Salvation in the story of the Bible involves sacrifice and faith. It involves a lot of other things, too, but sacrifice and faith are core parts of the salvation story. And here in Esther 4, we get a picture of both sacrifice and faith as events move toward the salvation of the Jews in Persia.
First off, however, this is an interesting book! In the Book of Esther, people sometimes didn’t seem to know things that they really should have known. It’s like they were oblivious to the obvious.
Esther didn’t seem to know the Jews had been set for extermination by the Persian government. I don’t know why she didn’t know. You would think she would have heard about it somehow. Mordecai and pretty much every other Jew knew about it. They were wailing in the streets and wearing sackcloth. But Esther didn’t seem to learn about it until Mordecai sent her an actual copy of the decree.
(The fact that he had a printed copy of the decree shows how high up Mordecai was in the Persian court. In those days, they couldn’t just print these things off the internet.)
Perhaps Esther was just so insulated in the palace that she didn’t know what was happening outside of it. Perhaps this was part of the assimilation process – an exiled Israelite being tugged away from her heritage and her people by her new culture. It could be something else. But Esther was out of touch.
She was brought to reality by the messages from Mordecai. Esther needed to do something. This is perhaps the most famous part of the story. “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Mordecai was so resolute. I am going to assume he knew the stories of old – the stories of God’s repeated deliverances of his people – the stories that were full of the promises of God for his chosen ones. I think Mordecai was well aware of the chosen-ness of the Jews.
He told Esther that if she kept silent and didn’t go to the king, then “relief and deliverance” would come from a somewhere else. But Esther was to make no mistake about it: The Jews would be delivered.
We call this faith. Mordecai knew the hand of God was behind the nation of Israel, even as they had been scattered like the wind into foreign lands. Mordecai was certain the nation would survive. Some members of the nation may perish – even Esther might perish – but there would at least be some who called themselves Jews who would survive. They’d been chosen by God.
We also live by faith. In this era after the time of Jesus Christ, we live in faith that God will fulfill his promises. We trust someday we will be able to enter into God’s new heaven and new earth and live in a day without crying or tears or pain. We don’t have the fullness of that “relief and deliverance” yet, but we trust it will happen. Jesus will return. This is an important truth in this era of global anxiety.
I assume the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” On the one hand is the idea of perishing – of ceasing to live. On the other is eternal life brought about by the gift of God through faith.
The people of Israel, by nature, are a people of faith – believing in the promises of God. And Mordecai was a man of faith. He reminded Esther of the faith of her people – that they were chosen by God.
Salvation in God’s economy also is about sacrifice. Of course, we remember Jesus Christ dying on the cross. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” God is the great Giver. He gave all, even the most precious thing in the world – an only Son. This is the highest form of sacrifice.
I remember the story of the old patriarch Jacob. Jacob had a bunch of sons. Perhaps you remember the story. There was a moment in time when Jacob’s family was on the brink of starvation. In order to save them, he had to send his son Benjamin to Egypt. You get the pretty clear sense from the story Benjamin was the favorite son. It wasn’t clear what would become of Benjamin in Egypt.
Jacob didn’t want to send him. But salvation required sacrifice. And faith. And Jacob, the father, sat back and said, “And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved” (Genesis 43:14). It’s not that far off from what Esther would say many years later about her own life, “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” She was willing to sacrifice her own life in an effort to save her people.
You might find it interesting that Benjamin was an ancestor of both Mordecai and Esther. And Benjamin, the beloved son, did not die. And what would become of Esther so many years later? We must keep reading!
God calls his chosen ones to lay down their lives for him. Jesus told us all to take up our crosses – our lives – to follow him. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our salvation. And the call next is to become, as a church, “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).
Faith and sacrifice are part of the story of God’s people. They are part of your story and mine.