace, where she resides in comfort. She sends garments by way of her attendants to clothe the elder relative and grant him dignity along with provision. But nothing of this world will stop the Jew from seeking God when his people are under threat of annihilation, at the request of Haman, one of the king's royal officials.
Sounds like a Shakespearian plot, but this is no work of a playwright. This is Jewish history, during the time of Xerxes, who ruled a kingdom stretching from India to Cush, in the citadel of Susa, in the third year of his reign. (book of Esther)
Three key performers approach the grave situation in vastly different ways, providing 21st century readers a picture of contrasts: godly counsel verses bad advise.
We've already seen Mordecai's approach – vocal outcries and visible pleas for God's intervention to halt an edict for the destruction of the Jews bought with Haman's donation to the royal treasury. He implored the God of the Jews to intervene, and enlisting Esther.
“Hathach [Esther's attendant] went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 'All the kings' officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life...'
“When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: 'Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?' (Esther 4:9-14)
Esther's response to the dire circumstances reveals a model of faith fortified in humility.
“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 'Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'” (Es. 4:15-16)
Esther prayed, fasted, sought the prayer of others and waited for God to answer and He delivered courage and a plan so simple.
“Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king's gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai...
“Calling together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. 'And that's not all,' Haman added. 'I'm the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king's gate.'
“His wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, 'Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy.' This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.” (Es. 5:9-14)
Haman did not pray. He did not fast. He sat around a table with friends and family and as he gorged, he bragged about his great standing, rather than humble himself. Instead of a simple, wise plan, his crew came up with a hair-brained idea that would ultimately leave Haman swinging from his own gallows.
Mordecai and Esther received godly counsel that empowered them with unspeakable peace and fearless fortitude. Haman's bad advice left him red faced, foolish, ignorant, and dead.
Why a lesson on Jewish history? Because history repeats itself. There are lots of young graduates currently embarking on unknown destinies, searching for jobs, wondering how they are going to pay off thousands of dollars of college debt. Here in the pages of Esther is sound encouragement. Seek first His kingdom. Get wisdom. Do not sit at the feet of scoffers. Don't buy into the American dream that solely revolves around Me, Me, Me. Invest yourself into others, serve generously, humble yourself even as you are vying for the nod of an employer. If you want true peace and fearless confidence that you are on the right path – pray and fast. Enlist not the sage old advice of family and friends, but ask for their prayers and listen for God's counsel.
It's okay to be fearless. It's never a good idea for a grad to be foolish. Esther risked it all to do the right thing and it certainly wasn't all about her own comfort or standing. It had more to do with God's timing and His wisdom.
For such a time as this, dear graduates, seek the Lord in all your ways and pursue the things that please Him. And parents and friends: if you have any advice to offer, be sure you pray before you give it!