Esther 4                       “Hatach the System”


            Let me start with a quick recapitulation of the story thus far in the Book of Esther. She has become the queen. Haman had become the head of state beneath the king.  Haman wants to kill all the Jews because one Jew, Mordecai Esther’s Uncle, will not bow down and worship him. Haman has tricked the King into issuing an edict asking for the killing of all the Jews. The Jews now know of the edict and have begun preparing their souls for their own death by wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes–which is a sign of public mourning for the day.

            Does this not sound like a multi-episode soap opera on television? Now for today’s episode! Apparently Esther is still completely in the dark about the edict asking for the eradication of all the Jews. All she sees is her uncle Mordecai out at the front gate of the palace wearing sackcloth and ashes. She arranges for clothes to be brought to him, not realizing the gravity of the situation–that he is mourning the death of his own people.One of the servants that is used to go outside the gate to give Mordecai the new clothes is following Esther’s orders, but is himself breaking one of the rules of the palace. Eunuchs are not supposed to go outside the gate. This Eunuch is named “Hatach,” and that is all we know about him from the Bible. His name, however, means “One who strikes.” He seems okay to go outside of the official rules to engage with Mordecai.  

            Mordecai sends a message back to Queen Esther: “You have to go talk to the King and save your people from the edict that Haman has made.” Yet, the problem is that one cannot just go talk to the king. One must be invited into his presence first by the king. To approach the king uninvited means certain death. Yet, in this particular case Esther sees that she is “dead if she does and dead if she doesn’t.” It is your typical lose-lose set-up. To figure what course of action to take, Esther, and in fact all of the Jews will fast for three days.


            That kind of thing could never happen again, right? All of the sudden a whole race of people under suspicion of treachery? Not here in Hawaii, right? I was reminded of the fact that on December 7th, 1941, something similar took place here. The word was after the attack on Pearl Harbor that all Japanese were the enemy. It was a lose/lose situation for the Japanese families that were here. They could not go back to Japan because now there was a war on. Staying here meant that they might in fact be rounded up and sent to such places as Manzanar in the California desert–imprisoned without trial, all rights taken away. Now, we know what happened here thereafter: The Japanese men of Waimea made it clear that they were for freedom and democracy and joined the US Army and fought bravely in the European theater. What a wonderful testimony to taking a lose/lose and turning it into a win!

            That is what Mordecai is trying to do here in our text for today, too. The Jews of that day were stuck in a lose/lose situation. Nobody could stand up to the Persian Army. (Although, I should remind everybody of the brave stand six hundred Spartans had at Thermopylae–they still were all slaughtered however as history reminds us.) The Jews know that they are already defeated. Their only hope at this point is if God will intervene. Mordecai actually states this to Esther that if she cannot stop the slaughter of her people, then God will have to intervene from another quarter. So, it is interesting to see these two disparate ideas held together in one thought! We are all done for/God will save us!

            Is that not the essence of our Christian faith? These two disparate ideas are pushed together into our hope of Salvation through Jesus. WE are all going to die one day. There is no stopping that. Yet, Jesus saves us! Can you keep two opposing ideas in your head at the same time? Can you go put on sackcloth and sit in ashes while holding out the hope that God is in control and will ultimately prevail? Psalm 23: “Lo, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . . .”


            God has an incredible way of breaking all the rules! The eunuch in this part of the story, a fellow named Hatach, is a really interesting part of God’s story here. He seems all too ready to operate outside of the system of palace rules. Eunuchs are not allowed to go outside of the palace gates. He is officially assigned to the Harem of the King. He is not allowed to be in contact with his family outside the walls. But, what does Hatach do? He is asked by Queen Esther to go out and clothe Mordecai, whom Esther can see is wearing sackcloth. In this way Esther is going to communicate with her family, her uncle, on the outside.

            My sermon title is “Hatach the System.” So, I will just say that the simple idea of what Hatach does is just bending the rules a little bit for the benefit of others, or in this case to stop a genocide. This is akin to what Oskar Schindler did in World War II to save what Jews he could from the Holocaust. He hired Jewish children out of the concentration camps to work in his munitions factory. He told the Nazis that they were the best, especially the children, because they had small hands that could polish the insides of artillery shells. I hope you all have seen the movie or have read the book.

            I dare say that Jesus himself was well known for turning situations around in this way. One example would be the story of the stoning of the adulterous woman. By every right the woman could have been put to death by stoning. Jesus asks the eager crowd with stones in hand that the person without sin be the one to cast the first stone. (John 8:1-11) Of course there is the old, old, joke that says that after Jesus had challenged the crowd a stone did come flying out from the crowd and hit the woman. Jesus turns to where the stone had come from and says: “Mother, you stop that now!” That is a really bad joke.

            Hatach is an Old Testament version of the one who sees the greater good and makes minor adjustments in the system so that no one is unduly harmed. He faithfully delivers messages back and forth between Mordecai and Esther even though he could be in deep trouble for doing so. What if Haman were to find out? That would be bye-bye Hatach for sure!


            No recall what I said about keeping to disparate ideas in your head at the same time? So, here we are once more asked to do this with Esther’s response to her uncle’s request to petition the king on behalf of the Jewish people. So, how did this whole episode with Haman wanting to kill all the Jews start? What was the trigger event? Oh yes, Mordecai refused to bow down to Haman. What does Esther have to do to save her people? She is told to go and bow down before the King! That is a bit crazy, right? Mordecai should just bow down and save Esther the trouble! Okay, Haman is evil. The king is not. Bowing down before either one may be considered idolatry–breaking the Second Commandment of Moses. Yet, the story gives us the idea that whatever happens, never, ever, bow down before evil itself. You know, pay unto Caesar! Pay your taxes. Accept government authority over you, but never accept an explicit evil over your life! So, Esther sees the greater good in bowing before Ahasuerus.

            Esther calls for a fast for three days and nights. This is not an ordinary fast. This is a fast that includes not just food but water too. This is a fast that will leave the body rather weakened in the end. I think that when Esther finally does go into to present her case before the king, that she can really feel death in her bones already.

            Jesus talked about fasting as well. You may recall the story of the twelve disciples going out to evangelize and perform miracles. They all came back and told Jesus that they had had trouble casting out some of the demons. Jesus responds by telling them that they only prayed in a normal way. To cast out some demons one must not only pray but also fast. (Mt 17:21)

            This concept of fasting is a little bit different than what we think of as a simple fast. It works more like this: If you see someone hungry in your midst, you give him the food in prayer that you were going to eat. If someone is sick in your midst, you pray that your body would take the illness from them. Perhaps in your own lives you have prayed this way? “Lord, let me bear the grief of my friend. I know that my friend cannot bear it anymore.” The ultimate “fast” is giving your life over in love and grace for another. This is of course what Jesus did on the Cross for us. Jesus suffered and died to relieve the entire world of its sin. In this way, we see that Jesus’ ministry began with the fast in the wilderness for 40 days while the devil tempted him. His ministry finished with the fast on the Cross–when he did not eat since the time of the last supper.

            Esther’s fast in this case was for the spiritual strength to face death–her own death, the death of her people, and the death of her race. There is definitely power in that. She gains the courage to buck the system and stand up for what is right. She will go behind Haman’s back and approach the king to save her people–or die herself in the attempt.


            I wish us all this day to have such courage. To believe what is right and good. To make a stand even in the case of life and death. To lay down a sacrifice of our own lives to bless this world.