Read ESTHER 4:1–5
The custom of wearing black garments to a funeral dates to the Roman Empire, when togas made of dark-colored wool were worn during times of mourning. Women would often cover their heads with black caps or veils. The immediate family of the deceased would wear black for an extended period of time— widows for as long as two years.
The effects of Haman’s evil act were immediately felt by the Jewish people. There was “great mourning” in every province of the country (v. 3). Mordecai visibly displayed his grief by putting on sackcloth and ashes.
Sackcloth, similar to today’s burlap, was a material made of coarse, black goat’s hair. It was traditionally worn as either a sign of mourning or of repentance. When Jacob thought his son was dead, he mourned and put on sackcloth (Gen. 37:34). Ashes were applied to the head, or sometimes the mourner would sit amidst them to signify humility or being downcast and afflicted.
While people throughout the empire wept and fasted at the news of their terrible impending fate, Xerxes and his nobility wanted no part of it. They ruled that anyone showing visible signs of mourning would not be allowed within the palace gates. They wanted to create an artificial bubble in which everyone was happy and successful and safe.
Because of this ruling, Esther was initially unaware of Haman’s edict and its effect on her people. Esther’s attendants, knowing of her close relationship with Mordecai, brought her the news of his distress. Unlike others in the palace, Esther wanted to know why Mordecai and others were in mourning. She was willing to experience their sorrow and grief.
APPLY THE WORD
When others are in mourning, we might want to insist that their sorrow not penetrate our walls of happiness and comfort. Esther reminds us to extend acts of kindness and love during difficult days. Practical examples such as providing a meal or sending encouraging notes can help us obey the command to bear the burdens of others (Gal. 6:2).