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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Esther Chapter 4


est 4:0

Mordochai's Mourning on account of the Decree for the Assassination of the Jews, and His Admonition to Esther to Intercede for Her People - Esther 4

When Mordochai heard what had happened, he went mourning and lamenting about the city, and even to the king's gate; and the decree of Haman occasioned great lamentations among the Jews in all the provinces of the kingdom (Est 4:1-3). When Queen Esther heard through her maids and courtiers of Mordochai's mourning, she sent him raiment that he might put off his mourning garb, but he refused to do so. She then sent an eunuch to him to inquire more particularly as to its cause. Mordochai informed him of all that had happened, giving him a copy of the decree to show to Esther, and charging her to entreat the king's favour for her people (Est 4:4-8). The queen, however, expressed her hesitation to go in unto the king unsummoned, but upon Mordochai's repeated admonition, resolved to make the desired attempt, at the peril of her life (Est 4:9-17).

Esther 4:1

est 4:1

Mordochai learnt all that was done, - not only what had been openly proclaimed, but, as is shown by Est 4:7, also the transaction between the king and Haman. Then he rent his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, making loud and bitter lamentation. Comp. on the last words, Gen 27:34. The combination of אפר with שׂק ילבּשׁ is an abbreviation for: put on a hairy garment and spread ashes upon his head, in sign of deep grief; comp. Dan 9:3; Job 2:12, and elsewhere.

Est 4:2

And came even before the king's gate, i.e., according to Est 4:6, the open space before the entrance to the royal palace; for none might enter wearing mourning. לבוא אין, there is no entering, i.e., none may enter; comp. Ewald, 321, c.

Est 4:3

Also in every province whither the king's decree arrived, there arose a great mourning among the Jews. אשׁר מקום is an adverbial accusat. loci in apposition to בּכל־מדינה: in every place to which the word of the king and his decree reached, i.e., arrived. "Sackcloth and ashes were spread for many," i.e., many sat in hairy garments upon the earth, where ashes had been spread; comp. Isa 58:5. The meaning is: All the Jews broke out into mourning, weeping, and lamentation, while many manifested their grief in the manner above described.

Esther 4:4

est 4:4

The matter was made known to Esther by her maids and eunuchs, i.e., by her attendants. The Chethiv תּבואינה does not elsewhere occur after ו consecutive, hence the substitution of the Keri תּבואנה. The object of יגּידוּ: what they told her, is evidently, from what follows, the circumstance of Mordochai's appearance in deep mourning before the gate of the palace. On receiving this information the queen fell into convulsive grief (תּתחלחל, an intensive form of חוּל, to be seized with painful grief), and sent to Mordochai raiment to put on instead of his sackcloth, evidently for the purpose of enabling him to enter the palace and give her the particulars of what had happened. But Mordochai did not accept the raiment.

Est 4:5-7

Then Esther sent Hatach, one of the eunuchs whom the king had set before her, i.e., appointed to attend her, to Mordochai to learn "what this, and why this," i.e., what was the meaning and the cause of his thus going about in mourning. When Hatach came forth to him in the open place of the city before the king's gate, Mordochai told him all that had happened, and the amount of the money which Haman had promised to weigh to the king's treasures (i.e., to pay into the royal treasury) for the Jews, to destroy them, i.e., that it might be permitted him to destroy the Jews. פּרשׁה, properly a determined, accurate statement, from פּרשׁ in the sense of to determine clearly (see rem. on Lev 24:12); here, according to the context: amount, sum. This promise of Haman is here emphatically mentioned as the chief point, not so much for the purpose of raising the indignation of Esther to the highest pitch (Bertheau), as to show the resentment and eagerness with which Haman had urged the extermination of the Jews. The Chethiv יהוּדיּים is the rarer form for יהוּדים, and is repeated Est 8:1, Est 8:7,Est 8:13; Est 9:15, Est 9:18.

Est 4:8

Mordochai also gave Hatach a copy of the decree published in Susa (בּשׁוּשׁן נתּן, like Est 3:15) to show it to the queen. The להּ וּלהגּיד following is more correctly drawn towards the subsequent וּלצוּות, as by Bertheau, than connected according to the accentuation with what precedes. Before this infinitive must be supplied from the context, especially from Est 4:7 : and Mordochai commissioned him or told him (Hatach): to declare unto her and to command her (Esther) to go in unto the king, to entreat him and to make request before him for her people. על בּקּשׁ, to beg, to make request for something, like Ezr 8:23, and Est 7:7. עמּהּ על, concerning her people, i.e., in this connection: for them.

Esther 4:9

est 4:9

When Hatach brought this information to Esther, she sent word by him to Mordochai, that she might not go in unto the king unsummoned. אל מ תּצוּהוּ, she ordered or commissioned him to Mordochai, viz., to tell him what follows, Est 4:11 : "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces (i.e., all the officers and subjects of the king) know, that with respect to every man or woman that shall come in unto the king, into the inner court, that is not called - one (the same) law (is) for him: to put (him) to death, except him to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live." לואשּׁה כּל־אישׁ precede as nominativi absol.; these are followed by two relative clauses, which are succeeded by the anacoluthic predicate דּתו אחת: one and the same law is for him (דּתו, the law concerning him, the unsummoned appearer, the matter of which is briefly stated by להמית). In the inner court dwelt the king, seated on his throne (comp. Est 5:1). The law, that every one entering unbidden should be put to death, was subject to but one exception: וגו מאשׁר לבד, except him to whom the king stretches out, etc. הושׁיט from ישׁט, appearing only in the present book (Est 5:2; Est 8:4), but frequently in Chaldee and Syriac, signifies to hold out, to extend, with לו, to or towards him. שׁרביט, the Aramaic form for שׁבט, sceptre. Access to the royal presence had been already rendered difficult by an edict issued by Dejokes the Mede, Herod. 1:9; and among the Persians, none, with the exception of a few individuals (Herod. iii. 118), were permitted to approach the king without being previously announced (Herod. iii. 140; Corn. Nepos, Conon, 3). Any one entering unannounced was punished with death, unless the king, according to this passage, gave it to be understood by stretching forth his sceptre that he was to remain unpunished. It is, however, self-evident, and the fact is confirmed by Herod. iii. 140, that any who desired audience were allowed to announce themselves. Esther might, it seems, have done this. Why, then, did she not make the attempt? The answer lies in her further message to Mordochai: "and I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days." From these words it appears, that formerly she had been more frequently summoned before the king. Now, however, a whole month had passed without any invitation. Hence she concluded that the king did not much wish to see her, and for this reason dared not go unto him unbidden. Evidently, too, she was unwilling to be announced, because in that case she would have been obliged immediately to make known to the king the cause of her desiring this interview. And this she would not venture to do, fearing that, considering the great favour in which Haman stood with the king, she might, if she did not provoke his displeasure against herself through her intercession for her people, at least meet with a rejection of her petition. To set aside an irrevocable decree sealed with the king's seal, must have appeared to Esther an impossible undertaking. To have asked such a thing of the king would have been indeed a bold venture.

Esther 4:12

est 4:12

When what Esther said was reported to Mordochai, he sent word back to her (השׁיב): "Think not in thy soul (with thyself) to be saved in the house of the king above all the Jews; for if thou holdest thy peace at this time, recovery and deliverance will arise from another place, but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed. And who knows if thou hast attained to royalty for a time such as this?" By the words: "Think not that thou wilt be saved in the king's house above all the Jew," i.e., alone of all the Jews, Mordochai does not reproach Esther with being indifferent to the fate of her fellow-countrymen, but rather calls her attention to the fact that her own life is in danger. This is evident from the clause: if thou hold thy peace, will not intercede with the king for thy people, help will come from some other quarter. רוח = רוחה, Exo 8:11, ἀναψύξις, deliverance from oppressive restraint. יעמוד, rise up, arise, used according to later custom for קוּם, as in Ch1 20:4. The thought is: the Jewish nation cannot perish, its continuance is guaranteed by the divine promise. If thou wilt venture nothing for its safety, God will bring deliverance, but destruction will come upon thee and thy family. Though Mordochai neither speaks of God, nor alludes directly to His assistance, he still grounds his hopes of the preservation of his people upon the word and promise of God, and Brentius pertinently remarks: habes hic excellentem ac plane heroicam Mardochaei fidem, qua in praesentissimo ac periculosissimo discrimine videt futuram liberationem. The last clause of Est 4:14 is by most expositors understood as saying: and who knows whether thou hast not for a time like this attained to royalty? This agrees with the sense, but cannot be verbally justified, for אם does not mean whether not. The sentence contains an aposiopesis. The clause depending on the conditional אם is unspoken, but understood. Besides, הגּעתּ is not in the imperfect. Hence it can only be translated: Who knows, if thou hadst not attained to royalty at or for such a time? Then the clause omitted would be: what thou then wouldst have done. יודע מי more frequently has the meaning of perhaps; and Mordochai says: perhaps thou hast attained to royalty (to the dignity of queen) for a time like this, sc. to use thy position for the deliverance of thy people. In the turn thus given to the sentence it contains the most urgent injunction to Esther to use her high position for the preservation of her fellow-countrymen.

Esther 4:15

est 4:15

This pressing monition produced its result. Esther returned answer to Mordochai: "Go, gather together all the Jews that are found in Susa, and fast ye for me: I also and my maidens will fast; and so will I go to the king against the law; and if I perish, I perish." Esther resolves to go to the king unsummoned, but begs Mordochai and all the Jews to unite in a three days' fast, during which she and her maidens will also fast, to seek by earnest humiliation God's gracious assistance in the step she proposes to take, for the purpose of averting the threatened destruction of her people. "Though 'God' and 'prayer' are not here mentioned, it is yet obviously assumed that it was before God that the Jews were to humble themselves, to seek His help, and to induce Him to grant it. Kg1 21:27-29; Joe 1:14; Jon 3:5." (Berth.). To designate the strictness of this fasting, the words: "neither eat nor drink," are added. The "three days, night and day," are not to be reckoned as three times twenty-four hours, but to be understood of a fast which lasts till the third day after that on which it begins; for according to Est 5:1, Esther goes to the king on the third day. Comp. the similar definition of time, Jon 2:1. The addition "day and night" declares that the fast was not to be intermitted. וּבכן, and in thus, i.e., in this state of fasting. כּדּת לא אשׁר: which is not according to law. לא אשׁר is used, like the Aramaean form לא דּי, in the sense of without (comp. Ewald, 222, c): without according to law = contrary to law. The last words: "if I perish, I perish," etc., are the expression not of despair, but of resignation, or perfect submission to the providence of God; comp. Gen 43:14.

Esther 4:17

est 4:17

And Mordochai went his way, i.e., from the place before the court of the king, to do what the queen had commanded him to do.

Next: Esther Chapter 5