Fast ye for me, and … I … will fast likewise (Esth. 4:16).

Queen Esther was troubled. Her servants had just told her that her cousin Mordecai was wearing sackcloth and had sprinkled himself with ashes, a sign of great mourning. It wasn’t just Mordecai—Jews throughout the kingdom of Persia and Media were grieving. But why?

Immediately Esther had clothing sent to Mordecai. He worked in the palace, but no one dressed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. Esther loved her older cousin very much, for he had raised her after her parents had died when she was young. It distressed her that he should be so sad.

Soon Esther received word that Mordecai would not accept the clothing, so she commanded her servant Hatach to go to Mordecai and find out why.

Hatach returned with Mordecai’s reply: Haman, one of the king’s most powerful servants, was an evil man who hated the Jews. When Mordecai did not bow to Haman, as everyone had been commanded, Haman sought revenge on all the Jews in the kingdom. He lied to King Ahasuerus, saying that there was a group of people scattered throughout the kingdom who refused to obey the king’s laws. Ahasuerus, not knowing Haman was speaking of Esther’s people, had allowed him to write a decree calling for them to be destroyed.

Mordecai wanted Esther to plead with the king to spare their lives. But Esther was frightened. She knew that anyone who went into the king’s inner court without being summoned might be put to death. Only those to whom the king held out his golden scepter were pardoned, and it had been thirty days since the king had asked to see her.

When Hatach told Mordecai of the young queen’s fear, her cousin warned that if she did not go before the king, the decree could cause her to lose her life as well. “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom (are now the queen here) for such a time as this (to save the Jews),” he said.

Esther knew what she must do. She sent another message to Mordecai, telling him to gather the Jews in the city and fast three days for her. “I also and my maidens will fast likewise,” she said, “and so will I go in unto the king, … and if I perish, I perish.”

At the end of the three days, Esther put on her finest robes and went to the court. When the king saw her awaiting him, he reached for his golden scepter. She would live! “What wilt thou, queen Esther?” asked Ahasuerus.

“If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.”

The king agreed.

At the banquet, the king asked again, “What is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed.”

Esther replied that if he and Haman would come to another banquet the next day, she would make her request then.

At the second banquet, Esther told Ahasuerus about Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews. Ahasuerus was furious and he ordered that Haman be put to death.

Later, Esther told the king that Mordecai was her cousin. Mordecai was given Haman’s old position and was permitted to draw up a new decree, in the king’s name, allowing the Jews to defend themselves against those who would try to destroy them because of Haman’s earlier decree.

The day when the first decree was to be fulfilled, the Jews gathered themselves together and destroyed their enemies. Now, instead of mourning, there was great rejoicing throughout the land. Because Esther and the Jews had shown great faith through fasting, the lives of many people were preserved and the Jews had peace.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mike Eagle