Mourning, Sackcloth, and Ashes
4 “When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.
6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. 7 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. 8 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.”
(Esther 4:1-8 NIV)
When word of the king’s edict became known, the reaction was immediate and external – public weeping, wailing, and putting on of sackcloth and ashes. In some cultures, grief is expressed by a veil to cover one’s face, or to go into seclusion to weep. In the Persian (and many other middle-eastern) cultures, public weeping and wailing was the way people expressed their grief.
Sackcloth and ashes were another way to show deep grief. Putting on sackcloth (a rough fabric woven into a bag to carry items) and dusting one’s head with ashes (literally) showed great humility and repentance for all to see. This was not a self-righteous act; in fact, it was an act of public humiliation, recognizing God’s higher power and authority.
We see Mordecai in great distress and mourning, along with many other Jews in the city of Susa. Mordecai likely felt doubly repentant, for his pending fate as a Jew, and also personally, realizing that his unwillingness to bow down to Haman likely triggered Haman’s backlash against the entire Jewish population in Persia.
Obviously, this was not “business as usual” for Mordecai, and word quickly reached Queen Esther that something was terribly wrong in Mordecai’s life. Esther would likely have had no insight into Haman’s evil schemes, nor the pending doom that came out of the king’s edict. Obviously worried, Queen Esther sent a change of clothes to Mordecai so he could enter the king’s gate and come talk to her directly, as was his custom to check on her welfare (Esther 2:11).
Queen Esther was in great distress, and sent one of the available eunuchs (Hathak, whose Persian name means “good”) to talk to Mordecai. Mordecai then proceeded to tell Hathak everything that had transpired, and even gave him a copy of the king’s decree that ordered the annihilation of all the Jews in Persia. Both Queen Esther and Mordecai had a tremendous amount of trust in Hathak, to use him as the go-between. Mordecai presented verbal evidence, as well as physical evidence to substantiate the claims he was making. He knew that he must make it abundantly clear to Queen Esther what was going on. Mordecai had one ask in all of this: “Go plead with the king for your people.” Mordecai knew that this was a desperate and bold move for the Queen to ask of the king, but these were desperate times, and required boldness and action on both their parts.
To follow Christ means that life is often hard, and not all about our comfort and convenience. But God is sovereign, and provides the strength and hope we need if we will but keep our relationship with Him our number one priority.