“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” — Esther 4:14
Like Esther in our text today, Nicholas Winton was an individual who saved many people from extermination at the peril of his own life. In 1938, as a young London stockbroker, Nicholas received a phone call from a friend suggesting that he come to Prague, Czechoslovakia, where his help could be used on an “interesting assignment.” Convinced that a European war was inevitable, Winton agreed, and upon his arrival, he saw for himself the full scope of the problem facing Jews. Refugee camps were filling with Jewish families forced from their homes, and people in the camps were struggling to survive the harsh European winter. Winton was horrified by the appalling conditions, and his greatest concern was for the children.
Having heard of the efforts of agencies in Britain to rescue Jewish children from other locations on the Kindertransport, Winton set about organizing a similar operation for the children of Czechoslovakia. As a British citizen with many business contacts throughout Europe, he was convinced that he could arrange the evacuation of young refugees to safe locations outside of Nazi reach.
At first, his plans were developed around a dining room table at his hotel in Prague. Winton contacted the governments of nations he thought could take in the children. While most of his requests were refused, England and Sweden agreed. One by one, anxious parents who understood the imminent danger to their families came to Winton and placed their children into his hands. As his operation expanded, he opened an office in central Prague. Word spread, and soon hundreds of parents lined up outside Winton’s office seeking a safe haven for their children.
The first evacuation of children left Prague by plane for London on March 14, 1939, the day before the Germans occupied Czech territory. In following months, Winton was able to organize seven more transports of children out of Prague by rail. His rescue activities ended abruptly in early September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and Britain declared war on Germany. However, in those few short months, the lives of 669 children were saved.
Winton never spoke of his pre-war efforts for Jewish families, but in 1988, his wife found a scrapbook of pictures of the children, a complete list of their names, and letters from some of the parents. She finally learned the whole story and shared it with others. In the years that followed, Winton received many acknowledgements for his humanitarian deeds. However, the memento he cherished most until his death in July of 2015 was a ring given him by some of the children he saved. It was inscribed with a line from the Talmud, the book of Jewish law — “Save one life, save the world.”
As Christians, most of us probably will never be called upon to save the lives of others or perform some other great, heroic deed. However, opportunities to serve God in a unique role come to all Christians. Just as God created us as one-of-a-kind individuals in a particular environment, each of us will have occasions to serve Him in ways and places that are not possible for anyone else. We do not want to overlook or ignore those opportunities! As Mordecai said to Esther in our focus verse, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” When we follow God’s plan for our lives, He will lead us to be in the right place at the right time to accomplish the tasks He has designed for us.
Chapter 4 of the Book of Esther describes the despair and consternation of the Jews as the decree of King Ahasuerus that allowed for their destruction became known (verses 1-3), and Mordecai’s urging of Esther to intervene on behalf of her people (verses 4-17). In this chapter, the tide of events began to shift toward the Jews.
The act of putting on sackcloth and ashes to demonstrate grief was not only a Jewish custom but was also common in the Persian culture as well. Mordecai went out into the streets of the city publicly mourning the king’s decree, but he did not enter the king’s gate because “none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth” (verse 2). This was because only what was deemed cheerful and pleasant was allowed at court; anything sorrowful or melancholy was banned from the king’s presence. This custom obliged Mordecai to keep his distance from Esther, only coming before the gate rather than taking his usual place in the gate.
Esther, who lived in the cloistered seclusion of the palace compound, apparently had not heard of the decree. However, when she was told that Mordecai was in mourning and wearing sackcloth and ashes, she sent him different clothes. He refused this gesture in order to make her aware of the cause of his distress. This succeeded, and Esther sent an emissary, Hatach, to inquire about the cause of Mordecai’s mourning. In response, Mordecai outlined Haman’s plan to Hatach and gave him a copy of the decree to give to Esther.
The decree, which called for the destruction of “a certain people,” did not name the Jews specifically, so it is possible the king did not know these “people” included Esther. In addition, Esther had hidden her lineage in obedience to Mordecai’s instruction. However, Mordecai believed that if the decree went forth, Esther would not be spared.
Verses 8-12 describe Mordecai’s request — that Esther would go before the king and make supplication for her people. Esther’s initial response, through Hatach, was that to do so would put her life in danger, for Persian law stated that anyone who came into the king’s presence without a royal summons could be subject to the death penalty. The fact that the king had not called for Esther for thirty days indicates that she was not a current favorite, and thus could have no expectation that he would allow her to live after such a breach of protocol. Also, if she went to the king on behalf of her people, her lineage would be known, which could have brought a sentence of death for her, given the decree.
Although the Book of Esther does not directly mention God or faith, there are veiled inferences of Him. For example, when Mordecai stated in verse 14, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place . . . ,” he was making a declaration of faith that somehow God would deliver His people. The word translated enlargement is the Hebrew word revach, which means “space, deliverance, enlargement, respite, or relief.”
Another allusion to God occurs in verse 16 when, after agreeing to go before the king, Esther instructed Mordecai to gather the Jews together to fast for her. The implication was that prayer would accompany the fasting, as prayer and fasting were normally practiced together in the Jewish religion. Sometimes when a fast continued for many days, a break would be taken at night, but Esther specified the people were not to eat or drink “night or day,” showing the grave danger of the situation facing her and her people.
II. The deliverance of the Jews
A. The frustration of the plot
1. The decision of Esther (4:1-17)
a. The plot discovered by Mordecai (4:1-3)
b. The plot relayed to Esther (4:4-8)
c. The resolve of Esther (4:9-17)
(1) The peril of the decision(4:9-12)
(2) The nature of the decision (4:13-17)
Although we likely will never be called upon to save a nation as Esther was, God has divinely appointed our steps as well. He has called each of us to be courageous, faithful, and obedient in living our lives for Him. As we do so, He will direct us to opportunities in His service.