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In response to what he considered to be the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power and subsequent purging of Jews, Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller (who himself was German) wrote these provocative words: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."
Those words were profoundly impactful in my college years when I first heard them and they still are today. It was/is the rallying call that got me involved in significant movements. That message is still timely for our day today; if you remain quiet and only ever mind your own business while others fight, you’ll eventual be left with no one to step in to assist you in your time of need when your personal business needs minding.
As you’ll see in this fourth part of Esther's story, there comes a time when the best thing you can do is to get all up in somebody else’s’ business! This is exactly where we find our main characters, Mordecai and Esther.
To give you some context, remember that the events of Esther 4 are a reaction to the events of Esther 3. A mad hater named Haman has just orchestrated a devious plan to wipe out every Jew in Persia, which, incidentally, is not too far removed from what Nazi and SS leaders at the 1942 Wannsee Conference in Berlin were planning as they discussed the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.”
To feel the weight of what Mordecai and the Jews were experiencing in Esther 4:1-3, imagine waking up one morning and reading on every online newsfeed, newspaper, and watching on every news network this leading story, “President Signs and Passes a New Bill: Calls for the Public Execution of Every Undocumented Immigrant.”
That, of course sounds ludicrous to our modern ears, right? But imagine living in a time period [and a country] where the president had totalitarian powers and didn’t have the checks and balances of Congress and the Senate. Imagine further that this particular bill-turned-into-law was legit and an exact date was set for when the executions were to begin. [This imaginary scenario is not too unsimilar to what happened between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994).
Got the shivers yet?
King Xerxes’s edict to execute every Jew in Persian provinces has sent shockwaves throughout the entire kingdom. A gloomy heaviness has fallen over every Jew, but unlike our Western restrained expressions of sorrow, these men and women are visibly and vocally letting their distraught be known. Esther 4:2-3 tells us that they were clothed in sackcloth and ashes and there was loud wailing and bitter weeping in every province. In other words, no one could ignore this tragedy that was about to befall the Jews. If you were a Persian trying to mind your own business, you couldn’t, because every other home on your street was filled with loud crying and lamenting. If that weren't attention-grabbing enough, you also had to live with the fact that your Jewish co-workers showed up to work with ashes all over them. [In the ancient Near East, strong feelings of sorrow were often expressed in an outward dramatic manner].
In Mordecai’s case, however, he wasn’t content to simply make noise about his sorrow just anywhere - he had to be strategic about it. It’s no use complaining about a problem if you’re not willing to pursue a solution, right? So, note where he places himself in verse 2, “…he went only as far as the king’s gate.” Why? Because his cousin, queen Esther was in the palace and he needed to get her attention. The assumption here is that Esther was unaware of the edict signed by the king. As queen, she may have lived in a very secluded, possibly highly protected part of the palace that kept her from staying up to date on the political affairs of the kingdom.
Whatever the case may have been, once Esther discovers the emotional and physical condition of Mordecai, perhaps out of fear that Mordecai might draw unwanted attention from the palace, she offers a quick fix to his problem – a makeover. She sends him a new set of clothes because let’s face it, the queen’s cousin cannot afford to be seen dressed in rags [remember, Mordecai was still mourning in sack cloth and ashes]!
I am, of course being facetious with that commentary. I am certain Esther’s intentions were well meaning, but still, her actions here are no different than me venting on my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter page about a pressing social injustice in society. I may get a few of my close friends and family to “Like” my comment, but it doesn’t effect any real change where it will matter most.
It’s for this reason that Mordecai refuses the clothes she sends. As it turns out, Esther was indeed not aware of the edict because in verse 5 she sends her personal assistant to inquire of Mordecai what was really happening. Mordecai in turn illustrates for us in his response the first lesson in how to go about NOT minding your business.
LESSON 1: GET THE FACTS BEFORE YOU TAKE ACTION
Watch how Mordecai goes about this in verse 7-8, “Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.”
If it hasn’t happened already, know that there WILL come a moment in your life when you will need to leave the comfort of ringside seats and jump in the fight, a moment when it will be perfectly okay NOT to mind your own business! Your fight may be an issue that threatens a value you personally hold to [maybe even a Biblical value], or your fight may be on behalf of someone near and dear who feels timid about giving voice to his or her convictions. Whatever it is, you will someday come across a hill of which you will say, “This hill is worth dying for.”
When that moment arrives, before speaking up (and rallying others to join your cause), be certain that you have gathered all the right information to prove that your cause is right and just.
That may seem like an obvious lesson until you consider how many times we pass information along on social media. How many times have you come across shared information on your social media newsfeed of which you know/suspect the information is incomplete or false? Let me ask that more directly: How many times have YOU Shared, Liked, retweeted, or posted shared information online in the spur of the moment without actually checking to see if what you’re sharing is accurate? Or how many times have you posted negative news about some celebrity or popular figure under the guise of, "please keep them in prayer"?
Let’s be honest with ourselves and call this what it is: RUMORS & SLANDER! Needless to say, the Bible has plenty to say on the issue (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 20:19; Proverbs 26:22; Ephesians 4:29; 2 Timothy 2:23). The point? Get your facts before you make someone else’s business your business. Be careful and attentive to what you say, who you say it to, and how you say it.
Mordecai is right on top of this as he conveys accurately all the details of the king’s edict to queen Esther.
The scene quickly shifts, however, from Mordecai outside the palace courts, to the royal chambers of queen Esther inside the palace as she processes all Mordecai has just brought to her attention.
This seems like an easy fix to us. Esther should just march into her husband’s chamber and request that the law be reversed. And if that doesn't work, she could always try sweet-talking him and guilting him into doing something about the matter at hand. Right?
Unfortunately, things don’t appear to be happily-ever-after-ish between the two lovers we left off in Esther 2:17. Something is seriously off because Esther sends a completely unexpected message back to Mordecai that is tantamount to her saying, “I think I’m just going to mind my own business on this one, Mordecai.” Hear her reservations in Esther 4:9-11, “Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, “All the king’s 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 they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king..”
I should explain.
Do you recall the beauty competition in chapter two, the one that Esther won? Well, technically, all the ladies competing won a place in the king’s harem in that competition, Esther just happened to win the highly coveted role of queen. I point that out so that you understand that Xerxes was not a one-woman-man. In the ancient Near Eastern world, it was common for kings to have “concubines”, or second-class wives. The practice was more about demonstrating one’s wealth and power than it was about having sexual variety [in some case though, the king was just a sex freak]. The Israelite king, Solomon is said to have had, “had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines.” [Which by no means indicates that God approved of it].
We don’t know how many concubines Xerxes had accumulated, but he had enough to keep him occupied for at least thirty days so that he didn’t need Esther’s companionship for that length of time. Either that or his love for her had begun to wane, making it even harder for her to gain an audience with him. Furthermore, Persian law dictated that no one could not simply stroll into the presence of the king without invitation, otherwise they would be put to death, including the queen! Xerxes has already proven to be an irrational man who was willing to depose his queen [Vashti] on a drunken whim, so Esther knew she would be on very fragile ground if she heeded Mordecai’s request.
It would seem in such a moment that the safe option would be to "sit this one out" and mind her own business. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), Mordecai refuses to let her off the hook so easily. This brings me to the second lesson in how to go about NOT minding your business.
LESSON 2: WHEN YOU KNOW THAT SOMEONE YOU’VE INVESTED IN IS CAPABLE OF ACHIEVING MORE, FEEL FREE TO PUSH THEM A LITTLE HARDER
Here’s how Mordecai applies this lesson to Esther. In his response sent back to her through her assistant, he says, “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 your royal position for such a time as this?”
I love this! This is the classic halftime speech that turns a team around and results in a winning game. First of all, Mordecai himself is full of faith and seems certain that through one means or another, God would make a way to deliver the Jews from Haman’s threat. He, however, wanted Esther to be a key player in the unfolding narrative worthy of heroes of the faith. He had already taken note of the providential hand of God in Esther’s life and realized that it was God Himself who opened the door for Esther to become queen in order that she may someday be in a position to influence national policy. So then, in urging Esther to go into the king, in spite of the fact that it might come at the cost of her life, he was certain that the same God who had guided her steps thus far, would also protect her as she approached the king.
Mordecai understood that THIS WAS HER MOMENT!
Hopefully, you have people in your life you’ve invested in who in turn have given you permission to speak into their lives. If such persons exists and you ever see them living in a manner less than what you believe they can achieve, you, more than anyone else have the authority to say to them the difficult things [they might not want to hear] and call them back to stay on course. It’s one of the few times when it is okay NOT to mind your own business! THEY ARE YOUR BUSINESS as much as Esther was Mordercai’s.
On that same note, another time when it’s okay not to mind your own business is when the person[s] being negatively impacted is too timid to speak for themselves. Time and time again, we find God Himself speaking and fighting on behalf of the little guy, the orphan, the humble, the poor, the broken. By NOT minding your own business in those instances, you may end up being the boost the other person needs to finally start fighting their own battles!
This tough-love approach proved effective in Esther’s case because she sends this message back, “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 attendants 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. So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.”
We can’t help but beam with pride as we read those words. Esther has counted the cost. She is fully aware that she might loose it all (including her life), but she’s also willing to step out in faith knowing full well that God might choose to use her audacity in the same way God used ordinary men/women of old to accomplish extraordinary feats in the life of His people. Even better yet, she has a clear course of action, and that brings me to lesson #3 in NOT minding your own business.
LESSON 3: IT IS OKAY TO NOT MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS WHEN A WAY OF LIFE (OR LIFE ITSELF) IS BEING THREATENED, ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE IS A CLEAR COURSE OF ACTION
I love the fact that Esther didn’t just hurry off into her own private prayer room in her chamber to seek God’s help. Rather, she rallied everyone who had a vested interest in the well being of the Jews [including her maids and the Jews themselves] to join in a dedicated time of prayer and fasting. If you’re not familiar with the spiritual discipline of fasting, it is the intentional abstention from food and/or drink for a set period of time for the sole purpose of seeking God in prayer. It is essentially a desperate cry to God that you NEED HIM NOW. Do you know what’s even more powerful and impactful than one woman praying and fasting? Having every Jew in your city praying and fasting along with you!
(***Bonus Tip*** NOT minding your own business is always more fun and effective when you're with a group of likeminded people who share the same level of passion of your convictions. There’s power in numbers. *** End Bonus Tip ***)
Esther not only has every intention of going to speak to the king [under the spiritual covering of a nation [praying and fasting], but the next chapter will reveal that she actually has a strategic plan, a clear course of action to accomplish this. But before proceeding, she yields to the counsel of Proverbs 16:9 that says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Don't miss this: Always allow God plenty of room to fight your battles! He's a better skilled warrior.
And that wraps up Esther 4.
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.