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Written by John R. Respess   

 

MORDECAI IN SACKCLOTH

When Mordecai perceived all that was done, he rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and cried with a loud and bitter cry; and came even before the king’s gate; for none might enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province whither the decree came, there was great mourning and weeping and wailing among the Jews. So Esther’s maids and her chamberlain came and told it to her; and the queen was exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai and to take away his sackcloth, but he received it not. Then Esther sent the king’s chamberlain to him to know what it was and why it was.

Mordecai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth. To rend the garments was a sign of deep grief. It was, no doubt, often simulated or feigned, as nearly everything, both natural and spiritual, is. That it was much simulated by the Jews is no doubt the reason why the prophet Joel (ii.) charged them saying, rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God. The Pharisee and publican went into the temple and both prayed; but only the publican prayed in spirit; the Pharisee rent his garments, so to speak, but not his heart; but the publican was rent in heart, and cried to God in penitence, so that, figuratively, he was not only rent in garments, but was also clothed in sackcloth. Reuben, returning to the pit in which his brethren had cast Joseph, and not finding him, rent his garments; but Jacob, his father, upon seeing his bloody coat, not only rent his garments, but put on sackcloth and mourned many days.—Gen. xxxvii. Jacob was inconsolable; his grief was irresistible, and took control of him, and found expression in rent garments and sackcloth. Because he deeply loved Joseph, and Reuben did not. Reuben grieved from a sense of neglected duty to his father, and not from love Of Joseph, and hence could console himself; but Jacob’s grief was the grief of love for the lost. When Abner was murdered by Joab, David rent his garments and put on sackcloth, and wept at his grave. It was the grief of a king whose law had been officially outraged, (2 Sam. iii.) and the penitence of the king cleared the throne of guilt. A church may rend her garments and put on sackcloth for the sin of a member, and thus clear herself of the member’s guilt. This is official grief; and the church does not, and cannot have the grief of guilt that the sinning member has; his garments are not only rent, but his heart is also, when he becomes penitent and confesses his sin. To put on sackcloth was also a sign of penitence for sin and a confession of it. Ahab, when reproved by Elijah, rent his garments, lay in sackcloth and went softly and God forgave his sins.—1 Kings, xxi.

And when David sinned in numbering Israel, he put on sackcloth as a penitent king and was forgiven, and his throne was upheld.—1 Chron. xxi. In this day people figuratively rend their garments and put on sackcloth. A husband loses his wife, a parent his child, and they are irresistibly clothed with grief and sorrow. Some people, and even Christian people, clothe themselves in black as a sign of mourning; but there is little need in parading grief before the world; real grief will show itself sufficiently, whether it be natural or spiritual, it is not easily hidden. All men have natural grief, and have natural penitence for wrong-doing. A thief, when caught in theft, is penitent; not for his guilt, but for the penalty of it. The drunkard has penitence for the shame and family ruin it entails upon him. But only the children of God have penitence for the guilt of sin; sorrows that are of God are not of the world or flesh. And with them these sorrows are not simulated, but are irresistible, more so than even natural sorrows. If a child of God sins he will be clothed with sackcloth for it when made conscious of it, as certainly as the earth is clothed with snow in winter and with verdue in summer. Because it is an ordinance, of God that he shall be so clothed, as it is that the earth shall be. When David was made conscious or convicted of his sin by the prophet Nathan, for slaying his captain Uriah, he was clothed with penitence, and confessed it, saying, “I have sinned against the Lord,” and Nathan said, “The Lord hath also put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.”—2 Sam. xiii. It was not that his penitence put away or atoned for his sin, but it was because his sins had been atoned for, that he was made penitent for them.

But a child of God may be clothed in sackcloth for doing right, as Mordecai was. As we have said, both natural and spiritual grief are involuntary and irresistible. The natural man laments the loss of his loved ones as deeply and sincerely as the man of God does. And natural penitence has also its blessings, but they are only natural blessings. The immoral man, by turning away from his immorality, receives the blessings of morality. And in natural grief, all men in a natural sense cry to God, for it is a cry of nature. Even the young lions seek their meat of God; and God giveth the beast his food, and the young ravens which cry. — Ps. civ. and cxlvii. God feeds the little helpless birds in their nests, and not one of them falls to the ground without his notice. But the children of God are nearer and dearer to him than the children of nature, and he therefore gives them spiritual desires, and they cry in spirit to him and he fills them. He gives them a double portion, one portion above the world; and they have, also, double afflictions and responsibilities. They suffer naturally as other men, and suffer spiritually, as other men cannot suffer. They suffer for their faults, and suffer from the world for their virtues; for their obedience and disobedience. They desire both natural good and spiritual good, and often think they have neither, and know at the same time that they are worthy of neither. Their lives are lives of struggle, struggling for they hardly know what, but we reckon they are unconsciously struggling in the womb of time, to be born into eternity. They have, like their Saviour and elder brother, a baptism to be baptized with and are and will be straitened until it be accomplished. They are not at home here, but are only sojourners; though they would fair stay here always, yet they are irresistibly impelled onward to that country the Lord has told them of.

It often makes us feel sad to know that we can have nothing here, when we at times so much desire it, and strive so hard for it, as Israel desired the land of Moab and Ammon, but the Lord would not give it to them.—Deut. ii. Israel must go further to find her rest—further than even Moses went. The Lord must be her inheritance, as she was his. So it is true indeed that if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are, of all men, the most miserable. It was true of our Saviour that he had nothing here, and was, whilst here, clothed in sackcloth. He seldom rejoiced, and then only in Spirit. When he was baptized he was strengthened by the Father’s approval, as his children are by his; but his righteous act entailed upon him the bitter antagonism of Satan, and for forty days He was with the beasts, tempted of the devil. It was not for his own sins that he was humiliated, but for the sins of his people. He could not divest himself of concern for them; nor could Mordecai divest himself of concern for Esther and his people. Because Mordecai loved them, and of him, therefore was required in their behalf, that which no other Jew could perform. No other Jew could go out of the king’s gate into the midst of the city for them. No other Jew loved them as he did and had the same relationship to the queen, and the same access to the king by the queen that he had. Those who love much are able to do more than others with less love, and it is therefore required of them. There were many other Jews else than Mordecai whose hearts were rent with grief and mourning; but it was persona1 grief—sorrow for themselves and families. But among them all there was no sorrow like Mordecai’s sorrow; he sorrowed for them all; in all their afflictions he was afflicted. His position in the king’s gate involved him in obligations to the queen and his people that could be felt by no other Jew, and he was thereby under a law to God for them that no other Jew was under, and would suffer in failing to fulfill it as no other Jew could suffer. To Mordecai, as to Moses, it was a humiliation. Moses was the only Hebrew that could humble himself from the court of Pharaoh and condescend to the low estate of his brethren; because he was the only one whom God had, for his people, exalted to that high state. He humbled himself and became the chief of poor slaves to deliver his brethren. It was a work in which Moses could have no fleshly pride, and which if he’d had, he could not have performed it acceptably to God. To any other Hebrew it would have been an exaltation of which he would have been proud, and hence thereby been incapacitated to perform it. To him it was a sacrifice that God had given to no other Hebrew, and hence required it of no other. It faintly forecasts the relationship of Christ and his children, and his responsibility to God for them; the children that God had given him, and for whom the gift made him responsible. With the gift was the responsibility; as with the gift of natural children to the parent is the responsibility to care for them. And the parent will feel it. And therefore Christ, of all in heaven or earth, or under the earth, had the sacrifice that was required in their behalf, and he alone could offer it acceptably to the Father. To do this he humbled himself and became obedient unto death. It was an obedience of love for his children, for no other kind of obedience would have been acceptable; it was one that honored the Father and saved them; and such an obedience as only Christ could make and by reason of his relationship to the Father and them. And as he offered to the Father, so in his spirit must his children offer, to be accepted. They must do it in love and humility; else though right in form, their works will be rejected. They must offer to God that only which God has given them; whether it be little or much does not matter, so it is of the Lord. Mordicai went down from the king’s gate even into the very midst of the city; not as a prince in royal robes, but in sackcloth and ashes—not proud of his humiliation and glorying in his shame, but smiting his breast and filling he street with his heart-rending cries, so that even the queen heard of it. He couldn’t help it, for he loved Esther and his people, and could not bear to see their destruction. It was the hour of darkness. His faith could not comfort him, nor the faith of others. The queen sent raiment to clothe him and take away his sackcloth; but he could not receive it. He could not be at peace himself with his people smiting their breasts under the sentence of death; his sackcloth could only be put off when theirs was put off. Esther tried to comfort him in messages by the king’s Chamberlain but before she could comfort him, she must be partaker of his afflictions and the afflictions of his brethren. God must comfort us before we can comfort others. There are times when something must be done as well as believed. If we are troubled about joining the church, preaching, or doing any other duty required of us, there will be no change of raiment for us until we do it; no odds how firmly we believe in the doctrines of grace, it will not give us ease from that trouble. Or if we have sinned there will be no peace until that sin be confessed and put away. Mordecai’s faith was tried, and the faith of God’s children is often tried; and it is an affliction and will be until the trial is over; and no affliction is joyous at the time, else it would be no affliction. Mordecai came even before the king’s gate, but he could no more go in there than he could put on the raiment that Esther sent him. He could not be the minister of a law that condemned his people.

But Esther could no longer be at ease. Mordecai’s trouble penetrated even the king’s house to her, and his trouble became her trouble; and one that increased upon her, so that she was moved to send to him to know why it was and what it was. And he informed her fully of it, and sent her a copy of the decree and an injunction to go in unto the king and make supplication for her people. And now comes Esther’s trial.

Little knew the poor, distressed Jew, in his far-off cabin, weeping with his family under sentence of death; to whom it seemed that God had forsaken and left him helpless in the power of his enemy, and to whom there seemed no possibility of escape from the doom of an irreversible law—little did he know, at such a time as that, what God was working for him in the heart of Mordecai, and through him in the heart of Esther, and what he would work through her in the heart of the king. Had he known it, he would have been disrobed of his sackcloth. As helpless and forsaken as the poor Jew felt to be, he had a friend at court more powerful than Haman or Haman’s law—a friend who watched whilst he wept, and watched even whilst he slept. This friend the penitent sinner and the tried child of God has now and ever has had in Jesus; one who can no more forget him than he can forget himself. They can be cast into no sorrow so deep, and in no trial so great, that he cannot and will not deliver them from. The cries of all the Jews in all the 127 provinces of the king shall enter through Mordecai and Esther, into the ears and into the very heart of the king. Even the broken sighs of the feeblest child of captivity shall find access there as certainly as the loud and bitter cry of Mordecai; the most feeble and ignorant shall have an advocate in Esther, and who shall speak to the king’s heart in their behalf. Blessed people!

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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