Reflections on Esther 4:16
Date: Sep 30th, 2016
Written by: PCY
Years ago, I remember a book by the title of “If I Perish” written by a Korean Christian imprisoned in Japan during the brutal WWII era. Esther Ahn Kim (Korean name: E-Sook Ahn) wrote this book, detailing her six years of hardship and torture. It was a testimony of faith in God as she persistently held on to the promise in the Bible and constantly made reference to the Word of God in everything she said or did. Her faith was so vibrant and vivid that it touched not only fellow prisoners but the prison guards. Kim lived like she was ready to be a martyr for Christ anytime. She pledged to pursue God’s will whatever the cost may be. Miraculously, she was released but her witness continued. Such an attitude reflects the words of the biblical heroine, Esther. As it is written in Esther 4:16, Esther decided to act on the knowledge that her people would be annihilated if nothing was done. In doing so, she was putting her own life on the line.
“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.” Esther 4:16
There are three amazing demonstrations of faith in this one verse alone.
First, she called on her people to fast. In turn, she too would fast together with her assistants. This is faith demonstrated on one’s knees. Incredibly, she asked for a mass fasting event! In our day and age, food often bring people together. In contrast, Esther was calling for a fast that brings people together! The urgency of the request could be felt. In the Bible, the practice of fasting is closely associated with praying. In a book that does not have the names of God mentioned at all, this is one of the clearest evidence that the book is about God. What would they do when they fast? They could remember Esther and how to encourage her. They could come together to reflect on their plight. They could also do what they had been trained to do from young: Pray. Prayer and fasting are two intertwined rituals that Jews have been practicing through the ages. There is no fasting devoid of prayer. There is no deeper prayer without fasting. Though the passage does not specifically mention prayer, the implication is implicit.
Fasting is often called upon the accelerate the process of prayer. It is an urgent call to go beyond food to maintain the present but for mercy to sustain the future. In fasting, the focus is more important than the lack of food. The human body tends to be very easily distracted by hunger pangs. This is obvious because most of us eat 3-4 meals a day. In the morning, we wake up and thoughts of breakfast turn on automatically. When the clock strikes twelve noon, we think of lunch. As we prepare to go home after work, we think of dinner. Such daily rituals center our lives on the stomach and the need to eat. Commonly used throughout society is the idea of meal times as the central opportunities to gather and to fellowship. The moment we go on a fast, we lose this focus on food. Instead, we are given an opportunity to channel these hunger pangs and thoughts of food back to God. Thus, fasting is accelerated prayer used in urgent and pressing times. The great prayer writer, Andrew Murray says:
“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.“
Second, there is no rush. Esther clearly stated: “When this is done” before she goes to the king. It is more important to fast, pray, and wait upon God before embarking upon anything. We pray for God to prepare the hearts of people, both others and ourselves. We pray for the right attitude, the right motive, the right audience, the right words, and the right manner to act. Unfortunately, many Christians are guilty of plunging into action fast. The act of fasting slows everything down to human speed. So many times, Christians do ministry on the basis of planning and performing instead of praying. Faith-based ministry must always begin with God. Just because we have the ability to do stuff does not mean the first step is to start using those talents. There are lots of other scenarios that are way beyond our control. There is the timing of action and implementation. There is a need to discern the readiness of human hearts. There is also a need to keep in step with what God is prompting us to do. In anything we do, timing is often everything.
Just take the purchase of a high-valued asset. Whenever there is a surge of demand, housing prices will also go up. When the demand falls, so do the prices. A key strategy among experienced housing investors is to buy against the flow of public sentiment. This contrasts with the general pattern of home owners following the herd mentality that does panic buying when prices are getting higher and panic selling when prices are lowering. Timing is crucial and when one buys at the right time, the benefits are huge.
Compared to housing prices, Esther and the Jewish people were dealing with something far more important: Their lives. Surely, in such a situation, they could very well be panicking in every way. In prayer, they were reminded once again that they needed divine help. They needed godly wisdom. The last thing they needed to do was to do anything to accelerate their demise. Who knows, eleven months of breathing space before their executions could be shortened if they made any wrong move!
Third, she moved to action in spite of personal danger. This is where after prayer and fasting, she leaves her fate and future to the hands of God. She lets trust in God leads the way. This is what happens after the spiritual practice of fasting and praying. Like the marinating of flavours into food, the longer the marinade is allowed to sit, the better tasting would be the food, especially meats to be cooked. In the same way, when we sit in the presence of God, we do not let time become rulers of our life. The moment we get the conviction of God’s timing and direction, we are more able to channel our resources toward this initiative.
One of the most powerful illustrations in Stephen Covey’s “First Things First” is the comparison of the clock and the compass. Many people tend to use the clock as a way to run their lives. From waking hours to working hours; resting hours to sleeping hours; and from one appointment to another schedule; we are led by time which is denoted by the clock. This can become very mundane, very monotonous, and ultimately very meaningless. Instead, we are called to measure our lives using the compass. It is how how many things we do or achieve but how much distance we have accomplished toward our own calling. Have we traveled the right direction all along? Have we obeyed the compass? Or are we more concerned about the clock?
The process of prayer and fasting tunes us to become more sensitive to the compass of life rather than the clock of chronological time. If we follow the compass, we are always a step or more forward to the purpose of our lives. If we merely follow the clock, we can be seen doing a lot of things, and not aware that we might very well be running around in circles.
Upon her release from prison, Esther Ahn Kim married a Korean pastor, Don Kim, and moved to America. Her book was published by Moody Press in 1977 and has encouraged many people. Her life continues to inspire many. Her conviction flows out of that deep love for God. This love for God does not come instantly. It came gradually but surely. Prayer and fasting are crucial pieces of such spirituality.