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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ esther-4.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Esther 4:1. Perceived all that was done] Evident that Mordecai knew not only the terms of the public proclamation, but the particulars of the private arrangement between Haman and the king. For in Esther 4:7 it is said, “And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king’s treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.” Put on sackcloth with ashes] An abbreviated combination, meaning that he put on a hairy garment and spread ashes upon his head in sign of deep grief. To rend one’s clothes in grief was as much a Persian as a Jewish practice. When tidings of Xerxes’ defeat at Salamis reached Shushan, all the people “rent their garments and uttered unbounded shouts and lamentations.”—Herod. viii. 99. זעק an intensified form of expression, similar to the Latin conquestus, violent complaint, earnest and vociferous demonstration.
Esther 4:2.] The king’s gate was the free place before the entrance to the royal palace. Further he could not go, for it was not permitted to bear the semblance of an evil omen before the king.
Esther 4:3.] The sorrow was general. All the Jews broke out into mourning, weeping, and lamentation, while many manifested their grief in the manner described.
Esther 4:4-5.] The matter was made known to Esther by her maids and eunuchs; and she fell into convulsive grief. The verb here used is a passive intensive—to be affected with grief as one seized with the pains of delivery. She sent clothes to her guardian, that he might put them on, doubtless, that thereby he might again stand in the gate of the king, and so relate to her the cause of his grief. But he refused them, not only because he would wear no other than garments of mourning, but because he desired a private opportunity to communicate with her. Mordecai accomplished his object, and Hatach the eunuch was sent to him to obtain particulars.—Lange. What it was, and why it was] lit what this, and why this? She had not been informed of this terrible decree.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:1-4
A TRAGIC interest attaches to the man who is the subject of great sorrow. We are drawn towards him by the power of sympathy. He is lifted out of the common herd, and his individuality becomes at once more apparent and more prominent. Job is one of those characters that stand out most conspicuously in ancient story. His name is the most frequently mentioned, and the most widely known. Job is a very byword, and is as familiar in our mouths as household words, yea, it is a household word itself. And why is this? It is, we presume, not merely on account of his great patience under suffering, but on account of those varied and dark sorrows through which he passed. The patriarch Jacob is to us more luminous, more human, more fragrant, and more attractive, when tempest-tossed by trouble, when crushed by sorrow, than when luxuriating in the land of Goshen. The centre point of interest in the history of Abraham is when he is called upon to offer up his son Isaac. David is never sublimer than when in the intensity of his anguish he mourns the slaughter of his wayward SOD Absalom. And Mordecai is to us grander and more endearing when clothed in his hairy garment and with ashes on his head, indicative of his grief, than when he was arrayed in royal apparel, and the crown royal was placed on his head, and he rode forth on the king’s own horse. Mordecai’s loud and bitter cry of sorrow touches humanity more deeply than the proclamation of Haman, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.” But if such interest attaches to the individual in sorrow, what shall be said of a nation in mourning? A whole nation weeping and wailing. Throughout that vast empire, in all its towns and villages, might be seen Jews clothed with sackcloth and sitting in ashes. National joy is attractive, but national sorrow has a more solemn interest. Sublimely and solemnly grand is the aspect of Nineveh mourning and fasting, as one man, for its sins. But these poor Jews were weeping and wailing on account of a threatened slaughter which was undeserved. Let us come near to the man and the nation thus under the dark shadow of threatened evil.
I. Sorrow cannot be prevented. Sibbes says, “None ever hath been so good or so great as could raise themselves so high as to be above the reach of troubles.” And Watson observes in the same strain, “The present state of life is subject to afflictions, as a seaman’s life is subject to storms. ‘Man is born to trouble;’ he is heir-apparent to it; he comes into the world with a cry, and goes out with a groan.” This paragraph is a forcible illustration of these truths. Goodness is personified in Mordecai. Goodness combined with greatness are personified in Esther the queen. Earthly greatness is personified in the king. He was so great that the emblems of sorrow are not permitted to come nearer than the king’s gate. And there were varying degrees of goodness and of greatness among the Jewish people, and yet all were subject to sorrow. The very goodness of Mordecai was the cause of his trouble. The tender, gentle goodness of Esther the queen was the reason why she was “intensely grieved.” The king’s gate might be closed against the entrance of those wearing the garb of sorrow. But sorrow itself can overleap the loftiest barriers, and find a way through the strongest bulwarks. Sorrow darkens the cottage and the palace. The merry laugh and prattle of childhood in sweet country homes are hushed in the presence of this great on-coming calamity. Lovers forget their new-found joy as they think of the national trouble. The harps are hung on the willows, and the children of Zion weep as they feel that the hands of the persecutors are strong. Mordecai’s loud and bitter cry is heard in the palace, and mingles itself with the music of pipers and harpists. The bright and cheery countenance of Esther wears an unwonted gloom.
II. Sorrow cannot be explained. Of course we may give the explanation that sin is the cause of sorrow in its general and broad aspect. But when we come to particularize we find ourselves at fault. Easy it is for us now to see the mistakes made by Job’s friends in trying to account for his great troubles; but if Job’s friends had kept silent and lived till the present time they would most likely be found to be as wise as their critics. It is not so very difficult to be wise after the event. But sorrows even after they have passed and have done their blessed work cannot always be explained. Eternity is the only true and complete interpreter of time. Heavenly joys only can make plain the meaning of earthly sorrows. Why should Mordecai suffer? What is the purpose of his present distress? Why should intense grief shake and toss the fair nature of the virtuous Esther? Why should many hearts be troubled that are the shrines of truth, of beauty, and of goodness? In the light of history and of God’s providential dealings we may now offer an explanation; but while the facts of history are being enacted, while God’s providential dealings are in operation, the troubled hearts are sorely perplexed. Mordecai’s cry was the cry of grief, but was it not also the cry of baffled endeavour to understand the mystery? Our particular sorrows cannot at present receive definite explanation. The seed can only be properly explained by the harvest. The seed of our present sorrows can only be properly explained by the consequent harvest of eternal joys.
III. Sorrow cannot be hidden. It does not appear that Mordecai strove to hide his sorrow. Some assert that he gave vent to his sorrow in order to attract notice, and to get an audience with Esther. Difficult to say how far this suggestion is correct. Certainly Mordecai’s patriotism and goodness would lead him to feel deeply the present position of his people. He could not help the manifestation of his grief. Stoics might say, Keep your sorrows to yourself; do not parade your griefs; do not be ever showing the bleeding sores of your wounded heart. But poor Mordecai could not carry out the stony lessons of these stern teachers. Emotion is as much a part of our God-given nature as intellect. The man who does not feel is a man with the better part of manhood destroyed. And feeling must sooner or later find an expression. These people were demonstrative. The English are not demonstrative. They are said to take their very pleasures sadly. They are comparatively silent about their sorrows. But it can even be found out when an Englishman is in trouble. The cry of wounded hearts may be silent, but it is penetrating. The fragrance of crushed spirits is pungent and powerful. It is better not to hide our sorrows. Trouble concealed is trouble increased. Sorrow caged up and confined is the breeder of much mischief. If earth closes her kingly gates against the cry of our sorrows, heaven opens wide its pearly gates, and as soon as ever the cry passes inside those gates it is changed into laughter.
IV. Sorrow cannot be confined. It passes from nature to nature. It travels from home to home. Even when men and women are not personally affected by that which is the cause of the sorrow, yet they feel its influence, and are sad. Go into the house where death has entered; see all the family in tears, and your nature is at once softened and subdued. It was natural to expect that all the Jews should be affected with sorrow for a common calamity threatened. But the maids and the eunuchs participated in the grief. And Esther, though ignorant of the reason for the sorrow, was intensely grieved. This community of feeling, this wonderful susceptibility to sorrow, speaks to us of our brotherhood. We are members one of another.
V. But sorrow can be mitigated. It may not be in our power to remove sorrow, but it may be so mitigated as not to crush and destroy. It may be mitigated, yea, removed—(a) By believing that the threatened trouble may never come. The trouble which Mordecai and these Jews feared never came. They had good reason for fear and for sorrow. Many of our fears are without foundation. Many of the troubles we fear may never come. Why weep over ideal troubles? Let us keep our tears till the sorrow is present. Do not let us go out to meet the enemy in our present weakness. (b) By believing that God knows how to effect a deliverance. Mordecai’s trouble was not the mere fancy of a disordered brain. The trouble was there. The edict had gone forth. The death-warrant was signed and sealed. To all human appearance Mordecai was as much a doomed man as the criminal fettered in his cell and waiting the hour of his execution. But God worked out for him and all the Jews a wonderful deliverance. Mordecai’s God still reigns, and can still work for the deliverance of the oppressed. (c) By believing that sorrow may be rendered productive. In this case the sorrow was the means of bringing about deliverance. The sorrow of Mordecai and of these Jews was one of the methods employed by God to work out the deliverance of his chosen people. Your sorrows may work out your deliverance. The sorrows of an Egyptian bondage may lead you to desire and to attain to the joys of the promised land. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” Salvation here mentioned is the highest and most complete deliverance. Sorrow may be the means of bringing about enlargement. Not enlargement merely in the sense of respiration, as the word is employed in this chapter as a translation of Mordecai’s declaration, out enlargement in the sense of development. Sorrow is a great developing agency when rightly received, and when blessed by the Holy Spirit of God. Mordecai’s sorrow developed his nature, enlarged his sympathies, and increased his power of vision. Sorrow sometimes makes people selfish. They nurse their sorrows like mothers fondle their sickly babies. They think of nothing but of themselves and their troubles. This, however, is not the proper effect, is not the designed purpose of sorrow. It should open up the whole nature. It should expand all the powers, both intellectual and moral, of a man’s being. As the waters of the Nile overflow the surrounding country, and open up the soil, and prepare it for the reception of the rice seed; so the waters of our sorrows should overflow and open up the otherwise barren soil of our natures, and prepare it for the reception of the seed of all truth in its manifold bearings. Let sorrow do its perfect work of developing. Sorrow seems to say in mournful measures to all its children, “Be ye also enlarged.” It touches to finer and broader issues. It should bring out the latent powers and forces of suffering humanity. It should develop into strength and Christlike nobility and manliness. The developing power of sorrow is brought out by the apostle when he tells us that “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” See to it that such is the blessed fruit of sorrow’s operation. Sorrow should be productive in another sense. It should intensify the appreciative faculty, and set our souls longing for the pure realms where sorrows will be all unknown because they will be no longer required. Hunger is the best sauce. The sorrows of time prepare us to receive the joys of heaven. When there is intense thirst there can be nothing more refreshing than a drink of clear, sparkling spring water. The sorrows of our pilgrimage intensify the soul’s thirst for the consolations of the gospel and of God’s promises, and for the abiding comforts of the celestial home. The hart pants for the water-brooks. The poor soul hunted and harried by the fierce dogs of trouble pants for the earthly sanctuary, and much more for the heavenly sanctuary. Mordecai in his trouble looked to Esther, and looked still higher, for he expected enlargement and deliverance from another place. We may look to earth. We must make use of all legitimate earthly means. But we must look for true enlargement and deliverance from another place. What place is that but the throne of God, the mercy-seat, the Father’s house. In that house sorrow will be turned into joy, weeping into laughter, crying into songs of gladness, and pain into perpetual and unsullied pleasure.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:1-4
2. For none might enter into the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.—Behold, they that wear softs are in kings’ houses, and those that are altogether set upon the merry pin. Jannes and Jambres, those jugglers, are gracious with Pharaoh, when Moses and Aaron are frowned upon. Baal’s prophets are fed at Jezebel’s table, when Elias is almost pined in the desert. The dancing damsel trippeth on the toe, and triumpheth in Herod’s hall, when the rough-coated Baptist lieth in cold irons; and Christ’s company there is neither cared for nor called for, unless it be to show tricks and do miracles for a pastime. The kings and courtiers of Persia must see no sad sight, lest their mirth should be marred, and themselves surprised with heaviness and horror. But if mourners might not be suffered to come to court, why did those proud princes so sty up themselves, and not appear abroad for the relief of the poor oppressed.—Trapp.
In the case of Mordecai, the first effect of the proclamation was bitter anguish, for his conduct had been the flint out of which the spark leaped to kindle this portentous conflagration. Not for a moment would we doubt the rightness of that conduct, for his way had been hedged in by the providence of God on the one side, and the precept of God on the other; but this, while it eased his conscience, would only drive the sword deeper into his heart. He “rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry; and came even before the king’s gate.” But Mordecai’s grief did not upset his judgment. The genuine sorrow of an honest soul very seldom has that effect; and this man’s greatness comes out in his deliberateness. To see him rushing out into the streets and up to the palace gate clothed in sackcloth, and filling the air with shrieks and groans, you might fancy that his reason had been thrown off its balance; but Mordecai knew very well where he was running to, and how far he must make his cry reach. It soon appeared that he had made a copy of the edict and brought it with him, that he had informed himself as to the details of the blood-money, and that he had thought out and fixed in his own mind what must be done. Faith too, as well as sound judgment, may be discerned under this good man’s grief. Certainly the cloud was very black, but he had found out a thinner place, if not a rift, in it. “In the way of obeying God I have exposed my people to this fearful peril; but, on the other hand, God has these four years and more established my foster child next to the throne. Putting these two things together, I am surely not wrong in judging that they point to the place where the cloud will yet part and greater light come through it.” It was precisely the latent force of piety that gave Mordecai courage enough to set aside every thought of his own safety, to make the most public exhibition of his grief, to go straight towards the supreme earthly power. No doubt he had already gone to the supreme power in heaven; but those who have done that are not found folding their hands in the time of trouble. Moses erred when he said to the people, “Stand still,” in front of the Red Sea: God told him that up to even such a barrier and through it his people must march. “Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” Mordecai had learned this lesson, and now taught it to Esther.—A. M. Symington.
And weeping and wailing.—This was the way to get in with God, though they might not come crying to the court. Oh, the Divine rhetoric and omnipotent efficacy of penitent tears! Weeping hath a voice. Christ turned to the weeping women when going to his cross and comforted them. He showed great respects to Mary Magdalene, that weeping vine; she had the first sight of the revived phœnix (though so bleared that she could scarce discern him), and held him fast by those feet which she had once washed with her tears, and wherewith he had lately trod upon the lion and adder.—Trapp.
In sad thoughts did Mordecai spend his heart, while he walked mournfully in sackcloth before that gate wherein he was wont to sit; now his habit bars his approach; no sackcloth might come within the court. Lo! that which is welcomest in the court of heaven is here excluded from the presence of this earthly royalty: “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”—Bishop Hall.
It is well remarked by Henry, in his commentary upon this passage, that “although nothing but what was gay and pleasant must appear at court, and everything that was melancholy must be banished thence, yet it was vain thus to keep out the badges of sorrow unless they could withal have kept out the causes of sorrow, and to forbid sackcloth to enter unless they could have forbidden sickness and trouble and death to enter.” We are reminded by these words of the well-known saying of John Knox to the ladies of Queen Mary’s court, when he had been dismissed from her presence with marks of high displeasure, and was waiting to hear the result of his interview with her: “O, fair ladies, how pleasing were this life of yours if it should ever abide, and then in the end that we may pass to heaven with all this gay gear. But fie upon that knave, death, that will come whether we will or not.” But it is not to those only who dwell in palaces that our application of the text may be made. People in exalted stations among ourselves, people who might be expected to act more rationally than heathen potentates and nobles were accustomed to do, often exhibit the same desire to have removed out of their sight everything that would remind them of their frailty and mortality, as if in this way they could put trouble and mortality away from them. But this is unavailing. The unwelcome heralds of death, in the varied forms of disease, will find their way into the mansions of the great as well as into the humble dwellings of the poor; and at length the enemy himself will appear all unceremoniously to drag away from their luxuries and their selfish enjoyments those who have no portion out in the present life. What I would say here then is, would it not be the best course for all to have their minds directed towards the reality which must overtake them whether they will or not; and to avail themselves of the means which God has provided in the gospel to strip death of its terrors?—Davidson.
Could Mordecai have been permitted to redeem his countrymen from the avenging sword, he would have rejoiced in “offering himself upon the sacrifice of their faith,” and have gone to the scaffold, or the furnace, or the lions’ den, clothed in white, with garlands bound round his temples, and with the song of triumph in his mouth. But he knew that his enemy would have refused this as a “kindness and a precious oil,” which, instead of breaking his head, would have refreshed and exhilarated his wounded spirit. His grief was that not only he, but his people were sold “to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish.” But, besides, Mordecai had to reflect that he had been instrumental in bringing this calamity upon his people by refusing the honours claimed by Haman. This could not fail to give him pain, and to aggravate the evil which he deplored. Not that he repented of what he had done, for we find him afterwards persisting in the same line of conduct, and refusing to propitiate the haughty favourite by giving him the marks of reverence. We may innocently, or in the discharge of what we owe to God, do what may be the means of injuring both ourselves and others whom we love. It does not follow from this that we ought to have acted otherwise. But still it is a painful reflection. And it was a great addition to the affliction of Mordecai that the Jews were to be sacrificed in consequence of his having incurred the hatred of a wicked but powerful individual. This also accounts for his grief being more poignant than that of Esther.—McCrie.
Poor Mordecai had it not in his power to confine his anguish to his own bosom, or to his own house. He published it through all the city of Shushan. You need not ask for what reasons persons overwhelmed with grief do not inquire what purpose the publication of their grief may serve. The strong impulse of sorrow often makes them publish their complaints to the winds or the trees. Yet who knows what good end it might serve to announce the unmerited calamity of the Jews through the whole city of Shushan. There might be some compassionate hearts amongst the people that would be interested by such a dire calamity; and though the people had no direct access to the king, yet they could present their supplications to the counsellors who saw his face; or if nothing could be gained, nothing could be lost by men already doomed to death.—Lawson.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:4
THE ACTION OF SYMPATHY REJECTED
Change of place is not necessarily change of state. Wherever we travel we remain essentially the same. We cannot lose our identity. Foreign travel, change of scene, alteration of position, may do much to benefit the man or the woman both physically, intellectually, and morally. But these changes cannot radically change the nature. The benefit is often only temporary, and we soon relapse into our old condition. Esther the orphan had her troubles, but she did not become superior to trouble when she became Esther the queen. The royal Esther had troubles which were not possible to the uncrowned Esther. Let us seek, not to be free from trouble by change of place, or by alteration of outward condition, but to be fortified in the inward condition so that we may bear trouble in Christlike fashion.
I. Bad news. “So Esther’s maids and her chamberlains came and told it her.” Bad news travels fast and far. Esther was soon told of Mordecai’s great trouble. The bearers of evil tidings cannot be welcome messengers. Some gladly carry evil tidings through the promptings of a depraved nature. Such ought not to be received. Their mouths ought to be shut by tokens of disapproval. The listeners to evil stories are almost as much to blame as the tellers. In this case, however, we have no just reason to suppose that there was any evil design; yea, we may rather and legitimately suppose a good purpose. Esther’s maids must have known of the relationship that existed between her and Mordecai; and we may well imagine that they carried the evil tidings to see if anything could be done to alleviate Mordecai’s distress. Let us be slow to be the bearers of bad news. See to it that our information is correct. Examine our purpose in telling the dismal tale. And then, when we see that the tale must be told, pray for grace and wisdom that it may be told in the best possible manner.
II. Consequent grief. “Then was the queen exceedingly grieved.” The poet tells us, “And he who meditates on others’ woes shall in that meditation lose his own.” He may lose his own, but he gets fresh trouble by entering sympathetically into the woes of the other. We can only bear another’s burdens of trouble by becoming troubled ourselves. How can we weep with those that weep unless we share their sorrows? To attend to the troubles of others is both to lessen and to increase our own troubles. Shall we then shut our ears to the cries of sorrow? No; for the consideration of the troubles of others may reconcile us to the pains of our own condition. There is to the true heart a sweet luxury in tasting the bitter cup of other people’s sorrows. And benevolence, not inordinate self-love, should be the rule of life. The outward and the inward are closely and marvellously connected. Place together the words “told it her,” “exceedingly grieved.” The words of the maids acted powerfully on Esther’s sensitive and loving nature. So it was with Job. After the messengers had told him of the slaughter of his cattle, his servants, and his children, then he rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped. Esther, however, did not know that Mordecai’s calamity was her own, and yet she was exceedingly grieved. Oh, these words! One is ready to say, Would that I had not been endowed with the power of speech! These words carry untold joy on their wings. What treasures they embody! But oh, what sorrows they produce! A word may change a destiny. Guilty or not guilty may mean life or death. These maids were no eloquent orators. They told a simple tale, and the queen was exceedingly grieved. They might well recoil from the effects of their own speech. It was not the style of the composition, but the subject matter of the discourse that produced the effect. Let preachers and speakers look to the matter as well as the manner. There was preparedness on the part of Esther. She loved Mordecai, and so was exceedingly grieved when the maids told her the story. Preparedness on the part of the hearer tends to make the speaker eloquent and successful. A Demosthenes could not have made Haman feel for Mordecai’s great trouble. A simple maid can send Esther into paroxysms of convulsive grief.
III. The resulting sympathetic action. “She sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him.” Royalty weeps; that is interesting and commendable. Royalty weeps on hearing the account of the sorrows of one of the subjects; that is still more commendable. Royalty bends itself to try and remove the trouble, and that is most commendable. A queen should be the mother of her people. Esther was a motherly queen, and sought by gentle nursing to remove the pains of the sick and troubled Mordecai. Sympathy should be practical. Tears are good, but tears that do not flow to water and nourish noble purposes, and practical efforts for the good of others, will be like the streams that flow to deaden life, and to produce miserable petrifactions. These maids were successful preachers. The bearers went forth to do good. Many preachers preach for years and not one Esther is found to go forth and remove the sackcloth from the Mordecais. Practicalness is the want of the age. A little more of wise utilitarianism is needed in the present day. Preachers to tell the story simply of the world’s troubles; Esthers to hear the story sympathetically, and then not to go home to their play, their luxuries, and their pleasures, but to visit the Mordecais, and if this be not possible, to send goodly raiment to those clothed in sackcloth. Sympathy should be guided by wise discretion. Esther did not understand all the case, and she committed an error. But while we condemn, let us remember that she did what she could. And even mistaken workers will not lose their reward if the work is done from a right motive. A new raiment cannot remove sorrow. The tailor cannot minister to a mind diseased. The dressmaker cannot root out the deep-seated sorrow of the brain, that is, not as a mere dressmaker. Harm may then be done by acting according to mere sympathetic impulses. In benevolent enterprises there must be the exercise of the judgment. A new raiment may be a disastrous gift as well as useless. And the receiver of the gift may not be as wise as Mordecai The latter rejected the offer, but the former may clutch at the present to his own damage.
IV. The strange but wise rejection. “But he received it not.” There are circumstances under which gifts may be wisely refused, and this was one of those occasions. Strange at first sight that Mordecai should refuse Esther’s loving offer of help. If he felt that sorrow was better than laughter, he might have taken the raiment of joy to show his grateful appreciation of Esther’s consideration. What an ungrateful and unseemly course of conduct! would Haman have exclaimed had he heard of the case. Just like that surly dog Mordecai, who would not bow to me as I passed. But Mordecai had a wise reason for his course. He had a purpose in view. The true cause of his sorrow must be made known to Esther. He was grateful to Esther, but he must still be stern in order to bring her up to the point of self-sacrifice and heroic daring. Self-interest and the feeling of affection must not be allowed to stand in the way of duty. We have seen that Mordecai loved Esther, but we now see that he would forego her love and even treat her rudely at the call of patriotism. Love of kindred must be subordinated to the love of duty.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:4
The perpetual intelligences that were closely held betwixt Esther and Mordecai could not suffer his public sorrows to be long concealed from her. The news of his sackcloth afflicts her ere she can suspect the cause; her crown doth but clog her head while she hears of his ashes. True friendship transforms us into the condition of those we love; and, if we cannot raise them to our cheerfulness, draws us down to their dejection. Fain would she uncase her roster father of these mournful weeds, and change his sackcloth for tissue; that yet, at least, his clothes might not hinder his access to her presence for the free opening of his griefs. It is but a slight sorrow that abides to take in outward comforts; Mordecai refuses that kind offer, and would have Esther see that his affliction was such as that he might well resolve to put off his sackcloth and his skin at once; that he must mourn to death, rather than see her face to live.—Bishop Hall.
Ignorant as yet of the evil that was purposed against her nation, and supposing that it was some private sorrow that pressed upon the spirit of her friend, Esther sent a change of raiment to him, thus expressing her desire that, whatever the cause of his trouble was, she was anxious that he should be comforted. This was one of the ways in which, in those times and countries, sympathy and affection were manifested. And so we learn that when the prodigal returned, the father said to his servants, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” And it is in allusion to the same custom that the Saviour says, “The Lord hath sent me to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion; to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” It is a very pleasing trait in the character of Esther, that her advancement, and the grandeur and luxury of the palace, had not made her forget the friend of her childhood. His grief touched her heart, and she would have him know this. But his sorrow was too deeply-seated to be assuaged even by her kindness. Mordecai refused the raiment which she sent, and persisted in wearing his sackcloth. The rejection of such a present would have been accounted highly offensive in ordinary circumstances, but it only made Esther apprehend that Mordecai’s trouble must be of no usual kind.—Davidson.
Esther, in her elevation, and in separation from her friends, was far from forgetting them. She was deeply afflicted when she heard of the mourning habit and sore affliction of Mordecai. She was vexed that he should appear at the king’s gate in a dress in which he could not enter it, and therefore sent to him a change of raiment. But she knew not the sources of his distress. Grief so firmly rooted and so well founded could not be removed without a removal of its cause. To send him change of raiment was like singing songs to a heavy heart. Mordecai was doubtless pleased with her kind attention; but she must do something of a very different nature to banish his sorrows.—Lawson.
The character of Esther is greatly enhanced in our view from this little incidental circumstance. It shows that her feelings had not been blunted by her exaltation and the influences of the court life of Shushan; that she was not self-contained, but had an admirable tenderness and consideration for others, and that she was willing to relieve their burdens by becoming herself a sharer in and a mutual bearer of them. Never does woman appear more noble, and we might almost say resplendent in moral beauty, than when becoming a true “Sister of Mercy” to our fallen humanity. The New Testament Scriptures sparkle and glitter with such characters as this. Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with pure spikenard of great price, and wiping them with the hairs of her head, as if she could not find a token sufficiently tender of her respect and love. Martha actively engaged in benefitting a beloved brother, and unweariedly serving in every-day life the Saviour whom she adored. Dorcas “full of good works and alms-deeds,” seeking to help the poor and comfort the widows at Joppa, and leaving behind a blank when she died, the greatness of which was evinced by the tears of a bereaved multitude. Phœbe, the deaconess of Cenchrea, a “succourer of many.” Priscilla, the true helpmate of her devoted husband in the work of the Lord. Lydia, and Joanna, and Susanna, and Syntyche, and Salome, and Tryphena, and Tryphosa, and many others, whose names are in the book of life. The ministry of woman may be silent and noiseless as the light which shines into the chamber in the morning without breaking the repose of the sleeper; but as the light, too, it is mighty in diffusing around cheerfulness and blessing. And never does she appear more laudably than in the homes of the suffering, like the angel who strengthened our Lord in his agony. So do we honour Esther the more because of this sidelight thrown on her character. Though it was only a sorrowful kinsman wailing at the gate, yet was there on this account one queenly heart in the palace which was “exceedingly grieved.”—McEwan.
So Esther’s maids came and told it her.—She herself (say interpreters) was kept in a closer place than they, not having the liberty of going abroad, as others had, because the Persians that were of highest quality used so to keep in their wives; and if they went forth at any time, they were carried in a close chariot, so as that none could see them.
Then was the queen exceedingly grieved.—Dolens exhorruit. So Tremellius. The Hebrew is, she grieved herself, scil., for Mordecai’s heaviness; as our Saviour, when he heard of the death of his friend Lazarus, groaned in spirit and troubled himself. And here we see that of Plautus disproved—No woman can grieve heartily for anything. Holy Esther is here sick at heart of grief, as the word importeth; and yet (as one saith of the Lady Jane Grey) she made grief itself amiable—her night-clothes becoming her as well as her day-dressings, by reason of her gracious deportment.
And she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai.—That he might be fit to come unto her, and make known the cause of his grief, for she yet knew nothing of the public calamity. And although she was so highly advanced above Mordecai, yet she condoleth with him, and honoureth him as much as ever. This was true friendship. Ego aliter amare non didici, said Basil to one that disliked him for stooping so low to an old friend.
But he received it not.—Such was the greatness of his grief which he could not dissemble, such was his care of the community, that he could not mind his own private concernments while it went ill with the public. Such also was his patient continuance in well-doing, that he would not give over asking of God till he had received, seeking till he had found, knocking till the gate of grace was open. His clothes were good enough, unless his condition were more comfortable.—Trapp.
Temporal fortunes and successes are never so great as not to be subject to sorrow, terror, and fear. God permits his Church to be plunged into sorrow at times; he leads her even into hell; but he also takes her out again. Though the Lord elevate us to high honours, we should never be ashamed of our poor relatives, but rather relieve their needs. We should never reject proper and suitable means to escape a danger, but promptly use them.—Starke.
At first the lazy (i.e. Jews) do not snore. For the Holy Spirit exhorts us in all adversities to confide in the Lord; he does not exhort us to be indolent, indifferent, and sleepy. For our confidence in the Lord is a powerful and efficacious means of stimulating in his service all strength and limbs. Further, the Jews, though in the greatest peril, do not utter virulent words against the king, nor do they fly to arms. Mordecai and the other Jews rend their garments, put on sackcloth, strew ashes upon their heads, wail, weep, and fast. These manifestations signify not that the Jews in Persia were turbulent, but that they take refuge in God; since help could not be discovered upon earth, they seek it from heaven. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” By this example we too are taught, that when afflictions are sent upon us we should reflect that God sets before us the fat oxen and calves which we may offer to him. In this may we offer to God in our prayers the afflictions which we sustain, and call upon the name of the Lord that he may help us. Behold, however, the reverse of this order of things. The palaces of princes are Divinely instituted to be the places of refuge for the miserable. On the contrary, in the palaces of Persia nothing is regarded as more odious and abominable than men with the signs of affliction. Heaven is ever open to the cries of mourners, and God is never unapproachable to those calling on his name by faith.—Brenz.
Esther 4:1; Esther 6:1. Mordecai rends his clothing, and puts on sackcloth and ashes. He enters the city thus, and raises a great and bitter lamentation. So also the Church of God, in its development as regards the history of humanity, should again and ever anew put on the habiliments of mourning. “The world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful.” The then existing nation of Jews could not manifest its loyalty to law without coming into conflict with heathendom. Nor can the Church bring to development its inherent spiritual powers without challenging all the Hamans and their opposition in the world. Even this present period is an instance in proof. Following upon the great progress of the things of the kingdom of God since the time of wars for freedom, we must naturally expect reactions, such as have been manifest in the sphere of science and other relations. Indeed, we must constantly look for increasing opposition on the part of the world. But when the Church shall have fully developed the gifts of grace granted to it, then conflict and sorrow will have reached its highest point at the end of the days. The real cause of sorrow on the part of the true members of God’s Church will not be, as was the case with Mordecai, their own distress, but that of the world. It will consist in the fact that the world is still devoid of the blessed society of the true God; that the kingdom of God is still rejected and even persecuted. What joy it would give if, instead of enmity, recognition and submission, and, instead of disdain, a participation in the gifts and grace of our Lord, were to become the universal experience.
2. The more difficult the position of the Church as in contrast with the world, the more favourable is her position for bringing to view her glory. Her glory is that of her Head. If in the Old Testament times, and in the “dispersion” itself, there existed a Mordecai, who for love of his people manifested his firmness and strength in the hour of tribulation; and if there was found an Esther, who, when called upon, willingly came forward to bring about the salvation of her countrymen; how much more in New Testament times and in the modern Church will there arise individuals who, in following the Lord, especially in evil days, will manifest a watchful care for others and a self-sacrificing spirit for them; who will show forth patience and meekness as well as energy, fidelity, and tenacity, a spirit of giving and an ability to make sacrifices; and withal will carry in their hearts joy and peace as the seal of their kinship with God. All these graces may be so many illuminating rays of the glorious life of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who more and more attains in them a full stature. May all seize the special opportunity, recognize the particular duty, and know when to perform it, which the times of distress of the Church place in the hand, of showing forth the power that dwells in them by their life and work!
3. Mordecai took an especially great part in the universal grief that overcame the Jews when the edict of their annihilation was issued and promulgated. It was not his personal danger that alarmed him, but, as may be expected of such a faithful follower of Judaism, it was the calamity threatening the whole Jewish people. While, however, thought and feeling were centred upon the event, he was free from despair. With him it was a settled conviction that the people of God, as a whole, could not be destroyed, and that deliverance must come from some source. Instead of giving way to despondency, he turned his distress into a power that urged him to still greater endeavours. There was no more a fear of appearing as a Jew, nor did he hesitate because his loud lamentations would attract general attention, and thereby expose him to the derision and disdain of many. However reluctant he might have been to expose his beloved Esther, whose welfare had ever been a matter of great concern to him, to extreme danger, still he persisted with the greatest determination that she should run the whole risk, and only rested when she gave her assent. It is barely possible that he attributed some blame to himself because of his firmness against Haman, or thought that on that account he more than any other was under obligation to remove the threatened danger. The sole moving impulse was doubtless his love for his people. But this should not be less in any member of the Church. It should rather, in proportion as there are more members in the body of Christ, be stronger than it was in him. Would that no one among us were behind him as regards energy, self-denial, and a willingness to make sacrifice! There are doubtless many who are able to endure all this in their own person. But—if no lighter consideration—the thought that their relatives, yea, even wife and children, may suffer on account of their confession bows them down. Would, if necessary, that we too may stand equal to Mordecai in willingness to surrender our dearest kin!
4. Mordecai manifests a remarkable tenacity as opposed to Esther. He keeps his position at the gate of the king until she sends him not only her maids with garments, but also Hatach to transmit his message. He departs not thence until she has resolved to stand before Ahasuerus as a Jew pleading for the Jews. Under other circumstances he might have been thought to be tiresome by his persistency and demands; but his relation to her now justified it. When he had been accustomed to inquire concerning her health and well-being, to give her counsel, to care for her, he had shown no less persistency; and his demand that now she should reveal her Jewish descent, and as such should venture all, was equally in keeping with his character. So long as no danger threatened he counselled her to keep silence respecting her Jewish parentage; but now he had himself taken the lead in an open confession of the fact. Although it had before been difficult for him to approach Esther as the queen, or request any favour at her hand, now he hesitated no longer to implore her help, not so much for himself, as for the whole people. There was no motive for him to be selfish, or to conduct himself in a heartless or severe manner towards her. Hence there was no question but that his undertaking would succeed, that Esther would be willing to comply with his request. It is eminently desirable that those who, like him, must move and induce others to make sacrifices of self and possessions in the service of the kingdom of God, should stand on a level with him in this respect.—Lange.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Esther 4:3. The patriotic Greek. Be like that patriotic Greek, who with his little band of followers had to check the great army of the Persians. He knew that to go down into the open plain and to expose himself there to all his enemies at once would be speedy destruction. He therefore took his stand in the narrow mountain pass, and encountered his foes as they came one by one. So be it with you. Keep to the narrow pass of today. Face your troubles one by one as they arise. Do not commit yourself to the open plain of tomorrow. You are not equal to that. God does not require you to do that—Spurgeon.
Human may not hare the power to carry out his bloody and revengeful decree. God will interpose in a wonderful method to your deliverance. Face for the present only the trouble caused by the proclamation, and do not ask how will it be when the time comes for the proclamation to take effect.
Esther 4:3. Unskilful persons in a boat. I have seen young and unskilful persons sitting in a boat, when every little wave sporting about the sides of the vessel, and every motion and dancing of the barge, seemed a danger, and made them cling fast upon their fellows; and yet all the while they were as safe as if they sat in a tree, while the gentle wind shook the leaves into refreshment and cooling shade. And so the unskilful, inexperienced Christian shrieks out whenever his vessel shakes, thinking it always danger that the watery pavement is not stable and resident like the rock; and yet all his danger is in himself, none at all from without; for he is indeed moving upon the waters, but fastened to a rock; faith is his foundation, and hope his anchor, and death is his harbour, and Christ his port, and heaven his country; and all the evils of poverty, or affronts of tribunals and evil judges, all fears and sad anticipations, are bent like the loud wind blowing from the right point; they make a noise and drive faster to the harbour.
Esther 4:3. Sour milk and black bread. We had traversed the Great Aletsch Glacier, and were very hungry when we reached the mountain tarn half-way between the Bel Alps and the hotel at the foot of the Aeggischorn; there a peasant undertook to descend the mountain, and bring us bread and milk. It was a very Marah to us when he brought us back milk too sour for us to drink, and bread black as a coal, too hard to bite, and sour as the curds. What then? Why, we longed the more eagerly to reach the hotel towards which we were travelling. We mounted our horses, and made no more halts till we reached the hospitable table where our hunger was abundantly satisfied. Thus our disappointments on the road to heaven whet our appetites for the better country, and quicken the pace of our pilgrimage to the celestial city.—Spurgeon.
Esther 4:4. Hardening effects of sensibility. The frequent repetition of that species of emotion which fiction stimulates tends to prevent benevolence, because it is out of proportion to corresponding action; it is like that frequent “going over the theory of virtue in our thoughts,” which, as Butler says, so far from being auxiliary to it, may be obstructive of it. As long as the balance is maintained between the stimulus given to imagination with the consequent emotions, on the one hand, and our practical habits, which those emotions are chiefly designed to form and strengthen, on the other, so long the stimulus of the imagination will not stand in the way of benevolence, but aid it; and, therefore, if you will read a novel extra now and then, impose upon yourself the corrective of an extra visit or two to the poor, the distressed, and afflicted! Keep a sort of debtor and creditor account of sentimental indulgence and practical benevolence. I do not care if your pocket-book contains some such memoranda as these: For the sweet tears I shed over the romantic sorrows of Charlotte Devereux, sent three basins of gruel and a flannel petticoat to poor old Molly Brown; For sitting up three hours beyond the time over the “Bandit’s Bride,” gave half-a-crown to Betty Smith; My sentimental agonies over the pages of the “Broken Heart” cost me three visits to the Orphan Asylum and two extra hours of Dorcas Society work; Two quarts of caudle to poor Johnson’s wife, and some gaberdines for his ragged children, on account of a good cry over the pathetic story of the “Forsaken One.” If the luxury of sympathy and mere benevolent feeling be separated from action, then Butler’s paradox becomes a terrible truth, and the heart is not made better, but worse, by it. Those who indulge in superfluous expression of sentiment are always neophytes in virtue at the best; and, what is worse, they are very often among the most heartless of mankind. Sterne and Rousseau were types of this class,—perfect incarnations of sensibility without benevolence,—having, and having in perfection, the “form” of virtue, but “denying the power thereof.”—Grey-son’s Letters.
Esther 4:4-5.] The matter was made known to Esther by her maids and eunuchs; and she fell into convulsive grief. The verb here used is a passive intensive—to be affected with grief as one seized with the pains of delivery. She sent clothes to her guardian, that he might put them on, doubtless, that thereby he might again stand in the gate of the king, and so relate to her the cause of his grief. But he refused them, not only because he would wear no other than garments of mourning, but because he desired a private opportunity to communicate with her. Mordecai accomplished his object, and Hatach the eunuch was sent to him to obtain particulars.—Lange. What it was, and why it was] lit what this, and why this? She had not been informed of this terrible decree.
Esther 4:6. The street of the city] The broad open place before the palace.—Whedon’s Commentary.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:5-6
A MINISTERIAL APPOINTMENT
“Hatach, one of the eunuchs in the court of Ahasuerus, in immediate attendance on Esther.” This is the short and simple biography of Hatach given in the secular chronicles, and the account given in the sacred chronicle is not much longer. However, the best men have not the longest biographies. Indeed, it may be safely asserted that some of earth’s noblest sons have not had their virtues either recorded by the historian or celebrated by the poet. Modest goodness blooms in the shade, and passes away without a grand funeral oration. Not the merely useful, but the brilliant life is that which commands attention and receives applause. Hatach’s life does not seem to have been of the brilliant character. His position precluded the possibility of startling adventure. He moved along in a quiet sphere; but he is commended now as being a pleasing contrast to the character given of other eunuchs. Fryer and Chardin describe the eunuchs as being the base and ready tools of licentiousness, as tyrannical in humour, and pertinacious in the authority which they exercise; as eluded and ridiculed by those whom it is their office to guard. Hatach evidently did not take a mean advantage arising from his position. Instead of being tyrannical in humour, and pertinacious in authority, he appears to have been amenable to the authority of Esther, and to have done her bidding most readily. It may be that Hatach felt the salutary influence of Esther’s loveliness and Esther’s virtuous nature. As she exercised a wise influence over her maids, so she may have exercised a similar influence over Hatach. A good life is not without its influential power. A good woman’s influence is especially radiating and subduing and elevating. This eunuch must have received moral as well as material advantages from this ministerial appointment. In serving Ahasuerus he served one of the mightiest of earthly kings at that period; but in serving Esther he was waiting upon one who was the servant of the King of all worlds. God can so order it that the servants of kings shall be the servants of his chosen; so that earthly kings become indirectly, and sometimes directly, the servants of heaven’s royal children. Earthly ambition is to minister to the royalties of earth; but the noblest ambition is to minister to the royalties of heaven. This ministry is satisfactory, and is sure to meet with its appropriate reward. And if Hatach served with a view to this higher ministry, he may claim a distant kinship with that other eunuch, who served Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and who said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Why may not Esther have her converted eunuch as well as Philip? Heaven is larger than we think. Time is peopling eternity. Heaven’s children may come from heathen palaces as well as from Christian homes. But we may safely leave Hatach and his kind to the mercy of that God who is larger than the dogmatists.
I. A ministerial appointment suggested by self-love. Hatach was appointed by King Ahasuerus to attend upon Esther. And it must be plain that Ahasuerus made this appointment not to subserve the interests of his subjects, not to consolidate his kingdom, not to make his people virtuous and happy, but to minister either to his own vanity or to his love of pleasure. Such an appointment finds its counterpart in other times and in far different states of society. How many appointments all through life are made in consequence of the working of self-love! We have often heard the phrase court favourites. The minions of the court are found not only in the palace, but in the house of legislature, on the seat of justice, and at the head of the army. The ablest men are not always selected, but the men who can bring the most influence to bear. The men who can successfully appeal to the selfishness of the ruling powers will rise above the heads of those superior men who either cannot or will not use such base means for elevation. It is a happy thing in our times that commoners—men not noble by birth, but noble by sterling worth and by brilliant characters—are taking their place in the front ranks. But still the men who can fawn and cringe and not be true to principle are in high places. In the ecclesiastical kingdom too ministerial appointments are made through the working of this low principle of self-love. Sometimes unconscious, it may be, but nevertheless operative. There is nepotism in the Church. The son or the nephew gets the good living, while the superior man remains a curate still. The man, in other Churches, of showy qualities secures the votes of the congregation, while the man of more solid but less brilliant character is left in obscurity. It is what we may call a happy chance when the working of self-love brings the best man to the front. We have no reason to suppose that the appointment of Hatach was not a good one.
II. A ministerial appointment suggested by unselfish love. Ahasuerus made a ministerial appointment, and Esther also made a ministerial appointment. Ahasuerus appointed Hatach to attend upon Esther, and Esther gave Hatach a commandment to Mordecai. The latter appointment arose out of the working of unselfish love. Esther’s affection for her foster father would not let her rest, and she sent the chamberlain to minister to Mordecai in his distress. The best appointments are those which are made through the working of unselfish love. Selfishness blinds the mind and dwarfs the judgment. Benevolence is a truer guide in affairs than great intellect if perverted by the working of selfishness. The king who through true love to his subjects seeks their highest welfare will make the best appointments in his kingdom. The Church that has a true love for humanity, that is most desirous of blessing the race, of instructing the ignorant, of raising the fallen, and of giving the oil of joy to the mourners, will secure the services of the truest servants in her courts. Shall we not here think of the highest ministerial appointment made at the suggestion of infinite love? “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
III. A ministerial appointment to the young and the joyful. We can well imagine that there was great gladness to Hatach when he “received a call” to serve in the palace of Ahasuerus, and had to “attend upon” the young, the beautiful, and the joyful Esther. In one sense it would be a pleasant life, and comparatively free from irksome duties. To wait upon other court beauties might be painful, for the mere beauty is often exacting and difficult to please. The more her demands are met, and the more numerous do they become. The very monotony of her life may render it difficult to soothe her ill humours, and to find the means of relieving the dulness of her existence. But this difficulty would not obtain in the case of Esther, for she had beauty of mind as well as beauty of person. She would be able to fall back upon herself. As the good man is satisfied from himself, so Esther the good woman would be satisfied from herself. It is well said that she required nothing. The smallness of her requirements rendered it an easy task for Hatach to perform the duties of his post. How delightful to wait upon this young and joyful maiden! Instead of Hatach being required to charm away her griefs, we may easily and reasonably suppose that she would be a wise charmer to Hatach. His sorrows would be forgotten in her presence, and his joys would be increased by the influence of her joyful nature. Happy the man who has to wait upon the young and the joyful! As we think of the condition, we shrink from acknowledging the truth of the wise man’s statement. Sorrow is better than laughter. Men long for appointments where life is rendered pleasant. To serve in the palace is more an object of ambition than to serve in the abodes of misery. The house of feasting is desired rather than the house of mourning. To preach in the well-arranged and tastefully-built and decorated place of worship to a crowded and fashionable audience is the fond desire of the large majority.
IV. A ministerial appointment to the old and the mournful. Hatach, we find, was willing to go to Mordecai, the poor Jew, clothed in his hairy garment and having ashes on his head. He passes from Esther to Mordecai with no signs of unwillingness. He would willingly find out the means of lessening the anxiety of Esther, while at the same time he seeks to lessen the grief of Mordecai. This is the true ministry, to seek to comfort the aged, and to console the mourners. The highest Minister set himself to this glorious work. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” How slow most men are to follow this sublime example! This world is full of mourners; but the cries of the mourners would be hushed in greater measure if there were men with sympathetic and benevolent natures going forth with words of gospel sweetness in their hearts, and the oil of gospel consolations in their hands.
V. An undesigned connection arising from this ministerial appointment. Here there is a wonderful chain of unexpected links. Ahasuerus, the mighty monarch, ruling over the largest empire of the world, at one end of the chain; and Mordecai, the despised and captive Jew, at the other end of the chain—the joining links being Esther the queen and Hatach the king’s chamberlain. From a human point of view, how mysterious are the ways by which men are linked together. The monarch is bound to the captive by an invisible bond, and is nearer than he thinks. We are indeed members one of another. There is a communistic principle working in societies. But let there not be communistic violence. Let not Ahasuerus forget the just claims of Mordecai. Let the monarch remember that manhood has its rights. And let not the Mordecais seek their rights by violence, but betake themselves to fasting and prayer, as did this Mordecai, and deliverance must come sooner or later. But these undesigned connections of earth are the designed connections of heaven. It was evidently so in this case, and it is so in a greater number of cases than we suppose. A greater number of cases! If we believe in a great supreme Power ruling over all, must we not behold his guiding and selecting power and wisdom in all cases, or at least making use of earth’s selections for the advancement of his beneficent and all-wise purposes? And God’s direct ministerial appointments do establish an extended connection. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation!” The angels form a blessed connection between the poor souls, enslaved by sin, but enfranchised by Divine grace, and the eternal God. Wonderful the connection between Mordecai and Ahasuerus, but surely more wonderful still the connection between the sinful but redeemed creature and the glorious Creator. The gospel ministry speaks to us in visible fashion of this connection. Redeemed men speak to men still in their sins. Christ’s true ambassadors stand between and join together the Saviour and the believing sinner. The undesigned coincidences and connections of life are coincidences and connections because God is working. The undesigned may be the product of Divine purpose. The human has its undesigned movements, the Divine has no purposeless motions. All is harmonious. The very discords of earth shall work to the production of final and eternal concords. Chaos itself will give birth to Divine order. Confusion is working to the evolution of method. There are links of connection binding all things together, both in the material and in the moral world.
VI. The unintentional benefit conferred by this ministerial appointment. Ahasuerus had not the slightest idea of helping those Jews against whom he had issued the murderous edict at the instigation of Haman. But here he is. Strange to himself would his conduct have appeared if he had known all. At one time he is working for the destruction of the Jews, and at another working for their deliverance. Working for their deliverance not only in his selection of Esther to be queen, but in the appointment of Hatach to be her minister. Esther herself could not hold conference with Mordecai, and so Hatach the king’s chamberlain becomes the medium of communication. The very vices of kings have tended to the welfare of their subjects; but no excuse this for the vices. The blunders of sovereigns have worked out to the vindication of the truth; but this does not condone the blunders. Kings by their weakness, by their love of display, by their fondness for pleasure have unintentionally conferred benefits upon their people. They have sometimes made wise appointments, and the nation has rejoiced because the righteous are in authority. By way of pleasant contrast, notice that the benefits conferred by heaven’s ministerial appointments are intentional. God’s material ministers move and work for the bestowal of benefits in answer to his merciful intention. God’s intellectual and moral ministers think, and speak, and write, and act for the bestowal of benefits, for they have been raised up for this very purpose by his benevolence. God’s benevolence is not the working of a kind feeling only, but is the expression of his infinite mind designing the welfare of his creatures. Whatever benefits we receive from the ministry of others, while we practically show our appreciation of such a beneficial ministry, let us above all manifest our sense of indebtedness to God, from whom and by whom all true ministerial appointments proceed and are made.
Notice that—(a) A true ministry is two-sided. It is quite true that a ministry of any importance must be many-sided. In these modern times the ministry as that word has come to be used in an ecclesiastical sense, has upon it many claims. The modern minister, if he is to meet the demands of the time, if he is to reach, half way even, the standard set up by lecturers on preaching and preachers, must be more than human; he should indeed have eyes behind and before. But the ministry of which we now speak is one not treated of in books on homiletics. Hatach is not considered in the “letters ad clerum.” There is a ministry where no eloquence of tongue is required. The eloquence of the life is that which is required in every ministry. Thus the true ministry is two-sided. It looks to heaven and it looks to earth. It waits upon the joyful and goes with messages of comfort to the mourners. Hatach waited in the palace and then went to the palace gates. Let us use the case as a figurative teaching. Wait in the palace of heaven, by prayer and meditation, that we may minister to those standing without. (b) The highest ministry is impelled by unselfish love. We are not in a position to declare the motives which operated in the mind of Hatach; but this we know, that the pure womanly love of Esther impelled Hatach to go and speak to the mourning Mordecai. Hatach may after all have been a mere servile menial in the hands of Esther; still his ministry was the result of love in Esther, and was therefore of the highest order. A base minister may perform the useful and beneficial acts of the ministry of love. But where love operates in the mind, love from without and from above co-operating with love from within, and moving to noblest action, there must be the highest ministry. (c) The noblest ministry is that which seeks lowly spheres. “Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street of the city, which was before the king’s gate.” Hatach may not have relished the errand on which he was sent, but still he went. Esther commanded, and Hatach obeyed. Lowly spheres may not always be desired; but if the command is given, the command ought to be obeyed. The streets of modern cities are in a neglected condition. The mourners tread the pavements with heavy hearts, and no Hatach asks what is the cause of the sorrow, no Hatach comes from royal abodes to inquire if nothing can be done to remove the burden of grief. Divine love gives a commandment for the poor outcasts—“Go into the highways and hedges,” but few are found ready to obey. Those who do go are not always judicious. They have not heart sympathy with the distressed. They raise dismal noises, and become a nuisance; instead of quietly and lovingly asking “what it was, and why it was,” as did Hatach. (d) The tests for all ministries. Is it uniting earth and heaven? Is it bringing together all classes? Every life ought to be a ministry, and every life should be tested by these questions. Is it conferring both material and moral benefits? There should be no unproductive classes. Every life should be a ministry of good. Is it a ministry for the instruction of the ignorant, for the restoration of the fallen, and for the consolation of the mourners? Happy the nation where the inmates of the palace consider and seek to promote the welfare and happiness of those in the streets of the cities and outside the palace gates. There are still Hamans about our palaces. There will be Mordecais with bleeding hearts. And the Esthers and the Hatachs have still plenty of room to work.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:5-6
If we weep in sincerity with those who weep, it will be our desire, if possible, to remove their sorrows. But to this end it is necessary to know their cause. Physicians cannot administer proper medicines to their patients unless they know the cause of their diseases. They may palliate the symptoms, but the root of the distemper remains if the cause is not removed. So we may soothe the minds of persons labouring under grief; but if they are rooted in the mind, they will soon recover their force, and hold the soul in misery, unless the causes are removed; and these cannot be removed but by a change in those outward circumstances which occasioned them, or by a change in the state of the mind, when it is convinced that the supposed causes do not exist, or that they are not sufficient grounds for the sorrows they occasioned, or that relief or consolation may be found of virtue sufficient to counteract their force. Esther could not now visit Mordecai, or call him to her palace, and therefore, conversing with him by means of a third person, inquires into the causes of his distress, with a sincere intention to do everything in her power to set his heart at ease.—Lawson.
The good queen is astonished with this constant humiliation of so dear a friend, and now sends Hatach, a trusty though a pagan attendant, to inquire into the occasion of this so irremediable heaviness. It should seem Esther inquired not greatly into matters of state; that which perplexed all Shushan was not yet known to her; her followers, not knowing her to be a Jewess, conceived not how the news might concern her, and therefore had forborne the relation. Mordecai first informs her, by her messenger, of the decree that was gone out against all her nation, of the day wherein they must all prepare to bleed, of the sum which Haman had proffered for their heads, and delivers the copy of that bloody edict, charging her now, if ever, to bestir herself, and to improve all her love, all her power, with King Ahasuerus, in a speedy and humble supplication for the saving of the life not of himself so much as of her people.—Bishop Hall.
The lesson which I would give you is founded on Mordecai’s grief and Esther’s sympathy. Gladly would she have removed the sorrow of her friend, and willingly would she have mingled her tears with his, had it been permitted. Her sympathy he could not doubt; but there are griefs deeper than human sympathy can reach, and Mordecai’s were beyond Esther’s power to assuage. She could only be helpful by speaking to the king. It was the king alone that could change the sorrow into joy. The mourners in Zion have the sympathy of their brethren, and that sympathy is sweet. But still it cannot heal the wounds of a spirit that is troubled by the sense of sin, nor of a heart that is sore pierced by God’s afflictive dispensation. But the King of Zion can heal these wounds; and he is touched with the feeling of his people’s infirmities—he breaketh not the bruised reed; he will heal them. Cast yourselves upon Jesus, ye mourners, with simple-hearted faith, and ask of him the comfort which ye need, and you will receive the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.—Davidson.
So strictly did the laws of Persia confine wives, especially the king’s wives, that it was not possible for Mordecai to have a conference with Esther about this important affair; but divers messages are here carried between them by Hatach, whom the king had appointed to attend her, and it seems he was one she could confide in. She sent to Mordecai to know more particularly and fully what the trouble was which he was now lamenting, and why it was that he would not put off his sackcloth. To inquire thus after news, that we may know the better how to direct our griefs and joys, our prayers and praises, well becomes all those that love Zion. If we must weep with those that weep, we must know why they weep.—Matthew Henry.
Then called Esther for Hatach.—She snuffeth not at Mordecai’s refusal of her courtesy. She saith not, Let him choose; the next offer shall be worse. Solomon reckoneth among those four things that the earth cannot bear, a handmaid advanced to the place and state of a mistress. But Esther was none such. In her you might have seen singular humility in height of honours. She calleth there for Hatach, a faithful servant, and perhaps a Jew, a Jew inwardly. Honesty flows from piety.
Whom he had appointed to attend upon her.—Heb., whom he had set before her, to be at her beck and obedience. Probably he was happy in such a service, for goodness is communicative, and of a spreading nature. Plutarch saith of the neighbour villages of Rome in Numa’s time, that, sucking in the air of that city, they breathed righteousness and devotion. So it might very well be here. It was so with Abraham’s servants, and Solomon’s, and Cornelius’s. Nero complained (and no wonder) that he could never find a faithful servant. What could they learn from him but villany and cruelty?
And gave him a commandment to Mordecai, i.e. she commanded him to deliver her mind to Mordecai. A servant is not to be inquisitive (John 15:15—he knoweth not what his lord doeth), but executive, ready to do what is required of him. He is the master’s instrument, and wholly his, ολως ἐκείνου, saith Aristotle. The hands must take counsel of the head, and bestir them.
To know what it was, and why it was.—Some great matter she well knew it must needs be that put him to these loud laments. Wise men cry not till they are sorely hurt. Job’s stroke was heavier than his groaning. He was not of those that are ever whining; like some men’s flesh, if their skin be but razed with a pin, it presently rankleth and festereth; or, like rotten boughs, if a light weight be but hung on them, they presently creak and break. Mordecai she knew was none such. She therefore sendeth to see what was the matter, that she might help him, if possible. The tears and moans of men in misery are not to be slighted, as if they were nothing to us. Who is afflicted, and I burn not? saith Paul. Weep with those that weep, else you add to their misery, as the priest and Levite did by passing by the wounded man. Is it nothing to you, O ye that pass by the way? Are ye not also in the body, that is, in the body of flesh and frailty, subject to like afflictions? And may not your sins procure their sufferings, as a vein is opened in the arm to ease the pain of the head.—Trapp.
A Christian is no libertine, no man of freedom. He is a servant. Indeed, we have changed our master. We are set at liberty from the slavery of sin and Satan; but it is not that we should do nothing, to be Belials without yoke; but it is to serve God. We are taken from the service of Satan to be the Lord’s freemen; and indeed it is to that end. We are delivered that we might serve God. Therefore all the actions of our life should be a “service” to God. The beasts and other creatures and we have common actions, such as we do in common, as to eat, and to drink, and to move. The beast doth this, and man doth it. When a man doth them they are reasonable actions, because they are guided by reason, and moderated by reason; but when the beast doth them they are the actions of a beast, because he hath no better faculty to guide him. So common actions, they are not a service of God as they come from common men, that have not grace and the Spirit of God in their hearts; they are mere buying and selling, and going about the actions of their callings, as the actions of a beast are the actions of a beast. But let a Christian come to do them, he hath a higher life and a higher spirit that makes them spiritual actions that are common in themselves. He raiseth them to a higher order and rank. Therefore a Christian “serveth” God. In all that he doth he hath an eye to God; that which another man doth with no eye to God, but merely in civil respects. The knowledge of a commonwealth, it is a building knowledge, a commanding knowledge; for though a statesman doth not build, he doth not buy and sell and commerce, but he useth all other trades for the good of the state. It is a knowledge commanding all other inferior arts and trades in a commonwealth to the last end. They should all be serviceable to the commonwealth; and if they be not, away with them. So religion, and the knowledge of Divine things, it is a commanding knowledge; it commands all other services in our callings, &c. It doth not teach a man what he shall do in particular in his calling; but it teacheth him how to direct that calling to serve God, to be advantageous and helpful to his general calling; to further him to heaven, to make everything reductive to his last end, which he sets before him; that is, to honour and serve God in all things, to whom he desires to approve himself in life and death. He hath a principle, the Holy Ghost in him, and he labours to reduce everything to the main end. Oh that we were in this temper!
God will have his children serve out their generation, to try the truth of our graces before we come to heaven. And he will have us perfect before we come to so holy a place. He will have us “grow in grace,” as Ahasuerus his wives were to be perfumed and prepared before they came to him. It is a holy place that we hope for, a holy condition; therefore he will have us by little and little be fitted by the Spirit of God.
The Scripture values men by that that God values them, and not as men do, by their life, and reign, and flourishing in the world, and their esteem with men, but as his carriage hath been to God. David “served the will of God” in his generation.
Concerning the relation of servants, in a word, some are so by office, as magistrates and ministers, but all are servants as Christians. It was the best flower in David’s garland to be a servant to the Lord; and it is so for every one, be they never so great in dignity, to serve God; for to serve him is to run into the most noble service of all, for all God’s servants shall be kings, nay, they are kings. And then it is a rich and most beneficial service; for we serve a Lord that will reward to a cup of cold water. It is not such a service as Pharaoh’s was, to gather stubble ourselves; but he will enable us to do, and where we fail he will pardon, and when we do anything he will reward, and when our enemies oppress us he will take our parts.
A child of God is the greatest freeman, and the best servant, even as Christ was the best servant, yet none so free; and the greater portion any man hath of his Spirit, the freer disposition he hath to serve every one in love. Even the basest works are a service of God when they are done in obedience to God. The poor servant “serves the Lord Christ.” When a poor servant is at his work, employed in the business of man, poor, common things, yet he serves the Lord all the while. He serves those that are his governors, with an eye to the great Governor and Master that is above all, that will reward them for their poor service, however their master reward them.—Sibbes.
Every man may be considered under a double capacity or relation. As he is a part or member of the body politic, and so is not his own, but stands included in and possessed by the community. In which capacity he is obliged to contribute his proportion of help to the public, as sharing from thence with others the benefits of society, and so being accountable to make it some retribution in his particular station and condition. A man may be considered as he is a member and subject of a spiritual and higher kingdom. And in this capacity he is to pursue the personal yet great interest of his own salvation. He is sent into this world to make sure of a better; to glorify his Maker by studying to save himself; and, in a word, to aim at enjoyments Divine and supernatural, and higher than this animal life can aspire unto. Every man then sustains a double capacity, according to which he has a double work or calling. A temporal one, by which he is to fill up some place in the commonwealth by the exercise of some useful profession, whether as a divine, lawyer, or physician; a merchant, soldier, mariner, or any inferior handicraft; by all which, as by so many greater and less wheels, the business of the vast body of the public is carried on, its necessities served, and its state upheld. And God, who has ordained both society and order, accounts himself so much served by each man’s diligent pursuit, though of the meanest trade, that his stepping out of the bounds of it to some other work (as he presumes) more excellent is but a bold and thankless presumption, by which the man puts himself out of the common way and guard of Providence. For God requires no man to be praying or reading when the exigence of his profession calls him to his hammer or his needle; nor commands any one from his shop to go hear sermon in the church, much less to preach one in the pulpit. God, as the Lord and great Master of the family of the universe, is still calling upon all his servants to work and labour. A thing so much disdained by the gallant and the epicure is yet that general standing price that God and nature has set upon every enjoyment this side heaven; and he that invades the possession of anything, but upon this claim, is an intruder and a usurper. I have given order, says the Apostle, “that if any refuse to labour, neither should he eat.” It is the active arm and the busy hand that must both purvey for the mouth and, withal, give it a right to every morsel that is put into it. Correspondent to a Christian’s other, that is, his spiritual capacity, he has also a spiritual calling or profession; and the work that this engages him to is that grand one of working out his salvation; a work that a life is too little for, had a man anything more than a life to bestow upon it; a work that runs out into eternity, and upon which depends the woe or welfare of an immortal soul. Now this work is threefold—to make our peace with God; to get our sins mortified; to get our hearts purified with the contrary graces.—South.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Esther 4:5. Eudocia and Chrysostom. When Queen Eudocia angrily threatened Chrysostom with banishment, he calmly replied: “Go tell her I fear nothing but sin. He who serves God need fear nothing so much as sin.” It is as Christ Jesus is born in the heart that we are made free from the slavery of sin, and become the servants of God. This is the sign of the new birth, that the man is afraid of sin. The man who serves God may well be delivered from all slavish fear.
Esther 4:5. Saxon serfs. Just as the king’s livery frees the wearer of it from certain civil penalties and taxes; just as in our Saxon institutions the serfs of the crown were noble; so it is with Christians. The serfs of Jesus Christ are the truest nobles. They rise above all other kind of nobility. The wearers of heaven’s livery, those who bear in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus, ought to be free from men. They are to be free from men, free from the world, free from cares, free from self and sin. What a liberty is this! The more we are enslaved the more we are set free. The more serfdom the more liberty.—Maclaren.
Esther 4:5. Dead swine good. To do a few good works at our death only, it is a swinish doing good. The swine will do good when he is dead. Then there is profit of his flesh, though all his life he were noisome. Those men that put off thus, they are rather swine than men, beastly men. God seldom accepts the good they do then, and it is a forced good. If they were not to die then, no good at all would be done. That they do is because they can keep it no longer. It shows they have no grace nor faith at all; for if there had been faith to depend upon God they would have done good before. But we must serve God in our generation if we will be saved.—Sibbes.
Esther 4:5. Church-door religion. That is no religion that is left behind in the Church; as Lactantius saith, that is no religion that we leave behind when we come to the Church door. But that is religion when we leave our duty here, and carry it in our breasts to practise it every day in the week; when we show it in our places. That is the service of God. It is not the matter or stuff, but the stamp, that makes the coin; so it is not the work, but the stamp, that makes it a service. Let the king set a stamp but upon a brass, yet it will go for current if it have the king’s stamp upon it. Let it be but an action of our callings, if it have God’s stamp upon it, it is a “service” of God. Our whole life, not only in the Church, but in our particular places, may be a “service of God.”—Sibbes.
Esther 4:5. Cardinal Wolsey. The following was his last charge:—“Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away thy ambition. By that sin fell the angels. How can man, then, the image of his Maker, hope to win by it? Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee; still in thy right hand carry gentle peace, to silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not Let all the ends thou aimest at be thy country’s, thy God’s, and truth’s; then, if thou fallest, on, Cromwell! thou fallest a blessed martyr. Serve the king; and, pr’ythee, lead me in. There take an inventory of all I have, to the last penny: ’tis the king’s; my robe, and my integrity to heaven, is all I dare now call mine own. Oh, Cromwell, Cromwell! had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, he would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies.”
Esther 4:6. Sermon to one hearer. The well-known American divine, Dr. Beecher, once engaged to preach for a country minister on exchange, and the Sabbath proved to be one excessively stormy, cold, and uncomfortable. It was in mid-winter, and the snow was piled all along in the roads, so as to make the passage very difficult. Still the minister urged his horse through the drifts, put the animal into a shed, and went into the little rural chapel. As yet there was no person in the place, and, after looking about, the preacher took his seat in the pulpit. Soon the door opened, and a single individual walked up the aisle, looked about, and took a seat. The hour came for commencing service, but no more hearers appeared. Whether to preach to such an audience was a question, and it was one that Lyman Beecher was not long deciding. He went through all the services, praying, singing, preaching, and the benediction, with only one nearer. When all was over, he hastened down from the desk to speak to his “congregation,” but he had departed. Travelling in Ohio, twenty years afterwards, the doctor alighted from the stage one day in a pleasant village, when a gentleman stepped up and spoke to him, familiarly calling him by name. “I do not remember you,” said the Doctor. “I suppose not,” said the stranger; “but we once spent two hours together in a house alone in a storm.” “I do not recall it, sir,” added the old man; “pray when was it?” “Do you remember preaching, twenty years ago, in such a place, to a single person?” “Yes, yes,” said the doctor, grasping his hand, “I do, indeed; and if you are the man, I have been wishing to see you ever since.” “I am the man, sir; and that sermon saved my soul, made a minister of me, and yonder is my church. The converts of that sermon, sir, are all over Ohio.”
Esther 4:6. The street of the city] The broad open place before the palace.—Whedon’s Commentary.
Esther 4:7. The sum of the money] Rather a statement of the silver. The word here rendered sum means a distinct or accurate statement. Mordecai told Hatach what had befallen him, and gave him also a statement of the silver Haman had promised to bring into the king’s treasury. “This promise of Haman is here emphatically mentioned as the chief point not so much for the purpose of raising the indignation of Esther to the highest pitch (Bertheau), as to show the resentment and eagerness with which Haman had urged the extermination of the Jews.”—Keil.
Esther 4:8. The copy of the writing of the decree] may very probably refer to the contents of the writing of the decree; possibly Mordecai had noted down the substance of that decree. To make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people] To entreat, supplicate for something diligently. She should petition relief for her people. “A perilous undertaking to urge upon her. But Mordecai’s faith already began to discern a Divine reason for her elevation in the kingdom at that time (see Esther 4:14).—Whedon’s Commentary.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:6-9
A STRANGE MEETING
The onlookers might very reasonably ask, Who are those two men standing together, in close conference, in the street of the city before the king’s gate, and what is the meaning of their confidential interview? For it must have been an unusual thing for the king’s chamberlain to be seen talking to a despised Jew. The wicked, those who took part with revengeful Haman, might well consider the meeting with alarm. The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but here is a man pursuing—a man armed with Divine powers, as is evident from his history—a man of strong purpose, of upright intentions, and of sagacious spirit—and the wicked had every reason for alarm had they only known the situation. But those who were not condemned in their own consciences might calmly pass these two men by, and pursue without fear their appointed way. It is well so to conduct our lives that we need not be suspicious of evil when we see others holding private interviews. Whispers can only disturb guilty consciences. Some might fancy that these two men thus strangely meeting together were plotting mischief against the monarch. For men are ever too prone to think evil. But we know better. Let us consider the nature of this strange meeting.
I. An important interview. The importance of a conference is not always to be measured by the number of persons gathered together. The meeting of two people may be fraught with more important results than the meeting of two thousand. Indeed, as too many cooks spoil the broth, so it often is that too many people at a conference bring about confusion, and no practical results are produced. And, after all, at large conferences the manipulation of measures is in the hands of a few, either of the wisest or of the most pushing. The meeting of Hatach and of Mordecai was one of the most important at that period in the dominion of Ahasuerus. The importance of a conference is not to be measured by the magnificence of the place of meeting. In the present day if any great philanthropic, political, or religious measure is to be discussed, a large gathering must be summoned in the splendid hall, in the gilded saloon, or in the stately ecclesiastical edifice. There was once a small gathering in an insignificant upper room which was productive of greater results than any assembly since that time. Hatach and Mordecai met in the street, but they did more important work than the grandees meeting in Shushan the palace. The importance of a conference is not always to be measured by the worldly position—by the names of the men who meet together as renowned for rank, for prowess in arms, for skill in strategy, for genius in oratory, or for excellence in debate—of those who are assembled. Though this is the modern fashion, a fashion which has been repeating itself through all time. The Times, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily News would have given as many lines to record the insignificant fact that Ahasuerus had taken a walk, as they would to record the important interview between Hatach and Mordecai in the streets of the city. But mighty issues were depending upon this interview. That which is little noticed is often of most importance. That which the superficial do not observe may be transcendently significant. The meeting of two poor men may either destroy or save the city, but it is unnoticed in earthly chronicles; while the meetings of the rich and of the great are described in glowing phrases, though their meetings may be of no consequence to the world at large, beneficially considered. Notice the wisdom of the sacred chronicles. They describe the meetings, whether of rich or of poor, whether of kings or of subjects, whether of noble or of ignoble, that have far-reaching results. These chronicles take no superficial views. They record for all time. The meeting of Saul the persecutor and Christ the Saviour was not recorded by the scribes, but it was the most important meeting of all time.
II. A full disclosure. “And Mordecai told him of all that had happened.” A sorrowful tale was that which Mordecai had to tell, and no doubt very painful to him would be the relation. But he did not shrink from the painful task, for patriotism laid upon him a stern necessity. Sometimes it is a mitigation of our sorrows to unburden our minds fully, and to tell all the tale of the causes of our grief to a friend; at others, silence, or comparative reserve, is our safety. We may well suppose, that here, in one aspect, Mordecai would not wish to tell all to this eunuch. Still it must be told, and sternly he opens up his sores to one of a foreign nation. Sometimes sin presses heavily upon the mind of the convinced sinner. But he shrinks from a candid inspection of his sinfulness, and from full confession even to that God who knows all. The sensitive mind naturally recoils from full confession of sinfulness to a fellow-creature; and yet, why should we shrink from full confession to God? The truest wisdom is to make a full disclosure. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Mordecai made a full disclosure of the intensity of Haman’s purpose. Money power was evidently as omnipotent in Persia as it is in England. Haman was so intent upon the accomplishment of his purpose that he promised to pay a large sum of money into the king’s treasuries. This is still a good test by which to get to know whether or not a man is intense in his purpose. When a man expresses an earnest desire to have some scheme carried out, just ask him how much he is willing to give for its accomplishment? Money may be given with the sincere desire of doing good. This is the noblest method of disposing of wealth. In fact, the only true method. In this way there is that scattereth earthly treasure and yet increaseth; sometimes earthly treasure, but at all times heavenly treasure. We must see to it that our motive is pure in giving. Money may be given for the purpose of making a name. Too many give at the dictate of an ostentatious spirit. The printing of subscription-lists is a device of the wisdom of this world. Divine wisdom says, Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. Money may be promised and given in order to promote an evil purpose. It was so in the case of Haman. He knew it would help on his evil design. He probably knew that he would gain by the transaction if it were successful. Too many give even to a good cause with the hope of getting their money back with a large percentage for the loan. For it is little more than a loan. It is a kind of speculative transaction. Mordecai made a full disclosure of the malignity of Haman’s purpose. Haman’s dark design was to destroy all the Jews. It is highly probable that Haman had hatred for all the Jews, and that the offence of Mordecai was but the means of calling out that hatred into active play. Haman might blame Mordecai, but he had much more reason to blame his own ill-regulated nature. How often we blame others, when we ought to blame ourselves! The fancied, or even real, wrong-doings of others can be no justification for wrong on our part. Even if Mordecai were wrong in refusing to bow, Haman was not right in seeking revenge. Let us seek the subjugation of inward evil, and then outward evil will not act upon us injuriously, for it will find no kindred element on which to work. Mordecai would not make a full disclosure unless he spoke of his own concern for the safety and welfare of his people. He told of all that happened to him, and what happened to the Jews was a sorrow to the patriotic Mordecai. He would not in unseemly boastfulness extol his patriotism. Yet he must show that he was most deeply interested in the fate of his countrymen. For himself, he was ready to die if his death would secure the deliverance of his people. But his heart was bleeding at the thought that all his people were exposed to death. We want this spirit, to lose our own personal sorrows in the sorrows of our people.
III. Witnessing credentials. The tale which Hatach had to tell to Esther was one of a most marvellous character. It is an illustration of the statement that fact is stranger than fiction. Esther might very well doubt the truth of this dark design. But there could be no escape from the fact when Hatach placed in her hands the copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan. This writing might be given to Esther not only to witness to the truth of Hatach’s narration, but that she might more fully understand all the bearings of the case. When we have a tale to tell detrimental to the character of another let us be sure that we are correct. Let us look out for the copy of the writing of the decree. Some people in telling an evil tale about another think it is quite sufficient to say he has a bad character. Haman was a bad character. Esther must have read his nature. But Mordecai does not say Haman’s character is enough to make Esther believe the story, but he sends along with the story a copy of the writing of the decree. We must not condemn a man on mere hearsay. And again, some people in telling an evil tale profess to be indignant if they are not at once believed. Mordecai did not say, If Esther does not believe my story the matter must drop; I shall say no more; she has no right to suppose that I should fabricate an evil story. But, like a wise man, he backs up the story with a copy of the writing of the decree. It might be a more unjust thing for me to believe a man capable of some great crime than for me to doubt the man who speaks of such capability. There should be credentials to every tale. If every evil accusation were to be believed and acted upon, our prisons would have to be very considerably enlarged.
IV. A solemn charge. Esther was charged by Mordecai to go in unto the king. The Persian queen was not as the English queen. The former was subject. She had not the rights of an ordinary English wife. She could not go in and out as she pleased. It was therefore a solemn charge which Mordecai now gave to Esther. He knew the gravity of the work, and already his faith had fixed upon Esther as God’s chosen instrument. Esther was now charged to go on a perilous errand. She was to go alone. It is easier to go with the multitude to face danger than to go alone. Many a man who would be bold in the company of a multitude, would be a coward when standing alone. From time to time we receive solemn charges to go alone, or to stand alone. Let us be faithful to the call and the post of duty. This is our great encouragement; there is never any danger in going alone, in a right spirit, unto the King Eternal. The danger is in not going alone sufficiently often. How often conscience charges us to go in unto the King, and how often we disobey! The neglect of private prayer is ruinous to the soul.
V. An honourable office. The office to which Esther was now appointed was that of intercessor. How noble and glorious the work to intercede on behalf of the people! How noble the conduct of Bunyan’s wife pleading with the judge for her husband’s liberty! How noble the conduct of Queen Philippa pleading with Edward for the pardon of the six burgesses of Calais! But nobler still was that office to which Esther was appointed to plead with the king for the salvation of her people. There was neither selfishness prompting to, nor applause to be secured, by Esther’s course of conduct, so far as she then knew. The work of an intercessor is ever glorious. What glory attaches to him who is the great High Priest of the Christian religion! That he might be a successful pleader he not merely exposed himself to danger, but passed through suffering. Esther might be a successful pleader without herself suffering. We know that she was. The very success of her intercessions contributed to her greatness and her glory. But Jesus could only be a successful intercessor as he endured suffering. He was made perfect through suffering, that he might be a faithful High Priest. Let us confess our indebtedness to this glorious Intercessor. Let us not stint our meed of praise. Let us consecrate ourselves to his holy and ennobling service.
VI. A faithful messenger. It very often depends upon the nature of the message as to whether or not we like faithfulness in the messenger. However, the rule should be not what is liked, but what is right to be done. It was right for Hatach to tell a true tale to Esther, though it might sorely grieve her heart. Some messengers would have told Esther only half a tale, and have made Mordecai’s story amount to nothing. Some doctors never give a true statement of the case to their patients, and thus sometimes do great harm. It perhaps would not be wise always to tell all the truth. But it is never wise to tell an untruth, or to bring a false report. “As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him; for he refresheth the soul of his masters.” Let us be faithful messengers. Speak the truth in love. Be refreshing powers in this land of drought.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:6-9
And Mordecai told him all that had happened unto him.—Not by fate or blind fortune, but by the providence of God, which hath a hand in ordering the most casual and fortuitous events, to the execution of his righteous counsels; neither is there a Providence but we shall once see a wonder or a mercy wrapt up in it.
And of the sum of money.—Money is the monarch of this present world. Money is to many dearer than their heart’s blood, yet, to gratify their lusts, they lavish silver out of the bag, and care not to purchase revenge or sensual delights with misery, beggary, discredit, damnation.
Also he gave him the copy of the writing.—That she might see it, and rest assured that it was even so, and no otherwise; and that therefore now or never she must bestir herself for the labouring Church.
That was given at Shushan.—Which if ever it were full of judgment, and white as a lily (according to the name), is now stained with blood of innocents; if ever righteousness did lodge in it, yet now murderers.
To show it unto Esther.—That her eye might affect her heart, and her heart set all awork for her people; that is, herself, according to that, “Physician, heal thyself;” that is, thine own countrymen.
And to declare it unto her.—In the cause, viz. his refusing to bow to Haman against his conscience (whereof it no whit repented him); and in the several circumstances, laid forth in the liveliest colours, for her thorough information.
And to charge her that she should go in unto the king.—This Mordecai knew would hardly be done; he, therefore, makes use of his ancient authority, and sets it on with greatest earnestness. So St. Paul, “I charge you by the Lord;” and again, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a weakness to be hot in a cold matter, but it is wickedness to be cold in a hot matter. He that is earnest in good, though he may carry some things indiscreetly, yet is he far better than a time-server and a cold friend to the truth; like as in falling forward is nothing so much danger as in falling backward. Eli was to blame with his, Do no more so, my sons. And so was Jehoshaphat with his, Let not the king say so. And the people in Ahab’s time, who, when they were pressed to express whom they were for, God or Baal, they answered not a word. And yet how many such cold friends hath the truth now-a-days!—lukewarm Laodiceans; neuter, passive Christians, &c. When Callidus once declared against Gallus with a faint and languishing voice, Oh, saith Tully, In nisi figeres, sic ageres? Wouldest thou plead in that manner if thou wert in good earnest? Men’s faint appearing for God’s cause shows they do but feign; their coldness probably concludeth they do but counterfeit. Mordecai plays the man, and chargeth Esther to improve her interest in the king, her husband, for the Church’s deliverance. See here how he turneth every stone, tradeth every talent, leaveth no means unused, no course unattempted, for the saints’ safety. And this the Spirit of God hath purposely recorded, that all may learn to lay out themselves to the utmost for the public; to be most zealous for the conservation and defence of the Church, when it is afflicted and opposed by persecutors; seeing they cannot be saved unless she is in safety, neither can they have God for their Father unless they love and observe this their dear mother. Oh that these things were duly considered by all sorts now-a-days!
And Hatach came and told Esther.—He acted the part of a faithful messenger: so must ministers, those servants of the Churches, declare unto the people all the mind of God, and not steal God’s word every one from his neighbour; not deal deceitfully with it; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, let them speak in Christ; and let them speak out not fearing any colours. He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully, saith God. Aaron’s bells were all of gold; the trumpets of the sanctuary were of pure silver; they did not sound a retreat when they should have sounded an alarm; no more must God’s messengers. Whatsoever the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak, saith Micaiah. Paul, as he received what he delivered, so he delivered whatsoever he received. Moses was faithful in all God’s house.—Trapp.
It is unpleasant to be the messenger of bad tidings. It is, however, often useful. If a physician saw you labouring under a mortal distemper, and insensible to your danger, he is the preserver of your life, when, by warning you of the peril of your condition, he rouses your diligence to apply the proper remedy. Esther must have been shocked beyond measure at hearing of a sentence of death pronounced against her dearest friends, against her whole people, against herself, by the man who had raised her to a share in his bed, and in his throne, without a crime proved against any one of them. But it was better to hear of it at present, than ten or eleven months afterwards, when it would be too late to provide a remedy.
There are some who cannot bear to hear of any bad tidings, however true, and think those men their enemies who tell them the truth. They consider those friends or preachers as their enemies who speak to them of their sins, and of the judgments of God denounced against them. But was not Esther under deep obligations to Mordecai for informing her of the danger of her people, and urging her to exert her influence for preserving them? Whether was Ahab most indebted to those prophets who told him that the Lord was with him, and would give him victory at Ramoth-Gilead, or to him who told him that he would fall in the battle? By following the counsel of the former, he lost his life. He might have preserved it, if he had believed the latter.
It is indeed cruel to distress men by false or doubtful intelligence of calamities that have not happened, or, if they have happened, cannot be remedied. Mordecai was far from wishing to disquiet the mind of his royal friend by uncertain rumours. But he had too good intelligence to be mistaken, and puts into her hands decisive proofs of the danger of her people, and of Haman’s activity in procuring their ruin. Nor did he give her this intelligence to torment her before the time. If nothing could have been done to avert the danger, he might have permitted her to enjoy tranquillity till it could be concealed no longer. But who could tell what might be the result of supplication to the king, especially from a queen who was understood to be the object of his warmest love! He therefore desires, or rather requires, her to go in and make intercession to the king for the people, and for her own life.
Mordecai uses authority in his language to the queen, and does her great honour by using such language. He durst not have charged her to do her duty, if he had not known her humbleness of mind in her greatness. She was as much disposed as in her youngest days to give him the authority of a father; and this he knew so well that he uses it without scruple or apology. Happy are the men on whom prosperity makes no change but for the better!
He charges her to make intercession to the king. The knowledge of that dreadful situation in which the Jews were placed, was to be improved by all the Jews as a call to fasting and intercession with the God of heaven, on whom their hope was to rest. But it was to be improved by the queen in particular, as a motive to the exertion of all her influence with the king. All, according to their places and stations, are bound to do what they can to avert threatened miseries from their nation. But some are bound to do much more than others, because they have peculiar opportunities, which, if they are not improved, must render them in some degree accountable for the mischiefs consequent on their neglect. Those who can do nothing by their own power, may do much by their influence with others. In the reign of the bloody Jehoiakim, the princes of Judah saved Jeremiah from his hands. If these princes had not used their influence for this purpose, they must have shared in the guilt of his blood.—Lawson.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Esther 4:7. Sidney Smith. Sidney Smith once said there would be a great many more good Samaritans in the world if it were not for the oil and for the twopence.
Some one went to Theodore Hook, and told him that a certain friend of theirs was in want of money. “How much?” he asked. “Well,” said the other, “I think a three and two noughts will set him right.” On this Hook remarked, “He is a right good fellow; I tell you what I’ll do, I’ll give him one of the noughts.”
Esther 4:8. Bunyan’s wife. Her heroic achievements on behalf of her husband are admirably related by Bunyan. She travelled to London with a petition to the House of Lords, and intrusted it to Lord Barkwood, who informed her that they could not interfere, the king having committed the release of the prisoners to the judges. Several times she appeared before them: love to her husband, a stern sense of duty, a conviction of the gross injustice practised upon one to whom she was most tenderly attached, overcame her delicate, modest, retiring habits, and forced upon her this strange duty. This delicate, courageous, high-minded woman appeared before Judge Hale, who was most affected with her earnest pleading. It was the triumph of love, duty, and piety, over bashful timidity. Bunyan’s wife in pleading with the judge for his liberty, said, “My lord, I have four small children that cannot help themselves, of which one is blind, and have nothing to live upon but the charity of good people.” Her energetic appeals were in vain; and with bitter feelings she returned to the prison, believing that it would be the tomb of her beloved husband.
Esther 4:8. Queen Philippa. After the surrender of the town of Calais to King Edward III. he granted to the inhabitants their lives, but expelled them from the town, and demanded that six of the richest burgesses should be delivered up to his vengeance: Eustace de St. Pierre, John Dacre, James and Peter Wisart, and two others whose names history does not record, nobly volunteered to resign their lives for the safety of their fellow-citizens, and dressed only in their shirts, went barefoot, with halters round their necks, to present the keys of the town to Edward, who ordered them to immediate execution; but the prayers and entreaties of the queen procured their pardon. She then ordered clothes to be brought them, entertained them in her tent, and dismissed them with presents.
Esther 4:11. The inner court] The court that faced the principal audience hall—the throne chamber—where alone it would be practicable for Esther to see the king on such business. In the time of Deioceses the Mede, approach to the king was already very difficult; and among the Persians, with very few exceptions, no one was permitted to approach the king without a notice. As to the golden sceptre, Rawlinson observes—A modern critic asks, “Is it likely that a Persian king would always have a golden sceptre by him to stretch out towards intruders on his privacy?” It seems enough to reply that in all the numerous representations of Persian kings at Persepolis, there is, not one in which the monarch does not hold a long tapering staff (which is probably the sceptre of Esther) in his right hand. Esther’s difficulty arose from the fact that she had not been called to come in unto the king for thirty days. She did not feel quite sure of her position. To venture unsummoned might be to prejudice the cause.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:10-12
Objections may be raised against any enterprise simply by way of shielding the unwillingness of the objectors. They object merely for the sake of objecting. They are unwilling to come out boldly and say that they do not intend to take any part in the scheme. They hide themselves behind the false plea of the difficulties in the way of bringing the scheme to a successful issue. They may see both the necessity and the propriety of the work being done, and are too cowardly to profess themselves unwilling to do their duty. They would show themselves as willing to do the work, and yet keep affirming that the work cannot be done. Now the after conduct of Esther cannot justify us in supposing that she raised objections on this principle. She is not here to be hastily condemned. Again, some raise objections through the working of a prudential spirit. They earnestly desire to further the enterprise, but are appalled by the presence of real difficulties. Such deserve our sympathy. Surely Esther in this trying period of her history will command our sympathy. The objections she here raises are of no fictitious character. They were real. They were well known to Mordecai, and to all those acquainted with the customs of a Persian court. Poor Esther!—how well thou dost deserve our sympathy! A beautiful queen loved by all, and till very lately adored by the monarch, thou dost now stand alone and apparently forsaken of all. Yet not alone, for thy God is with thee, and will appear to thy glory. Even when we seem to be most forsaken, then it may be that the good Lord is most near. His help is sure to be near when most we need his helping hand.
The first objection raised by Esther referred to a state arrangement of the Persian court. None could unbidden approach the monarch unless by incurring the penalty of death. Even the loved wife was not excluded from this barbarous arrangement. What, then, was Esther to do under the circumstances? How was it likely that she could become a successful pleader! Here there was the prospect of death. Who likes to rush on death, especially when life is opening out new attractions! Esther was not now a disappointed jade; her heart was not yet broken. The little neglect she now experienced would soon pass away. It could not have been an unknown event in such a state of things as prevailed in a Persian court. She had then still bright prospects, and was she by mere rashness to imperil her position, and to imperil that position for no good purpose? Death can only be welcomed by those whose life is but a living death. To most death is feared. To the young and the beautiful death is a fearsome enemy. Well may Esther be appalled by the difficulty of that enterprise to which Mordecai would summon her in the intense ardour of his patriotism.
The second objection raised by Esther referred to a fact of a domestic character. She had not been called to go in unto the king for thirty days. Here is a strange anomaly—strange if received in the light of Christian teaching and the customs of modern life. But not very peculiar if viewed in connection with the customs of those barbaric days. The ardour of this fickle monarch had for the time cooled. The beauty of the toy pleased him for a while, and now he flung it from him, and suffered it to lie neglected. A poor soul was Ahasuerus to prefer the company of the wicked Haman before the company of the beautiful and virtuous Esther. However, this fact made a greater difficulty in the way of Esther’s success. It presented the prospect not only of death but of failure. If she had lost her influence with the monarch for herself, how could she hope to influence him for the salvation of a despised race? We cannot wonder that Esther shrank from obeying the summons of Mordecai. Our wonder is that she was ever able to nerve herself up to go in unto the king. The greatness of her heroism comes out in this fact, that she fully saw all the difficulty of her position, all the hazard of the enterprise, and yet she ventured. She calmly estimated the danger, and bravely made the venture.
(1) That it is well to look before we leap. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.”
2. That he who looks well may be expected to leap well. To look well is not to look so as to render the nature powerless by reason of the hazard. To look well is to estimate the difficulties at their true measure, and to understand the nature of the leap which is required, and to gather up all strength—strength from every quarter—strength from earth and strength from heaven—in order to make a successful leap. Esther looked well and then leaped well. The world’s heroes have been men of true vision. They have seen all. They have looked at all sides. They have considered the for and the against.
3. That the difficult leap may be the Divine pathway. Human pathways are not as the Divine. God’s pathways are not all well paved—smooth and level. We can only travel along them by leaps; yea, the very leap itself is the Divine way. Rough was Esther’s path just now, but it was her Divinely-appointed way.
4. That those who take the difficult leap at the call of duty may expect Divine support. This is what Mordecai implies in his reply to Esther’s objections, and this is what we shall find that she afterwards experienced. Divine support is given to every faithful worker. Divine support is the guarantee of ultimate success. In our goings we may get battered and bruised; but a Divine hand can heal the bruises, and restore the battered part to soundness. Our very bruises may be our salvation, and contribute to the success of our cause. The cause may rise by and upon the fall of its supporters. It is not every worker who has the good fortune of Esther. She contributed both to the success of her cause, and worked out greater glory for herself. However, that servant is glorious who triumphs in his fall if it secures the success of his cause. Jesus died, that by his death men might have life. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:10-12
There are two kinds of courage—the mere animal courage, which results from well-strung nerves, and is exerted by impulse rather than by reflection; and the moral courage, which, on a calm calculation of difficulties, and of the path of duty, will face the difficulties and prosecute the path of duty at any hazard, even at the risk of life itself. It will often be found that men are deficient in the latter of these qualities, while they are remarkable for the former. It will be found, for example, that soldiers who will rush fearlessly upon an enemy, braving death without one symptom of alarm, are incapable of submitting to the calm endurance of trouble, and are like others alarmed when they have to meet death quietly after lingering illness. It is courage of the highest and noblest order, then, we say, which braves danger and death upon cool reflection. Such was the courage of the martyrs, and such was the courage of Esther. As a timid female, she drew back at first from the hazardous enterprise to which Mordecai called her; but when she had fully weighed the matter, and perceived the real path of duty, although the danger was not in the least degree diminished, she resolved, in the strength of God, to encounter it.—Davidson.
But why was Esther so afraid of her life if she should make intercession to the king for the life of her people? Was it so criminal in the court of Persia to present a supplication to the king? Or, if it was a crime in others, was it a crime even in the queen? Yes; it was universally known, says Esther, and Mordecai could not well be ignorant of it, that if any person should venture, uncalled, to approach the king in the inner court of his palace, he must be put to death, unless the king was pleased graciously to pardon him; nor was the queen herself excepted from the penalties of this law. The laws of the Persians were strange indeed! No man was allowed in a mourning-habit to enter into the king’s gate; and no man in any apparel was allowed to come near the king in the inner court. Did these kings ever consider for what end they were elevated above their fellow-men? Was it not to defend the poor and the afflicted, and to do judgment and justice to all their people? How could they do the duties of princes, if they were inaccessible to their people? But if it was a crime to intrude into the private apartments of the palace, and to disturb the privacy of the prince, was it one of those atrocious crimes that can be justly punished with death? Could no easier punishment assuage the wrath of a proud mortal, who wished to make himself invisible like his Maker? Surely it may be said of a law that punished an offence like this with death, that it was written in blood; and of a government which would establish such laws, that Daniel had too good reason to represent it by the emblem of a bear.*
Blessed be God, the laws of heaven are not like those of the Persians! Our King who dwells on high is at all times accessible to the afflicted mourner. The poor and the afflicted had ready access to Jesus while he was upon the earth; nor is he less accessible in his state of glory. At all times we may come near to God, even to his throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
Esther was believed by Mordecai to be a great favourite with the king; and doubtless there was a time when she was very dear to him. But Esther was afraid that this time was past, and questioned whether Mordecai would insist upon the charge he had given her, when he was informed, that for thirty days past she had not been called to go in unto the king. This she considered as a sign that his affection was alienated, and that it was questionable whether the golden sceptre would be held out to her, if she should presume to enter the king’s apartment. What reason the king had for this coldness to his virtuous queen, we know not. This is plain, that it was a providential trial appointed for Esther, by which it would be known whether she had the courage to serve her people and her God at the risk of her life. It was a severe trial of her faith and charity. She felt the force of the discouragement, and expressed her sense of it to Mordecai, that she might receive further directions from him.
To whatever difficult duty we are called, we may lay our account with trials. If thou desirest to serve the Lord, look for temptation. But remember, that “the man is blessed who endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive of the Lord the crown of life which he hath promised to them that love him.” Those who have held on in the path of duty, under sore temptation, shall at last “stand before the throne of God with white robes, and palms in their hands.” “But the fearful and unbelieving shall have their portion in the lake of fire burning with brimstone, which is the second death.”—Lawson.
Esther 4:13.] Mordecai does not reproach Esther with being indifferent to the fate of her fellow-countrymen, but rather calls her attention to the fact that her own life is in danger.
Esther 4:14.] Who knows, if thou hadst not attained to royalty at or for such a time? may be taken as the translation of the latter part of this verse. The other place may refer to another agent of God in contrast with Esther; but thus it refers ultimately to Divine interposition. And although neither God nor God’s assurances are here mentioned, still, as is justly remarked by Brenz, “We have this noble and clearly heroic faith of Mordecai, which sees the future deliverance, even amidst the most immediate and imminent danger.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:13-14
A HUMAN VOICE SPEAKS DIVINE LESSONS FOR HUMAN LIVES
God has not left himself without witness in the material creation. Through all time he has been, and is still, speaking to the children of men by the visible things of the lower world, which he hath made. On all hands we may find testimonies to his power, his wisdom, and even in some measure to his goodness. A clearer witness he gives of himself in revelation. By its aid we learn to read aright the lessons of nature. By its teachings we are taught truths nature could not teach. There the voices of patriarch, of prophet, of apostle, and of the Great Teacher, speak to us Divine lessons. But there we find other voices speaking in an undertone, but none the less inculcating Divine lessons, and laying down the true rules for noble living. Mordecai is not to be numbered amongst either the patriarchs, the prophets, or the apostles, still his voice is morally significant. Esther, on the first hearing of Mordecai’s answer, might only hear the voice of a man; but afterwards she evidently heard in that voice a Divine tone. Whatever she did or did not discern in the voice of Mordecai it is for us to hear it speaking to us Divine lessons. If we rightly judge that Mordecai was a Divine agent, then we shall rightly conclude that an important utterance like the one contained in this solemn declaration is not to be allowed to fall to the ground as meaningless. And perhaps it may be well to observe, that if we were in a proper frame of mind, if we were more receptive of Divine impressions, many voices that are now allowed to pass away as unimportant would become to us as true Divine utterances. What are the Divine lessons which this human voice speaks, not only to Esther but to every true soul?
I. That great advantages are conferred for a Divine purpose. By far too large a majority of men and of women receive the advantages of talents, of position, of influence, and of wealth, with unreflecting minds as well as unthankful hearts. Like the lower animals, they receive blessings without thinking that they ought to be turned to good account. They forget that privilege implies responsibility; that talents are given that they may be put to Divine uses. That receiving is in order to giving. This is the law of nature. This is the law of morals. This is the law for individuals, for communities, for nations, and for Churches. Esther had conferred upon her the great worldly advantage of being made queen in the mightiest empire of the then known world; and Mordecai would show her that such an advantage was not without its Divine purpose. She had come to the kingdom for such a time as that—a time of trouble and perplexity to her people, a time when she might use the advantages of her position for the people’s deliverance. And have we not all conferred upon us great advantages! Some are blessed with advantages of an earthly nature. Most are blessed with the advantage of hearing the sweet sound of the gospel. Many are blessed with the advantage of being members of the Church which is the bride of Heaven’s Eternal King. Here is an advantage, if we could only rightly see it, before which the advantage of Esther in being made the queen of Ahasuerus pales its splendours. If Mordecai could see that Esther’s advantages were conferred for a Divine purpose, what would he say, what shall we conclude, with reference to our advantages? Now these advantages are only rightly considered as they are viewed in the light of Divine purposes. What shall I say of my money? Is it given merely for the purpose of self-aggrandisement? Shall I not use it as the wise steward, feeling that it is the Lord’s property? What shall I say of my talents’? Are they given merely that I may become famous amongst men? Shall I not feel that they are to be employed for the good of men and for the glory of God? What shall I say of the gospel by which I am saved? Am I merely to try and keep it to myself? Am I not saved myself that I may help to save others? Thus to look at all our blessings in the light of a Divine benevolent purpose, is the way to bring about a more intense appreciation of those blessings, as well as to ennoble and glorify our lives. This is the true light which can enlighten the murky days of our earthly existence. The most brilliant—most brilliant from an earthly point of view—of earthly lives can be made more brilliant by causing them consciously and intentionally to subserve and to promote Divine purposes. And the poorest of earthly lives may be lifted out of the darkness of their poverty by being consecrated to the great end of glorifying God our Maker. This is the light which cheered the patriarchs in their long pilgrimages, which sustained the prophets in their trying careers, which supported the apostles in their self-denying labours, and which made radiant the dark pathway of the martyrs. And this is a light which, by Divine grace, can turn for every man the gloom of earth into the glad lightsomeness of heaven.
II. That God requires that such advantages should be faithfully used for the promotion of his purposes. Mordecai’s voice to Esther was a Divine summons. It was God’s call, telling her to make use of the advantages of her position for the deliverance of the oppressed. It seemed to say, Thou hast been raised to a high position for the good of others. This is a great crisis in the history of providential movements, and thou hast come to the kingdom by Divine appointment. And here learn one of the lessons of God’s providential dealings for the support of our faith—that in times of great trial God has his delivering agents in prepared readiness. Esther was ready when Haman’s plot was culminating. David was ready when Goliath threatened the armies of Israel. Elijah was ready when the prophets of Baal were triumphing. The true prophets were ready when the need was great. Jesus was ready when the fulness of the time was come. Stephen was ready when a martyr was required, and Saul was to be converted. Peter was ready when the gospel was to be given to the Gentiles. Paul was ready when argumentative skill was demanded. Luther was ready when Romanism was rife with darkest heresy. The 2000 confessors were ready when a protesting testimony was to be delivered. Whitefield and Wesley were ready when religion in this land was declining. And we may still believe that God has his agents ready. This is our consolation, and this is also to stimulate to greater energy. Advantages are to be faithfully used for the promotion of Divine purposes. Is it objected that we do not know what are the purposes of God? It may be replied that we shall not fail in serving Divine purposes if we sincerely seek to promote his glory. Our efforts may be blundering and imperfect, yet if sincere our imperfect doings will be wrought into, and made to form an important part of, the great Divine plan. Upward, then, O Church of the living God, to a faithful discharge of thy duties! Let all talents, all advantages, all opportunities, and all seasonable occasions be quickly seized and ardently employed in the noblest cause. Let the Mordecais at the gates and the Esthers in the palaces co-operate, for a great crisis has been reached. And who knows but that a great crisis has been reached in our own country’s history? Are we ready? Whether that be so or not, in this world of sin there is always much work to do. It may be again objected that we have no great advantages,—no specialty either of talents or of position. Mordecai had no position, but he was a most important instrument in Divine providence, because he was faithful. Esther at first seemed to plead that she could do nothing. It may be, that, like Esther, we can do a great deal more than we at first imagine. Yea, like Esther, we may be able to do that very thing which God requires to be done. And this should be our great encouragement to still more faithful and ardent endeavour—that God does not demand from any that which they are not able to give. God condemns, not because there is only one talent—for that might be to condemn his own appointment—but because the one talent has not produced any interest. He does not require the impossible. A Samson’s strength is not expected from an infant’s weakness. The hesitating Isaac asks, “Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” The child’s question was natural and innocent. It required Abraham’s faith to say: “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for the burnt-offering.” God deals with the child Isaac according to one method, and with the patriarch Abraham according to another. Divine methods are methods of justice guided by wisdom, and tempered by mercy. There is one power of the sun, and another very feeble of the glow-worm. There is the majesty of the cedar-trees, and the weakness of the grass-blade. One star differeth from another star in glory. And one man differeth from another in talents, in organization, in wealth, in favourable circumstances and surroundings. There are differences of administration; but the same spirit worketh all and in all. The Infinite Ruler only requires that we reach out and up to the measure of our ability. To Hatach is one service appointed; to Mordecai another; and to Esther another. The voice of exhortation is: Art thou but a bruised reed?—put on thy strength. Art thou but as a smoking taper?—shine as brightly as thou canst, and the little spark will grow into a goodly flame, and send out its light far and wide. Hast thou but one talent?—put it out to usury, and at the Lord’s coming he shall receive his own with interest. Hast thou but two mites?—cast them both into the treasury of the Lord, and thou shalt enrich the ages.
III. That such Divine purposes cannot be frustrated. Human purposes can be thwarted, as we know very well. Man cannot foresee all the contingent circumstances which may form a barrier through which his purposes cannot pass, or which they cannot overleap, and move onward to accomplishment. Man cannot always watch over his purposes from their inception to a triumphant conclusion. Man is not only short-sighted but short-lived. This is one sign of man’s greatness and man’s littleness—that he can project purposes that may flourish over his tomb. With God, however, purpose and fulfilment are closely connected. The latter is bound up in the former. Our finite minds cannot understand what is meant by the purpose of God. There is a future to man, but what future can there be to the Omnipresent? Man looks forward to an object to be accomplished, but does the Infinite One look either before or after? Certainly not, in one sense. This, however, we may most surely learn—that there is not purpose with God in a merely human sense; there can be to him no contingent future; the march of human events must be harmonious with Divine movements, whatever they may be. If then one agent, through that wonderful gift of moral power, refuses to be God’s instrument, he can purpose another. If Esther determines to hold her peace, then shall there deliverance arise from another place—by another agent. Notice the wonderful manner of Divine operations. If the agent is at first unwilling, then God comes forth and makes such agent willing for the day of his Divine power. Esther at first unwilling, through the natural timidity of her sex, through the sense of her incompetency to do any good, becomes in God’s hand sweetly moulded and fitted for the task, so that she becomes heroical in her complete self-abandonment to the promotion of the Divine design. Moses at first says: “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?” But Moses afterwards appears a God to Pharaoh; and Aaron his prophet. If we be the Lord’s chosen he will prepare us to do his work. And yet further—and sadly to be considered if not instructively—if we remain obdurate, if we do not try to read aright Divine purposes, and the meaning of our present position, God can use us against our will. He can force us to take part in the promotion of the benevolent scheme. He could make an unwilling Esther bring enlargement and deliverance to the Jews. How humiliating! To be the bondslave of Divine purposes. To be like a galley-slave compelled to work the oars of the vessel that is to enrich the one we oppose. How glorious, on the other hand, to be a willing servant—a slave, yet free, because the slave of love. Esther’s praises are now sung not because she was the queen of Ahasuerus, but because she was the delivering queen of her people, the royal agent to bring about Divine purposes. God’s purposes then must be accomplished, either by us, or by some others; either by us willingly, or by us unwillingly; and we have in some measure this awful power of choice. Which way do we decide? Let the response be, “Here am I, O Lord, but a broken vessel; yet mend and prepare, so that I may be a chosen vessel to bear abroad the sweet fragrance of the Saviour’s name.”
IV. Those who seek to frustrate Divine purposes shall be injured. Mordecai by the greatness of his faith becomes at once both heroic and prophetic. He is a teaching prophet. He expounds the general principles of Divine operations. His faith is both a production and a producer. It is the product of far-reaching views of the purposes of God. And it begets in his soul still more extended views. It lifts him to the heights of inspiration. He speaks like one inspired. He speaks as one moved by the Holy Ghost. Strong faith is an inspiration. It enables a man to do great things, and to speak noble truths. How strangely marvellous and profound the utterance; “Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. If thou altogether holdest thy peace … thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed.” Think not that thou canst fight against the purposes of God and remain uninjured. The king’s palace cannot protect those who wage war with the King of heaven. These may seem hard things to utter. Mordecai may be pronounced an unfeeling man. The doctor is not necessarily an unfeeling man when he probes the wound in order to promote health. The speaker is not necessarily an unfeeling man when he utters hard things in order to prevent injury, and to rouse to healthy action. Mordecai is not unfeeling, for there was a needs be that the whole truth should be spoken. And these things are largely and broadly true. The purposes of God are as the thick bosses of his bucklers, and those who rush against those thick bosses will do so to their own damage. Those who go contrary to the unwritten purposes of God in nature will do so to their own injury. The laws of nature are the expressions of Divine purposes. These laws must be obeyed. All men who are reasonable acknowledge this. They seek to find out these laws, and work in harmony with nature’s teachings. Break the natural law, and it will be avenged. Frustrate the purpose of the Creator, and damage and suffering must ensue sooner or later. There is a purpose in providential movements. We may not always be able to see clearly that purpose, but if we desire to be faithful God will reveal so much of that purpose as is needful for our guidance. Woe be to the man who opposes the purposes of God in providence. There is a gracious purpose in the gospel. Resist that purpose, and destruction follows. “And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.”
Finally, Learn that a faithful discharge of duty must bring rich results. It was so in Esther’s case, as we shall more fully see hereafter. She followed Mordecai’s leading, and was both blessed and the instrument of blessing. It will be so more or less in all cases. The results of a faithful discharge of duty are far-reaching. They stretch themselves through all time. They are fraught with eternal issues. They act and react. Mercy blesses him that gives and him that takes. And so a faithful discharge of duty blesses giver and receiver alike. Beware of the folly of waiting for rare opportunities, for glorious openings, for great crises in human history. Do not wait till a nation is threatened with destruction, and thou art raised to some high position which will enable thee to deliver on a grand scale, and reap a harvest of applause. All cannot be queens in the palace of Ahasuerus. Some must be as Mordecai at the gate. The man who waits in idleness for some great work to do will not be ready when the opportunity is presented, will most likely live a barren life, and will leave behind no fragrant memories. There are rich rewards to faithful workers. Rich rewards on earth and rich rewards in heaven. Crowns of glory that fade not away. Our small doings will be wonderfully enlarged and glorified by Divine grace. He that soweth to the glory of God on this earth shall reap a golden harvest of Divine benedictions on the plains of the upper paradise.
GOD’S PURPOSE AND MAN’S OPPORTUNITY. Esther 4:14
Great honours if suddenly achieved are often connected with great perils; and our text has reference to a peril of no common magnitude. The fate of a whole people was, through the success of a wicked plot, trembling in the balance. Humanly speaking, that fate would be settled this way or that according to the impression which Mordecai might make upon Esther’s mind. We know that the right impression was made, and that the right end was attained—the preservation of the Jews, and the destruction of the remorseless man who had plotted theirs.
Now, without putting any pressure on this passage, it is thought that we may find certain principles of Divine administration which are capable of easy and profitable application to our present circumstances. I draw from the text the following general truths:—
That running through the providence of this world, there is a gracious Divine purpose for its ultimate salvation.
That rich and rare opportunities occur in the progress of things, by which believing men are allowed to come effectually “to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”
That the neglect of such providential calls has a tendency to bring destruction.
That obedience will bring elevation and blessing.
I. Divine purpose. It is very clear that Mordecai rested his faith on some fundamental and changeless purpose of God, in reference to the Jewish people. In fact, he believed in the indestructibility of the Jews; and this with him was evidently a religious faith. He believed this, because he believed in God and in his revealed will. There was no natural ground for supposing that they would not perish, according to the terms of the bloody edict which had gone forth. They were a captive, a scattered, a feeble people, without mutual concert, without leaders, without power of resistance. The fatal counsel had taken effect on the royal mind. The ring had passed from the king’s hand; the death-letters had been written; the royal seal impressed on each; the posts hastened out of the city away to the different provinces, and the whole land was struck with fear and perplexity by the suddenness and terrific character of the decree. Yet here is a man of the doomed race whose faith lifts him above his fear!—a man who, by simply grasping one great truth, can smile serenely at the portents and terrors of the time. “My people cannot perish!” That is his unwavering faith. Now, that faith must have been founded on one or more of the express promises of God. Thus the purpose of the preservation of the Jews is but a branch and a sign of another and a grander purpose—a purpose to gather and to save the whole world. Always to our severer thought, and in our more perfect frames, this end has arisen to our view, like the shining summits of inaccessible mountains which the traveller can never reach, but by which he guides his way; and we have seen and felt that it is wisest, holiest, best, that neither man nor universe can ever come into the place of God; that neither human happiness, nor the universal harmony of things, can ever reach so high, or shine so bright, as the glory of the all-perfect One. In the contemplation of this end, our thought returns unto its rest in the stillness of truth; our affections are imbued most deeply with the harmonies of the everlasting love, and the forces of our life spring up with most gigantic energy. Then we live indeed, for God liveth in us that we may will and do of his good pleasure. The light of the glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ. And this is the “glory of the Lord, which shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” The purpose of God to achieve this grand result is clearly recorded in many parts of his revealed will. Expressed or implied, we find it in every book: it types itself in the kingly history; it gleams in the prophet’s vision; it breathes in the holy psalm; speaks out in the Acts of the Apostles; runs through all the Epistles, and sighs up to heaven in that last apocalyptic cry, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
II. Human opportunity. We pass now from Divine purpose to human opportunity. There is no need to expound the general doctrine of opportunity. “Our time is alway ready.” “We are workers together with God.” We must spend the gospel, or lose it. But while, in a general sense, there is always opportunity to every one, God’s providence is so cast that now and again opportunities of a richer and rarer kind occur. We have a striking instance of this in the text. No queen in the world but Esther had any chance of doing what Mordecai asks at her hand; only once in her life was such a grand possibility and such a dread alternative placed before her. A few moments, probably, settled all. In her quick and grand resolve she made herself a queen indeed! the heroine of a wondrous story! a fountain of salvation to a whole people! mistress and monarch, for the time, of all the earth! And such, often-times, in character and quickness, is our opportunity too. Our moral opportunities, our seasonable times for action and usefulness, are very precious, are very brief, and when they are gone they cannot be renewed. God’s great purpose will travel on, but our co-operation there is impossible for ever. So, too, it is at times with Churches, with societies, and with nations. A Church grows and prospers for a while, and then comes to a point of spiritual potentiality where her state is tested and her history determined. She must at that point either become the city on the hill, or sink back into the shades of obscurity. A nation suffers, and struggles, and grows, and then comes a time—it may be a time of war, or a time of peace, but it is a crucial time to her—and in a few years, perhaps, the scale of the great balance in which she is being held and weighed, rises, and she is too light to be further used for God’s purposes; or falls, and she is settled in her place as one of his great kingdoms on the earth.
III. The law of destruction. “Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed.” “The Jews”—God’s people—are not dependent, as they seem to be, for their preservation, upon you; there are “other places” from which the deliverance so much needed will immediately spring if you are unfaithful, or unequal in any way to the great occasion. But you are dependent for your preservation on your loyalty and fealty to them. “Thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed.” We are not sure whether Mordecai himself knew in what manner his prediction would be accomplished. It is probable that it stood out in his view, and in the view of Esther, not so much in the light of a personal and particular penalty which would overtake her and her father’s house by what we call a special providence, as in the light of a general principle of retribution, acting at all times, but sure to act swiftly and terribly in a case like this. That this principle of retribution is still in force cannot for a moment be doubted. It has all the force and fixedness of law. It has its fullest application to the ungodly. The way, the hope, the expectation, the works, the memory, and, saddest of all, the soul of the wicked, shall all perish. But God is no respecter of persons, and neither are his laws. Let a Christian man neglect opportunities, and hold truth in unrighteousness, and bind down his soul to commonness, and what will happen to him? Can that man be going on to joyous harvest-time as a Christian should! It is impossible. In fact, he is perishing as to the real power of his life. In the main he is living so that this great law of destruction is fastening upon his whole exterior life. More completely still does the principle apply to churches, and societies, and nations. All associations of men, civil and sacred, Church and State alike, are judged by the king now. No Church, society, or nation can live, except as they continue to be in harmony with the purpose and the providence of God. The one Church cannot perish; the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, but they do prevail against every particular Church that is unfaithful. Where are the seven Churches in Asia? All darkened and dead. The “lamps” have long since gone out, and can never be relumed. It would be a waste of time to remind you at length how this principle of judgment and destruction has been applied to nations. The whole history of this world, rightly read, is but a commentary and a confirmation of the doctrine of destruction which the text contains, No doubt this principle is applied in this our native land. If we are “righteous” we shall be exalted; if we are sinful we shall be disgraced. If we serve God in the line of his purpose for the world’s salvation, we shall flourish; if we do not, we and our father’s house shall be destroyed.
IV. The law of life. There is a law of life in God’s gracious providence as well as a law of destruction, and following the beautiful turn given to the sentiment of the text, we say now, “Who knoweth whether we are come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” It is possible, even very probable. God does not play capriciously with signs and scenes of Providence. As Englishmen, we have come to a kingdom such as never before was seen among men. The very thought of it is almost overwhelming. To circumscribe the bounds of our empire we must traverse every continent, and sail over every sea. The great Roman empire in its palmiest days was nothing like it. The whole world waits for us—watches what we do, listens to what we say. What a gigantic kingdom! “Who knoweth whether we are come to it for such a time as this?” But as Christians we have come to a greater kingdom still, ruled by the “King of kings.” Although not of this world, this Kingdom is intensely and unconquerably in it. Its principles are rooted beneath the uttermost foundations of society. Opportunity is so quick, possibilities are so great, forces are so strong, and the prospects of the opening future are so enrapturing, but yet so dependent on faithfulness in the present hour, that we must be “ready for every good work,” or lose our function and our peculiar place in the great time on which we have fallen. It is a great, a glorious time—“such a time as this!” The gates are lifting up their heads. The everlasting doors are opening. The King himself is coining soon. He gives us new commission to herald his advent, and prepare his way in every land. And looking up to his eternal purpose of love and mercy, observing these rich and high opportunities, fearing the sweep of that law of destruction which carries the wicked and the slothful away; but strong, through grace in the law of life, we venture now to say, not “who knoweth?” but, Lord, Thou knowest,—Thou who knowest all things; and we, by the humble yet resolute purpose, which we renew before thy face, and in thy strength to-day. Thou knowest, and we know, that we are “come to the kingdom for such a time as this!” Amen.—Dr. Raleigh’s Sermon for the London Missionary Society. Abridged.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:13-14
Receiving is in order to giving. This is the law of nature. The clouds receive from the sea, and give back fertilizing showers to the earth. The soil receives from the clouds, and responds to the refreshing baptism by waving harvests of golden beauty. We are told that nature never disappoints, and that nothing pays so well as the soil. In some of her aspects nature appears to be hard and unyielding, but in other aspects she shows herself grateful for all kind attentions. This is the law of nations, and in so far as they answer to this law is their continued prosperity secured. When a nation fails to give out noble exertions for the consolidation of virtuous manhood, for the suppression of vice, and for the spread of right principles, then it begins to decline. The youth of a nation is often the most glorious. Then it produces the greatest number of stalwart heroes. Then are found those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the State. Even then are found the brightest ornaments in literature. The nation is giving. The decline of a nation is marked by this fact, that it is an absorbing power. It rests idly upon former achievements, and does not seek to prosecute further enterprises. Wealth is in abundance. The people absorb, and thus become enervated. This is the law of individuals, and in so far as they obey this law can they hope to reach the true perfection of which they are capable. God gives in order that man may give, and man grows rich by giving. Much has been received. The world itself, with all its exquisite contrivances of infinite wisdom, with all its manifestations of Divine power, and with all its charming displays of loveliness, is God’s gift to man. Life, with all its rare privileges, and wonderful opportunities, and glorious possibilities, has been given by the Creator. Jesus Christ, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, the noblest ideal of our manhood, the Redeemer of mankind, is the gift of God’s unspeakable love. Mercy to pardon, grace to help, and love to cheer, come to us from the loving Father. Much has been received, and it is rightly expected that much shall be returned. “Freely ye have received, freely give.” What return shall be made for love so vast? Adequate return cannot be made; but oh! that return were made equal to the ability of each recipient. Oh! what shall be the grateful response to beneficence so unspeakably glorious?
That Divine Providence had an eye to this in bringing her to be queen. “Who knows whether thou hast come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” and therefore, “Thou art bound in gratitude to do this service for God and his Church, else thou dost not answer the end of thy elevation.” “Thou needest not fear miscarrying in the enterprise; if God designed thee for it, he will bear thee out and give thee success.” Now, it appeared, by the event, that she did come to the kingdom that she might be an instrument of the Jews’ deliverance, so that Mordecai was right in the conjecture. Because the Lord loved his people, therefore he made Esther queen. There is a wise counsel and design in all the providences of God, which is unknown to us till it is accomplished, but it will prove in the issue that they are all intended for, and centre in, the good of the Church. The probability of this was a good reason why she should bestir herself, and do her utmost for her people. We should every one of us consider for what end God has put us in the place where we are, and study to answer that end; and when any particular opportunity of serving God and our generation offers itself, we must take care that we do not let it slip; for we were entrusted with it that we might improve it.—Matthew Henry.
We are apt to mistake our vocation by looking out of the way for occasions to exercise great and rare virtues, and by stepping over the ordinary ones that lie directly in the road before us.—Hannah More.
There are not good things enough in life to indemnify us for the neglect of a single duty.—Mad. Swetchine.
But if thou altogether holdest thy peace. In a storm at sea it is a shame to sit still, or to be asleep, with Jonah, in the sides of the ship when it is in danger of drowning. Every man cannot sit at the stern; but then he may handle the ropes, or manage the oars, &c. The self-seeker, the private-spirited man, may he be but warm in his own feathers, regards not the danger of the house; he is totus in se, like the snail still withindoors and at home; like the squirrel, he ever digs his hole towards the sun-rising; his care is to keep on the warm side of the hedge, to sleep on a whole skin, to save one, whatever become of the many. From doing thus, Mordecai deterreth by a heap of holy arguments; discovering an heroical faith and a well-knit resolution.
At this time.—There is indeed a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). But if ever a man will speak, let him do it when the enemies are ready to devour the Church: as Croesus’s dumb son burst out into, Kill not King Croesus. “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,” &c. (Isaiah 62:1). “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” &c.
That noble Terentius (general to Valens, the Emperor), being bidden to ask what he would, asked nothing but that the Church might be freed from Arians; and when the Emperor, upon a defeat by the Goths, upbraided him with cowardice and sloth as the causes of the overthrow, he boldly replied: “Yourself have lost the day, by your warring against God, and persecuting his people.”
But thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed.—Here he thundereth, and threateneth her, if to save herself she shall desert the Church. Mordecai’s message, like David’s ditty, is composed of discords. Sour and sweet make the best sauce; promises and menaces mixed will soonest work. God told Abraham that for the love he bare him he would bless those that blessed him, and curse such as cursed him. Their sin should find them out, and they should rue it in their posterity. As one fire, so one fear, should drive out another.
And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom?—There is often a wheel within a wheel. God may have an end and an aim in businesses that we wot not of nor can see into till events have explained it. Let us lay forth ourselves for him, and labour to be public-spirited, standing on tiptoes, as St. Paul did, to see which way we may most glorify God, and gratify our brethren.—Trapp.
Mordecai manifests a precious sense of trust: “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place.” But he who would save his soul shall lose it. The risk which Mordecai called upon Esther to assume, that she should come to the king uninvited, and manifest herself as a daughter of the people thus devoted to destruction, was indeed great and important. Moreover, the hope that Xerxes would recall his edict, thus, according to Persian ideas, endangering the respect due to his royal majesty, and likewise abandoning his favourite minister, was very uncertain of fulfilment. But Esther had been elevated to a high position. Mordecai, who in a doubting manner sends her word: “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” doubtless did it from a conviction that she must now prove herself worthy of such distinction, if she would retain it. He also conveys the idea that the higher her position the greater her responsibility, and consequently, in case of failure because of carelessness or fearfulness, the more intense her guilt. In these convictions of Mordecai are contained the most earnest exhortations even for us. This is especially true since we are all called to be joint heirs of Jesus Christ to the throne of the heavenly kingdom. In the deportment of Esther a no less reminder is contained. It appears quite natural that Esther should order a fast, not only to be observed by Mordecai and the rest of the Jews, but she also imposed on herself this fast of three days’ duration. Had she had a little more of the common discretion of her sex, she would have feared the effects of the fast upon her appearance. Hence she would have adopted quite a different plan or preparation previous to her entrance into the king’s presence. Here also she reveals the same attractive feature of mind and manner as when she was first presented to the king. Instead of placing reliance upon what she should externally put on or adorn herself with, we find her trust placed upon something higher. She well knows that she will only succeed if the great and exalted Lord be for her; who, notwithstanding his glorious majesty, yet dwells among the most lowly of men. It is in just such times as these, when we are raised to the greatest endeavours and self-sacrifices, that we must not expect to accomplish these things by our own power, but only through him who in our weakness is our strength. Otherwise, despite our best intentions and most successful beginnings, we shall soon grow discouraged, and fail. Our own weakness is but too often made manifest to our eyes. It is only when we consider and remember that the hand of the Lord is in it all, that we will be saved from a lack of courage.—Lange.
These were, indeed, times for the development of character—times for the birth of men. And the men were there;—the wit, the poet, the divine, the hero—as if genius had brought out her jewels, and furnished them nobly for a nation’s need. Then Pym and Hampden bearded tyranny, and Russel and Sydney dreamed of freedom. Then Blake secured the empire of ocean, and the chivalric Falkland fought and fell. In those stirring times Charnock, and Owen, and Howe, and Henry, and Baxter, wrote, and preached, and prayed. “Cudworth and Henry More were still living at Cambridge; South was at Oxford, Prideaux in the Close at Norwich, and Whitby in the Close of Salisbury. Sherlock preached at the Temple, Tillotson at Lincoln’s Inn, Burnet at the Rolls, Stillingfleet at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Beveridge at St. Peter’s, Cornhill. Men,” to continue the historian’s eloquent description, “who could set forth the majesty and beauty of Christianity with such justness of thought and such energy of language that the indolent Charles roused himself to listen, and the fastidious Buckingham forgot to sneer.” But twelve years before the birth of Bunyan, all that was mortal of Shakespeare had descended to the tomb. Waller still flourished, an easy and graceful versifier; Cowley yet presented his “perverse metaphysics” to the world; Butler, like the parsons in his own ‘Hudibras,’—
“Proved his doctrine orthodox
By apostolic blows and knocks.”
Dryden wrote powerful satires and sorry plays “with long-resounding march and energy divine;” George Herbert clad his thoughts in quaint and quiet beauty; and, mid the groves of Chalfont, as if blinded on purpose that the inner eye might be flooded with the “light which never was on sea or shore,” our greater Milton sang.—Punshon.
O the admirable faith of Mordecai that shines through all these clouds, and in the thickest of these fogs descries a cheerful glimpse of deliverance! He saw the day of their common destruction enacted; he knew the Persian decrees to be unalterable; but, withal, he knew there was a Messiah to come; he was so well acquainted with God’s covenanted assurances to his Church that he can, through the midst of those bloody resolutions, foresee indemnity to Israel, rather trusting the promises of God than the threats of men. This is the victory that overcomes all the fears and fury of the world, even our faith.—Bishop Hall.
There shall enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place.—O the power of faith! What has it not done!—what can it not do! It is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It lifts the person above the level of his own mind. It can not only see abundance of rain in a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, but it can prophesy of it, when the heavens above are as burnished brass. The faith of God’s elect has removed mountains—not literally—but mountains of difficulties, and mountains of guilt lying on the conscience, and cast them into the sea; dissipated clouds—not the visible clouds—but clouds of despair which oppress the soul; and dried up fountains—not the fountains of the deep—but the fountains of tears in the heart, which flowed day and night for the slain of the daughter of Zion! Witness its effects on Mordecai. How changed is he from the figure in which we saw him lately. He has shaken the dust from his head, his filthy garments he has exchanged for raiment far surpassing that which the queen had sent him; and the wailings with which he filled the streets of Shushan have been converted into strains of hope and triumph. It is faith—recovered faith—which has set his feet upon a rock, and placed him in a pavilion, from the top of which he looks down with derision on the malice and power and expectation of his enemy, and with compassion on his timid, distracted daughter, whom he alternately chides and comforts.
But what is this faith which produces such astonishing effects? Is it just strong confidence, or a persuasion that what we believe will take place? It has a more solid foundation than this. There is confidence in it, sometimes rising to full assurance, but the word of the immutable God is the base on which the pillar of faith rests—confidence, the spiral top with which it seeks the skies. On what then did the faith of Mordecai rest? On the promises of God, who “is not a man that he should lie, neither the son of man that he should repent; hath he said and shall he not do it?—or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”
Thou art come to the kingdom—to a crown, to a throne, and in what a wonderful manner! Surely it becomes you to say, with greater reason than David, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” And to add, with the same godly king, “What shall I render unto the Lord, for all his benefits towards me?” Born a captive, early left an orphan, lately the reputed daughter of a porter, Providence hath raised thee beyond all men’s expectation, and of none more than your own, to be the second person in the greatest monarchy of the world. Art thou not then bound in gratitude to do this service for God and his Church?
And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?—It is possible; it is highly probable. The singular way of thy elevation, and the striking conjunction of circumstances, point to this, and seem to say, Because the Lord loved his people, therefore he made Esther queen, that by her influence with the king she might defeat the wicked plot for their destruction. The very probability of this was a strong incitement to her to bestir herself; for if God had destined her to be the deliverer of Israel, then he would be with her, and give success to her exertions, and this would be an honour greater than the matrimonial crown of Persia; for “henceforth all generations would call her blessed.”
The event showed that Mordecai was right in his conjecture, and that he had correctly interpreted the ways of Providence. There is a wise counsel and design in all the works of him who sees the end from the beginning. It often is unknown to us until it is carried into effect, though we might know more of it if we were more diligent students of Providence; and the issue proves, that all was intended for, and conduces to, the good of the Church. We should seek to be “workers together with God,” and carefully consider for what end he hath put us into the place which we occupy. Have any rank, or authority, or talents, or wealth, or friends? These are the gifts of God, and must be used for his glory. When any special opportunity of serving God and our generation presents itself, we should beware of letting it slip, or excusing ourselves; for an account will be exacted of us, and exacted with impartiality. Of them to whom much is given much shall be required. Every one hath it in his power to do something. “What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” And we should “provoke one another,” by our example and our advice, “to love and to good works.”—McCree.
This lesson may be drawn from his conduct,—that a resolute will, when it is exerted for the accomplishment of any purpose, is usually successful in the end. In the pursuit even of worldly good, when a man keeps his eye steadily fixed upon some one object, and makes that the point towards which his efforts directly and indirectly tend, he commonly succeeds. There are, indeed, providential interpositions which overthrow the most promising and best-laid schemes, and show the insufficiency of human wisdom and power to effect their ends, apart from the blessing of God. But generally, when there is no impious disregard of the order of Providence—a resolute will, combined with activity, sweeps all difficulties out of its path, and succeeds in accomplishing its aims. Some of the greatest movements in worldly affairs are, humanly speaking, to be traced up to this. The triumphs of the Reformation for example, in our own country and in other lands, where it did triumph, while they are really to be ascribed to the overruling providence of God, are instrumentally to be attributed to this, that God raised up and qualified for the work certain men of determined will and unflagging energy, who kept before them the great purpose which they sought to effect, and would be turned aside by no danger or difficulty from working it out. And I would remark, that in things spiritual—in things affecting the eternal salvation of man—resoluteness of will and indomitable energy are as indispensable as in the pursuit of temporal good. Nothing must be allowed to obscure the great cardinal truth, that salvation is of grace, and that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy.” But still, it is only when men, by the grace of God, set themselves resolutely to contend with their spiritual enemies—when, looking to God for help, they will not be driven from the path of well-doing by obstacles which they meet with in pursuing it; it is only then that they are treading the course which will terminate in the rewards of a glorious victory.—Davidson.
Esther 4:14. “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Their great trouble, their deep distress, and their most deadly danger you have in that (Esther 3:13). “And the letters were sent by posts into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.” Here are great aggravations of his cruelty, in that neither sex nor age are spared: rage and malice know no bounds. Haman, that grand informer, with his wicked crew, would have spoiled them of their lives and goods, but that they were prevented by a miraculous providence, as you know. Now in this deep distress and most deadly danger, at what rate doth Mordecai believe? For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement—(Heb. respiration)—and deliverance arise—(Heb. stand up, as on its basis or bottom, so as none shall be able to withstand it). This Mordecai speaketh not by a spirit of prophecy, but by the power and force of his faith, grounded upon the precious promises of God’s defending his Church, hearing the cries of his people arising for their relief and succour, and grounded upon all the glorious attributes of God, viz. his power, love, wisdom, goodness, and all-sufficiency, &c.—all which are engaged in the covenant of grace, to save, protect, and secure his people in their greatest troubles and most deadly dangers. Mordecai’s faith in this black, dark, dismal day, was a notable faith indeed, and worthy of highest commendation. Faith can look through the perspective of the promises, and see deliverance at a great distance, salvation at the door. What though sense saith, Deliverance cannot come; yet a raised faith gets above all fears and disputes, and says, Deliverance will certainly come; redemption is at hand.
The Rabbins put Makom, which signifies place, among the names of God. Bythner brings them in expounding that text in Esther, “Deliverance shall arise from another place;” that is, from God. They called him Place, because he is in every place, though in the assemblies of his saints more eminently and gloriously. God is present with all his creatures—
(1) viâ productionis, by raising them up;
(2) viâ sustentationis, by staying of them up; they are his family, and he feeds and clothes them;
(3) viâ inclinationis, by giving unto them power of motion; man could neither live nor move unless the Lord were with him;
(4) viâ observationis, by taking notice of them; he observeth and marks both their persons and their actions—he sees who they are and how they are employed;
(5) viâ ordinationis, by governing and ruling of them and all their actions, to the service of his glory, and the good of his poor people.—Brookes.
Consider all the capacities and abilities we have to do good, this way and that way, in this relation and that relation, that we may be trees of righteousness, that the more we bear the more we may bear. God will mend his own trees. He will purge them and prune them to “bring forth more fruit.” God cherisheth fruitful trees. In the law of Moses, when they besieged any place, he commanded them to spare fruitful trees. God spares a fruitful person till he have done his work. We know not how much good one man may do, though he be a mean person. Sometimes one poor wise man delivereth the city; and the righteous delivereth the land. We see for one servant, Joseph, Potiphar’s house was blessed. Naaman had a poor maidservant that was the occasion of his conversion. Grace will set anybody a-work. It puts a dexterity into any, though never so mean. They carry God’s blessing wheresoever they go, and they bethink themselves when they are in any condition to do good, as he saith in Esther 4:14. “God hath called me to this place, perhaps for this end.” We should often put this quære to ourselves, Why hath God called me to this place?—for such and such a purpose.—Sibbes.
As it is the most pleasing worship to God to support the Church with all our strength, so he execrates no one more than him who withholds from the Church when in danger that help which he is able to render.… If the cry of a single poor man is so availing, that although unheard by man it finds an avenging ear in God, what must be the influence of the cry of the whole Church in her affliction imploring assistance from him who it hopes is able to help?… This teaches us that God confers power upon princes, riches upon the rich, wisdom upon the wise, and other gifts upon others, not that they may abuse them for their own pleasure, but that they may assist the Church of God, and protect it whatever way they can. For the Church on earth is so great in the eyes of God, that he requires of all men whatever may serve her. “The people,” he says, “and the king that will not serve thee shall perish, and the nations shall dwell in a solitary place.”—Brenz.
“Think not that because thou art in the king’s house, thou shalt be safe.”—It is vain to trust in kings, or in the sons of men, in whom there is no confidence. Kings die. In that day their breath goes forth, and their thoughts perish. Kings are changeable creatures, like other men. The kings were not like the laws of the Medes and Persians, which could not be altered. He that was in the morning their favourite, might, before the evening, be hanged by their orders. Herod, king of Judea, dearly loved his wife Mariamne, and yet he ordered her to be put to death without any crime but what was committed in his own dark imagination. Monema was a beloved wife of Mithridates the great King of Pontus, and yet, when he lost a battle against the Romans, that she might not fall into other hands than his own he commanded her to die; and the only favour he showed her was to give her the choice of her own death. Her choice was, to strangle herself by her royal tiara, which had long been hateful to her. But even in this she was disappointed, and her last, or nearly her last, words, were, “Poor bauble! canst thou not do me even this mournful office?”
Jesus forbids us to fear them that have power only to kill the body. Still less, if possible, are we to trust them; for they have no power even to save the body. God is to be trusted and feared. He is the lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy.
Enlargement and deliverance will arise to the Jews, to the Israel of God, under the gospel, as well as under the law. Amidst all the distresses of the Church, we may rest assured that she cannot perish. Particular Churches may be destroyed, but the Church universal is built by Christ upon a rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.—Lawson.
Esther 4:14. When God vouchsafes his children any outward privileges, he doth it for the good and help of others. Paul had these privileges, that he might beat down the pride of the Jews more powerfully. And Solomon had all abundance of wisdom, riches, and the like. Why? But only that he might without control judge of all, as of “vanity and vexation of spirit;” and make it to be believed more firmly. For had an ordinary man said it, men would have thought it easy for him to say so; but if he had tried them, he would have been otherwise minded. In these later times, our best teachers were at the first Papists, and of the more zealous sort; as Bucer and Luther, being also learned men; as also Peter Martyr and Zanchius, were brought up in Italy; and all this, that they seeing once their blindness, might be the more able to confound them, as being not a whit inferior to them in any outward respect whatsoever, when they were of their belief.—Sibbes.
God never yet suffered any Goliath to defy him, but he raised up a David to encounter him. “The same day Pelagius was born here in Britain, Augustine was born in Africa.” Though error, like Esau, hath come out first, yet truth, like Jacob, hath caught it by the heel, and wrestled with it. If God hath suffered any horn to push at his Israel, he hath presently raised a carpenter to knock it off.—Simeon Ash.
Things all serve their uses, and never break out of their place. They have no power to do it. Not so with us. We are able, as free beings, to refuse the place and the duties God appoints; which, if we do, then we sink into something lower and less worthy of us. That highest and best condition for which God designed us is no more possible. We are fallen out of it, and it cannot be wholly recovered. And, yet, as that was the best thing possible for us in the reach of God’s original counsel, so there is a place designed for us now which is the next best possible. God calls us now to the best thing left, and will do so till all good possibility is narrowed down and spent. And then, when he cannot use us any more for our own good, he will use us for the good of others,—an example of the misery and horrible desperation to which any soul must come, when all the good ends and all the holy callings of God’s friendly and fatherly purposes are exhausted. Or, it may be now that, remitting all other plans and purposes in our behalf, he will henceforth use us, wholly against our will, to be the demonstration of his justice and avenging power before the eyes of mankind; saying over us, as he did over Pharaoh in the day of his judgments, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” Doubtless, he had other and more genial plans to serve in this bad man, if only he could have accepted such; but, knowing his certain rejection of these, God turned his mighty counsel in him wholly on the use to be made of him as a reprobate. How many Pharaohs in common life refuse every other use God will make of them, choosing only to figure, in their small way, as reprobates; and descending, in that manner, to a fate that painfully mimics his. God has, then, a definite life-plan set for every man; one that, being accepted and followed, will conduct him to the best and noblest end possible. No qualification of this doctrine is needed, save the fearful one just named, that we, by our perversity, so often refuse to take the place and do the work he gives us.—Bushnell.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Esther 4:14. Buonaparte’s activity. It is noticed by some writer concerning Buonaparte, that he never went into town or city or country new to him, but immediately he was examining and considering the best place for a castle or a camp, for an ambushment or an attack, for the means of defence or annoyance. Thus he was not waiting, but always seeking to be in preparation. Those who profess to have nobler ends in view should always be planning new methods by which to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Esther 4:14. Not sick when duty calls.
“Brutus. O, what a time have you chose out, brave Caius, to wear a kerchief! Would you were not sick!
Ligarius. I am not sick, if Brutus have in hand any exploit worthy the name of honour.
Bru. Such an exploit have I in hand, Ligarius, had you a healthful ear to hear of it.
Lig. By all the gods that Romans bow before,
I here discard my sickness! Soul of Rome!
Brave son, deriv’d from honourable loins!
Thou, like an exorcist, hast conjured up
My mortified spirit. Now bid me run,
And I will strive with things impossible;
Yea, get the better of them. What’s to do?”
This is the spirit which the servant of God should both possess and manifest. Not sick when duty calls. Ready to run where danger thickens, and where honourable exploits are to be performed for God’s glory. No need to wait long and ask what’s to do in this world of sin and of misery. Oh, that the Holy Spirit, that Divine exorcist, would conjure up the mortified spirits of men morally sick, that they may be valiant to get the better of things impossible!
Esther 4:14. The teaching of children. These things Mordecai urges to Esther; and some of the Jewish writers, who are fruitful in invention, add another thing which had happened to him which he desired she might be told, “that going home, the night before, in great heaviness, upon the notice of Haman’s plot, he met three Jewish children coming from school, of whom he inquired what they had learned that day. One of them told him his lesson was, Be not afraid of sudden fear; the second told him his was, Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; the third told him his was, I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry and deliver you. “O the goodness of God,” says Mordecai, “who out of the mouth of babes and sucklings ordains strength!”—Matthew Henry.
Esther 4:14. The shepherd crushed by the rock. I remember, away up in a lonely Highland valley, where beneath a tall black cliff, all weather-worn, and cracked, and seamed, there lies at the foot, resting on the greensward that creeps round its base, a huge rock that has fallen from the face of the cliff. A shepherd was passing beneath it; and suddenly, when the finger of God’s will touched it, and rent it from its ancient bed in the everlasting rock, it came down, leaping and bounding from pinnacle to pinnacle, and it fell, and the man that was beneath it—is there now! Ground to powder! Ah, my brethren, that is not my illustration—that is Christ’s. Therefore, I say to you, since all that stand against him shall become “as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor,” and be swept utterly away, make him the foundation on which you build; and when the rain sweeps away every “refuge of lies,” you will be safe and serene, builded upon the Rock of Ages.—A. McLaren.
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and “beautiful” for thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from thee.
Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own;
It shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.
F. R. Havergal.
Esther 4:15-16.] Esther resolves to go to the king unsummoned and begs a three days’ fast. “Though God and prayer are not here mentioned, it is yet obviously assumed that it was before God that the Jews were to humble themselves, to seek his help, and to induce him to grant it.”—Bertheau. The three days, night and day] are not to be reckoned as three times twenty-four hours, but to he understood of a fast which lasts till the third day after that on which it begins; for, according to Esther 4:1, Esther goes to the king on the third day. The last words, If I perish, I perish, &c.] are the expression not of despair, but of resignation, or perfect submission to the providence of God.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:15-16
A WOMAN’S HEROISM
A woman, through the delicacy of her constitution and the timidity appropriate to her nature, at first shrinks from the performance of some difficult and dangerous enterprise. Yet when the voice of stern duty calls, when the demands of affection prompt, she shows herself the most heroic of beings. Much has been said, and not too much, about the heroism of woman. A great deal has been sung and written about her heroism. There are also unwritten records of womanly heroism. She has suffered very much in the darkness, in silence, and in obscurity. Not the one half has been told of her heroic glory. While we applaud the heroism of Esther and others whose good deeds have been celebrated in song, let us not forget those whose good deeds are unsung. Esther was no heartless beauty intent on her own elevation, and regardless of the welfare of others. If there is anything repellant in this world it is a beautiful woman that possesses either a heart of stone or a spirit steeped in selfishness. If there is anything attractive in this world it is a maiden the loveliness of whose outward form is but the beautiful casket of a still more lovely soul. How touching to watch the fair maiden meditating with patriotic heart upon the sorrows of her people, and the dangers that threaten her nationality. There is refreshing fragrance in the very sighs that come from her heaving breast. There is healing anodyne in the tears that fall like jewels from those eyes that rain sweet influences. There is vast encouragement in the prayers that ascend from her lips to heaven. The world is bright; we may welcome danger itself, and be the better prepared for calamity, as we see the Esthers of time nobly resolving to step into the places of danger, and undertake the works of deliverance. Esther’s heroism then was of the noblest type. She was truly heroic. Let us examine her claims to this character.
I. The greatness of Esther’s heroism is shown by her wisdom. Wisdom has been defined to be the use of the best means for attaining the best ends, and in this sense implies the union of high mental and moral excellence. Such a glorious union is manifested in the answer here returned by Esther to Mordecai, and also in the conduct of Esther when she comes to put her well-concerted schemes into operation. A woman’s heroism is a grand elevating power. She becomes almost supernatural by the sharpness of her vision, by the quickness of her judgment, by the depth of her wisdom, by the far-reaching nature of her schemes, and by her wondrous skill, and tact, and fertility in the devising of the best means for attaining her ends. What a thrilling history is the history of the expedients devised by heroic women! Talk we of the diplomacy of statesmen, let us talk of the better diplomacy of women devoted to the accomplishment of noble enterprises. Talk we of the skilful arrangements of mighty conquerors, let us talk rather of the arrangements of those women who conquer by the inspiration of heroic daring and heroic consecration. Talk we of the far-reaching and well-devised methods of scientific men. This we may do, and yet we must feel that great praise is due as we consider the well-devised methods of unscientific but devoted and lofty-souled women.
II. Esther’s wisdom is here shown by her recognition of the fact that Divine duties are superior to human laws. “I will go in unto the king, which is not according to the laws.” Law is a rule of action. It is the formulated expression of one who has a right to command obedience. Kings have a right to command obedience. Subjects however have their rights. And the first rights of a well-regulated and conscientious subject are entitled to respect, and may well dispute the so-called rights of kings; rights that are not based on principles of moral rectitude. There is a power more kingly than that of earthly kings. The Divine law is superior to the human law, and is the true rule of action. All human laws should be in harmony with Divine laws. The voice of conscience is supreme. The voice of earthly legislators is subordinate. “We ought to obey God rather than man.” The voice, however, must be the clear, ringing, commanding voice of an enlightened conscience. Cautions must be laid down for fear the rule obtains—so many men so many consciences. The voice of caprice, of prejudice, or of mere self-will may be taken for the voice of conscience. The supposed voice of conscience may tell us to tithe the mint, the anise, and the cummin only; while the true voice commands the observance also of the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. The voice of conscience may say, Follow the inner light. Sit in silence and wait for the motions of the Holy Spirit. The true voice proclaims in high places, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them?” If then the voice of conscience and the voice of human institutions oppose one another, we must listen so as to catch the deciding voice of the Divine words. If we cannot clearly discern the message of that voice, we must, like Esther, give ourselves to fasting and to prayer, and God will cause the voice of his own word to ring out more distinctly. Esther’s duty in this case was clear, and she showed herself equal to the occasion. There are many cases in life when our duty is clear. Difficulties must not be created as an excuse for cowardice.
III. Esther’s heroism and wisdom are here shown by her recognition of the truth that Divine duties must be undertaken in a spirit of self-abnegation. No great work can be successfully accomplished without self-denial. The way to riches, to fame, or to power is in some aspects the way of self-denial. If a man is to be a successful orator he must have the power of self-forgetfulness in the presence of his hearers. This self-forgetfulness is to be obtained by self-denial, by thorough absorption in the subject, and by earnest desire to do good. What is true then of Divine duties is true of what may be called human duties. The one lies on the same plane with the other in so far. Self-denial in the pathway of human duty does not always meet with its appropriate reward. Self-denial in the pathway of Divine duty is never without its harvest. Esther’s self-denial was rewarded. It is a very cheap way of getting glory to say “If I perish, I perish” when there is not the slightest chance of perishing. Some people are remarkably heroic when there is no apparent danger. There was danger in Esther’s case. There is a sad tone in the declaration “If I perish, I perish,” and the sadness is not without its warrant. These words however are not the words of despair. They are the words of one resigned to the Divine will, of one willing to suffer, and yet the words of one who still has hope in Divine protection. If Esther had lived in our day a certain class of companions would have told her not to mind old Mordecai, and let the Jews take their chance. She heeded not such seductive voices. Esther doubtless valued her life; she was not indifferent to the flattering nature of her prospects. She would not wish to be typified by Moses who was taken up to the Mount of Vision in order to see the promised land, and then die without entering into possession. Still she may also have felt that better than the treasure of a Persian palace is the treasure of a good conscience; better than the life of the body is the life of the soul; better than the glory of a royal position is the glory of self-denial for the good of others. In these words we may find, by no great stretch of imagination, a foreshadowing of that spirit displayed by Christ Jesus, by his apostles, by the martyrs, and by the noble workers of all time. The spirit of him who “pleased not himself,” who had a perfect self-surrender, and a complete submission to the Divine will, who bare our sicknesses, and carried our sorrows, finds embodiment and utterance in the words, “If I perish, I perish.” The spirit of Esther in this passage indicates the spirit of that noble apostle who counted not his life dear unto him that he might finish his course with joy and the ministry which he had received from the Lord Jesus. It was the spirit of those who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer such things for his name’s sake. It is the spirit of all in every age of the world who are willing to suffer for the good of humanity. Are we prepared at the call of duty and in obedience to the voice of conscience to suffer?
IV. Esther’s wisdom is shown in her recognition of the truth that Divine duties may be undertaken in dependence upon human co-operation. We may be workers together with God. We may be workers together with one another for the promotion of Divine plans. Those who have to undertake a special Divine mission may be helped by the sympathies and the prayers of others who are not so directly and specially appointed. The minister by his people. The missionary by those who stay at home. Esther by all the praying Jews in Shushan. Cooperation is good in commercial matters. Co-operation is also good in Divine commerce. Let us take the word that speaks of material affairs, that summons up the laws of political economy, and so put its principle to use in things spiritual, that it may become lifted into higher spheres, and clothed with a grander significance. Some people have a one-sided idea of co-operation, especially when any great work is to be done, and when any great sacrifice is to be made. They forget that Co. means two or more. Esther had the true idea of co-operation. She not only asks Mordecai and all the Jews present in Shushan to fast, but she says, “I also and my maidens will fast likewise.” There were two sides to this co-operation. Esther and her maids would join with all the Jews in Shushan, in order to bring about a successful result. The Church of to-day needs more co-operation. The minister, for instance, is to go on a difficult mission; he is to fast, and to pray, and to visit, and to be self-denying. All right if it can be secured. Something more is required. True co-operation is needed. The rich member must say, I also will fast, and pray, and give, and work likewise.
V. Esther’s wisdom is shown in the recognition of the truth that Divine duties can only be successfully undertaken by Divine help. It is vain to make an objection to the Book of Esther on the ground that there is not in it the religious spirit. There can be no point in fasting if it is not connected with religion. This request for a general fast, and this determination on her own part to fast, must have meant an appeal to God for help. Fasting and prayer were very generally joined in the Old Testament writings. In the Book of Joel it is said, “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly; gather the elders, and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord!” Mere abstinence from food can be of little service. We may reasonably picture Mordecai carrying out Esther’s request, and calling the Jews together to a solemn assembly, and proclaiming a general fast, and national humiliation before God, and earnest prayer to God for success to Esther in her mission. In these modern days we do not believe in fasting. This may be a reaction. It may be a consequence of our objection to those who carry the principle of torturing the body to an extreme. It may, however, be a growth of the luxury of the present times. There is not much disposition now-a-days to keep the body under and bring it into subjection. We have need, however, of deep humiliation before God. The disasters in the nation, the decline of spiritual life in the Church, call for humiliation. There can be no success without Divine help. We must call mightily unto God. Let us give him no rest until he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. Here learn the ennobling, transforming, and creating power of love. Esther’s love to her people was strong. This love was a growth from the love she had to God. Let there be love to God, and this will increase all lower loves. True love seeks the enlargement of opportunities; and becomes creative in its very intensity. The loyal and patriotic subject does not strive to pare down the demands of his sovereign. The loving child does not endeavour to strip the father’s word of all binding force by skilful manipulations. And the true heart does not inquire, How can I do the very least for my God?—but thinks that the very greatest it can either do or offer is far too little. Oh for a love which, though it has only two mites to give, yet casts them into the treasury of him unto whom belongeth both the gold, the silver, and the copper! Oh for a love which takes the alabaster box of ointment—very precious,—and breaks it over the Saviour’s head in loving consecration to his predestined offering! Oh for a love which, though it has only tears to give, yet pours them in plentiful measure on the Saviour’s feet, and with the rich tresses of a head, full of grateful thoughts, wipes the tear-bedewed feet of Immanuel!
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:15-16
There is something well worthy of remark in the concluding words of Esther: “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to law; and if I perish, I perish.” This is not the resolution of a fatalist, who acts upon the principle, that what is destined to be must be, and that therefore it is useless either to attempt to ward off evils, or to complain when they have been inflicted. Neither is it the resolution of a person wrought up to a state of absolute desperation, and acting under the impulse of the feeling—“matters cannot be worse, and to have done the utmost may bring relief, while it cannot possibly aggravate the evil.” Neither is it the resolution of a person prostrated under difficulties, and yet, with a vague hope of deliverance, saying, “I will make one effort more, and if that fail, and all is lost, I can but die.” Esther’s purpose was framed in a spirit altogether different from that of any of those persons, although her language appears to be almost the same as they would have used. And there is an actual case recorded in the Scriptures which illustrates the difference. When Samaria was besieged by the Syrians, and the people were dying of famine within the walls, four leprous men, that had their dwelling without the wall, said to one another: “If we enter into the city, famine is in the city, and we shall die there; and if we sit still here, we die also. Now, therefore, come and let us fall unto the host of the Syrians; if they save us alive, we shall live: and if they kill us, we shall but die.” Here we have men reduced to a state of utter recklessness by suffering, from which, if they did not obtain immediate relief, they must inevitably perish in one way or other, and so they adopted the only course which presented the possibility of relief. But in the case of Esther, we have neither fatalism, nor desperation, nor the listlessness of waning hope, which says, “It matters not what I do.” Hers is the heroism of true piety, which, in Providence shut up to one course, and that full of danger, counts the cost, seeks help of God, and calmly braves the danger, saying: “He will deliver me if he hath pleasure in me; if not, I perish in the path of duty.” Her noble resolution entitles her to a place among the most eminent of those who wrought out deliverances for Israel.
And now, in conclusion, have not her words peculiar significance when applied to the case of those who, under the burden of their sin, are afraid to come to Christ lest he reject them? Some such we have known. There may be some of them here. Do you feel that you are lost? Do you acknowledge that Christ might justly throw you off, even were you to cast yourself upon his mercy? And are you now almost without hope? Still we say, his invitations are addressed to sinners, and none need them more than you. You are lost without him: then make the great effort to lay hold of him. Job said: “Though he slay me I will trust in him.” You may say: “If I perish I perish, but it shall be at the foot of the cross, looking to Jesus.” And I can tell you, my friends, that none ever perished there, putting all their trust in the Lamb of God. Amen.—Davidson.
Gospel-consecration does not go farther than this. Everything dear and valued was left behind in order that she might serve God. “All things were counted but loss” that she might maintain “a conscience void of offence towards God and towards men.” Ah! how this believer, in olden times, when as yet the Saviour was only had in promise, puts to shame many in these latter days who are in possession of the finished salvation! Even the pleasures of sense, and the wealth and rewards of the world, keep them in a state of indecision and vacillation, if not of absolute indifference, to the call and claims of the gospel. They will only go as far with God and his people as it may serve their own selfish ends, and promote their own selfish interests. Self-denial and self-surrender are not words to be found in their vocabulary. But let there be no mistake here. The spirit displayed by Esther is the spirit demanded by the Saviour, and without which we cannot be his disciples. You may not be called upon actually to make the sacrifice, but you cannot dispense with the spirit of readiness to do it. Yea, it must have been already done in spirit, as though in preparation for its actual execution. For the love of Christ, the glory of his name, and allegiance to his crown, we must have laid the world at his feet, and consecrated our life to his service. What were the words which he addressed to the multitudes who went after him? Are they not “hard sayings” when spoken in the midst of his people still? “If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple; and whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”
It may be that you may fall at the post of duty. You have no security against this contingency. The graves of many faithful servants of Christ, at home and abroad, bear testimony to that. But are not the men, who prefer rather to perish at the post of duty than have life prolonged, with a sense of desertion, counted worthy of double honour? The soldier who has kept a perilous position in the field of battle, and has chosen rather to fall than flee; the captain who has gone down with his ship in his anxiety and efforts to save others; and the Christian who has regard to the future rather than to the present, can best afford to sink the life that now is in the life which is to come. The apostles, martyrs, and confessors, who have fallen at the post of duty, shall have no cause to regret their fidelity in heaven. They shall, in consequence, have a more richly jewelled crown, and shine forth in the kingdom with a brighter, fuller glory. And oh! if there should yet come upon the Church dark and cloudy days, when the spirit of persecution and hostility to the people of God, which is not dead but only slumbering, shall again be awakened to try the faith of men and prove their steadfastness, whether in our own times or the times of our children, or children’s children, the loss and shame will be theirs who forsake the standard of the Cross, but the honour and recompense be in store for them who are “faithful unto death”—loss and shame to those who will only be able to say on that day “we feared and fled,” but honour and recompense to such as will be able to declare “we loved Thee, Lord, more than life; we fought and fell.” So, in the spirit of Esther, let us go forward in the path of duty and religion through difficulty, danger, and the fear of death. God will shield us if it is for the good of his Church and his own glory, and “if we perish, we perish.”
There is one other reference of the words which, though obvious, we would not overlook. There are some who deem themselves too sinful to be saved; some whose cup of iniquity is indeed well-nigh full, and who, when aroused to a sense of it, are overwhelmed with terror. What must they do? Whither must they betake themselves? We are not surprised though they should try reformation, for where there is true repentance there will always be renunciation of sin. But let the sinner be in the very agonies of dying, pressed down under the tremendous load of high-handed transgression, and having no time left for reformation of life, what must he do? whither betake himself? We have to announce to him the great truth that “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” and that “him that cometh unto God through him shall in no wise be cast out.” And with these Scriptures syllabled in his ears and lodged in his heart, we have no difficulty in telling him what he must do, and whither he must betake himself. He must go in unto the King—not one whose wrath he has to dread, but in whose redeeming love he has to confide; not waiting till he is better, but urged by the desperateness of his case to instant action, and throw himself in all his conscious helplessness on his mercy. O no! There is no hope, no help, no remedy, no refuge for you, but this. Look where you will, try what experiment you may, everything else will be in vain. Your darkness and despair will only be deepened apart from this. But go in unto the King, and even though your darkness be as midnight, there shall gleam forth a star of hope; and though your despair be even as death, there shall be awakened in you the pulsations of a new life. You must perish if you do not. You can but perish if you do. So let your resolve be that of Esther, and Jesus will bid you a cordial and happy welcome. “I will go in unto the king, and if I perish, I perish.”—McEwan.
Go gather together all the Jews.—Great is the power of joint prayer; it stirs heaven and works wonders. Oh, when a Church full of good people shall set sides and shoulders to work, when they shall rouse up themselves and wrestle with God, when the pillars of incense shall come up into his presence, and their voices be heard as the voices of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder (Revelation 14:2), what may such thundering legions have at God’s hands! Have it they will: Cœlum tundimus, preces fundimus, misericordiam extorquemus, said those primitive prayer-makers (Revelation 9:13); the prayers of the saints from the four corners of the earth sound, and do great things in the world; they make it ring. It was the speech of a learned man, If there but one sigh come from a gracious heart (how much more, then, a volley of sighs from many good hearts together!) it filleth the ears of God, so that God heareth nothing else.
I also and my maids will fast.—She herself would be at the head of them, as Queen Elizabeth also told her soldiers at Tilbury camp for their comfort; and a Cæsar used say to his soldiers, Go we, and not Go ye—non ite, sed eamus; and as Joshua said, I and my house will serve Jehovah (Joshua 24:15). Esther’s maids must fast—must fast and pray—or they are no maids for her.—Trapp.
“Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.”—Shakespeare.
Heroical thoughts do well befit great actions. Life can never be better adventured than when it shall be gain to lose it. There can be no law against the humble deprecation of evils: where the necessity of God’s Church calls to us, no danger should withhold us from honest means of relief. Deep humiliation must make way for the success of great enterprises: We are most capable of mercy when we are thoroughly empty. A short hunger doth but whet the appetite; but so long an abstinence meets death half way, to prevent it. Well may they enjoin sharp penances unto others who practise it upon themselves. It was the face of Esther that must hope to win Ahasuerus; yet that shall be macerated with fasting that she may prevail. A careful heart would have pampered the flesh that it might allure those wanton eyes; she pines it that she may please. God, and not she, must work the heart of the king. Faith teaches her rather to trust her devotions than her beauty.—Bishop Hall.
A well-known author once wrote a very pretty essay on the power of education to beautify. That it absolutely chiselled the features; that he had seen many a clumsy nose and thick pair of lips so modified by that awakening and active sentiment as to be unrecognizable. And he put it on that ground that we so often see people, homely and unattractive in youth, bloom in middle life into a softened Indian summer of good looks and mellow tones. Secular education may do a great deal; but sacred education will do vastly more. The true beautifying power for woman is the gospel, is that principle of benevolence which it ever infuses. How nobly beautiful, as well as grandly heroic, must Esther have now appeared as she resolves to save her people at the expense of her own life if need be.
It is with him as with Esther in her undertaking for the Jews. If she should go, and the king not hold forth the golden sceptre to her, she was but a dead woman; but then if she did not go there was no other way to save her and her nation from ruin, and therefore she resolves, “I will go in unto the king, and if I perish I perish:” so here, if I go to Christ (thinks the trembling sinner), and take sanctuary in him, it may be justice may pursue me thither. Oh! but if I go not, then there is nothing for me but certain destruction; thereupon he resolves, I will go to Christ, I will lay hold on him, and if I perish I will perish there; if wrath seize on me, it shall find me in the arms of Christ; if I die, I will die at his feet. When Joab had fled for refuge to the tabernacle, and caught hold of the horns of the altar, Benaiah, sent to execute him, bids him leave his sanctuary: “Thus says the king, come forth.” “Nay,” says Joab, “but I will die here;” if there be no mercy for me, no remedy but I must die, I will die here. Says also the believing soul, but if I must die, I will die here; if justice smite me it shall smite me with Christ in my arms; though he kill me, yet will I rely on him; here will I live or here will I die; I will not quit my hold, though I die for it.—Clarkson.
The bloody plot being thus laid by Haman, the king’s minion, behold the footsteps of God’s favourable signal, and eminent presence for his people and with his people in their deadly dangers, and that in raising up in them a very great spirit of faith, prayer, and mourning, and by raising an undaunted courage and resolution in Esther: “And so I will go in unto the king, and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). This she speaks not rashly or desperately, as prodigal of her life, but as one willing to sacrifice the same for the honour of God, his cause and people, saying, as that martyr, “Can I die but once for Christ?” Esther had rather die than shrink from her duty. She thought it better to do worthily and perish for a kingdom, than unworthily and perish with a kingdom. Here was a mighty preference of God in raising Esther’s heroical courage and resolution above all those visible dangers that did attend her attempt of going in to the king against the known law of the land.—Brooks.
Behold us willing to suffer in this life the worst it may please thee to bring upon us; here lay thy rod upon us; consume us here, cut us to pieces here, only spare us in eternity!—St. Augustine.
The heroic response of Esther might well send her foster-father home content. It was the full reward of all his care in years gone by to have a daughter worthy of Abigail, and Ruth, and Deborah, and Hannah. She would not act on impulse, but came to a resolution which was not to be put in force for three days. It is an advantage to any one, more to a woman than to a man, to move forward rapidly on the wave of a warm impulse; but she relinquished that advantage, and looked steadily at the worst issue. “If I perish, I perish.” Her resolution was humble and prayerful. Let those who will, despise prayer-meetings and special requests; remembering the young men of Babylon, and the company in the upper room before Pentecost, believers can afford to sit easy under the world’s scorn. “Fast ye for me: I also and my maids will fast likewise.”
That was the secret of Esther’s heroism. When the third day came she put on her royal apparel, and did not appear unto men to fast; but meanwhile there was “another King” to whom she could go without delay, with whom she could remain longer, and to whom she could pour out all her heart. The mere force of contrast with the exclusive monarch of Persia brings up comforting and tender thoughts of the Lord Jesus, who does not debar from his presence the weary and heavy-laden, but bids them come; who has chosen the contrite heart as his earthly dwelling-place; who proclaims it as the glory of his home above that there he shall wipe away all tears.
A seraglio is a sad enough place, with its year-long monotony, its petty jealousies, its gilded restraints; but when, as the curtain now falls, we see Esther, with firm-set lips, going to arrange for a long prayer-meeting with her maidens, we feel that this queen has brought a good thing into a sad place. The religion of the heart is never monotonous. Mordecai also moves homeward with a new light in his strong face, to gather such of his brethren as are within the capital, that they may strengthen one another in seeking “the God of Israel, the Saviour who hideth himself.” For three days there is silence. After, we shall see Esther and Mordecai again in their place, acting with plenty of decision and vigour; but let us not forget this “pause more full than speech,” this “hush more sweet than song.”—A. M. Symington, B.A.
Woman’s self-devotion.—Courage is a noble feminine grace—courage and self-devotion. We are so accustomed to associate courage with physical strength that we do not often think of it as preeminently a feminine grace when the feminine nature has been fully unfolded and trained, but it is. The reckless rapture of self-forgetfulness, that which dominates and inspires persons and nations, that which is sovereign over obstacle and difficulty and peril and resistance, it has belonged to woman’s heart from the beginning. In the early Pagan time, in the Christian development, in missions and in martyrdoms, it has been shown; in the mediæval age as well as in our own time; in Harriet Newel and Florence Nightingale; in Ann Haseltine as truly and as vividly as in any Hebrew Hadassa or in any French Joan of Arc. You remember the Prussian women after the battle of Jena, when Prussia seemed trampled into the bloody mire under the cannon of Napoleon and the feet of the horses and men in his victorious armies, Prussian women, never losing their courage, flung their ornaments of gold and jewellery into the treasury of the State, taking back the simple cross of Berlin iron which is now the precious heirloom in so many Prussian families, bearing the inscription, “I have gold for iron.” That is the glory of womanhood; that passion, and self-forgetfulness, that supreme self-devotion, with which she flings herself into the championship of a cause that is dear and sacred and trampled under foot. It is her crown of renown, it is her staff of power.—Dr. Storrs.
“Fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days.”—They were not called with Esther to go in unto the king. A far less dangerous service was required from them. But, what they can do, and are called to do, they must do as conscientiously as Esther. There are many great works which are beyond our strength, or out of the line of our calling; and yet we may and ought to take a part in them, by strengthening the hands of those who are called to undertake them. Paul had many helpers in his work of the gospel, even among those who could not, or to whom it would not, have been allowed to speak in the Church. We all ought to be fellow-helpers to the truth. When many go abroad to spread the gospel amongst heathens, we find it our duty to continue in the land of our nativity; but, without removing from it, we may promote the work in which they are employed, by our contributions, or at least by our prayers.
There are some who beg the prayers of others, and yet pray little for themselves. Esther, who requested the Jews to fast for her, told them that she also would fast, and would abstain as strictly from food as she desired them to do. She had been accustomed to a well-furnished table; but she was not thereby disqualified from afflicting her soul by fasting when she saw it to be her duty. She, no doubt, observed the annual fasts prescribed to the Jews, and she determined to observe this extraordinary fast which she her elf prescribed. She hoped to obtain mercy from the Lord, that she might escape death by the laws of Persia, and might be the instrument of the salvation of her people. But, if she miscarried, her fasting and prayer would be proper acts of preparation for her latter end.
“I and my maids will fast.”—Some, it is probable, of Esther’s maids were heathens when they came into her service. Yet, we find her promising that they would fast. She can answer for them, as Joshua for his household, that they would serve the Lord. If mistresses were as zealous as queen Esther for the honour of God, and the conversion of sinners, they would bestow pains upon the instruction and religious improvement of their female servants. If women may gain to Christ their own husbands by their good conversation, may they not also gain the souls of their servants? and if they are gained to Christ, they are gained to themselves also. Esther expected much benefit from the devotional exercises of her maidens. Paul expected much from the prayers of his converts. Those whom we convert from the error of their ways will be our joy and helpers upon earth: they will be our joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ.
“I and my maids will fast.”—Esther could not join in the public prayers of the Jews, when they met together out of many families, to strive together in their prayers to God. But she will fast at home, not only by herself, but with her maidens. There are public fasts in which all are expected to join. There ought likewise to be secret and family fasts observed by us, according to the calls of providence, and the situation of our affairs, or the condition of our souls.
“And then will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law.”—She would not go in unto the king till she had made her supplication to the Lord, and till the Jews had given her the assistance of their prayers. She was sensible, that though “all men will intreat the ruler’s favour, every man’s judgment comes from the Lord;” and that the hearts of kings are turned by him according to his pleasure. What, therefore, she desires in the first place is, that she may obtain comfortable assurance of the Divine favour. If the Lord be on her side, she is safe. If the Lord favour her suit, she need not fear the coldness of Ahasuerus, or the mortal enmity of Haman. “The floods may rage. They may lift up their voices and make a mighty noise: but the Lord on high is mightier than the waves of the sea, or the voice of their roaring.”
But when the fast is over, she will go in unto the king. She will not think that her duty is done when she has prayed and fasted. She will seek, by the use of proper means, to obtain that blessing which she has been asking. The insincerity of our prayers is too often discovered by our sloth and cowardice. We ask blessings from God, and, as if he were bound to confer them, not according to his own will, but according to ours; we take no care to use those means which he hath appointed for obtaining them, or we do not use them with requisite diligence. Esther will go in unto the king, although she could not go in without violating the laws and risking her life.—Lawson.
“He that believeth doth not make haste;” but neither doth he linger like the slothful. Fasting and prayer are preparatives, not substitutes, for active duties. “The Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” Good resolutions, when difficulties and dangers must be broken through, should be speedily performed; and we should not damp them by prolonging religious exercises. Having spent the time allotted to fasting, Esther rose from the ground, laid aside her sackcloth, and put on her royal apparel. The apocryphal additions to this book represent her as appealing to God, that she always abhorred these signs of her high estate. That her adorning was in the hidden man of the heart, that she did not glory in her crown and embroidered garments, and would have been willing to have thrown them away for the sake of conscience and the good of her people, is all true. But why should she have abhorred them in themselves? There was nothing sinful or necessarily contaminating in their touch; they were given her of God; they were the badge of the rank to which she had been raised; and had she appeared without them, or worn them in an awkward, slovenly manner, she would have dishonoured her husband, and defeated her laudable enterprise. Esther did not adorn herself to attract the regards of Ahasuerus, but because she felt it incumbent on her to appear in a manner becoming her station. There is no sin in persons dressing according to their rank. The king’s daughter may be all glorious within, though her garments are of wrought gold; and the plainest and coarsest garb may conceal a proud and haughty spirit.—Lawson.
Our flesh is always timid when it has to encounter a hazard. My Christ, in his Divine majesty, stands at the entrance into the faith, and sounds the free invitation to each and all, ever frequent, ever dear, ever happy. One should succour his neighbour in peril and need, and especially the brethren in the faith even at the peril of one’s own life. We are born for good not to ourselves, but to others, and thus God oftentimes shows us that through us he aids our own country and the community. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. We may use ordinary prayer for important blessings. Life can never be spent better than when it is the aim to lose it.—Starke.
A woman is sometimes wound up to firm and determined action when the lives of her kindred are at stake, which surpasses the marvels of heroic story, and sends a wild pulsation of startled admiration to vibrate through all hearts to the end of time. Who can read of Deborah delivering Israel from ruin without rapture? or Margaret Roper breaking through a London crowd to kiss her father, Sir Thomas More, about to be beheaded? or Joan of Arc—that light of ancient France—who, a mere girl, delivered her country from invaders, and restored the crown to her sovereign at the high altar of Rheims? or
“Her, who knew that love can vanquish death—
Who, kneeling with one arm about the king,
Drew forth the poison with her balmy breath,
Sweet as new buds in spring”?—B. Kent.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 4
Esther 4:16. Not necessary to live. Sibbes says: “It is necessary we should be just; it is not necessary we should live.” This saying is enforced and illustrated by one of the gems of Dr. Samuel Johnson preserved by Boswell. A man who was engaged in a disreputable business was defending himself against the sarcasms of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and pleaded, “he must live.” “Not at all, sir; there is no necessity for your living,” was the memorable reprimand by way of response. Esther felt that duty must be done. It was not necessary for her to live, but it was necessary that an effort should be made to thwart a cruel and vindictive edict.
Esther 4:16. A true hero. The city of Marseilles in France was once afflicted with the plague. So terrible was it that it caused parents to desert children, and children to forget the obligations to their own parents. The city became as a desert, and funerals were constantly passing through its streets. Everybody was sad, for nobody could stop the ravages of the plague. The physicians could do nothing, and as they met one day to talk over the matter and see if something could not be done to prevent this great destruction of life, it was decided that nothing could be effected without opening a corpse in order to find the mysterious character of the disease. All agreed upon the plan, but who would be the victim, it being certain that he should die soon after? There was a dead pause. Suddenly one of the most celebrated physicians, a man in the prime of life, arose from his seat and said: “Be it so, I devote myself to the safety of my country. Before this numerous assembly I swear, in the name of humanity and religion, that to-morrow at the break of day I will dissect a corpse, and write down as I proceed what I observe.” He immediately left the room, and as he was rich, made a will, and spent that evening in religious exercises. During the night a man died in his house of the plague, and at daybreak the following morning, the physician, whose name was Greyon, entered the room, and critically made the examination. He then left the room, threw the papers into a vase of vinegar, so that they might not convey the disease to another, and retired to a convenient place, where he died in twelve hours.
Esther 4:16. Devotion of Arminius to his work. As James Arminius passed along one of the poorer districts of the city, he heard a certain lowly dwelling resound with the voice of wailing. Immediately on perceiving that the whole of that household had been seized with the plague, and were in torment arising from the most burning thirst, he not only gave money to the neighbours, who were standing by, with which to purchase a draught, but further, when not one of them dared to enter that infected abode of poverty, he himself, heedless of every danger to which by this step he exposed himself and those dear to him, intrepidly walked in, and imparted refreshment, at once for the body and the soul, to every single member of this afflicted family.—Brandt’s Life of Arminius.
The Findern flower. Sir Edmund Burke was writing a book, and he went to the North, to inquire particulars of a certain family named Findern. But he could find no account of them remaining—no memorial, no hall in ruins. He asked a working man if he could tell him anything about the family, and he said he could show him the Findern flower—a small blue flower, said to have been imported into England by Sir Joshua Findern on his return from the Crusades. It springs up, and never dies. It grows nowhere else in England, but here it cannot be eradicated. Benevolence is a beautiful flower; like the Findern flower it need never die; unlike the Findern flower it can flourish anywhere. It may grow in palace or in cottage, in the hot-house or in the cold night of an Arctic winter. This flower flourished in the nature of Esther, and how beautiful it looked, what sweet fragrance it imparted, what glorious colours it unfolded!
Esther 4:16. Everything to die for. A correspondent relates this suggestive incident:—“We recently called on a lady of culture and refinement, who, having just taken possession of a new house with elegant surroundings, had suddenly been called to face the approach of a fearful disease that seemed beyond human power to avert. With a loving husband and winsome daughter, with a home filled with evidences of wealth and taste, encircled by warm, true-hearted friends, with everything earthly to make life glad and joyous, we remarked: ‘You have everything to live for. Does it not depress you to think that all this must be given up if this disease is not stayed?’ The reply, simple, earnest, truthful, ‘Why, I have everything to die for,’ indicated the rich, abiding wealth of a soul whose trust is stayed on God, and showed that she was lifted up into a life of serenity and peace that could never be shaken by storms and tempests. Can any faith or any religion, save that of the Christian, enable one thus to triumph over pain, thus to look upon death, thus to contemplate separation from the dear ones linked by the holiest of earthly ties! All things to die for! Reunion with friends who long since left us; pain and suffering only memories of a former past; complete and eternal freedom from sin; complicity with unseen power of evil at an end; the presence of the pure and the holy; communion with him who shall wipe all tears from our eyes; at home and at rest for ever with the Lord—was not the remark of our friend most emphatically true? On the grandeur and the beauty of that faith which sees through the rifted clouds the glory beyond, which can say amid deepest darkness, ‘The morning cometh;’ that faith which with ‘things seen and temporal,’ most beautiful and attractive, can raise up into a full appreciation of ‘the things that are unseen and eternal;’ that faith which bridges over the dark river, enabling the believer to tread with firm footstep and alone the way that leads to the unknown land; that faith which will lead one encircled by richest earthly gifts, to say: “I have everything to die for!’ ”
Esther had everything to live for according to human estimates, yet she was willing to die.
Esther 4:16. A young Illinois hero. An American paper chronicles a bit of heroism by a Peoria county boy which deserves recognition. A coal shaft is being sunk just north of Hollis, Illinois, and the other day a workman, by the name of Harland, lighted a slow match leading to the blast, and then signalled to be drawn up. The depth of the shaft was seventy feet. When he had been raided fourteen feet he struck the bottom of a board partition, and was thrown back to the bottom. Thomas Crandall, a step-son of Harland, was a witness to the accident, and promptly slid down the rope, seventy feet, and tore the match from the fuze in time to prevent an explosion. The act was a brave one, scarcely to be paralleled. The boy’s hands were terribly lacerated by the friction of the rope. The step-father was rescued with a broken rib and other severe bruises. The heroic act of this brave boy can be not only “paralleled,” but surpassed. Esther exposed herself to equal risk to save a whole people to whom she was bound by the ties of nationality.
Esther 4:16. The Grace Darling of Berstead. The sea-coast Sussex village of Berstead, adjacent to Bognor, is justly proud of Mrs. Wheatland, a brave and strong middle-aged matron, the mother of a large family, who has saved thirteen lives in the past twenty years, by swimming out to the rescue of drowning bathers. So here are no less than thirteen lives which our good, strong Mary Wheatland has saved. How many more there may have been “goodness knows;” for she looks on life-saving as part of her regular business—and she found it hard to tax her memory even with these examples. Thus her splendid conscience is hung with immortal but immaterial medals. She has never sought any from the Humane Society, nor does she seem to think she has done anything meritorious or worthy of human distinction. How many lives Esther has saved we cannot tell; she saved them at the risk of her own—“If I perish I perish.” Surely her splendid conscience was hung with immortal but immaterial medals. Surely the Jews are right in perpetuating the glory of her name.
Esther 4:17. And Mordecai went his way] i.e. from the place before the court of the king, to do what the queen had commanded him to do.—Keil.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 4:17
A GOOD MAN’S CHARACTERISTICS
I. Mordecai went his way pondering. Mordecai was a man of thought, as is plainly seen from the whole course of this narrative. His course of conduct was evidently the result of intense thought. And this was a special occasion for thought. He would still require to ponder deeply, for we must think not only to form our plans, but also after our plans are on their way to accomplishment. This is characteristic of a good man, that he thinks. David often speaks of thinking. “When I thought to know this.” “I thought on my ways.” The prophets were men of thought. The question was asked, “How knoweth this man letters, or learning, having never learned.” The answer may be given—that Jesus was supernaturally endowed, and he exercised himself to acquire knowledge. He studied the Old Testament writings, and the ways of men. He thought. He increased in wisdom. There was mental development in the man Christ Jesus. The apostles thought. Goodness is helpful to, and is the provocative of, thought. It enables the mind to see clearly. It stimulates the mind to think deeply. To pray well is to study well. To live in the pure atmosphere of goodness is to enlarge the nature. Professedly good men should seek to think more. There is a want of strenuous thinking in the present day. We do not ponder. We muse. We sentimentalize. We indulge in sentiment for the mere luxury of excitement. There is further a want of thinking for others. Our thoughts are too much centred on self. Mordecai thought for his people.
II. Mordecai went his way believing. The man of faith finds that the occasions of life increase his faith. The movements of Providence tend to strengthen his confidence. We have seen that Mordecai was a man of faith, and here in Esther’s answer he finds encouragement to keep on believing. His faith lived through, and was not destroyed by, Esther’s apparent refusal, and now his faith is wonderfully enlarged by Esther’s gracious answer of determination to make the venture. He believed before that enlargement and deliverance would arise from another place, and now he believes still more strongly that God will save his anointed. God has given enlargement already by rewarding Mordecai’s faith, and giving him fresh reasons for confidence. The faith of the Christian is not killed by the trials of life, and is developed by the occasional tokens of Divine interposition. Faith leads to more faith. It is strengthened by the storm. It ripens in the calm. It surmounts discouragements. It finds encouragement where there may be little to be seen by doubt. It gathers food in the most barren spots. It turns the sterile rock into a garden of promise. It never sinks beneath the billows, for it firmly grasps the hand of omnipotence. Lord, we believe, but our faith is weak. Oh, help our unbelief! Give signs and tokens of thy presence that doubting ones may become believing ones. Raise up in these modern times heroes of faith. Oh, let the mighty power of faith be again manifested! The world requires a fresh race of heroes who shall through faith subdue kingdoms, work righteousness, obtain promises, and wax valiant in moral fights.
III. Mordecai went his way obeying. Faith without works is dead. Mordecai did according to all that Esther had commanded him. He saw that Esther’s command was in harmony with the command of God, and therefore he obeyed. Two things are to be taken into consideration with reference to earthly commands. Who commands? What is the nature of the commandment? There is a primâ facie objection against the commands of some. They are not noted either for wisdom or for piety. We very soon settle in our minds as to their utterances. Esther possessed both wisdom and piety. Mordecai might therefore very properly consider the nature of her requirements. However, it is human to err. The best people make mistakes. We have, then, to examine all commands. It is to be presumed that Mordecai examined the command of Esther and saw its propriety. There is no need to examine the propriety of the commandments of God. His commandments are not grievous. All his laws are right. All his requirements are the result of wisdom. Therefore let us obey promptly and persistently. Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice. Here note that God gives credit for an action when the true purpose is found in the mind to do the commandment. While Mordecai is on his way to gather together all the Jews that were present in Shushan, he may be said to do according to that which Esther had commanded. God takes notice of good intentions, of holy resolves, as well as of actual performances. Death may intervene between the resolve and its execution on earth; but death cannot prevent the holy resolution being developed in heaven, death cannot rob the earnestly resolving soul of its Divine reward. Death may seem to kill the noble purpose, but there is a sphere where death has no power and where the noble purposes of earth may fructify. In this aspect heaven is the complement of earth. It is man’s to resolve and to do so far as possible. God will rightly perfect that which concerneth his saints.
IV. Mordecai went his way praising. It is not a great stretch of imagination to suppose Mordecai praising God for his goodness on his way from the palace-gates. He would naturally praise God for the readiness with which Esther now entered upon the difficult enterprise. We must praise God not only for the accomplished deliverance, but when the deliverance is being accomplished. Prayer must be joined with praise. Whoso offereth praise glorifieth God. Some cannot see an opportunity for praise when it is a season of fasting and prayer. “Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast; verily, I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 4:17
So Mordecai went his way, and did according, &c.—As he had put her upon a dangerous, but, as the cause stood, necessary, exploit (nature will venture its own particular good for the general, as heavy things will ascend to keep out vacuity, and preserve the universe); so he is ruled by her (though a woman, and once his pupil) when he perceived her counsel was good. Abraham must hear Sarah, and David Abigail, and Apollos Priscilla, when they speak reason. It is foretold of a man in Christ, that a little child shall lead him.—Trapp.
So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.—Mordecai commanded Esther, and she obeyed him. Esther commanded Mordecai, and he obeyed her. They served one another in love. It would be happy for us if we knew how to command and how to obey in our turns, being subject one to another in the fear of God.
Mordecai required the Jews to fast three days according to Esther’s orders; and we have no reason to doubt of their ready and grateful compliance. They would not think it hard, but necessary and useful, to be called to afflict their souls to an extraordinary degree, when their lives and the lives of all their people were in question. And yet the present life of all the many thousands of Judah was not of equal importance to the eternal life of one precious soul. What, then, are we to think of ourselves, if the sentence of eternal death denounced against every sinner, has never induced us to devote as many hours to fervent prayer, as these Jews employed days in prayer and fasting to obtain deliverance from temporal death? Is it not to be feared that we do not really believe what the Scripture tells us about that judgment which is come upon all men to condemnation, if we think it too much trouble to spend some hours or days in considering our condition, and pouring out supplications for that mercy which we so greatly need. The Jews fasted. Esther went in to the king, uncertain about the event, but pressed by hard necessity. Necessity is laid upon sinners, yea, woe unto them if they do not obtain mercy! But great encouragement is given them to come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy. God himself puts words into their mouths, and will he not hear those prayers which are dictated by his own Spirit? (Hosea 14:2-3; Jeremiah 31:18-20.)—Lawson.
Esther 4:17. That which belongs to us in our calling is care of discharging our duty; that which God takes upon him is assistance, and good success in it. Let us do our work, and leave God to do his own. Diligence and trust in him is only ours, the rest of the burden is his. In a family the father’s and the master’s care is the greatest; the child’s care is only to obey, and the servant’s to do his work; care of provision and protection doth not trouble them. Most of our disquietness in our calling is, that we trouble ourselves about God’s work. Trust God and be doing, and let him alone with the rest. He stands upon his credit so much, that it shall appear we have not trusted him in vain, even when we see no appearance of doing any good. Peter fished all night, and catched nothing, yet upon Christ’s word he casts in his net again, and caught as many fish as brake his net. Covetousness, when men will be richer than God would have them, troubles all; it troubles the house, the whole family, and the house within us, our precious soul, which should be a quiet house for God’s Spirit to dwell in, whose seat is a quiet spirit. If men would follow Christ’s method, and “seek first the kingdom of heaven,” all other things would be cast upon them. If thoughts of insufficiency in our places discourage us, remember what God saith to Moses, when he pretended disability to speak, “Who hath made man’s mouth? have not I, the Lord!” All our sufficiency for every calling is from God.
God is never nearer his Church than when trouble is near. Usually, after the lowest ebb follows the highest springtide. Christ stands upon Mount Zion. There is a counsel in heaven that will dash the mould of all contrary counsels on earth; and, which is more, God will work the raising of the Church by that very means by which his enemies seek to ruin it. God gave too dear a price for his Church to suffer it long in the hands of merciless enemies. Take heed therefore of fretting, because of the man that bringeth wicked devices to pass, for the arms of the wicked shall be broken. The depths of misery are never beyond the depths of mercy. God oft, for this very end, strips his Church of all helps below, that it may only rely upon him, and that it may appear that the Church is ruled by a higher power than it is opposed by. And then is the time when we may expect great deliverances in the Church, when there is a great faith in the great God.—Sibbes.