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The Choice Of Esther And The Treason Thwarted
When the days of feasting and excitement described in our previous chapter had passed away, and the king had opportunity quietly to weigh his hasty action, his heart seems to have relented, as we are told in the first verse of chapter 2 that, “After these things, when the wrath of king Ahasuerus was appeased, he remembered Yashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her.” Bound by the law of the kingdom, which made it impossible for him to revoke his own imperial decree, he seems to have become a prey to a measure at least of remorse as he reflected on his way towards Vashti, of whom he had been so proud.
His servants, noticing his dejection, make the proposal that another be sought to take the place of the deposed queen. Accordingly they gather together the fairest maidens of all the provinces, and bring them to Shushan the palace (identical with the Susa of profane history). From this company the future queen was to be chosen.
There is some interesting data afforded by profane history on this point, to which we advert for a moment.
In the third year of Xerxes’ reign, he made a feast to deliberate concerning the invasion of Greece. Four years later he returned discomfited to Susa, where he plunged into all kinds of pleasures and excesses to drive from his mind the bitter memories of his defeats. His queen was chosen at this time, and her name is given as Arnestris-which, it will be seen, bears a close relation to Esther. All this goes far to prove the contention that Xerxes is the great king here referred to. The name Ahasuerus presents no difficulty, as it is simply an imperial title, like Pharaoh, or Agag, which is said to mean, according to Sir Henry Rawlinson, “Venerable King.” It is noteworthy that in Ezra 4:6 Cambyses is called by this name, while in Daniel 9:1 it is applied, in all probability, to Cyaxares.
Returning to the Scripture narrative, charming in its simplicity and straightforwardness, we are introduced in verse 5 to the stouthearted Jew who is to figure so prominently in future chapters, as well as in verse 7, to his beautiful cousin Hadassah, or Esther.
“Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away” (vers. 5, 6).
The Hebrews, and many Christians, have gathered from this that Mordecai was a lineal descendant of Kish, the father of Israel’s first king. Josephus so understood it, for he refers to Esther as being “herself of the royal family also” (Ant. vi. 1); and as she was cousin to Mordecai, both were necessarily of the same lineage. Kish was, however, a common Hebrew name, especially among the Benjamites; but standing here, as it does, for the father of a family, the presumption is certainly in favor of the above view. As we shall see farther on, there would appear to be a divine fitness in thus bringing forward at so crucial a period a member of the failed house of Saul. Had that rebellious and obstinate king (1 Samuel 15:22, 1 Samuel 15:23) faithfully performed the commandment of the Lord in regard to the utter destruction of Amalek, the book of Esther would in all probability never have been written, as Israel would never have been exposed to the danger therein recorded. We shall see why, further on.
The name Mordecai is said to mean “Little man,” and was probably given to him owing to his lack of that “which made Saul so much admired, namely, greatness of stature.
He must have been very young indeed when carried away to Babylon, as the captivity of Jeconiah, or Jehoiachim, took place b. c. 599, something over eighty years ere our chapter opens. This aged patriarch “brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful: whom Mordecai, “when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter” (ver. 7). She, by her grace and beauty, attracted the attention of the officers whose business it was to find a bride for the king, and she was given into the custody of the chamberlain Hegai. “And the maiden pleased him, and she obtained kindness of him; and he speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her, and seven maidens, which were meet to be given her, out of the king’s house: and he preferred her and her maids unto the best place of the “women” (ver. 9).
It was a strange position surely for a Jewish maiden to occupy, in strange contrast -with Moses, in whom, however, she no doubt gloried. He, picked up as a waif, to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, by faith relinquished this high place. As one has remarked, “Providence had placed him in Pharaoh’s house, but faith took him out of it.” With Esther it is otherwise. There can be no question that her position was entirely opposed to the word of God. Providence might seem to favor her, but faith “would assuredly have led her at once to declare herself as a despised Jewess, one of the afflicted people of God. This she does not do, Mordecai having expressly urged her to carefully conceal it. “Esther had not showed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not show it.” Faithful above many, Mordecai yet had not entered into God’s mind in regard to the complete separation of His people from the nations. The law expressly forbade the giving of the daughters of Israel in marriage to the Gentiles; but it is very evident that both Mordecai and Esther thought they saw in the proposed union a means of blessing to their people. And so, indeed, it proved to be; but this by no means disannulled or made of none effect the word of God.
In the same way people reason concerning much that goes on in our day. We have often been asked concerning the public ministry of women, “If not of God, how is it that He so frequently blesses it to the salvation of souls? Many women occupying the public platform as teachers and preachers are assuredly blessed of God: does He not therefore set the seal of His approval upon their position? “Admitting the premise, which may not always be before God as it appears to man, the conclusion by no means follows. Clearly and unmistakably the Holy Ghost has said, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). And again, “Let your women keep silence in the churches (assemblies); for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35). Then, solemnly, he adds in verse 37, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” Here is the unerring word of God upon the subject. If that Word is violated, and still blessing results, what does it prove? That God has changed His mind, or ignores, and would have us ignore, His own Word? Ah, no! What then? Simply that He is sovereign, and uses His truth wherever proclaimed, and by whomsoever; but the judgment-seat of Christ will manifest all that was contrary to His mind.
We knew of a man saved in a Roman Catholic church while an ungodly priest, as his after-life proved, was reading the gospel for the day from Luke xv. Are we therefore to reason that the Roman priesthood is according to God because He sets the seal of blessing upon His Word used by one of them? Every unprejudiced mind will say, No! We give Him glory that, in spite of all the failure and disorder of Christendom, His love is so great that it breaks every barrier, and reaches men and women in their deep, deep need by any and all means whereby He can make Himself known; but we deprecate all disobedience to Him as sin.
This principle apprehended in the soul will save from much confusion of mind. Had Mordecai apprehended it, he would never have counseled his cousin as he did. The word of God was ignored. That He deigned to use the ignorers of it in blessing to His people was an act of pure grace.
In marked contrast with Esther’s course is that of another Israelitish captive-the little maid of 2 Kings 5:0, who waited upon Naaman’s wife. Her sphere was much more circumscribed, but how faithfully she glorified God in it! “A word spoken in season, how good is it!” Such was her testimony to her heathen mistress, and so wonderfully did God own and bless it that it brought a proud Syrian captain to confess Israel’s God as the only true God, whom alone he -would henceforth serve. Oh for grace thus to buy up opportunities and to use them to His glory while ourselves walking in singleness of heart in the path marked out in the Scriptures of truth!
To return to Esther: Daily Mordecai walked before the court of the house of the women to learn if all was well with her. One after another, the maidens were presented to the king, each vying with the other in the effort to add to her natural charms by means of the sweet odors and other preparations given her. Esther-to her credit be it noted-disdained all these things, save -what were officially appointed, and when she was presented to the king “the king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Yashti” (ver. 17). A signal honor, doubtless, but how low had she stooped to obtain it! How had she lost that character of holy separation to Jehovah which should ever have been hers! How truly was she degraded in her very exaltation! The favored wife among many, and her lord an uncircumcised Gentile! How low had the nation fallen when Mordecai, one of the noblest of them all, could rejoice in such a dubious honor being accorded her! And how low spiritually must the Church be, to seek, as she does, the patronage of the world! This can only be purchased by the loss of the holiness and separate character enjoined by the word of God. Such is the lesson we would seek to impress upon our reader’s conscience. Far better had it been for Esther to have been poor and unknown, yet cleaving to the Lord her God among the returned captives at Jerusalem, than to be thus exalted in the house of the conqueror. And so to-day; far better to be little and despised in the eyes of a haughty world, and an equally haughty Christendom, while seeking to carry out the truth as to the Christian’s heavenly calling, than, through forgetting this, to be made much of by those “whose glory is in their shame; who mind earthly things.” This is a snare against which the Lord’s separated people need to be specially warned to-day. The word of Jehovah to Jeremiah should be often called to mind: “If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before Me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them” (Jeremiah 15:19). The present is a time of great sweeping-away of the ancient landmarks. It is a day of marked indifference to evil-of chronic inability to try the things that differ. Let us not be carried away with the tide, but faithfully guard the treasure committed to us, and spurn the patronage of that which is so obnoxious to God.
The account of Esther’s marriage-feast is but sorrowful reading if one be able to detect the sad departure from the Word which it indicates. “Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes and his servants, even Esther’s feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts according to the state of the king” (ver. 18). It would seem that Mordecai too was advanced to a position of trust; for in the next verse we learn that “when the virgins were gathered together the second time, then Mordecai sat in the king’s gate,” which implies that he became a petty judge, according to the Oriental manner of expressing it. One is reminded of “righteous Lot,” who sat in the gate of Sodom; and of how many other dear children of God since, who have sought and obtained positions of power and influence in this poor “Christ-less world,” hoping thereby to be used in its improvement, only to be bitterly disappointed at last, besides being degraded themselves.
Significantly, the next verse tells us again that “Esther had not showed her kindred nor her people, as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him” (ver. 20). This, no doubt, “would be considered good policy on Mordecai’s part, and lovely obedience in Esther, but it was real unfaithfulness to God, often duplicated in our own times. What a contrast with Ruth, the converted Moabitess! “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” is her bright confession. How much more honoring to the Lord than the shrewdness of Mordecai and Esther!
In the last three verses of our chapter an event is recorded which becomes of grave importance farther on in the book. “In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, two of the king’s chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, of those which kept the door, were wroth, and sought to lay hands on the king Ahasuerus. And the thing was known to Mordecai, who told it unto Esther the queen; and Esther certified the king thereof in Mordecai’s name. And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out; therefore they were both hanged on a tree: and it was written in the book of the chronicles before the king” (vers. 21-23). Although in an unscriptural position, God, who knows the heart of His servant, who sees in Mordecai and Esther true lovers of Israel, will use them signally for His own ends of good to His people, whom He truly loved. If they cover their nationality, and shame Him so that He hides His name too, He will make them nevertheless the instruments of His providence. Mordecai becomes the instrument by which a plot against the life of the king is thwarted. But for the present no notice is taken of him. The conspirators are hanged, the service of Mordecai is recorded in the records of the kingdom, but he himself is, apparently, forgotten. Such is the favor of this world! In a darker hour, however, One, in whose hand is a sleepless night of the king, shall see that the overlooked service shall be brought to the monarch’s attention, and turn it to account for deliverance of that people for whose care His eyes never slumber.
It is of all importance that the saint should ever remember that “all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” There may be times when God seems to have forgotten; when clouds are dark; when one is allowed to be neglected, unjustly treated, or coldly set at nought. But rest assured all is naked and open before Him with whom we have to do. Every purpose shall be manifested in its season; and all at last shall be cause for eternal thanksgivings.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Esther 2". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany