Queen Esther requested her people in Susa to fast for her and with her for three days, “do not eat or drink.” It means total abstinence from intake whether solid or liquid. This is a fast that demands preparation. But she issued the command without notice. It was an emergency and she had to undertake the most dangerous mission to save the Jewish population in the Empire of Persia, all the 127 provinces under Persian rule stretching from India to Ethiopia (Asia, Europe and Africa). During the peak of the Persian Empire, Jews are thought to have comprised as much as 20% of the population, and have retained their ethnic, linguistic, and religious identity.
The 473BC Persian Emperor decreed general massacre, to take place in one day, of all the Jews, and confiscation of their properties to be effective in a year time, cunningly and deceptively instigated by the powerful Persian prime minister Haman, an enemy of the Jews, meant that for a year the Jews would live in constant fear and the suffering which is well described by 19th Century persecuted Jews in Persia, “victims of renewed persecutions which awaits them with each passing day. We are subject to the scorn of our enemies who view us as defenseless and do with us whatever they like. We live every day, hour and moment of our lives in constant dread of some new tragedy which they might bring upon us. Our lives, property, honor, everything that is dear to us is at the mercy of their anger and hostility, a situation which is worse than slavery.” (From 1860 attempts were made by the Persian Jewish community to secure assistance from European Jews.)
Slavery was even viewed as more tolerable than their fate. Esther said the same to the king, “For my people and I ave been sold to those who would kill, slaughter, and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold as slaves, I could remain quiet, for that would be too trivial a matter to warrant disturbing the king.” (Esther 7:4)
When facing death, fasting is a small price to pay in terms of suffering.
The amazing thing was Esther a young 19 years old Jewish woman of humble background was made the Persian queen at 14 in a beauty contest prior to this impending calamity in 478BC. She was an orphan, obedient to her pious adopted parent (uncle Mordecai), and had acquired his pious ad faithful belief in God and God’s way. Her story revealed her to be intelligent, well educated and courageous as well as beautiful.
Coming back to her command for all Jews in Susa to fast with her, how did she know they would or could? She knew. She practiced fasting and praying herself and knew the power. She was also confident that her own people, the pious Jews had made fast and pray their own lifestyle according to the Jewish laws. Indeed, as news of the kings decree reached all the provinces, there were great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes.(Esther 4:3) When Esther heard the news of the decree and Mordecai’s request for her risky intercession before the king, she knew the only way was the way of her people who believed in God. They would all fast and pray to God for the miraculous divine intervention and salvation.
So there was no suddenness in her command. Fasting and praying was their way of life. Did it work? History showed it worked. How did God intervene? What were the outcomes of the fasting and prayers?
1. Mordecai’s and the Jewish people’s fasting prayers resulted Esther being raised to prominence to intercede for them.
2. When together with Esther’s fast and pray they resulted in Esther filled with wisdom from above, being favored again by the king, and succeeded in destroying the enemy and his cruel annihilation scheme against the whole people of Israel. Thus, Esther received her great reward from God and from the king.
Did their fast and pray bring them prosperity in addition to their lives being spared? The king gave the humongous wealth and possessions of Haman to Queen Esther. He also made Mordecai the prime minister, a powerful position to get wealth. The king’s decree gave the Jews in every city authority to unite to defend their lives. They were allowed to kill, slaughter, and annihilate anyone of any nationality or province who might attack them or their children and wives, and to take the property of their enemies. (Esther 8:11) Take note that in Susa the people took no plunder even thought they were decreed to do so if they wished.
Queen Esther’s fast worked. The Jewish race was saved. They were also given the opportunity to turn back to God. When the king gave Mordecai the pious Jew power and honor in his empire, the Jews were filled with joy and gladness and were in turn honored everywhere. They felt proud to be Jews. Many of the other people became Jews themselves, for they feared what the Jews might do to them. It was a reversal of the earlier political power position. (Esther 8:15-17)
The Hamans of the world had not stopped persecuting and hating the Jews. History has shown that even when the Jews tried assimilating into the alien racial, cultural and religious practices the enemies had not stopped their hatred, discrimination and killing. But there were also remnants of Jews who had been protected and kept safe, being preserved by respective anonymous “Esther” raised in history.
Do people still fast today like they did in the ancient times? The watchman had so far observed only one small group who kept and taught this practice. Even then, it became difficult for their members to follow through over time. God spoke through Prophet Isaiah about the kind of fasting results He wants to see:
Isaiah 58:6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.
Our Lord Jesus and His disciples fasted regularly. Jesus commented on the behavior of fasting. Fasting is an inner private act of faith done by a believer before God and not before man. There is a reward from God for fasting. (Matthew 6:16-18)
Jesus said, “And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Fasting is an act of faith. Fasting is always accompanied with seeking God and drawing close to Him. The principle concerning the positive link between fasting and God’s reward has never changed.
Fasting is an act of faith. God likes to reward faith. Hebrews 11:6
“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”