A New Approach to Esther 4:14 Part II: “Who Knows”

David Nekrutman

April 26, 2024

At the beginning of this month, I left you with a translation cliffhanger for the ending Esther 4:14 – “… And who knows if next year, at this time, you will attain royalty?” Since then, you might have been wondering why I haven’t included one of the expressions from the Hebrew Bible most beloved by Christians – “for such a time as this.” Be forewarned, you might have to wait a bit longer for an answer.


It is important first that we focus on an expression that most people never attend to – “who knows” (mi yodeya) in Esther 4:14. The phrase is common parlance in every language. However, mi yodeya only appears ten times in the Hebrew Scripture, mostly in the Writings (Ketuvim) section of the Tanach (2 Samuel 12:22; Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9; Psalm 90:11; Esther 4:14; Proverbs 24:22; Ecclesiastes 2:19, 3:21, 6:12 & 8:1).


Most of the time the expression “who knows” expression functions as a rhetorical question of skepticism.  It leaves the reader with an impression of no hope.


Mi Yodeya

Psalm 90:11

Proverbs 24:22

Who knows Your furious anger, and Your wrath, which matches the fear of You?

For suddenly catastrophe will go forth from them; and who knows the disaster either can cause?

Ecclesiastes 2:19

Ecclesiastes 6:12

And who knows whether he will be wise or foolish. And he will rule over all my toil that I have toiled and that I have gained wisdom under the sun; this too is vanity

For who knows what is good for man in his lifetime, the number of the days of his life of vanity, that he does them like a shadow, for who will tell man what will be after him under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 3:21

Ecclesiastes 8:1

Who knows that the spirit of the children of men is that which ascends on high, and the spirit of the beast is that which descends below to the Earth?

Who is like the wise man, and who knows the meaning of a thing? A man’s wisdom makes his face shine, and the boldness of his face is changed.


Moses asserts in Psalm 90 that through repentance and return the situation can change and God’s wrath diverted. However, we also know the generation that experienced the greatest miracles and open revelation ended up being buried in the desert. We really don’t find in the biblical texts that the nation heeded Moses words. It is only through Moses’ consistent intercession and God’s grace to His people that I can write this blog piece today. 


The “who knows” expression in the Book of Joel is for the messianic era, where the prophet  envisions Israel repenting. It is a hope not yet fulfilled.


We are now left with two biblical stories which took place prior to Esther where the “who knows” expression was invoked: David & Bathsheba and Jonah & Nineveh. The first one ends in tragedy, and the other, the arch enemy of Israel is saved.


The “who knows” expression emerges following the death of King David and Bathsheba’s baby.  “David replied, ‘While the child was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, who knows (mi yodeya)? The Eternal may be gracious to me, and the child may yet live” (2 Samuel 12:22). The background to this moment begins after King David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his role in the killing of her husband Uriah. God dispatches the prophet Nathan to present a story/parable intended to “camouflage” the unsuspecting hearer so as to be trapped in his own self-condemnation. It worked!


David flew into a rage against the man in the story and told Nathan, “As the Eternal lives, the man who did this deserves to die!” (v. 5). Nathan reveals to King David, “You are the man!” (v. 7). For the very first time in the Hebrew Bible, a character declares “I have sinned” (v. 13) and truly regrets his crime. Although King David is spared from a divine death sentence, sadly his baby is not – “because you have shown utter contempt for The Eternal by this deed, the child who will be born to you shall surely die.”


Despite the divine decree that the newborn will die, David still fasts and weeps in hopes of saving his son.


If we were to freeze frame this biblical moment, I would conclude a mi yodeya scenario never ends well. However, if you were to examine the story of Jonah, the mi yodeya episode concludes with Nineveh being spared from divine destruction. All it took was 5 Hebrew words –עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת – “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” from Jonah and the nation went into full repentance mode. Jonah never articulated that if they repented, they would be saved. This non-Jewish nation, an arch enemy of Israel, assumed – “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (3:9).


As we already discussed, the communication exchanged between Mordecai and Esther takes place via Hatach the messenger and not in a private room (Esther 4:5-6). If I were Esther and I received a communication with the expression “who knows,” what is my reaction?


As we pointed out in the last blog piece, Mordechai is making it very clear to Esther that there is no plan B. She is the only option! With the expression “who knows,” Mordechai is communicating the real possibility that all of her efforts may not have a favorable result.  It’s a suicide mission of biblical proportions!


Esther could have approached the “who knows” expression as did Nineveh, and responded to Mordechai “God himself may consider a change of mind and draw away from his anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:9). But in fact, she responded differently: “After that I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if l perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). It seems that Esther was more influenced by what occurred to King David’s baby.


It makes sense that Esther would feel that this is a suicide mission. The Jews are in exile under the rule of King Xerxes. Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years in exile (Jeremiah 25:11) was the only hope of the Jewish people that they would one day return to the land God promised to them. However, with the genocidal edict of the king and Haman it would seem that God is done with His people. Esther no longer has favor with King Xerxes. All hope is lost. Yet, she is willing to risk her life. This is how dedicated she is to her people.


Next blog piece will address “A Time Such as This.”

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