As far as rescue stories go, mine is wimpy. It won’t be made into a movie. I was never interviewed by a media outlet. You’ll never read my story in National Geographic or Reader’s Digest. In the encyclopedia of rescue operations, mine wouldn’t warrant a footnote. Yet what was no news to others was big news to the three of us who got plucked out of the cold prairie.
We were college students earning extra cash during Christmas break by working in the oil field. It was a blustery, bitter, extra-set-of-long-johns December day. In the oil patch food chain, part-time college kids ranked somewhere near pond scum. Roustabouts were unimpressed with smooth-skinned students who showed up for a couple of weeks and could hardly tell a broom from a shovel. Consequently, any particularly dirty job was handed to us.
That day’s dirty job was a ditch that needed to be dug some twenty miles from the nearest sign of civilization. The boss drove us out, dropped us off, and left us with a promise to return at 5:00 p.m. The terrain was skillet-pan flat. The wind was bone-chilling cold. We pulled our wool caps over our ears and our jacket collars up around our necks and got to work. By quitting time we were frozen, tired, and tired of being frozen.
We set our shovels on the ground and looked down the dirt road. We longed for a ride home in a warm truck. We saw no one. Five thirty, no truck. The sun set, the chill factor dipped into single digits, and still no sign of anyone. We had no cell phone or GPS system. My college years were just barely out of the Stone Age. We were marooned.
Turns out the person slated to fetch us had forgotten us. Sunset became nightfall. Stars began to appear, and coyotes began to howl. Our hands were numb. Our cheeks were icy. Our situation was desperate.
Know the feeling? Mordecai did.
By the time we get to this point in the story, Haman had convinced the easily convinceable Xerxes to destroy all the Jews. The dice have been cast, the date of death has been set, and the decree has gone to all corners of Persia. Mordecai got word of the impending holocaust and abandoned all pretense.
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. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. (Est. 4:1–2)
News of the extermination decree drove Mordecai into a state of anguish. He wardrobed himself in coarse cloth and smeared his face with soot and ashes. He donned the garb of a funeral dirge. He roamed the streets of Susa, crying, screaming, and beating his chest. Officials stopped and stared. Store owners turned and watched. What a spectacle! Remember, he was known for his importance to the queen, a courtier in the gate. Yet Mordecai breached all decorum.
Esther got word of the wailing and was aghast that he would behave in such a manner. So she sent him a batch of clothing and told him in no uncertain terms to quit throwing such a fit. He was jeopardizing everything the two had put in place. They had won favor with the king and respect in the citadel. Apparently she was unaware of the decree, an indication of how cloistered she was from public life.
What followed was a flurry of couriered messages between the two. Mordecai sent Esther a copy of the extermination orders and urged her to reach out to her husband, the king.
A queen can’t just saunter into the throne room, she reminded Mordecai. If she showed up uninvited, a cranky king could have her head.
All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king. (v. 11)
Can’t we envision Esther ticking off on her fingers the reasons to stay silent?
It is against the law.
It’s been thirty days since he gave me so much as a second look.
The king’s in a foul mood, for sure.
He will probably kill me. Remember Vashti?
Mordecai gave her reservations some thought and sent a message.
Before we read his words, can I tee them up? They are some of the most profound observations you will read in the Bible. What he said in two verses is worth two volumes of consideration. Mordecai the Jew became Mordecai the theologian. He made a declaration that reveals the heart of a person who has encountered the heart of the holy God. You are about to hear the greatest one-paragraph call to courage ever spoken by a human tongue.
Have I sufficiently raised your expectations? See if you don’t agree:
Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? (vv. 13–14)
How do we survive the bitterly cold winds of life? When the downsizing has been declared. When the pandemic has no vaccine. When the account has no cash. When the marriage has no joy. When the crib is empty or the grave is occupied or the double bed is down to you, and you can’t quit crying yourself to sleep.
When circumstances leave you desperate and feeling all alone in a wintry ditch, might Mordecai’s words be worth the retelling? He made a duo of starchy observations.
No one gets a free pass.
Max Lucado, You Were Made for This Moment: Courage for Today and Hope for Tomorrow (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2021), 2–5.
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