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When it says that Esther told her servant maids and others to fast, did they also pray? What was the custom of the Persian Jews about fasting and prayer?
Hi Pam. As you know, those Jews that were carried away into Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar remained there until the Persian army, under Cyrus, conquered Babylon. Cyrus was very lenient with the Jews & he gave them permission to return to their homeland. However, only a few did, and others did so over time, under Persian rule. People, like Mordecai & his cousin Hadassah (Esther), were born in captivity & only knew this Babylonian/Persian culture & the Jewish practises that were brought over by their forefathers. So, under Xerxes (Ahasuerus), the story of Mordecai & Esther is given to us. Having mentioned all that, I would think that the Jews living in Persia, who didn't want to return for various reasons (old age, loss of lifestyle/privileges, etc.), continued to perform many of the Jewish practises, as far as they were remembered. Many things would have been forgotten, abandoned, or even inter-mixed with heathen practises, but Israel still maintained their Jewish ancestry and their position before God & sought to follow His regulations.
So, when we read of Esther's call to the Jews of Shushan the palace & her handmaidens to fast (
), I would think that both fasting & prayer were intended (if her helpers were Jews of course). The idea of fasting for the Jew at that time, was linked to deep sense of need & dependence and/or an utter helplessness in the face of calamity (present or anticipated). Also times of mourning, repentance, or a deep spiritual need could prompt fasting & prayer. Of King David we read that he prayed & fasted over his sick child (
2 Samuel 12:16
) coupled with weeping (vv 21,22). And Daniel in
, went a similar way before the Lord with prayer, petition, fasting, in sackcloth & ashes, over the coming destruction of Jerusalem.
Fasting then was a particularly important act of one's seriousness & being cast before the Lord for help. Throughout the fast, this attitude of laying up the matters before God would have occurred.
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