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Esther 5:1. The third day] must be counted from the day of the transaction between the queen and Mordecai; the first day being that on which it took place. The fasting, then, would not begin till midday; and on the third day Esther went to the king to invite him on that day to a banquet, which would surely take place in the forenoon. Thus the three days’ fast would last from the afternoon of the first to the forenoon of the third day, i.e. from 40 to 45 hours.—Keil. Put on royal apparel] Lit. put on royalty; the expression signifies royal dignity; appeared as became the great occasion. The inner court of the king’s house] This must have been situated directly in front of the royal audience chamber, or “throne room,” where the monarch was wont to sit when receiving ministers of state, and attending to the business of the empire.—Whedon’s Com.
Esther 5:2.] The king held out the golden sceptre as a token of his favourable disposition; and Esther drew near and touched the top of the sceptre; probably kissed it, as the Vulgate renders the word.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 5:1-2
THE ROYALTY OF FAITH
WATSON says—“True faith is prolifical, it brings forth fruit; faith hath Rachel’s beauty and Leah’s fruitfulness.” Esther’s faith in this instance gave to her more than Rachel’s beauty and Leah’s fruitfulness. It enhanced the claims of her natural beauty. It gave inexpressible sweetness to her sadness. It surrounded her with an irresistible grace. Leah’s fruitfulness was of a natural character; Esther’s fruitfulness was moral. Let us now consider the royalty of Esther’s faith, and may it stimulate us to seek more earnestly to be invested with this royal apparel, and inwardly strengthened with this royal grace.
I. Royal apparel may cover a sad heart. Esther at this time must have had a sad heart; and however tastefully she may have been adorned, the sadness of her heart could not be concealed. We may well suppose that this sadness gave attractive sweetness to her countenance. Sad hearts beat and throb beneath costly robes. We pity the beggar in his rags. We are superficial. The outward affects more than the inward. Oftentimes more pity should be evoked by the sight of those clothed in purple and fine linen. Amid the splendours of royalty the wretchedness of humanity is visible. Shakespeare says, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” No monarchs have risen up to refute the libel; yea, many kings have borne witness to its truthfulness. In ancient history we read that the sleep went from king Darius; and many kings since then have tossed in sleepless misery on beds of down, amid drapery of purple and of gold. King David cries, “I am poor and needy;” poor in the midst of an abundance of wealth; needy while thousands are ready to supply his wants.
II. The royalty of faith sustains in sadness. Some make too much of Esther’s sadness in the present instance. Sometimes she is represented as fainting. Sad no doubt she was, but her sadness had not a paralyzing effect. Sad no doubt she might well be, considering the importance of the interests at stake and the desperate nature of her venture; but her sadness had not a killing effect upon her nervous system, for we may be well assured that her faith sustained her. The sacred record says nothing about her fainting. That faith which led her to exclaim, “If I perish I perish;” which supported through the long fast, which led her to take wise means for the success of her enterprise, which brought her to face the worst—would not fail her now at this the most important point of her undertaking. We seem to see the royalty of her faith eclipsing far the royalty of her apparel. The latter could not prevent her sadness. The former sustained in her sadness, and made it sweetly beautiful. Gloriously charming it is to see a sustaining faith overcoming and smiling through the sadness of a beautiful woman. The royalty of faith is the only power to sustain in sadness. It is a royal power that possesses the true alchemy which can transmute the base metal of sadness into the celestial gold of abiding gladness. Go to the chamber of the sick saint, and ask what inspires with patience, and even with holy pleasure. Go to the cell where virtue is imprisoned, and ask what enables the prisoner to sing songs of rapture, to see sights of beauty, to feed on heavenly manna, to ascend the Delectable Mountains, to feel the light of heaven around, and to catch the freshly-blowing breezes of Paradise. Go to the missionary in far-off lands, exiled from his home, in loneliness pursuing his weary but heavenly mission, standing bereft of wife and of child on account of the unhealthiness of the country where he labours, and ask what sustains under such trying circumstances. Go to the pastor labouring amongst an unresponsive people, his heart well nigh broken by indifference and in some cases by actual cruelty, and ask what stimulates to heroic perseverance. Go to the martyr chained to the stake; see the faggots piled round about him; already the flames lick and scorch his body; but lo! his face is lighted up as if it had been the face of an angel, and now he sings his own funeral hymn, not a sad dirge, but inspiriting strains; and again inquire whence this wonderful triumph. And all with one consent acknowledge the sustaining power of faith. This is the victory that overcometh the world—even our faith.
III. The royalty of faith leads to daring ventures. We can scarcely either understand or appreciate the daring nature of that venture which was made by Esther. The words are to us often only as so many words—these words “And Esther stood in the inner court of the king’s house, over against the king’s house.” It would be something to brave and to pass the sentinel, and all the court attendants, and present ourselves before our gracious queen. But this would be as nothing to what Esther did, though she was herself a queen. We understand the heroic power of faith in the conduct of the three Hebrew children. We can admire the splendid moral nobility of Daniel, who, in spite of edicts, in spite of threatened lions, holds on to his purpose of prayer to the God of heaven. But let us try to get a correct view of the greatness of Esther’s faith, of the might of her heroism, as she stands “in the inner court of the king’s house,” waiting for the word that may mean life, but might very possibly mean death. She stands dressed in royal apparel, but that royal apparel for aught she knew might be but the splendid yet ghastly preparation for the doom of destruction. If we celebrate the faith of Abraham who was ready to offer up his only-begotten son, shall we have no meed of praise for Esther who was ready to offer up herself? Why Esther’s name does not appear among the list of those worthies whose faith is celebrated in the Hebrews we cannot tell? Perhaps if time had not failed the writer he would have used Esther’s name as an illustration of the power of faith. Certainly we cannot help feeling that Esther’s faith was a Divine inspiration. This, however, we ought surely to learn—that if we make no daring ventures it is because our faith is weak. Faith, like other graces, is increased by exercise. What faith prompts us to do let us at once decide to do. And the more we attempt the more we shall be disposed to attempt.
IV. The royalty of faith is greater than the royalty of mere circumstantials. Here is a contrast—a suppliant woman standing in a helpless attitude, and in an exposed condition. A mighty monarch sitting upon a royal throne in the royal house whose wish is law, and whose word is either life or death. But the suppliant woman masters the mighty monarch. Mere worldly considerations will not satisfactorily account for the victory. We know the power of women over men. We are not unmindful of the great influence which female beauty has wielded over the hearts of kings, over the counsels of courtiers, and over the destinies of nations. It may be said that the weak monarch was captivated and overcome by the charm of Esther’s beauty. But this will not meet our view of the case. We believe that Esther was victorious because she was royal by virtue of her faith in God, Ahasuerus was conquered because he was merely royal in circumstantials. Faith is a royal power; it sits enthroned above the might of sceptred kings; it is mightier than the mightiest of the earth-born. Kings have killed the children of the faith, but their royalty has not been overcome. The royalty of faith has subdued kings, and conquered nations. Who are the men that rule to-day? The men of faith. These are the true kings, not those the world calls kings. The Cæsars and the Neros do not now rule; death has stripped them of the outward show of royalty. The Pauls and the Peters now rule. They rule in spheres where their authority is not acknowledged. They overcame death. It gave them a larger kingdom. It granted a nobler royalty. The men of faith sit on a throne that death cannot shake. They wield a sceptre which death cannot touch with its icy hand. As time advances, and as men become still wiser, the men of faith will rule in still larger measure. Faith is better and mightier than weapons of war, than words of wisdom, than the gilded trappings of earthly royalty.
V. The royalty of faith commands success. Esther obtained favour in the sight of the king, and he held out to her the golden sceptre. What we may call natural faith is essential to success. The man must have faith in himself who is to succeed. The farmer must have faith in the abiding character of nature’s laws if he is to work with perseverance. The seaman must have faith in the safety of his vessel, and in nautical arrangements, if he is to set forth on his voyage with hope. The merchant must have faith in the promises of his fellows if he is to trade with confidence. This natural faith is working all through society. In the moral realm faith is essential; faith is even of more importance. Faith is not the cause of the favour of God, but the means whereby that favour is disclosed to our hearts. The favour of God towards the believer is antecedent to the exercise of faith, but the exercise of that faith it is which reveals to our souls the existence of that favour. Esther’s faith and Esther’s beauty caused her to obtain that favour in the sight of the king which she appeared to have lost. The faith of the sinner discovers the favour of God which is waiting to manifest its goodness, and to bestow its blessings. Faith is the condition, but not the cause, of salvation. “Thy faith hath saved thee,” saith our Lord to the woman who anointed his head with oil, and his feet with ointment, because her faith laid hold of Christ’s forgiving love. That readiness to forgive was there prior to the woman’s exercise of faith; but this faith was the means of finding out the greatness of that love. Faith brought peace. Faith is the condition of salvation. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith triumphs over moral difficulties, and obtains success with heaven’s king.
Finally, The royalty of faith sways the golden sceptre. “The king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre.” Esther not only touched, not only kissed the top of the sceptre, but swayed the golden sceptre. The golden sceptre was moved by the hand of Ahasuerus; but Esther’s faith moved the arm that moved the sceptre. Esther’s power was invisible. The unseen is mightier than the seen. Mind triumphs over matter. Moral force conquers brute force. Esther swayed the golden sceptre of material sovereignty and she also swayed the golden sceptre of moral sovereignty. Thus Esther was queen in two spheres. She was enthroned in both the material and the moral realms. Faith sways a golden sceptre that exerts an influence reaching farther than the sovereignty of Ahasuerus. He ruled over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces. A great kingdom, yet only one kingdom. Faith rules in two kingdoms. It has to do for power in time and for peace in eternity. Godliness is profitable unto all things; having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Godlikeness is the product of living faith. This royal character is not possible without the working of a royal faith. It is then a mighty power. It moves the arm that moves the world. It touches the throne of God with wondrous effect. It makes all heaven listen to the prayers of earth. Faith has an arm stronger than that which tore the gates of Gaza from their fastenings, a sound more powerful than that which overthrew the walls of Jericho, a wisdom superior to that which speaks in the Proverbs of King Solomon, and visions more enrapturing than those which passed before the mind of Ezekiel. Faith sways a golden sceptre which can never be wrested from the grasp. It enables its possessor to ride triumphantly over the boiling waves of trouble, and to pass through the fires unhurt. By the aid of this golden sceptre the man is sovereign over death. He can ask in triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” The glorious answer is given: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This golden sceptre knocks at heaven’s gate; it flies open, and the redeemed spirit passes among the royalties of the eternal world.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 5:1-2
Of all the virgins presented to Ahasuerus, none was so pleasing as Esther. “Let the maiden which pleaseth the king be queen instead of Vashti.” When that decree was published, what strife, what emulations (may we think) was among the Persian damsels that either were, or thought themselves to be, fair! Every one hopes to be a queen; but so incomparable was the beauty of that Jewess, that she is not only taken into the Persian court, as one of the selected virgins, but hath the most honourable place in the seraglio allotted to her. The other virgins pass their probation unregarded; when Esther’s turn came, though she brought the same face and demeanour that nature had cast upon her, no eye sees her without admiration. The king is so delighted with her beauty, that, contemning all the more vulgar forms, his choice is fully fixed upon her. Our heavenly King is pleased with all our graces; hot zeal and cool patience pleaseth him; cheerful thankfulness and weeping penitence pleaseth him; charity in the height and humility in the dust pleaseth him; but none of them are welcome to him without faith, as nothing can please him without Christ. There is none that dares venture into his presence without faith; she is that Esther to which God holds out the golden sceptre. Adorn thy soul with this grace; “so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty.”—Adams.
The apocryphal author and Josephus say that she took two maids with her, on one of whom she leaned, while the other bore up her train,—that her countenance was cheerful and very amiable, but her heart was in anguish,—that the king, lifting up his countenance that shone with majesty, at first looked very fiercely upon her, whereupon she grew pale, and fainted, and bowed herself on the head of her maid that went by her; but then God changed the spirit of the king, and, in fear, he leaped from his throne, took her in his arms till she came to herself, and comforted her with loving words. Here we are only told, that he protected her from the law, and assured her of safety by holding out to her the golden sceptre, which she thankfully touched the top of, thereby presenting herself to him as a humble petitioner. Thus having had power with God, and prevailed, like Jacob, she had power with men too. He that will lose his life for God shall save it, or find it in a better life.—Matthew Henry.
The unexpectedness of pleasing objects makes them many times the more acceptable; the beautiful countenance, the graceful demeanour, and goodly presence of Esther have no sooner taken the eyes, than they have ravished the heart, of king Ahasuerus; love hath soon banished all dreadfulness. “And the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand.” Moderate intermission is so far from cooling the affection, that it inflames it. Had Esther been seen every day, perhaps that satiety had abated the height of her welcome; now, three and thirty days’ retiredness hath endeared her more to the surfeited eyes of Ahasuerus. Had not the golden sceptre been held out, where had queen Esther been? The Persian kings affected a stern awfulness to their subjects; it was death to solicit them uncalled. How safe, how easy, how happy a thing it is, to have to do with the King of heaven, who is so pleased with our access that he solicits suitors! who, as he is unweariable with our requests, so he is infinite in his beneficences!
Commonly, when we fear most we speed best; God then most of all magnifies his bounty to us when we have most afflicted ourselves. Over-confident expectations are seldom but disappointed, while humble suspicions go laughing away. It was the benefit and safety of but one piece of the kingdom that Esther comes to sue for; and, behold, Ahasuerus offers her the free power of the half; he, that gave Haman, at the first word, the lives of all his Jewish subjects, is ready to give Esther half his kingdom ere she ask. Now she is no less amazed at the loving munificence of Ahasuerus than she was before afraid of his austerity.—Bishop Hall.
It is likely that she left her attendants without, lest she should draw them into danger; and contented herself (when she went in to the king) with those faithful companions, Faith, Hope, and Charity, who brought her off also with safety.
And the king sat upon his royal throne. Royal indeed, as Athenæus describeth it. It should be our earnest desire to see the King of Glory upon his throne. Austin wished that he might have seen three things:
1. Romam in flore;
2. Paulum in ore;
3. Christum in corpore. Rome in the flourish, Paul in the pulpit, Christ in the flesh. Venerable Bede cometh after, and correcting this last wish, saith, Imo vero Christum in solio sedentem. Let me see Christ upon his throne royal rather.
And the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre. He did not kick her out of his presence, as some Cambyses would have done, neither did he command her to the block, as Henry VIII. did his Anne Bullen upon a mere misprision of disloyalty; neither yet did he cashier her, as he had done Vashti for a less offence; but, by holding out his sceptre shows his gracious respects unto her. This was the Lord’s own work, as was likewise that of old, that Laban should leave Jacob with a kiss. Let a man’s ways please the Lord, and men shall quickly befriend him.—Bishop Hall.
This is truly heroic magnanimity, by which Esther declares as great a faith towards God as love towards his Church. Her trust in him is such that she incurs the peril of her life in obedience to his call. For though all the circumstances of the case threaten her destruction, still she hangs by faith upon the Divine promises. For whom God calls and leads into danger, to him he has also promised preservation and deliverance in those dangers. To Abraham he said, “Get thee out of thy country, and thy father’s house.” This was a call to face danger. But he also added the promise, “I will make of thee a great nation.” It is love alone that exposes itself in behalf of the Church of God, and would rather risk its own life than leave the Church of God in danger.—Brenz.
Esther was not one of those who resolve and promise well, but do not perform. How ready are we, like the disobedient son in the parable, to say, We will go and work in the vineyard, and after all go not! But what excuse shall we have for breaking our promises through the mere power of laziness, when Esther kept her word at the risk of her life? She deserves to be ranked with the noble army of confessors, if not of martyrs. She went in unto the king when a law faced her which declared it to be death for any subject, not excepting the queen, to go in unto the king’s private apartments without his leave.
Nor did she linger in doubt whether she should go in unto the king or not. If she had, new temptations, dangerous to her virtue, might have assaulted her. Her resolution had been already formed, and she makes haste, and delays not to do the commandment of Mordecai, which she considers as a commandment from God. On the third day, she went in unto the king. Her fast did not, it seems, consist of three complete days and nights. In the language of the Jews, “three days and three nights” might mean one whole day and part of two others. Jesus is said to have been “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” and yet he is said to have risen “on the third day.”
She observed her fast, and it was no sooner over than she went in unto the king. It was wise in her, when she had finished her supplication, to present her petition to the king. When Hannah prayed in the bitterness of her grief, her heart was eased; she was no more sorrowful. We have reason to think that Esther’s anxieties, too, were banished by her devotion. She had been lifting up her soul to the Lord. She had been, doubtless, remembering her song in the night, and the wonderful works of former times would inspire her with hope of a happy event to her present enterprise. Thus she was able to approach unto the king with all that composure of mind, and cheerfulness, of countenance, which were necessary for the occasion.
She put on her royal apparel when she went in to the king. She cared not for the distinction of her rank, and placed not her delight in the outward adorning of gold, and pearls, and costly array. But it was necessary to lay aside her mourning apparel, and to put on her beautiful garments when she went in to the king. Good wives will endeavour to please their husbands by a decency in dress, as well as other things that may appear little when they are not considered as means to gain an important end. The married women care, and ought to care, how they may please their husbands; and those women do not act as becometh saints, whose dress, or any part of their behaviour, naturally tends to produce disgust. Esther had a peculiar reason for dressing herself with her beautiful garments when she went into the king’s presence. But all women are bound to please their husbands in things lawful and consistent, because the law of Christ binds them to reverence their husbands: and their husbands, if they are not fools, will not desire them to transgress the laws concerning dress, which two apostles have thought it necessary to record for their direction.*
The countenance of Esther at this critical moment was highly interesting to the king, her husband. Grief, anxiety, and pity, painted in her beauteous face, awakened his pity and attracted his love. She found favour in his eyes, and he held out to her the golden sceptre, the sign of grace and pardon, which Esther touched, in thankful acceptance of the offered mercy.
“As a prince,” said God to Jacob, “hast thou power with God; and with men also shalt thou prevail.” Esther had been weeping and making supplication, like her father Jacob, and had prevailed, and saw the face of the king as if it had been the face of God, and her life was preserved; and, what was still better, she had the happy presage of the preservation of the life of all her people, in that favour which was extended to herself. What wonderful favours from men may fervent supplication to God obtain! “If He be for us, who can be against us?”—Lawson.
Delays in matters of importance are to be deeply censured, and the weightier the matter the more censurable is procrastination. Who then can estimate the folly, the egregious folly, of delay in the concerns of a never-ending futurity!—concerns compared with which the weightiest affairs of time are less than nothing! The next thing to delay is total neglect—to putting off to another opportunity, putting off altogether, and delays too frequently thus terminate. When a man is somewhat impressed with his danger as a violator of the Divine law, and a rebel against the Majesty of heaven, but seeks a more convenient season to devote himself to the grand work of salvation, he is as yet in the enemy’s hand; the chain is not broken; he is in danger of wearing off his good impressions, of falling back to his former inconsiderateness, and of increasing the callousness of his heart. It is not always that hesitating between God and the world ends well—it is not always that they who halt between two opinions are led to say, The Lord, he is the God, and after him we will go. Oh, beware of delay.
Fasting, and prayer, and communion with God therein, are the true strength of the soul. They lift it above temporary danger, and fill it with holy fortitude. They are likewise the parents of spiritual activity and diligence. Esther is not the only character whom we find gathering holy boldness for perilous duties (Esther 4:16) through earnest supplications. When Jacob was returning from Laban, he prepared to meet his enraged brother, by first imploring the guidance and protection of God. He knew it to be his duty to go forward, and not to return to Mesopotamia, yet he could not go forward but at the peril of his life, and that of his wives and children. He nerved his soul, however, with strength suited to the emergency, by humbling himself before the mercy-seat of his God, and his fathers’ God, and imploring his heavenly interference. He prayed and prospered. Jehoshaphat, surrounded by multitudes of Moabites, Ammonites, and others, sought for courage to meet them at the throne of grace. His eyes were upon God, and his heart was not afraid. He prayed and conquered. He prayed, and God made the battle his own, and triumphed gloriously: he sent forth his wrath, which consumed these uncircumcised hosts as stubble. And how did our Divine Master himself obtain that fortitude, which was needful for the mighty combat which was before him? How did he prepare for the most arduous enterprise that was ever undertaken? In the same way as the pious queen before us. He repaired to the garden of Gethsemane, and poured forth his soul “with strong crying and tears,” and being heard in that he feared, he presented an undaunted face to his enemies, and entered on the conflict with holy earnestness and anxiety. “Rise,” said he to his sleeping disciples, “let us be going, behold, he is at hand,” &c. (Let us meet him: for I have prayed, and my prayers have been heard; I have prayed, and heaven is on my side.) Brethren, we know not what we lose—of what rich blessings we deprive ourselves, by not abounding in prayer. “We will give ourselves continually unto prayer.” Abundant prayer brings joy to the heart, and “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” What dangers should we deem too great to face, were our souls but thus filled with the presence of the Lord!—what services should we deem too arduous and self-denying! “Wait on the Lord, and He shall strengthen thine heart.” “The love of Christ constraineth us to live no longer to ourselves, but,” &c.
The goodness of God, in this case, to his fasting and praying servants, demands our attention. “And it was so when the king saw Esther the queen, standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand.” God, in whose hands are all hearts, on many of which, however, he works to answer his own wise purposes, but not so as to change or sanctify them—God, we say, disposed the king thus courteously to treat the queen. She was not killed (Esther 4:11), but kindly invited to approach. The God, who made Esau embrace with fraternal affection him, whom a few hours before he designed to murder, to fall on his neck and kiss him,—made this selfish, capricious, and unreasonable monarch behave thus condescendingly to the queen. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he” often “makes his enemies to be at peace with him.” “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”
Now, let us take occasion, from this act of Ahasuerus, to consider the conduct of another King—the blessed and only Potentate, to whom be honour and power everlasting. Ahasuerus held out the sceptre to his queen, who had never offended him, nor been unfaithful to him; but Jehovah holds out his sceptre to the unfaithful. How wonderful the language, in Jeremiah 3:1, on this point. “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return to her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord.” “Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever: only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice.”—Hughes.
“Now it came to pass.” These words call for special notice in a book which strikingly illustrates the providence of God both in regard to nations and individuals. They remind us that there is nothing stationary—that what comes is moving on. Seasons of trial and perplexity would be overwhelming if they had the character of fixedness. It is happily not so. As you have stood gazing on a mountain, bathed in sunlight, you may sometimes have observed a dark shadow creeping along the side of it, as though hastening to accomplish its mission, and quickly gliding away out of sight, leaving the landscape all the more beautiful because of your remembrance of it. So is it with what is painful and sad in providence. Events of this kind have come at intervals, but it was only to pass—not to abide—like the floating of little clouds between us and the sun; and when past, giving to human life, as to nature, a great richness and variety. Biographies are but commentaries on these familiar words. Indeed, men themselves but come to pass. “The workmen die, the work goes on.” While the river is moving on, and we are observing the things which fringe its banks, and being differently affected by them, we are ourselves sailing on the surface of the waters, and being swiftly borne along to the great ocean of eternity. “Now it came to pass.”
Three days had been spent by Mordecai and the Jews, Esther and her maids, in fasting and prayer; three days which were, in the experience of all of them, like the gathering up of spiritual strength, and the marshalling of spiritual forces to battle. It was not by carnal weapons that they were to contend against the cruel menace of the world, but by faith, and in dependence on the Lord of Hosts.—McEwan.
We all expect to see any gift we have bestowed upon another applied to its destined use, and the neglect of the gift is regarded by us as equivalent to a contempt of the donor. Now it was in presents of dress, and ornaments connected with it, that the Easterns displayed and still display their munificence; so that Esther, arrayed in her royal robes, going to cast herself upon the king’s favour, just went to him in the way that would most vividly remind him that she was the creature of his bounty, as she had been the object of his love.
We may take an illustration here from our Lord’s parable of the Wedding Garment. There is something in that parable which at first appears inexplicable. The persons who were brought in to the marriage-supper were those whom the king’s servants had gathered together from the highways; and how, it may be asked, could the man be found fault with who had not on a wedding garment? Here, then, lies the solution of the difficulty. Dresses befitting the occasion were furnished to the guests, according to the custom of the time; and he who had not on the proper dress must have supposed that his own clothing was good enough, and must have rejected the offer of a garment suitable, which was made to him by the keeper of the king’s wardrobe. For this contempt, then, he was righteously charged and condemned. And so in the case before us, Esther would have been subject to displeasure, and righteously punishable according to the established law, if, when the king had furnished her with the apparel and decorations suited to her exalted station, she had appeared before him, as he sat upon his throne, in attire more homely. But she had too much wisdom, and too strong a sense of what was becoming and proper, to expose herself to challenge on such a ground; and hence her carefulness to come forth in all the splendour of her queenly dress and ornaments.
And now, with life or death depending on every step, and with a timidity that must have made her look more beautiful than ever, she comes within reach of the king’s glance. He had not seen her for more than thirty days. The sight of her at that moment, and in that place, was altogether unexpected. Without having time for reflection, or for speaking to Haman, who no doubt was beside him, of this strange disregard of the courtly etiquette, his former love was rekindled in his heart by the sight of the beautiful vision. He smiled, and held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. She felt that she was safe, and so drew near and touched the top of the sceptre.
Thus far the simple words of the history conduct us; and those who were spectators of this strange scene, would see nothing more in it than a most daring adventure on the part of the queen, with a singular exhibition of good will on the king’s part. But with the help of what is stated in the preceding chapter, we get a clearer light upon the whole scene, and can understand the real meaning of the words: “Esther obtained favour in the king’s sight.” The prayer and fasting of the three previous days had not been without fruit. A Divine influence had been put forth to touch the heart of the king; and, without knowing it himself, by that influence he was led—not only to forgive the queen’s unwarrantable intrusion into his presence, but also, as we shall see, to grant her any request which she might make. Here, then, there is the dawning of the day of deliverance for the Jews.
Now, let us, before going farther, make some practical application of this part of our subject.
1. In the first place, this lesson is obviously to be taken from it, that when we are to engage in any special work or enterprise involving difficulty or danger, the most effectual way to gain the object we have in view is to seek help and direction from on high. No man, indeed, whose heart is really imbued with the fear of God, will fail every day to ask direction and a blessing in the conducting of his ordinary affairs. And this is one circumstance which makes a difference between the pursuits of the mere worldling and those of the Christian, although externally they may seem to be engaged in the very same kind of business.
But when there are momentous interests at stake, when things have to be done out of the ordinary course, then, we say, there ought to be a special application made for Divine assistance and guidance. This is not to supersede the use of such means as prudence and experience may dictate for the accomplishment of the end in view. On the contrary, one of the subjects of prayer in such cases is, that the mind may be enlightened and strengthened so as to lead to the selection of the best means. But then, with all this, the committing of the issue to the appointment of God is the right procedure on the part of all who believe in a Divine providence, and look up to the God of providence as their Father in heaven. Esther, although she fasted and prayed, did not neglect the duty of arraying herself suitably to her station, and as the honour of the king required her to do. But we doubt not, that as she put on her ornaments, and as she went with throbbing heart across the court which separated her apartments from those in which the throne stood, her thoughts were more in heaven than on earth. And from her example we learn, that the spirit in which we should conduct our most important affairs is, that of committing our way to God, while we endeavour not to be awanting in personal activity, and in the employment of such lawful means as seem most likely to promote our purpose.
2. In the second place, we learn from this part of the narrative, that there may be Divine influence at work upon the heart and will even of those who have no personal regard for religion, by which they are unconsciously rendered instrumental in advancing the interests of God’s people and of his cause. As has been already said, we cannot avoid connecting the sacred exercises in which Esther and her friends were engaged, with the turning of the king’s heart toward her. And many other examples of the same kind might be selected from the sacred record. There is the memorable one in the case of Cyrus, when he was moved by the Lord to take compassion on the captive Jews, and to permit all of them who chose, to return to their own land and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. There is another in the case of the same Artaxerxes who showed favour to Esther, to which reference is made in the book of Nehemiah. When this patriotic and pious man was troubled on account of the desolations of Jerusalem, he prayed fervently that the heart of the king might be affected so as to lead him to grant assistance for remedying the evils which were felt by the Jews who had gone to repair the waste places of the holy city. And the king was moved accordingly.
It does not follow from those cases, that the putting forth of Divine influence to incline these heathen monarchs to do what was for the good of God’s people, implied any gracious operation upon their hearts in the way of delivering them from their deadly errors. All that can be inferred is, that God’s creatures, high and low, are as the clay in the hand of the potter. But this conclusion is very manifest, that as the settlement of numberless affairs, in which the interests of God’s people are concerned, rests upon the will of individuals who may not be naturally well disposed towards their cause; this is one direction which their prayers may well take, that God would overrule the heart and will of those enemies, so that the truth may prosper. In this way, in answer to believing and persevering prayer, the words of the Lord may still be, as they often have been, verified, that mountains of difficulty are removed: “The crooked things are made straight, and the rough places plain.”
3. In the third place, from the verses under review, compared with the previous history, we may draw an illustration of some important principles in the economy of grace. I must, however, remind you here of a distinction which requires to be kept in view in all comments upon the Old Testament history, and in the illustration of Scripture generally—a distinction between truths evidently deducible from the historical narrative, and directly bearing upon subjects of belief and practice, which are applicable to all times and circumstances; and reflections suggested by certain portions of the history, but suggested by them, rather than manifestly designed to be taught by them. There has often been a tendency exhibited by interpreters of Scripture to spiritualize all the events recorded in it. And in many cases, it must be acknowledged, this has been so happily done, as to make us feel as if we were refreshed by water from the flinty rock. Yet we must never overlook the difference between truth directly revealed, and truth suggested merely in the way of illustration. Now, with these remarks, the point which I would have you for a moment look at here, as bearing upon the doctrines of grace, is suggested by the contrast between Esther’s first appearance before the king and her appearance now in the manner above described. In the first instance, she sought not the aid of ornament, but appeared in simple attire. And just as she was she gained the king’s heart. But now, when she is about to present an important request to him, a request involving life or death to herself and multitudes besides, she goes arrayed in the dress, and ornaments, and jewels, which were the king’s gifts to her, that he might recognize his own love-tokens, and be moved to show favour again by the remembrance that he had shown favour before.
You will easily perceive the application we make of all this. The sinner at first casts himself upon the mercy of God in Christ, in all his natural worthlessness, feeling that he has nothing to rely upon for acceptance and favour but sovereign grace. And God, in accepting him, is moved solely by his own mercy; for many others, who are more highly gifted, and who have many qualities that might seem to give them a preference according to human judgment, are passed by. Our heavenly King has no respect of persons, so far as birth and the external circumstances and condition of men are concerned; but, at the same time, his love is bestowed sovereignly. “He has mercy upon whom he will have mercy.” But when his believing people go to him in their difficulties and troubles to implore his aid, then he recognizes in them, amid all their deficiencies, something of his own comeliness which has been put upon them. They may be labouring under fears and doubts almost as depressing as those by which they were weighed down when they first threw themselves at his feet imploring mercy to pardon. But they stand now in a different relation to him. He has been gracious toward them, and in their distress, although it may be the distress which is the result of conscious backsliding, he perceives his own marks, or, as the Scripture expresses it, “The spots of his own children,” upon them, and as his own, he welcomes them, and graciously answers their requests.—Davidson.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Esther 5:1-2. Workmen in the tunnel. Not many years since a number of workmen were engaged in constructing a railway tunnel. In the midst of their work there was a sudden fall of earth, which completely closed the entrance, and shut them up from the outer world. Their comrades outside, as soon as they discovered what had happened, began digging through the mass of earth. It was many hours before the task was accomplished. They found them quietly pursuing their labour inside the tunnel. Their work had never been interrupted. They had eaten their dinner, and gone on digging and boring. They knew, they said, that their fellow-workmen would rescue them; and so they went on with their labour. Transfer their state of mind to the Christian in his perplexities, and we see exactly what practical faith is. Faith teaches the believer, in the midst of the severest difficulty, not to set about forcing a way out of his trouble, but just to ply his pickaxe and spade in the work which is straight before him, leaving it to the Father above to make a way of escape for him. In the right manner, and at the right moment, the help comes, and the Christian goes on his way more rejoicing.—Hooper.
Esther 5:1-2. The spider’s web. See the spider casting out her film to the gale; she feels persuaded that somewhere or other it will adhere, and form the commencement of her web. She commits the slender filament to the breeze, believing that there is a place provided for it to fix itself. In this fashion should we believingly cast forth our endeavours in this life, confident that God will find a place for us. He who bids us pray and work will aid our efforts, and guide us in his Providence in a right way. Sit not still in despair, O son of toil, but again cast out the floating thread of hopeful endeavour, and the mind of love will bear it to its resting-place!—Spurgeon.
Esther 5:1-2. Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus, if we have a right understanding of his character, was a man of a self-controlled and quiet spirit. The foundation of this subdued and immovable calmness of spirit, which supported him under immense labours, deprivations, and sufferings, was faith, undoubtedly. And it is very possible that it was, to a considerable degree at least, natural faith. That is to say, he had faith in his mathematical and geographical deductions; he had faith in his personal skill as a navigator; he had faith in his own personal influence over minds of less power; he had faith in his integrity of purpose. He felt, therefore, that he stood on a strong foundation; and this inward conviction, strengthened perhaps in some degree by religious sentiments, imparted, both inwardly and outwardly, that self-possessed and delightful calmness of spirit and manner which is one of the surest indices of true greatness.—Upham.
Dr. Livingstone’s tonic.—This certainly served the great traveller well in the long contest with obstacles of every kind. His work was consecrated to God, and the consciousness that he was faithfully serving him gave strength in the midst of weakness, and saved him from despair. One month before his death he wrote: “Nothing earthly will make me give up my work in despair. I encourage myself in the Lord my God, and go forward.” It was this spirit that sustained him from the first. He might be prostrated again and again by bodily illness, but nothing could make him an invalid Christian, even for a day.
Singing in prison.—On one occasion some of the converts were apprehended, and unjustly put in prison. One of the party was the native preacher. They were kept in prison several days. The Sabbath came round, and though shut up, like Paul and Silas, they determined to worship God in the jail. They sang aloud the praises of God. Their keepers came to forbid and scold them; the native preacher then began to preach to them. At length the chief officer of the Zemindhar was obliged to set them at liberty, saying, “What can we do with these people? If we imprison them they sing; if we scold them, they preach and argue.”
When Madame Guyon was imprisoned in the Castle of Vincennes, in 1695, she not only sang, but wrote songs of praise unto her God.
Esther 5:1-2. Martyrs’ heroism. When the executioner went behind Jerome of Prague to set fire to the pile, “Come here,” said the martyr, “and kindle it before my eyes; for if I dreaded such a sight, I should never have come to this place when I had a free opportunity to escape.” The fire was kindled, and he then sang a hymn, which was soon finished by the encircling flames. Algerius, an Italian martyr, thus wrote from his prison, a little before his death: “Who would believe that in this dungeon I should find a paradise so pleasant?—in a place of sorrow and death, tranquillity, and hope, and life; where others weep, I rejoice.” Wishart, when in the fire which removed him from the world, exclaimed: “The flame doth torment my body, but no whit abates my spirits.”—New Cyclopædia of Anecdote.
Esther 5:1-2. Faith the soul’s venture. Faith is nothing else but the soul’s venture. It ventures to Christ, in opposition to all legal terrors; it ventures on Christ, in opposition to our guiltiness; it ventures for Christ, in opposition to all difficulties and discouragements.—W. Bridge.
Esther 5:2. A bold petitioner. The Romans had a law that no person should approach the emperor’s tent in the night, upon pain of death; but it once happened that a soldier was found in that situation, with a petition in his hand, waiting for an opportunity of presenting it. He was apprehended, and going to be immediately executed; but the emperor, having overheard the matter in his pavilion, cried aloud, saying, “If the petition be for himself, let him die; if for another, spare his life.” Upon inquiry, it was found that the generous soldier prayed for the lives of his two comrades who had been taken asleep on the watch. The emperor nobly forgave them all.—Biblical Museum.
Esther 5:3. What wilt thou, queen Esther?] Rather, what ails thee? According to Herodotus (ix. 109), Xerxes, when pleased with one of his wives, offered to grant her any request whatever, without hesitation.—Rawlinson.
Esther 5:4.] For the present she requests nothing further than that the king and Haman should come to the banquet she had prepared. She desired Haman to be present, in order, as Calov remarks, that she might charge him by name in the presence of the king with the decree surreptitiously obtained against the people, and to his very face cut off every possibility of cavil; perhaps also in order to make his confusion the more complete.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 5:3-5
A LARGE OFFER AND SOME OF ITS CONSEQUENCES
I. A sympathetic inquiry. The king’s heart was touched by the aspect of beauty saddened, and he asks, “What wilt thou, Queen Esther? What ails thee? What has brought that sadness on to thy lovely countenance? What has given thee that mournful look? Thou art more attractive in thy sadness; but still I would know the cause of thy grief, that I may remove it if possible.” The young and the beautiful in sadness are especially touching. Why should the young suffer? Why should the beautiful have the glory of their loveliness eclipsed by sorrow? Why the tears and groans of infant life? Why the merry laughter of youth so soon turned into the wail of mourning? Why, because Haman and others have sinned. The curse of Haman has visited and pained the innocent heart of Esther. Sin is far-reaching. The first sin has reached from creation’s dawn to the present hour, and will go on working to creation’s final doom. Oh! we do not rightly consider the mischief we do, the pain we may cause, when we sin. By sin pain and injury are caused both to the sinner himself and to those who are seemingly far removed from the sphere of his influence. Esther’s sorrow was the consequence of Haman’s sin. Esther’s sorrow touched the nature of Ahasuerus. Sympathy was evoked, and this sympathy found vent in the gracious inquiry and in the large offer. In the presence of sorrow, silence may be profound sympathy. If the heart is moved to utterance the words should be few and well-chosen. A truly sympathetic nature will suggest the right words, if indeed the nature be not so overcharged with sympathy as to be divested of the power of utterance. The better part of Ahasuerus comes out in this inquiry which he put to Esther, and is an illustration of the saying, There is good in all, while none are all good.
II. A large offer. Some people put the seemingly sympathetic inquiry, and yet do not follow it up with promises of help. Ahasuerus felt, which was good. Ahasuerus promised to help, which was better. “What is thy request? It shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.” A large offer truly if it be only regarded as a mere proverbial expression. Proverbs have their deep meaning. A proverbial expression used as a promise must intend much on the part of the promiser. (a) A large offer may be made at the prompting of mere feeling, and when the feeling evaporates the promise is forgotten, or not considered binding. However, if the promise be legitimate and capable of fulfilment it ought to be performed, though it was made at the dictate of feeling. Be careful not to let feeling over-ride judgment. The man without feeling is not a properly developed man. The man all feeling loses the glory of his manhood. (b) A large offer may be made without a due consideration of the limiting nature of our circumstances. Ahasuerus might promise the half of his kingdom, but could he have granted it? Esther could not really have herself monopolized the half of that vast kingdom. We forget the limits of our circumstances and of our capacities sometimes in the largeness of our offers. Infinitude is not our attribute. Man is but a creature. There is truth in one view of the statement that man is the creature of circumstances. (c) A large offer may be made without a due consideration of the benefit of the promisee. If any one was likely to be benefited by large material possessions that person was Esther. Even she, however, might have suffered had she received what was thus offered. The deceitfulness of riches might have choked the good seed. Earthly love, as a mere sentiment, is sometimes blind both in its promises and in its bestowals. The blind passion of a mother has done much injury to her offspring. Heavenly love is never blind. Judgment and feeling shape the fashion of Divine promises. There are no limitations to the heavenly promiser. What he has promised he is able to perform. Divine promises always purpose; are intended to promote the highest welfare of the promisee. Let us receive Divine promises in all their fulness. Let us judge him who has promised to be both faithful and all-powerful.
III. A small request. For the present Esther simply contented herself with the small request, “If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that I have prepared for him.” (a) Our requests should be shaped with a view to the character and ability of the promiser. Esther was wise. She had a woman’s sharp wit, and a woman’s keen penetrating power. She saw that for the present this was all which she could likely secure from the hand of Ahasuerus. She must wait for the perfecting of the good work already begun in Ahasuerus. God’s ability and willingness to give are large. But we too may have to wait. His purpose for us may not be ripe. At first he may give small blessings, the harbinger of yet greater blessings. His best things he gives last. The ruler of the feast said more than he meant, ‘Thou hast kept the good wine till now.” Let our askings be in harmony with Divine purposes, so far as we can understand them. (b) Our requests should be shaped with a view to our wants and to our circumstances. This was how Esther shaped her request. This was all she wanted for the present, and this was all that her circumstances would now allow her to obtain. We do not always know our true wants. The complexity of our circumstances baffle. Our first prayer is—“Lord, show us what we need; teach what our circumstances require. Adapt thy gifts to our necessities. Arrange thy blessings to meet the exigencies of our circumstances.” Definite requests may be prompted by presumption as well as faith.
IV. A speedy fulfilment. Some promises are rashly made. After-consideration may reveal their folly. Yea, after-consideration may show that they are neither lawful nor binding. Herod made a foolish promise to the daughter of Herodias. Had it been his own head that was required, he would at once have seen the folly of his conduct, and refused the request. Neither the oath nor the company would have induced him to yield. When the promise, however, is legitimate it ought to be speedily performed even at the cost of the promiser. It was an easy thing for Ahasuerus to grant Esther her small request. “Then the king said, Cause Haman to make haste, that he may do as Esther has said.” The weak king was capable of promptness. This is also a good trait in his character. Love induces zeal. Zeal is prompt in its actions. What zeal should possess the lovers of Jesus! And yet what laggards we are in attending the banquets of heaven. Let us make haste to the heavenly banquet. Let us earnestly bid others to the feast.
V. A consequent incongruous assembly. The king’s great offer has a seemingly insignificant result. The king and Haman and Esther appeared together at the banquet. So far this is illustrative of human proceedings. Pretentious beginnings, small results. Look a little further, and we shall see that this is one of the links in the chain of circumstances leading on to the Divinely-purposed result. Very small are the links in the chain of Divine purposes. Small, but strong as adamant. What an incongruous assembly! The weak and mighty monarch. The wily and wicked Haman. The beautiful and virtuous and strong-souled Esther. The intended victim entertaining the victimizer. The victim will soon become the conqueror. She is now on the high road to victory. The victimizer will soon be caught in his own toils. Thus the banquets of earth bring together very opposite characters, and are fraught with unlooked-for results. There are not only social and intellectual, but moral, differences at earthly banquets. There is a banquet coming where there will be no disunion. In heaven there will doubtless be intellectual differences, but there will be no moral incongruities. The music of heaven is harmonious. Moral natures in heaven will be rightly adjusted. Heart will respond to heart in perfect unison, as harp answers to harp in the hands of angel performers. The wicked Hamans will not be summoned to the great and final feast. Whatsoever defileth shall not pass the pearly gates. Only the redeemed shall there be allowed entrance. Let us seek to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and sanctified by the Divine Spirit, and keep in constant view the abundant entrance to heaven’s glorious banquet.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 5:3-5
It is not good to swallow favours too greedily, lest they either choke us in the passage, or prove hard of digestion. The wise queen, however she might seem to have a fair opportunity offered to her suit, finds it not good to apprehend it too suddenly, as desiring, by this small dilation, to prepare the ear and heart of the king for so important a request.—Bishop Hall.
And what is thy request?—q. d. “Fear not to utter it; I am very earnest to know it, and fully resolved to grant it.” It was more troublesome to Severus the emperor to be asked nothing than to give much. When any of his courtiers had not made bold with him, he would call them and say, “What meanest thou to ask me nothing?” “Hitherto ye have asked me nothing (saith the King of Saints to his beloved Esther); ask, that your joy may be full.” He is worthily miserable that will not make himself happy by asking.
It shall be given thee, to the half of the kingdom.—A proverbial rather than a prodigal speech, and much in this king’s mouth. If some ambitious Semiramis had had such an offer, what ill use might she soon have made of it! The dancing damsel made no good use of the like from Herod. But a bee can suck honey out of a flower, that a fly cannot skill to do. Esther prudently and modestly improveth the immoderate offer of the king, and conceiveth good hope. How much more may we (upon those exceeding great and precious promises given us by God), of an exuberancy of love, and a confluence of all comforts for this life and a better; especially since God doth not pay his promises with words, as Sertorius is said to have done; neither is he off and on with his people, but performeth all with the better; as Naaman pressed the prophet’s man to take two talents when he asked but one. The widow of Sarepta had more than she could tell what to do with; her cruse never ceased running till she had no room. The Shunammite would ask nothing of the prophet, nor make use of his offered courtesy. He sends for her again, and makes her a free promise of that which she most wanted and desired—a son. God’s kindness is beyond all this. He giveth his servants what they forget or presume not to ask; and sends his Spirit to help them, and to form their prayers for them, and thereby to seal them up to the day of redemption, to assure them of the kingdom.
If it were policy in Esther to invite Haman whom she hated, was it likewise piety? did she not dissemble? R. Solomon saith, she invited Haman alone with the king, that other courtiers might envy him, and so undermine him. But that is but a sorry excuse, neither doth Syra’s allegation of her good intentions mend the matter. They answer better who say, that she invited him that she might accuse him to his face; and so cut off all matter of his excuse or escape. Hereby also she would show, saith Lavater, that she accused him, not out of wrath or revenge; but that she was drawn to it, and, as it were, driven by mere necessity.—Trapp.
To promise much is the universal custom of great men, but those keeping promises are few in number. It is far easier to obtain favours by an humble and modest behaviour than by sullenness and a boasting manner.—Starke.
Those two great monarchs made great grants and largesses, the one to Esther, the other to Herodias’s daughter; but yet they were limited only to the half of their kingdoms; and the royal power in their kingdoms they meant still to retain and reserve wholly to themselves. But God, having placed Christ on his throne, bids him ask men to the whole of his kingdom, for God hath made him a king, sitting on his throne with him, not to share halves, but to have all power in heaven and earth.—Goodwin.
Oh the wonderful love of Christ! the wonderful bounty of his love! It was a royal offer of Ahasuerus to Esther, and a sign of great love! “What is thy request? it shall be given thee to the half of the kingdom.” Ay; but Christ not only offers, but gives, not half, but whole, kingdoms; yea, whole worlds. But you will say, This is but a chimera, an empty notion; for we see there are none enjoy less of the world than those whom you say Christ loves. I answer, The world is not able to judge of true enjoyments. There are none that have a more real, and advantageous, and a less troublesome and dangerous enjoyment of the world than saints. And I prove it thus. We may be most truly said to enjoy that which we reap the greatest emolument from, and get the greatest benefit by, that can be imagined; but there are none that improve the world to such a real advantage as the saints; for the love of Christ has so ordered the world, and everything in it, as it tends to their happiness. And what greater benefit imaginable than happiness?—Clarkson.
In the country Carniensis of Spain, there is a river that shows all the fish in it to be like gold; but take them into your hand, they appear in their natural kind and colour. Such are promises and specious pretences of love in his mouth that would obtain his purpose; bring them to the touch, and thou shalt find all is not gold that glitters. Great boast and small roast will never fill the belly; he therefore that will engage himself into any great action, upon promise of great assistance, if he be not as sure of his friend’s ability in power as readiness in will, he reckons without his host, and sits down with the loss.—Spencer.
But let us now make a brief improvement of the verses which have been considered. And here the train of thought suggested to us will have already occurred to the minds of some. It embraces two particulars: the largeness of the king’s offer, and Esther’s hesitancy at once to avail herself of it.
1. With respect to the largeness of the offer. “Even to the half of my kingdom,” the king said, “will thy request be granted.” This, we have remarked, was the language of exaggeration. But we have it declared, in the words of truth addressed by our heavenly Lord to his people: “Verily, verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Here there is no limitation, but whatever is needed to the completion of our true spiritual joy we are invited to ask in the name of Christ; and if we ask in faith, as we are elsewhere told, it will be given, “that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” “All things are yours,” it is said to believers; and it may well be said, since Jehovah gives himself to them as their God, and Christ is theirs, and the Spirit dwells in them.
2. But then, secondly, as Esther was afraid all at once to ask what she most desired, so God’s people are often slow or afraid to avail themselves to the full of their privilege of asking. Many are contented to live from year to year, with little more to uphold them than an indistinct hope that they shall reach heaven at last, when, if they would but take home God’s promises in all their freeness and richness, they might be able to rejoice in him as their portion. Many even seem to think that it would be presumptuous in them to expect such comfort and enlargement of heart as they read that others have enjoyed; whereas the Scripture tells them that the Spirit of the Lord is not straitened, and that they are only straitened in themselves.
But perhaps it may be, that as Esther did not feel herself in a condition all at once to close with the king’s most liberal offer, so some among us, for other reasons than the feeling that it would be presumptuous, may be exercised in the same way with respect to spiritual privileges. This point deserves a moment’s notice. There are some professed followers of Christ who are not altogether prepared either to ask or to receive the full measure of privilege which he offers to his people. They have still some lingering desires after the world and its pleasures which they are unwilling all at once to renounce; and though they seem to have cast in their lot with the redeemed, they would rather have the process of self-renunciation and of sanctification to be gradual than summary. In a word, with their present feelings, they would be, I must say, unwilling, or at least afraid, to receive the large communications of grace which Christ has promised to bestow. Now this is a most dangerous state of mind, and cannot be otherwise designated than as a grieving of the Spirit of God. And if there be any here to whom the above remarks are applicable, I would beseech them no longer to sport with offered blessings—no longer to imagine that they can serve Christ and the world together. Esther only deferred craving all she wished, because that was the best way to obtain it in the end. But if you are unwilling to take all that you might have, because in that case you must bid adieu to certain pleasures which you desire to retain, then you provoke the Lord to withdraw from you altogether the sense of his favour, and to leave you in utter darkness.—Davidson.
“What wilt thou, queen Esther? And what is thy request? It shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.”—What encouragement is here presented to those who are called to venture their lives, or their reputation, or their substance, in the cause of God! They shall not only have these preserved, but in one way or another increased. How often has God prevented the fears, and outdone the hopes, of his servants! It is the cowardice of Christians that spoils their fortune. Their fears kill them, and benumb, and palsy, and deaden their exertions for God and his Church. If we had more faith, and “added to our faith fortitude,” our trials would be less, and our success greater. “Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God?”*
From the story of the unjust judge our Saviour took occasion to teach that “men ought always to pray and not to faint;” and, without wandering from the subject, I may surely take opportunity from this portion of history to inculcate the same duty. Did this haughty monarch hold out the sceptre, and say, What wilt thou, and what is thy request? and shall not God hear his own elect—his chosen spouse, crying to him day and night? Esther had to go into the presence of a proud imperious man, we to go into the presence of a God of love and condescension. She was not called; we are invited. She went in against the law; we have both precept and promise in our favour—yea, precept upon precept, and promise upon promise. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” She had no friend at court on whom she could rely, and the great favourite was the accuser of her brethren, the mortal foe of her name and race; we, even when we have sinned, and sinned after light and pardon, have an advocate with the Father, his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, who also is the propitiation for our sins. Esther was encouraged to ask to the extent of the half of the kingdom of Persia; we are encouraged to ask to the whole of the kingdom of heaven, with a life-rent on earth of all that is needful for us. Ought we not then to “come boldly to the throne of grace”?—McCrie.
She would act with calmness and deliberation, as one who waited and relied upon the leading of providence. The king broke the silence by encouraging her to speak, and promising to grant her petition whatever it was, even “to the half of the kingdom.” There seems to be more implied in this promise than the loose language of exaggeration. It has been usual to interpret it in this way, but inquiry into the custom of ancient Persian kings presents it in a different aspect. It was customary for them, we are informed, to bestow grants or pensions to their favourites, “not by payments from the treasury, but by charges upon the revenues of particular provinces or cities.” One province or city was charged with providing the particular favourite’s clothes, another his meat, another his wine, another his jewellery, and so on, thereby enabling the person to live in great luxury and magnificence. Because of this charge laid upon special districts, they were called by the article which they had to supply, such as “The queen’s girdle,” “The queen’s headdress,” et cætera. And if we take into account this old custom, it is probable that the promise of the king to Esther amounted to this, that he would even lay the half of his kingdom under some burden or tribute for her special benefit. Perhaps this also was an exaggeration, but it gives to the words a significance which we should not otherwise have understood. “Then said the king unto her, What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom.”
Without branching out upon farfetched analogies, and remotely suggested themes, we would, for the sake of the comfort which it may afford, refer to ourselves as suppliants in the presence of our King. The Church is “the Lamb’s wife.” She has free access to the throne of the King of kings. O how timidly and doubtfully do believers sometimes draw near to him! It is as though they feared his royal sceptre, forgetting that it is the sceptre of mercy; as though they were apprehensive that he had taken away his love from them, forgetting that “having loved his own who were in the world, he loves them unto the end.” He has no half-measures—no half-kingdoms to offer. He promises you the kingdom—wholly, willing, unreservedly,—and even chides you for having “hitherto asked nothing in his name,” and encourages you to “ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” King Ahasuerus could not anticipate the request of Esther; after his own carnal heart he thought that it must be some additional temporal good. But our King knows all beforehand, and has provided for, and is ready to bestow upon, us all that we can need upon the earth, and all that we can desire to prepare us for heaven. And surely, if we require to be stirred to earnestness and importunity by the presence of a great cause, we all have it in the condition of our own hearts, the souls of others, and the salvation of the world. There are spiritual as well as natural laws, according to which God works—a law which requires that the husbandman should sow the seed if he would reap a harvest, and a law which requires that we should pray if we would obtain the blessing. By our own large spiritual necessities and the wants of the world around, as well as by the unstinted generosity and beneficence of our King, are we urged on all hands to abound more in prayer—“Then shall the earth yield her increase, and God, even our own God, shall bless us; God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.”—McEwan.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Esther 5:3; Esther 5:5. Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great had a famous but indigent philosopher in his Court, who, on one occasion, being particularly straitened in his circumstances, applied to his patron for aid. Alexander at once gave him a commission to receive of his treasurer whatever he wanted. He immediately demanded, in his sovereign’s name, ten thousand pounds. The treasurer, before complying, waited upon the king, and told him how exorbitant he thought the sum. Alexander heard him with patience, and then replied: “Let the money be instantly paid; I am delighted with this philosopher’s way of thinking; by the largeness of his request, he shows the high idea he has conceived both of my superior wealth and my royal munificence.
Esther 5:3; Esther 5:5. Theodosius and Sigismund. Theodosius, Archbishop of Cologne, when the Emperor Sigismund demanded of him the directest and most compendious way how to obtain true happiness, made answer in brief thus: “Perform when thou art well what thou promisedst when thou wast sick.” David did so; he made vows in war, and paid them in peace. And thus should all good men do, not like the cunning devil, of whom the epigrammist thus writeth:
“Ægrotat dæmon, monachus tune esse volebat;
Convaluit dæmon, monachus tune esse nolebat.”
“The devil was sick, the devil a monk would be;
The devil got well, the devil a monk was he.”
Nor like unto many now-a-days, that if God’s hand do but lie somewhat heavy upon them, oh! what promises, what engagements are there for amendment of life! How like unto marble against rain do they seem to sweat and melt, but still retain their hardness; let but the rod be taken off their backs, or health restored, then as their bodies live their vows die, all is forgotten; nay, many times it so falleth out, that they are far worse than ever they were before.—Spencer.
Ingratitude to God.—The English proverb says, “The river past and God forgotten,” to express with how mournful a frequency, he whose assistance was invoked—it may have been earnestly in the moment of peril—is remembered no more so soon as by his help the danger has been surmounted. And the Italian form of it sounds a still sadder depth of ingratitude: “The peril passed, the saint mocked,” the vows made to him in peril remaining unperformed in safety, and he treated somewhat as in Greek story Juno was treated by Mandrabulus the Samian, who having, under her auspices and through her direction, discovered a gold mine, in his instant gratitude vowed to her a golden ram, which he presently exchanged in intention for a silver one, and again this for a very small brass one, and this for nothing at all.—Trench.
Esther 5:3. God’s promises conditional. A proclamation is read, wherein a Christian king grants honour and wealth to certain of his subjects, with assurance of donation on their just demand. One amongst the multitude leaps at the news, springs away, and stays not to hear it out; there is a condition following, provided first, that they put on arms, and expel the Turk which infests some part of his dominions. This man comes one of the foremost to demand the promised honours; he is asked for a testimony of his valour and service in the wars. Alas, he never tarried to hear that condition, and therefore lost the retribution. Thus it is that God promiseth eternal life to men; withal chargeth them to believe in Christ, and to do their faithful service against the world, the flesh, and the devil; but so it is, that many are quite lost, for not staying to hear the proclamation of the Gospel out, they run away with opinion of sufficient belief, and never think of obedience; whereas the promises of God are conditional. As there is a reward promised, so there is a condition promised; it must be our obedience first, and then comes in God’s recompence; our devotion goes before, and his retribution follows after.—Spencer.
Esther 5:6. And the king said unto Esther at the banquet of wine] After the meats were removed it was customary in Persia to continue the banquet for a considerable time with fruits and wine (Herod. 1, 133). During this part of the feast the king renewed his offer.—Rawlinson. The king understood that there was some request besides the mere coming to her banquet. 7,
Esther 5:8.] Esther answered, My petition and my request; If I have found favour in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition, and to perform my request, let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do to-morrow as the king hath said] i.e. make known my request. She did not esteem the time an appropriate one for expressing her request.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 5:6-8
DIRECTIONS FOR PRAYER
If in the book of Esther only this one passage were found we ought to feel that the book had not been written and preserved in vain; for it is a passage that has served good purpose in the way of illustrating and enforcing theological lessons. It is one of the passages that readily presents itself to the mind of those who wish to speak about prayer. In other passages it might appear as if the moral lessons were brought to the text instead of being naturally and logically deduced; but in this passage the mind at once seizes upon the subject, and reads from it a lesson or prayer. Following the plan of textual division and exposition we find here laid down ample directions for prayer.
I. There must be method in prayer. What is thy petition, and what is thy request? These are questions which the praying soul may well put to itself as it is about to approach the throne of grace. Self-examination is good, and it is especially beneficial as we are about to approach our God. Too many in these busy times simply content themselves with the idea that prayer is to be offered. Prayer with them is too much like the hurried salute given to a passing friend. Prayer with them is like the quick march of an army past the royal standard. It is a kind of offering presented in order to propitiate Deity. It is only counting beads strung on a cord. It is only as one turning a praying wheel. God does not require such offerings. He inquires, What is thy petition? And we too should ask ourselves the same question. Self-examination and meditation before prayer will give speed to our prayers, and enable us to derive benefit from the same. We go as beggars; let us understand what we want, and shape our requests accordingly. We go as children; let us try to perceive that we need light, and love, and guidance, and earnestly appeal to God for the required blessings. If at the close of closet prayer an angel were to appear and to ask, What is thy petition? how startled we should be, and we should have to answer, I was not thinking very much about it, only I felt that I should be uneasy if a few words were not said before I retired to rest. If God’s angels were to stand some Sunday morning beside the thirty or forty thousand pulpits of our land, and say aloud to every minister, What is thy petition?—the ministers and the congregations would be surprised out of their inane proprieties. And if those angels had the power of making the true thoughts speak out, still greater would be the surprise. The Church minister might say, I had no request, I only thought of reading the prayers, and I did not even think much of the words written in the Prayer-book. In fact I was not conscious of being in a devotional spirit. The dissenting ministers would have varying answers. Some were earnestly pleading with God for a blessing, as some devout Church ministers do pray by means of written and read prayers. But what of others? Some might say, I was trying to be philosophical; some, rhetorical; some, beautifully simple; some, I was trying to reach my ideal of what prayer should be; and other some, a few it is hoped, I was imitating this one or that one noted for the beauty of his prayers. Surely modern Christianity would be a greater power in the earth if all, or a vast majority, were able to give a definite answer to the question, What is thy petition? God pity our weakness. He does pity; he bears long; he remembers those who do pray, a larger number than perhaps we sometimes think. Oh for more strength in prayer!—and this is gained by more method. God graciously asks, What is thy petition?—shall we not respondently inquire, What am I going to do? What blessings do I require? What is the urgent requisite for the assembly for whom I pray?
II. There must be assurance in prayer. Not merely the assurance that God is ready to hear prayer, but the assurance that we “have found favour in the sight of the King.” Esther desired to feel her ground sure on this important point. How shall we know that the King of heaven is favourable? We may know by looking to the unspeakable gift. “God commendeth his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly.” May the Holy Spirit teach each one to know and to feel Christ died for me a sinner! We need not doubt the favour of God if we rest fully upon the Son of his love. In Christ we may know that it will please the heavenly King to grant our petition. “He that spared not his own Son, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Here is a large charter of blessings. God’s great gift of Jesus implies the gift of all things needful. It includes and surpasses every other charter of blessings. We cannot stand anywhere out of the reach of God’s blessed “all things.” The atmosphere seems to be an all-pervading force; but God’s “all things” go even further, and are more enduring than that life-giving atmosphere. Riches may take to themselves wings and fly away; a fair reputation may be blighted; health may decline; friends may depart; relatives may become indifferent; even father and mother may forsake; death itself may come as if to complete the awful ruin; but still God’s “all things” abide to the Christian amid every change, and in the midst of every disaster. Assurance in prayer, why should we ever doubt? Let boasting scientists talk; we are not careful, even if we were able, to answer them in this matter. We betake ourselves to prayer, and forget the babbling noise of opposing tongues. God’s “all things” are vaster than the scientist’s few things imperfectly understood. God’s “all things” are deeper and higher, longer and broader, than philosophies falsely so-called.
III. There may be hesitancy in prayer. Not the hesitancy of doubt, but of deliberation. Preachers are sometimes exhorted to cultivate the pause in their sermons. All may with great advantage be exhorted to cultivate the pause in their prayers. The silent waiting of the Society of Friends is not without its instructive teaching to those who have too much fluency in prayer. Esther answered and said, “My petition and my request is;” then she stopped as if to think. The sentence is not properly punctuated if we look into Esther’s mind. A full stop would be appropriate. There was doubtless a full stop in Esther’s mind. “My petition and my request is.” Oh, is there not prayer, the truest prayer, when the heart is too full for utterance? Unspoken prayers make more noise in heaven than “the greatest prayers” ever addressed to applauding audiences. “Now, let us have a few minutes’ silent prayer,” says the revivalist, at the close of an exciting address; and perhaps most of the people are not in a state for prayer. Many do not know what to pray for. Well, the silence will be beneficial after so much bluster. It can do no harm. The silence we desire is not that which is produced at the command of another. There must be the deep true silence of the soul, “Commune with your own heart, and be still.”
IV. There must be submission to the Divine will in prayer. “I will do tomorrow as the king hath said.” Here Esther answers the king, but she also answers the workings of her own devout mind. She is watching the leadings of providence; she is waiting for the finger of God to point the way in which she is to walk; she is intently listening for the Divine voice to speak to her in the silence of her prayerful waiting; she is in no hurry. To-morrow will do, if to-day the purpose is not ripe. To-morrow will do, if it is in God’s hands. She will not limit the Divine to-morrow. Certainly we must not. Human to-morrows are easily measured. Divine to-morrows out-pass the petty measurements of time. The praying soul may desire the blessing to-day, but God may say to-morrow is best. Delay is part of the Divine plan in dealing with his people and his Church. The to-morrow sometimes seems a long way off, and a long time in coming. Let patience have its perfect work. The Divine silence will be broken. God is moving though we see him not, and though we hear not the tread of his feet. There are times in the Church’s history when God seems to answer not a word, but ere long the Divine goings are heard. Let faith, patience, and prayer be continued till the Divine silence is broken. God sometimes in answering not a word to a prayer gives the best answer. He answers not to the mere words but to the true purpose, and the lasting good, of him who sincerely prays. Silence, then, is not denial, but encouragement. May the good Lord increase our faith, strengthen our patience, enlarge our spirit of prayer, and crown all with Divine benedictions.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 5:6-8
To make prayer of any value, there must be definite objects for which to plead. We often ramble in our prayers after this, that, and the other, and we get nothing, because in each we do not really desire anything. We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any object. Do you not sometimes fall on your knees without thinking beforehand what you mean to ask God for? You do, as a matter of habit, without any motion of your heart. You are like a man who would go to a shop and not know what articles he would procure. He may, perhaps, make a happy purchase when he is there, but certainly it is not a wise plan to adopt. And so the Christian in prayer may afterwards attain to a real desire, and get his end; but how much better would he speed if, having prepared his soul by consideration and self-examination, he came to God for an object at which he was about to arrive, with a real request. Did we ask an audience at her Majesty’s court, we should not be expected to go into the presence of royalty, and then to think of some petition after we came there. Even so with the child of God. He would be able to answer the great question: “What is thy petition, and what is thy request, and it shall be done unto thee?” Imagine an archer shooting with his bow, and not knowing where the mark is! Would he be likely to have success? Conceive a ship, on a voyage of discovery, putting to sea without the captain having any idea of what he was looking for! Would you expect that he would come back heavily laden either with the discoveries of science or with treasures of gold? In everything else you have a plan. You do not go to work without knowing that there is something that you designed to make; how is it that you go to God without knowing what blessing you design to have?—Spurgeon.
And I will do to-morrow as the king hath said.—She had learned to prefer opportunity before time. There might be some by at this first banquet whose company she liked not; or she might not yet have so clear an answer in her own heart to her former prayers, and therefore desireth some further time that night to seek God; whatever the reason of her putting it off till next day was, God’s holy hand was in it, that Mordecai might be first so greatly honoured, and Haman’s high gallows prepared: Illum utique magis securum, Regem autem magis benevolum magisque fecit attentum, saith Rupertus. Hereby she made Haman more secure, and the king more kind and attent.—Trapp.
We may recognize the picture of a soul praying to God in the image of Esther standing with humble and imploring attitude before Ahasuerus. Sacred poetry, especially, has made use of single features or expressions of this history in this regard. So Dressler in his beautiful hymn, “My Jesus, to whom seraphim,” &c., causes the pious supplicant to say:
“Reach thy sceptre to my soul,
Which like an Esther bows to thee,
And shows herself thy bride to thee.”
“Speak: ‘Yea, thou art she whom I have chosen.’ ” The representative signification of the persons in this history have, as it were, brought with them their own recognition. The Christian may certainly employ them in this sense. So Starke, when he says: “If a heathen king can willingly grant such grace, how much more willing is the most faithful Lord to receive all poor destitute sinners coming to him in faith, and in the good time to come to place them upon his throne!” Ahasuerus paid no regard to the fact that Esther had violated his commandment, but received her very graciously, although his irrevocable edict stood in the way of granting her petition. The father heart of God, although we violate all his laws, and though his unchangeable holiness be against the sinner, still yearns towards us in its great love and grace. But just as Esther came boldly and yet modestly, so we also must combine with true humility a true and elevated courage, a disheartened repentance together with confiding faith.—Lange.
He that would be little in temptation, let him be much in prayer. Praying only for carnal things shows a carnal heart, and leaves it carnal. Prayer is a key in the hand of faith to unlock God’s treasures. A family without prayer is like a house without a roof—exposed to every wind that blows, and every storm that rages. Prayer will compel a man to leave off sinning, or sinning will make him leave off praying. The greatest and hardest preparation for heaven is within; but the spirit of prayer can effect this. Do you profess to love any one for whom you have never prayed? Rhetoric cannot pray, with all his words; but Faith can pray, even when she has no words. In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. Pray, not only in the name of Christ, but in the faith of Christ. The gift of prayer may have praise from men, but the grace of prayer has power with God.—American Churchman’s Almanac.
Let us need present help, and you shall see that he is “a very present help in time of trouble.” Let the disciple be sinking amid the waves of Galilee, crying, “I perish”—let the prophet be on his knees in the depths of the sea and the dark belly of the whale—let the widow’s last mite, and the barrel’s last handful, have come—let the confessor be descending into the lions’ roaring den—let the queen have her brave hand upon the door, with these words of high resolve upon her lips, “If I perish, I perish”—let the trembling host have the waters of the Red Sea roaring in their front, and the chariots of Egypt pressing on their rear—let God’s people have reached such a crisis; let them stand in any such predicament;—and his answer anticipates their prayer. The supply is on the road before the want is expressed; the door opens before the hand has struck it; while prayer is travelling up the one line, the answer is speeding down the other. Hear the voice of the Lord: “It shall come to pass; before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Child of God! pray on. God’s people are more dear to him than our children can be to us. He regards them with more complacency than all the shining orbs of that starry firmament. They were bought at a price higher than would purchase the dead matter of ten thousand worlds. He cares more for his humblest, weakest child than for all the crowned heads of earth, and takes a deeper interest in the daily fortunes of a pious cottage than in the fall and rise of kingdoms. Child of God! pray on. By prayer thy hand can touch the stars, thy arm stretch up to heaven. Nor let thy holy boldness be dashed by the thought that prayer has no power to bend these skies, and bring down thy God. When I pull on the rope which fastens my frail and little boat to a distant and mighty ship, if my strength cannot draw its vast bulk to me, I draw myself to it—to ride in safety under the protection of its guns; to enjoy in want the fulness of its stores. And it equally serves my purpose, and supplies my needs, that prayer, although it were powerless to move God to me, moves me to God. If he does not descend to earth. I—as it were—ascend to heaven. Child of God! pray on. Were it indispensable for thy safety that God should rend these heavens, it should be done—a wondering world should see it done. I dare believe that; and “I am not mad, most noble Festus.” Have not these heavens been already rent? Eighteen hundred years ago, robed in humanity, God himself came down. These blue skies, where larks sing and eagles sail, were cleft with the wings and filled with the songs of his angel train. Among the ancient orbs of that very firmament, a stranger star appeared, travelling the heavens, and blazing on the banner borne before the King, as he descended on this dark and distant world. On Canaan’s dewy ground—the lowly bed he had left—the eye of morning shone on the shape and form of the Son of God; and dusty roads, and winter snows, and desert sands, and the shores and very waves of Galilee, were impressed with the footprints of the Creator. By this manger, where the babe lies cradled; beside this cross, upon whose ignominious arms the glory of the universe is hung; by this silent sepulchre, where wrapped in bloody shroud, the body is stretched out on its bed of spices, while Roman sentinels walk their moonlit round, and death—a bound captive—sits within, so soon as the sleeper wakes, to be disarmed, uncrowned, and in himself have death put to death—faith can believe all that God has revealed, and hope for all that God has promised. She reads on that manger, on that cross, deeply lettered on that rocky sepulchre, these glorious words: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” And there lifting an eagle eye to heaven, she rises to the boldest flights, and soars aloft on the broad wings of prayer:
“Faith, bold faith, the promise sees,
And trusts to that alone,
Laughs at impossibilities,
And says it shall be done.”—Dr. Guthrie.
Prayer may be supplication, or thanksgiving, or confession. Or it may be simple intercourse. He that muses toward God prays. If you can conceive of a child in the presence of a parent most beloved that speaks, that is silent, that speaks again, that is again silent; now thought, now fancy, now feeling, in turn, as it were, wheeling the orb of its little mind round completely, so that on every side it receives light or gives light to the parent—the intercourse of that child with the parent is the fittest symbol of true prayer.
Prayer is the soul of a man moving in the presence of God, for the purpose of communicating its joy, or sorrow, or fear, or hope, or any other conscious experience that it may have, to the bosom of a parent.—Beecher.
It is right not to put off till to-morrow the duty of to-day, but it may be wise to defer to-day what can be done better and more hopefully to-morrow. The greenness of to-day may be ripeness to-morrow—the blossom of to-day may be fruit to-morrow,—and it is the policy of wisdom to know when to wait and when to act, not waiting too long nor acting too hastily; only to, but no farther than, the ripeness and the fruiting—“I will do to-morrow as the king hath said.”
To-morrow! As little could Esther as Haman have divined what was to happen before to-morrow. By faith the Christian leaves to-morrow in the hand of God; but, confident in proud self, the worldly man doubts not but that to-morrow will be as this day, and yet more abundant. There are shadows which are thrown forward, losses and bereavements which make the whole of life more sombre and sad than it had been before; but if each to-morrow was to be known beforehand there would be shadows thrown backward as well as forward, darkening our joys and intensifying our sorrows. As the past has scarcely proved what we could have anticipated, so cannot we now antedate the future. It is well that it should be so—well if, like Esther, we are exercising faith in God, and well too if, like Haman, we are drawing near his signal judgment. Let us advance upon each to-morrow as though to-morrow may be our last, and our last to-morrow will not take us by surprise. “Go to now, ye that say, Today or to-morrow, we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get again. Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.”
“Then went Haman forth that day joyful and with a glad heart.” Be not so cruel as speak to him of to-morrow! Let the wicked enjoy their bright to-day—it is the only bright to-day which they will ever have. It was different with Lazarus than with the rich man in the parable. To the one the last to-morrow was a day of comfort, but to the other a day of dread decision and despair. And ah! how different the to-morrow of Mordecai and his inveterate enemy Haman. The sun is about to rise on the one, just as it is setting on the other. Without farther anticipating that to-morrow, we know not whether to congratulate the pious Jew the most, or to pity and commiserate the haughty Agagite. They meet to-day, and they shall meet again to-morrow. Yes, to-morrow! Let worldly men fear and prepare for their last to-morrow! “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”—McEwan.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Esther 5:6; Esther 5:8. Gossner. Standing by his grave, one said of him, that it was not hyperbole, “He prayed up the walls of an hospital, and the hearts of the nurses; he prayed mission-stations into being, and missionaries into faith; he prayed open the hearts of the rich, and gold from the most distant lands.” And as for his sermons, the power of the Word did not lie so much in the thoughts, or in the art of the preacher, as in prayer. Prayer was his atmosphere; he could not live without it. So soon as he came to Berlin, he gathered a few round him for prayer. They continued in prayer while he lived. He could not be present where it was excluded. The Bible Society had determined to open its committee meetings only with silent prayer; he protested, and the protest showed how deeply his heart was sunk in the heart of Christ. “A Bible society that does not begin with prayer is to my mind a synagoga profanorum. I do not despise a short silent prayer; but it is too little at a Bible Society, and no more than if a nurse said to a child, ‘Make a curtsey,’ and it made it, and that was all. If I went to the meeting and sought prayer, and it was forbidden, I would take my hat and stick and run out as if a mad dog had bitten me. If I could raise the dead, I would go to Wittenberg and call Luther out of his grave, and Spener, and Arndt, and Andreä, and bring them to the Bible Society at Berlin, and let them decide.”—Stevenson’s Praying and Working.
Esther 5:6; Esther 5:8. Effective prayer.—God looks not at the pomp of words and variety of expressions, but at the sincerity and devotion of the heart. The key opens the door, not because it is gilt, but because it fits the lock.
Constant in prayer.—Felix Neff once made the following comparison: “When a pump is frequently used, but little pains are necessary to have water; the water pours out at the first stroke, because it is high. But if the pump has not been used for a long while, the water gets low, and when you want it you must pump a long while, and the water comes only after great efforts. It is so with prayer; if we are instant in prayer, every little circumstance awakens the disposition to pray, and desires and words are always ready. But if we neglect prayer it is difficult for us to pray; for the water in the well gets low.”
Esther 5:6; Esther 5:8. Answer to earnest prayer.—“At the time the Diet of Nuremburg was held,” says Tholuck, “Luther was earnestly praying in his own dwelling; and at the very hour when the edict grunting free toleration to all Protestants was issued, he ran out of his house, crying out, ‘We have gained the victory! Do you understand that?’ ”
Esther 5:6; Esther 5:8. Access to God. However early in the morning you seek the gate of access, you find it already open; and however deep the midnight moment when you find yourself in the sudden arms of death, the winged prayer can bring an instant Saviour, and this wherever you are. It needs not that you should enter some awful shrine, or pull off your shoes on some holy ground. Could a memento be reared on every spot from which an acceptable prayer has passed away, and on which a prompt answer has come down, we should find Jehovah-shammah, “the Lord has been here,” inscribed on many a cottage hearth and many a dungeon floor.—Dr. James Hamilton.
Esther 5:6; Esther 5:8. Christ presenting our prayers.—“A child,” says Ambrose, “that is willing to present his father with a bouquet, goes into the garden, and there gathers some flowers and some weeds together; but, coming to his mother, she picks out the weeds and binds the flowers, and so it is presented to the father.” Thus, when we have put up our prayers, Christ comes and picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayers, and presents nothing but flowers to his Father, which are a sweet-smelling savour.—T. Watson.
Esther 5:6-7. The late Dr. William Patton. The story is told that Dr. Patton once met a pious friend with a troubled face, who said; “Doctor, you are just the man I have been wanting to see; I wish to ask you a question.” “Well,” said the Doctor, “what is it that is troubling you to-day?” “Be quiet,” said his friend, “and I will tell you! Now we read that God is just, merciful, and kind,” said the friend. “That is what we preach,” said Dr. Patton. “The Bible further says: ‘Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ ” “Correctly quoted,” said the Doctor. “Again,” added his friend, “the good Book says, ‘not one jot or tittle of my Word shall fail.’ ” “Very true,” said the Doctor. “Now,” said the anxious friend, “if all that I have quoted is correct, and the Bible be true, I want to ask you how it is, Doctor, that I have been praying to God for the last thirty years that he will do certain things for me, and, so far as I know, not a single thing that I have asked for has been granted? Pray tell me why I have not received answers to my prayers?” The Doctor replied: “My friend, did it ever occur to you that you were presenting bills to God and asking payment for the same before they were due?”—Christian Age.
Esther 5:6. Protection through prayer. In a village in Germany, a poor widow was lying sick in bed, when suddenly a party of soldiers came into the room. They said they had been sent to stay at her house, and in a violent way they demanded bread, and meat, and beer. The poor woman said she had not bread enough in the house for herself and her little ones to eat, and that for her to feed them was impossible. This made the men angry. They began to break and smash things to pieces. They swore at her terribly, and even threatened to beat her, unless she gave them what they wanted at once. Just then, a little boy, about four years old, who had ran into a corner to hide himself, in terror, when the soldiers first entered the house, came out from his hiding-place. He kneeled down by his mother’s bed, and offered this simple prayer: “O dear, kind Jesus, please don’t let them hurt mother! make them good to her, and bless them. Amen.” One of the soldiers, who had a little boy at home, of about the same age, was very much moved by the dear child’s prayer. It brought the tears to his eyes, and in a low voice he said: “Comrades, let’s go somewhere else. In a house where a pious child like this lives, God himself must dwell. This is no place for us. Let’s go.” They did go; but before going, the soldier put two pieces of money in the hand of the child.—Rev. R. Newton.
Esther 5:6. Family prayers. Family prayers will be a secular advantage. A father went into the war to serve his country. His children stayed and cultured the farm. His wife prayed. One of the sons said afterward, “Father is fighting, and we are digging, and mother is praying.” “Ah!” said some one, “praying, and digging, and fighting, will bring us out of our national troubles.” We may say in the morning, “Give me this day my daily bread,” and sit down in idleness and starve to death; but prayer and hard work will give a livelihood to any family. Family religion pays for both worlds. Let us have an altar in each one of our households. You may not be able to formulate a prayer. Then there are Philip Henry’s prayers, and there are McDuff’s prayers, and there are Philip Doddridge’s prayers, and there are the Episcopal Church prayers, and there are scores of books with supplications just suited to the domestic circle. I have been told that in the White House at Washington every day the President’s family kneel, and recite the Lord’s prayer. Family prayers in the White House have kept the Administration cool and calm, while much of the time Congress has been playing the fool.—Talmage.
Esther 5:9.] Haman was joyful at the thought of receiving such honour from the king and queen; but the greatness of his joy rendered him still more indignant at Mordecai for his stubborn refusal to show outward tokens of respect.
Esther 5:10.] However, Haman refrained himself till he could consult his friends and his wife Zeresh. His friends—his intimate associates and companions—diviners and wise men—with whom he met in councils and in festivities.—Whedon’s Com.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 5:9-10
THE SUPERFICIAL MAN
We can readily picture Haman going forth from the royal banquet with glad heart, with elated step, and haughty mien. Not more proudly did Nebuchadnezzar walk in the palace of the kingdom of Babylon, and gaze upon the mighty city with feelings of self-laudation, than did the wicked Haman go forth from the palace that was in Shushan, and congratulate himself on his success. And not more certainly did pride have a dreadful fall in the case of Nebuchadnezzar than it was destined to have in the case of Haman. Now he is glad, but soon his gladness is turned into the wailing of discontent. Now he is proud, but soon he will be humbled.
I. Haman’s gladness. “Then went Haman forth that day joyful, and with a glad heart.” Haman’s gladness arose from a false estimation of himself. He vainly fancied that the banquet was in his honour. He regarded all the costly and painful preparation as a fitting homage to his own self-importance. These kinds of false estimates are not peculiar to the Hamans. The poet may exhort, but the poet does not give the power, to see ourselves as others see us. Perhaps after all the power would not be so beneficial. Many a man would be less useful if he saw himself through other people’s spectacles. Still exaggerated views of self are harmful. A true estimate of self, with firm dependence upon God, and an earnest desire to do our duty, will furnish the most lasting satisfaction. Haman’s gladness arose from a false estimate of his position. We are sometimes never less safe than when we feel most secure. It is not to be supposed that a doubt crossed Haman’s mind as he passed away from the royal presence. He did not perceive the dark shadow dogging his steps. Many are glad instead of being sorry because they take false estimates of their position. They build on the sand, and not on the rock. Happy the man who builds on the rock Christ Jesus! Here is abiding gladness. Here is heavenly calm. Here is enduring safety. Thus Haman’s gladness was superficial, and consequently transitory. The rapturous gladness of earth is superficial and transitory. The chastened gladness of the soul resting upon Christ is profound and abiding.
II. Haman’s use of his eyes. He saw, but he did not see deeply; he did not see correctly. Pride had cast a film over his mental vision. He saw only Mordecai’s stubbornness. He did not see that the stubbornness rightly read meant integrity of purpose. He did not see glorious heroism in that unbending form. Prejudice lessens the power of vision. Green-eyed jealousy cannot possibly see correctly. A vast deal of suffering would be saved if eyes were used in a right manner. Men see and yet do not see. Seldom do men see one another justly. We either see too much or see too little. Most see through other people’s spectacles. We see virtue and genius in the man who has a reputation. We see a repellent sight in the Jew who sits unbendingly at the king’s gate. Let eyes be allowed to do their own proper work.
III. Haman’s consequent change of state. The eyes affect the heart. Haman saw, and Haman became full of indignation. Had Haman seen correctly he would have been full of admiration. A false use of the eyes has its penalties. No God-given power or faculty, whether physical, intellectual, or moral, can be perverted or misused without bringing retribution. There is an indignation which is righteous, and there is an indignation which is unrighteous. When we see tyranny, oppression, and vice flaunting itself in high places, then we do well to be full of indignation. But when we see integrity in low places; when we see a man determined to be honest though it may mean poverty; a man who resolves not to cringe to wickedness, and not to fawn upon and to flatter even royal sinners, then we do badly to be full of indignation. There is so much false propriety in the present day that we are not allowed to be indignant. Zeal is rude. Zeal must never violate the proprieties of polite life. A man’s indignant feelings must never get the better of his self-control. If a man can be zealous and not run counter to æsthetic rules, and not hinder his success, well and good. But woe to the man who lets zeal get the better of discretion!
IV. Haman’s power of self-control. “Nevertheless, Haman refrained himself.” Haman had evidently some of that power which would have fitted him to take his place in modern polite society. He could keep his feelings in subjection when it served his purpose. Perhaps if Mordecai had met him at the banquet Haman could have carried on a conversation with the man whom he thoroughly hated. Too many set Haman before them as an example. They refrain themselves. Words smoother than butter are on their tongues; war is in their hearts. With the mouth they kiss; the concealed dagger is in the hand. Hail, master! is the voice of the betrayer, but the meaning of that voice is too often only known to the Divine. The power of self-control for the time being, however, is not to be despised. But the power of perfect self-conquest is a noble achievement. Haman should not only have refrained himself, but subdued himself. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
V. Haman’s resource in trouble. He went home, and consulted his friends and his wife. Happy the man who can feel that his home is a place of refuge; who can go there and forget his sorrows. This is wonderful, that thoroughly bad men have attached to themselves wives who have stuck to them in all calamities. However, Haman’s home was not a safe place, for his wife was evidently a bad woman. Only a good true wife can make a good home; a safe place when troubles come. Haman’s resource in trouble should not be ours, or at least not our only one. A wife may be wicked; if not wicked she may be weak. The best wife may lead us wrong. Jesus Christ has love dearer than that of fondest wives. Earthly friends may be false, or if not false, unwise. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. There is a friend who knows how to help in, and deliver from, trouble. Let prayer to the great High Priest be our resource in trouble. And then when we pass away from the homes of earth we shall go to the home of the blest, where Mordecais cannot trouble.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 5:9-10
And with a glad heart.—But he rejoiced as many more do in a thing of nought. And the end of this his mirth was heaviness. It was risus sardonius, like that of those, who being stung with the tarantula (a viper in Italy), die laughing and capering. Or as the dolphin, that sporteth most before a storm. Or as the little fishes, that swimming merrily down the silver stream of Jordan, fall shortly after into the Dead Sea. Haman doubtless held himself now the happiest man alive; as having the royalty, not of the king’s ear only but of the queen’s too, as he foolishly fancied. This wicked one boasted of his heart’s desire, and as for all his enemies, he puffed at them. He said in his heart—I shall not be moved, I shall never be in adversity. Herodotus saith of Apryes, king of Egypt, that he conceited and bragged that his kingdom was better settled to him than that any, either God or man, could remove him; yet was he afterwards taken and hanged by his own subjects. Ælian tells us, that Dionysius, the tyrant, thought it impossible that he should have been cast out of Italy, but it proved otherwise. How suddenly were Alexander, the great conqueror, and Julius Cæsar, the perpetual dictator, cut off, and quenched as the fire of thorns. Sic transit gloria mundi. The world’s greatest dealings are in no better condition than the bull that goes to be sacrificed with garlands on his head, and music before him, but suddenly feels the stroke of the murdering axe.—Trapp.
Then went Haman forth that day joyful, and with a glad heart.—This is true to human nature, to common fact. A man’s heart may be black as hell with lying, treachery, and murder, yet there are times when he is joyful; moments when everything goes according to his wish; even when, as now, unsought smiles are shed on him. The future is hidden in the blaze of present light; vengeance, treading close behind, is “shod with wool” and unheard. It is a ghastly fact, profitable to be observed, when it comes in our way. “That day!” Before the next, Haman will be hanged high on his own gibbet. Haman’s gladness did not last him home, for Mordecai, his sackcloth laid aside, was again at his post. He had fasted to good purpose, having regained quietness of mind.
Haman strutted forth in all his magnificence, drinking with greedy eyes the obsequious homage of the menials; but in a moment a black scowl of rage eclipsed the simper of gratified vanity. How small this great man was! It would appear that he had expected Mordecai to bow at last. But there Mordecai sat unmoved, not pointing the finger at Haman, not calling him traitor or murderer, but not standing up or moving—a spectacle to men and angels. Possibly he was pondering these words of Zophar: “Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short?”—A. M. Symington, B. A.
God restrains men’s lusts, either by wisdom, as is said of Haman, that he restrained himself. Yea, many times one lust restrains another. “He restrains himself” (speaking of a covetous man), “and bereaves his soul of good.” One lust eats up another; yea, sometimes and often God doth restrain by the immediate work of his own Spirit, by the gift of continence; for there is a spirit put into every man by nature of moral virtues, by which the Lord restrains the corruptions of nature. And though naturally men are filled with all unrighteousness, and every lust is as a hole to let it out, yet God oftentimes stops and plugs up the holes as he pleaseth, that they may not run out at every hole. God doth not broach every lust in every man, yet so as in some man or other, all corruption is broached; some in one and some in another; and in all the barrel is no less full. And though there be a sluice to keep in the water, though there be a less stream, yet there is nevertheless water; even so, though lusts be restrained, yet there is nevertheless corruption within; so that God’s restraining of men’s lusts is no argument to prove that therefore they have not all sin in them.
Natural wisdom, which doth both assist conscience, and help to strengthen these moral dispositions, and assists against many sins, so Haman, though his revenge began to boil, and was ready to break forth, and he was exceedingly wroth with Mordecai, yet notwithstanding he was kept by his wisdom from present revenge, for he thought to take a fitter opportunity for it afterwards; it is said, “he refrained himself.” So Saul, his natural wisdom moved him to moderation, for though a band of men, whose hearts God had touched, followed him, yet there was a company of the children of Belial, who said, “How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents; but he held his peace;” that is, Saul winked at this, and did not go about to revenge it, for his natural wisdom toll him that it was best for him to be silent until he had made his party good.
Fleshly wisdom is a great principle by which the world is guided.—Goodwin.
It were a blessed thing if, in matters which affect the interests of religion and practical godliness, the followers of Christ would exhibit the same kind of firm determination as we read of in the case of Mordecai. There would then be a more decided separation between the Church and the world, and less of tha tendency to combine the two services of Christ and the world which prevails among us so extensively. If men were estimated according to their real character, and treated rather as their moral worth merits, than with deference to their wealth—if the true elements of greatness, such as the fear of God, the love of truth, and unbending adherence to Christian principle, were honoured by those who profess to follow Christ, and the opposite qualities were visited with the disapprobation they deserve, then the Church would occupy her proper ground, and her members, although hated by the world, would be the object of its secret respect.
“When the all-influential man of power saw the Jew in the king’s gate, that he stood not up nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai.” He had come out from the banquet, we are told, joyful and with a glad heart. And no wonder; for the honour which had been conferred upon him, of being invited to such an entertainment, was higher than usually fell to the lot of the most exalted subject. He seemed now to be secure in the possession of his dignities and influence, when he stood so high in the favour both of the king and of the queen. Visions of still greater grandeur and wealth than he had yet attained floated before his mind; and as he passed along, receiving the profound homage of the servile crowd of attendants, who knelt as he approached, and shaded their eyes, as if it had been presumptuous to look upon the face of so great a man, he was the more puffed up with a sense of his own pre-eminence. But all at once he comes to the spot where Mordecai sits, and here his triumph ends. The Jew takes no more notice of him than if he were the humblest officer about the court, excepting that there is in his countenance an expression of contempt, and perhaps of dislike. This scorn is like a dagger in Haman’s heart. All the feelings of self-gratulation which he had so pleasingly cherished, and the visions of yet higher honour which he was to attain, are at once dissipated, and he retires to his house, with the mingled passions of anger, and hatred, and revenge burning in his bosom. It is remarkable, and it is profitable to notice, how completely worldly men lie at the mercy of very trifling incidents for the preservation of their comfort and happiness. A circumstance in itself of no importance, falling out unexpectedly, will have the effect of disturbing and deranging the whole train of their enjoyments. A little matter, which you would think scarcely worth their notice, is poison in the cup of their pleasures, and converts their satisfaction into exquisite misery. Haman’s case finds many parallels. We have referred to the subject before: we may allude to it again. From the banquet and the gay assembly, from which it might have been supposed that all vexation, and care, and trouble would be excluded, the votaries of fashion frequently part with such bitterness of spirit, as to make them the objects rather of pity than of envy. A supposed slight, a contemptuous glance, a suspicious whisper, a preference shown to some other party over them by those whose favour and patronage are regarded as of consequence, will throw a deep cloud of disquietude and discontent over the minds of those lovers of vanity, which distresses them more than many of the real ills of life would do. In this way it is that the proud, and vain, and frivolous are partly punished, even in this life, for their sin and folly. They carry about in their own breast the materials which, by a just retribution, turn their sweetest enjoyments into gall and wormwood.
The chief lesson which is evidently deducible from the verse before us is founded upon the contrast between the two individuals mentioned in it—Mordecai and Haman;—between the servant of God and the wicked enemy of God’s people. Mordecai occupied the subordinate place; and not only so, but he was, with all his countrymen, doomed to death in consequence of the royal edict. He had done good service to the king, even to the preservation of his life, but for that service he had received no reward. If he had been of morbid temper, he would have been dissatisfied on this account: and more especially, with the prospect before him of the coming evil, he would have been unfitted for all his ordinary duties. Only three days before he was running about in sackcloth—wailing, and refusing to be comforted. But now he is in his ordinary dress, and in his usual place, as calm and composed as if all his affairs had been most prosperous, and with as independent and manly a spirit and as unabashed countenance as if he had had nothing to dread. We may truly say of him, then, that in the midst of his trials he was happy. There, again, is Haman, who is the next man to the king, and who really possesses more power, because he can mould the king to his purposes. Rank, wealth, and honour are his, sufficient, it might be thought, to satisfy the most ambitious mind. Thousands bow before him,—his will is law,—the lives and destinies of millions are in his hand,—he can rule everything but his own spirit. Here, however, he is a slave—a slave to fiendish passions. And in consequence of this, because Mordecai the Jew would not do him reverence, he is frantic with rage. He forgets all the real benefits he enjoys by reason of the slight put upon him by this one man. It needs no argument to prove which of these two persons is truly the greater character, and which of them is most entitled to our respect. But how, it may be asked, came Mordecai to be able to bear with such equanimity the pressure of real trouble, while his enemy was all discomposed by an imaginary wrong, or by that which, if it was a real injury, he could so well afford to overlook? The answer to this question is easily given. Mordecai’s heart and mind were under the influence of the word of God. He had committed to him the whole issue of that affair in which all the Jews were so deeply interested. He could thus look forward with good hope to a happy deliverance from danger, through the interposition of the God of Abraham, who had told his people that he was the shield and the reward of all who trusted in him. Mordecai, therefore, possessed his soul in patience, assured that some outlet would be found from the threatened danger. Haman, on the other hand, was destitute of all fear of God, and unaccustomed to lay any restraint upon his passions, except when self-interest prompted him so to do. His success in life had only stimulated the evil principles of his nature, and rendered him haughty, imperious, and revengeful, where he had power to gratify his dispositions. He was therefore capable of any villany, and incapable of enjoying the blessings of his condition, as all must be who are strangers to self-government.—Davidson.
Haman refrained himself.—It is a circumstance not unworthy of notice, that even those persons who are habitually self-willed, and destitute of the power of self-government, can nevertheless, when occasion requires it, exercise a wonderful control over both their speech and their passions. Thus, for example, a man who is addicted to the sin of profane swearing, will be found to put such guard upon his words in the presence of a superior who detests that sin, that not one oath will escape from his lips. A man who has no command of his temper at ordinary times, will appear smooth and unruffled in his intercourse with those on whom he is dependent, or whose good opinion he desires to gain. A man given to excess in the indulgence of his appetites, will be careful not to transgress in company where it would be accounted shameful. Now there is an important principle involved in all this, deeply affecting the moral responsibility of such men for all their conduct. For if they can lay themselves under such restraint—when it serves their purpose—that long-formed habits can be checked and mastered, then we think that even they themselves must admit that they are deprived of all excuse when they suffer themselves to be usually governed by these habits. And if regard for the opinions and feelings of their fellow-men exerts a power over them which the law of God does not possess, then manifestly they are chargeable with the guilt of standing more in awe of men than of God. These remarks have been suggested by the words of the text, that “Haman refrained himself.” Sorely galled as he was by Mordecai’s contemptuous look and attitude, he did not openly give vent to his passion. It must have been a hard struggle; but he contrived to conceal his wrath, so as to appear in the sight of all the king’s servants calm and dignified, as became his exalted station. And very probably it was this feeling, that he had a character to sustain, and that it would have been beneath his dignity publicly to notice the affront that he had received from a Jewish slave: it was this that prevented him from giving way to the rage that swelled in his breast.
Then went Haman forth that day joyful, and with a glad heart.—The wickedest of men may be not only prosperous, but joyful; though their hands are stained with blood, though their thoughts may have been “devising inquity on their beds, that they may practise it when the morning is light,”* yet they go forth with a glad heart and a light step. With consciences as black as hell, they are not afraid to look on the unsullied orb of day, or to be seen by the moon when she walks in brightness. Such is the deceitfulness of sin, especially when it is cherished by prosperity. “They are corrupt, they speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens; and their tongue walketh through the earth. They say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.” This has often been a source of bitter distress to good men, who have been “envious at the foolish, when they saw the prosperity of the wicked.” But this is their infirmity, and they are brought to confess it. Why should they envy that joy which dwells in a guilty heart—that prosperity which betrays them to their ruin? There is greater reason for deriding them; for “the triumphing of the wicked is short.” What a pitiable object would Haman be in the eyes of Esther that day, when she viewed him from the lattice of her window, as he left the palace! “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.”†
Then went Haman forth THAT DAY joyful, and with a glad heart.—That day was the last of his gladness; next morning’s sun should not set before all his glory was laid in the dust. Nay, that very day, and that very moment when it was most buoyant, his joy was destined to suffer a dash from which it would never completely recover. Before he left the court of the palace, from which he had come out with such uplifted spirits, a dart entered his liver, and inflicted a wound, which the zeal and art of all his physicians could not heal. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, that he stood not up, nor moved for him, he was full of indignation against Mordecai.
There’s a picture! standing out in bold relief, and contrasted with that of the proud but worthless premier. The one haughty and enraged; the other humble, but composed and dignified. It is not the port, the state, the pageantry; it is not the rank, riches, or power; the mind and spirit—that is the man. The person who occupies the place of a common porter may have within him a soul that towers in real greatness far above that of the proudest and most titled grandee. He may have that within him, which, while it rouses the indignation, quails the courage of him who has armies at his beck. He who is conscious of acting rightly, has no reason to grow pale at the sight of danger. He who is embarked in the cause of God and his people, and whose conscience acquits him of having failed in his duty to his prince, or of having done evil to any man, feels himself clad in the panoply of heaven, stands fearless and scathless, is immovable in his purpose, and will not do a mean or unworthy, far less a sinful, thing, to save his own life, or the lives of those whom he holds dearest.
Such was Mordecai. He had had ample leisure to reflect on his conduct in refusing the homage claimed by Haman. That refusal had drawn down the vengeance of the wicked favourite on himself and his people. But still Haman is “contemned in his eyes as a vile person.” He exhibited no tokens of positive disrespect. He would not insult him, he would not rail upon him as he passed, or behind his back. But he would not yield him any direct homage; “he stood not up, nor moved for him.” An ordinary patriot would have been disposed to act in a different manner. He would have said, “My daughter is employed in using means for obtaining from her royal husband a revocation of the decree for the slaughter of the Jews; but she has to contend against powerful influence. I will endeavour to smooth her difficulties; and much as I despise this minion, I will for once abase myself before him, and try to assuage his resentment and propitiate his favour, by offering him that obeisance which is so grateful to his pride.” Moses did not act on this principle, when Pharaoh, awed by the plagues which he had suffered, offered to allow the Israelites to go, provided they left their flocks and herds behind them: “There shall not an hoof be left behind!” Our Saviour did not act upon this principle, when the Pharisees said, “Get thee out and depart hence, for Herod will kill thee.” “Go, tell that fox, behold, I cast out devils, and do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” Nor would Mordecai act upon this principle. Haman had devised a deed which created horror both in heaven and earth; the devoted Jews were cast on the special protection of Providence; Mordecai was persuaded that enlargement and deliverance would arise to them from some quarter, and he entertained sanguine hopes that Esther had come to the kingdom for this very end. He would not, therefore, displease God, and dishonour himself, by having recourse to the mean expedient of cringing to the author of his country’s wrongs, lest the day of their deliverance should witness his own destruction and that of his father’s house.
This conduct on the part of Mordecai exceedingly enraged Haman. Perhaps he had heard of the distress into which the object of his hatred had been thrown by the decree for exterminating the Jews, and therefore expected, the next time they met, to see him grovelling in the dust. But when he found his independent spirit unbroken, and that he neither rose up nor moved at his approach, he boiled with indignation, and his wounded pride demanded instant revenge. “Oh that I had of his flesh! I cannot be satisfied.”*
“Proud and haughty scorner is his name that dealeth in proud wrath.” Pride was the first sin that entered into the universe. It was pride that turned angels into devils. It was pride that, after thinning heaven and peopling hell, invaded our world, and drove man out of paradise. It was pride that caused the first-born on earth to embrue his hands in the blood of an only brother. Pride has broken the peace of families and nations, and carried fire and sword through the earth. It is equally the parent of oppression and licentiousness, setting the father against the son, and the son against the father; the master against the servant, and the servant against the master; the sovereign against his subjects, and the subjects against their sovereign. Pride has marred the work of God, given birth to infidelity, apostasy, impiety, blasphemy, and persecution; it is the mother of heresy, and has fomented strife and contention, and wrath, and swellings, and tumults, within the sacred enclosures of the house of God. O beware of giving place to this monster! The man that harbours pride in his heart, harbours a murderer, a fratricide, a parricide, a suicide, a deicide;—for it crucified the Lord of glory, and still crucifies him afresh in his doctrine and in his members.”—McCrie.
Esther 5:11. The multitude of his children] From Esther 9:7-10 we learn that Haman had ten sons; and many sons were not looked upon as a great blessing from God by the Israelites only, but were also esteemed a signal prosperity among the Persians, the king annually sending presents to him who had the greatest number of sons.—Keil.
Esther 5:12.] Haman had also the honour of being invited to the banquet alone.
Esther 5:13.] And yet all his good fortune is embittered to him as often as he sees the hated Jew, Mordecai. The fact that such a Jew may defy him unpunished seems to be a counter-proof against his dignity and power.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 5:11; Esther 5:13
THE DISCONTENTED MAN AS A RECKONER
The discontented man is a poor hand at accounts. He cannot reckon up correctly either his own affairs or the affairs of other people. He is apt to give himself credit for too few blessings, and other people credit for too many blessings. His distorted imagination plays strange freaks. In looking at himself it is a diminishing power, and in looking at other people it too often becomes a magnifying power. The advantages of his own position are ignored, while the advantages of others are brought into undue prominence. It is not merely that he thinks that he gets less than he deserves, and other people get more than they deserve; but putting the matter of desert on one side, he sees himself destitute and forsaken, though surrounded with many of this world’s good things; and others as rolling in affluence, as clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day, and as having more than heart can wish. On close examination we shall find that this was the case with poor Haman. He does not here give us his views about other people, but the view he gives of himself is in one aspect very incorrect, and may warrant us in supposing that the view he would have given of other people would be but equally incorrect. Let us, however, seek to take just views of ourselves, of God’s dealings with us, and of the world at large. Divine grace in the heart is the power by which the balancing faculty will be able to work correctly. Subjection of the human will to the Divine will must tend to give calmness and satisfaction in this, after all, unsatisfactory world.
I. The discontented man is a good reckoner, up to a certain point. Here Haman reckons up the advantages of his position, and the sum is rightly laid down. There are four leading items in the statement. Look at them: riches—children—position—honour. What more would a man be, and what more could a man desire? Certainly the man who looks for happiness to the material and the sensible can scarcely mention anything else that is desirable in order to the perfection of human happiness. Why, these are the very things that represent the ideal of happiness to a large majority of men. A man who is able to say as much of himself as Haman could say of himself would be the man to be regarded with envious eyes not only in Haman’s days, but in Queen Victoria’s days, and in this Christian country. We talk about angels preferring to visit the cottage where piety reigns, and where the sacred hymn of praise is devoutly sung; and yet the song sung by Haman in recording his greatness is the one to which the majority the most devoutly listen, and the one they most desire to sing. We speak about God’s blessing resting upon the home of the pious poor, but the poor man is still despised, and his words are not heard; while the man who can tell of the glory of his riches, and his influence at Court, is honoured; his feeblest words are recorded as if they were the utterances of a Solomon; he is sent to Parliament; he is made a director of a railway company, and he is the chairman of a Christian assembly, if he will condescend to patronize that which should not bow the knee to this world’s Baal. A small amount of goodness as well as of wisdom goes a long way when it is backed up by the “glory of riches.” However, we must not forget poor Haman; poor, after all, like too many more, in the midst of his riches. We have every reason to suppose that Haman stated the case correctly. His riches must have been great to be able to promise the sum he did to the king as a compensation for the destruction of the Jews. We read of ten sons. His influence at Court was evidently supreme, and it was true that he only was invited to the banquet that Esther had prepared for the king. Up to a certain point, then, the discontented man can reckon correctly. We may have seen him at the computation; the whole was stated accurately; and yet the result is false. How is this? How was it in Haman’s case?—how is it in many cases from that day to the present time?
II. The discontented man is a bad reckoner, for the following reasons: (a) He places too high an estimate on the mere material. Wicked as Haman was he felt that these material blessings could not satisfy the cravings of his soul. Poor fellow! he blamed Mordecai, and did not seem to understand that he himself was seeking for happiness and for satisfaction where they are not to be found. The material was to fill and to satisfy an immaterial nature. We all place too high an estimate on the material. Not only our moral but our social reckonings will lead us to false conclusions if we do not give to the material its proper value. What is the meaning of the unrest and the discontent in our modern life? They are caused by too high an estimate being placed on the material. The soul cannot feed on money; good and useful as it undoubtedly is in its place. The soul cannot rest on the lap of worldly honours. The soul must rest in God if it is to obtain perfect repose. The soul must find the true riches if it is to be delivered from poverty. (b) He does not take into account the unknown quantity. There is often an unknown quantity absent from human calculations, and by careful scrutiny we might very possibly find it out, and thus it would be an unknown quantity no longer. The unknown quantity in Haman’s case was the favour that he supposed he possessed with Esther. “Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but myself.” Surely Haman might have got to know that he was not likely to stand well with Esther. Had he never heard of the relationship that existed between Esther and Mordecai? Was he not shrewd enough to guess that the man who persecuted Mordecai also persecuted Esther? It may be well supposed that success had blinded Haman. He did not use his eyes aright. It may be that a correct knowledge of this fact, and a right use of the knowledge, might have saved him from destruction. Is there an unknown quantity in our lives?—a something absent from our calculations which spoils the correctness of our reckonings? We have not thought of it before. It is just the very thing to give rounded perfection to existence. Look attentively inside and outside, all round about, to find out that which prevents you living in safety, or reaching that happiness which may be possible to you in the present state. The absent quantity in most lives is the salvation of the gospel. Without Christ Jesus in the heart, the hope of glory, a man cannot reckon up so as to come to a satisfactory conclusion. This it is which is needful to make up the perfection of our nature. (c) He over-estimates his own deserts. If it be true that there is good in all, while none are all good, then there was good even in wicked Haman. Whether this be so or not, it is sufficient for our present purpose that Haman acted as if he thought he had deserts. The blessings he here enumerates he takes for granted, as if they were no more than he deserved; while the refusal of Mordecai to render homage is considered not as arising from Haman’s want of goodness, but from Mordecai’s stubbornness. If Haman had rightly considered himself, he would have bowed to Mordecai instead of being offended that Mordecai did not bow to him. More humility on Haman’s part would have saved his feelings, and might very possibly have prevented his downfall. What a different picture Haman would have made in history if he had asked himself, Who am I that all this has been done to me? Who hath made me to differ? Haman’s fault is the glaring fault of most. We intone the words, “Have mercy upon us, miserable sinners,” and then we go away and whine and complain if the rod of correction be applied in order to make us obedient children. Why should miserable sinners have riches, and children, and position, and honours? Why should miserable sinners complain if it is not found possible to make the best of this world? Is it to be regarded as an uncharitable statement if we affirm that those who neglect Jesus Christ as Mediator over-estimate their deserts? Certainly many fancy themselves whole who have urgent and pressing need of the help of the good Physician. (d) He is bad at subtraction. He enumerates his blessings as four, and his drawback as one. He subtracts one from four, and makes nothing the strange result. Mordecai sitting at the gate is the one item that exceeds the other four in magnitude. Had Mordecai only known the importance that he assumed in the estimation of Haman, he might well have plumed himself on his greatness, and said that “After all I am greater than Haman;” which in fact he really was; for any good man, however poor, is greater than any wicked man, however exalted in this world. If Haman had known how to balance correctly he might have proceeded more sweetly in spite of his wickedness. Men and women do not yet know how to subtract, even if they know how to reckon up, their blessings correctly. Too often blessings are overlooked, or not rightly enumerated. Where this fault is escaped, the mistake may be committed of saying, My disadvantages quite overbalance my advantages; the one crook in the lot destroys the pleasure of the appointment. One ghost of the imagination fills the soul with terror, and hides from view all delightful realities. Riches, children, position, honours are destroyed by one frowning Mordecai. Haman speaks of one man who destroys all the good in life; the Christian may speak of one man who develops all the good in life, and brings the highest good into life. The God-man brings the highest good. We may speak of riches, children, position, honours, and say, All this availeth nothing if Jesus is not my assured friend. We may speak of riches, children, position, honours, and say, All these avail something, a vast something, as they are viewed in the light of the Saviour’s love. (e) He is defective in multiplication. From Haman’s stand-point too much is made of the insignificant fact that Mordecai refused to render homage. Haman made more of the circumstance than it deserved. The imagination of the discontented man is always an unreliable multiplier. Sometimes it is creative. It makes evils where there are none. Always it makes more of the evils than it ought to do. When we have passed through the ordinary troubles of life, and come to the other side, we often wonder that we have thought so much about them. The advice of that wise moralist, Dr. Johnson, to a friend under the discomfort of some sore annoyance was—to bethink himself what a trifle it would appear that day twelvemonths. If we could thus get the power of looking at present troubles as we look at past troubles we should be able to bear them with greater patience, and find them perhaps smaller than we had supposed. Mordecai as well as Haman has his troubles. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. Let us look forward to that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, our Saviour, and then backward, as it were, upon the sorrows and trials of life; and then we shall consider them as light in comparison with the joy which is before. Peacefully should the Christian stand amid the storms of time. “As meets the rock a thousand waves,” so should the Christian meet the shocks of the present life. As the oak gathers strength from the storm, so the Christian should gather strength from his troubles. They should develop to nobler conditions. As the light shines on, and sends its cheering rays through the billows that cast their spray over the lighthouse top, so the Christian should let the light which is within shine on, and send its cheering rays through the billows that shake his whole nature. The hope of the gospel is the true sustaining power. Men and women have tried this hope when disappointment has withered the heart, when sickness has saddened the household, when trouble in many shapes has visited, when death with muffled tread has approached, and have found that it could strengthen amid the failings of flesh, and comfort amid the misgivings of the mind, and sustain amid the sore bleedings of a wounded heart.
III. The discontented man unknowingly makes a good computation. “Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” It is asserted that this is an exaggeration on the part of Haman. Where is the exaggeration? Was not poor Haman at this moment as miserable as he well could be? His good things availed him nothing except to intensify that discomfort which he felt at not receiving Mordecai’s homage. However that may be, Haman’s riches, children, position, and supposed honours availed nothing for his salvation against Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate, who was in Divine providence to become Haman’s destroyer. Haman is here an unconscious prophet. He foretells his own doom. Truly, Haman, all the glory of thy riches, all the strength of thy children, all the pomp of thy position, all the tinsel of thy honours, will avail thee nothing before the wondrous strength of the Jew sitting at the king’s gate. Should we not here learn the lesson we are all so slow to learn,—that all worldly good avails nothing if God be not our friend, if God do not have the highest place in our esteem? Riches, children, position, and honours are desirable possessions if rightly employed. But they cannot satisfy the immortal nature. Mournful cries reach our ears from the disappointed hearts of those who have sought the supreme good in material possessions. “All is vanity and vexation of spirit,” is the despairing statement of those who have taken their fill of this world’s good things, and have forgotten God their Maker,—a statement repeated from age to age,—a statement which never seems to hush its sad refrain. Whatever these blessings may do in other circumstances of life, they “avail nothing” in the contest with death. Here the man struggles alone. Death cannot be bribed. Earthly friends cannot soften the grim conqueror. Honours laid at his feet are useless. Death’s conqueror alone is death’s helper. The soul triumphs by reason of the possession of immortal riches. Death cannot deprive of the honour that cometh from God.
Another lesson learn, perhaps a little more remote, but none the less salutary. As all Haman’s possessions and privileges availed him nothing for salvation so long as Mordecai was not his friend; so all our possessions, whether of fancied or real good; all our supposed moral possessions; all the privileges we enjoy, will avail us nothing for salvation so long as Jesus Christ is not our friend. We do not know what was the appearance of Mordecai as Haman passed by. He may have looked sour. Perhaps there was nothing on his part to invite Haman to terms of reconciliation. But Jesus Christ attracts by the sweetness of his aspect. His voice is very tender and very loving. In the days of his flesh he was the friend of publicans and of sinners; and he is still the same. He is not only waiting for, but inviting, sinners to become reconciled. With Jesus against us all will avail nothing for our safety and happiness. With Jesus on our side, and in our hearts, all will avail nothing that may be arrayed against us for destruction.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 5:11-13
Add unto this a great childish kind of peevishness; when they have not what they would have, like children, they throw all away; which, though it be very offensive to God’s spirit, yet it seizeth upon men otherwise gracious. Abraham himself, wanting children, undervalued all other blessings; Jonah, because he was crossed of his gourd, was weary of his life; the like may be said of Ehas fleeing from Jezebel. This peevishness is increased by a too much flattering of their grief, so far as to justify it; like Jonas, “I do well to be angry even unto death;” he would stand to it. Some, like Rachel, are so peremptory that they “will not be comforted,” as if they were in love with their grievances. Wilful men are most vexed in their crosses. It is not for those to be wilful that have not a great measure of wisdom to guide their wills; for God delights to have his will of those that are wedded to their own wills, as in Pharaoh. No men more subject to discontentments than those who would have all things after their own way.—Sibbes.
Let, us, therefore, when any lawless passions begin to stir, deal with our souls as God did with Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry?” to fret thus. This will be a means to make us quiet; for, alas! what weak reasons have we often for strong motions: such a man gave me no respect; such another looked more kindly upon another man than upon me, &c. You have some of Haman’s spirit, that for a little neglect would ruin a whole nation. Passion presents men that are innocent as guilty to us—facit ira nocentes; and because we will not seem to be mad without reason, pride commands the wit to justify anger, and so one passion maintains and feeds another.—Sibbes.
Look what comforts men have at present in their possession and at command! what excellencies or endowments! men love to be alone to study and think of them; and when they are sequestered from the present use of them, yet they will then be again and again recounting and casting of them up, taking a survey of their happiness in them, applauding their own hearts in their conditions; and as rich men that love money, love to be looking on it, and telling it over; so do men to be summing up their comforts and privileges they enjoy, which others want; as how rich they are, how great, how they excel others in parts and gifts, &c. Oh, how much of that precious sand of our thoughts runs out this way! Thus he in the Gospel; he keeps up an audit in his heart; “Soul,” saith he, “thou hast goods laid up for many years.” So Haman takes an inventory of his honours and goods; he talks of “all the glory of his riches, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him.” So Nebuchadnezzar, as it may seem; he was alone walking and talking to himself like a fool, saying to himself, “Is not this the great Babel which I have built by the might of my power, for the glory of my majesty?
Then greediness appears, that if one lust be not satisfied, nothing else can please us as long as the fit lasts. Rachel, when she could not have her longing, she would in fact die in all haste,—“Give me children, or else I die,”—though she had an husband was worth ten children to her. And so was it with Haman; all the honour and riches which he possessed would not content him, so long as he was not revenged on a poor porter that would not rise to him. So Ahab, though a king, had his stomach took away to all other delights, because that he wanted one bit, Naboth’s vineyard, which he coveted.—Goodwin.
A little sickness, or old age, or a cross, make our lusts to vanish, though the objects remained, health being the salt to all blessings. In old age men come to say, “I have no pleasure in them;” yea, a little affliction deadeneth a man’s lusts, as the toothache vexeth more than the health of all the members doth delight. The affliction of an hour makes a man forget all pleasure, takes a man’s heart from all, that all avails him nothing, as it did Haman. Nay, if one wayward lust be crossed (as his was), one ounce of sorrow spoils a sea of pleasure; for, segnius bonam quam mala sentimus, we have a slower and duller sense of good than evil.—Goodwin.
Take some quiet, sober moments of life, and add together the two ideas of pride and man; behold him, creature of a span high, stalking through infinite space in all the grandeur of littleness. Perched on a speck of the universe, every wind of heaven strikes into his blood the coldness of death; his soul floats from his body like melody from the string; day and night, as dust on the wheel, he is rolled along the heavens, through a labyrinth of worlds, and all the creations of God are flaring above and beneath. Is this a creature to make for himself a crown of glory, to deny his own flesh, to mock at his fellow, sprung from the dust to which both will soon return? Does the proud man not err? Does he not suffer? Does he not die? When he reasons, is he never stopped by difficulties? When he acts, is he never tempted by pleasure? When he lives, is he free from pain? When he dies, can he escape the common grave? Pride is not the heritage of man; humility should dwell with frailty, and atone for ignorance, error, and imperfections.—Sidney Smith.
Remark in Haman the stupendous and wonderful judgment of God; for the impious Haman is most exultant and fearless as regards the preservation and augmentation of his dignity and power; and he is most certain also of the destruction of Mordecai, whom he prosecutes with hatred. But behold now the end of the thing. The impious and secure Haman should perish with sudden destruction; while the pious and afflicted Mordecai is unexpectedly raised to the highest dignity. Let us therefore cast away all impious security, and fear God; so that, walking according to the calling of God, you may be preserved though the sky fall, and the earth be removed.—Breuz.
Those that are disposed to be uneasy will never want something or other to be uneasy at; and proud men, though they have much to their mind, yet, if they have not all to their mind, it is as nothing to them. The thousandth part of what Haman had would serve to make a humble modest man as much of a happiness as he expects from this world; and yet Haman complained as passionately as if he had been sunk into the lowest degree of poverty and disgrace.—Matthew Henry.
“Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.
Haman’s misery sprung from his most prominent vice. The avenger did not so much track his path, like an independent retributive messenger, as that it was secreted in his very sin. It is often so in providence. God does not need to stretch forth his hand against the sinner. It is enough that he allows the working of his sin to overtake him. Had there been no pride in Haman’s heart he could never have been subjected to this soul-torture because of a harmless affront by an inferior in rank; but forasmuch as he had nursed and cherished his pride to an ungovernable extent, the pain and anguish which he had to endure when it was thwarted and injured was crucifying to all his prosperity and joy. He became his own tormentor. The law is universal, giving to all sin its entail of evil. The sinner may suppose that his sin is not known, and, because not known, that it will escape punishment; but the sin will itself find out the man, and the punishment will grow out of it as a poisonous plant from a hidden seed. Sceptics may theoretically deny the Divine government, but practically it is beyond dispute. By an inexorable law “evil pursueth sinners, but to the righteous good shall be repaid.”
Intimately connected with this thought, there is another of equal importance—that we are not in a position to judge of the relative amount of happiness or unhappiness in the lot of man upon the earth. Surveyed from without there might not appear to be a more enviable man than Haman. If earthly good could make happiness there was no element awanting in his case. From his own admission he had everything—riches, family, exaltation; and all his surroundings were grand and delightful. There was ostensibly no comparison between his lot and that of some contented poor man, who, besides meanness and obscurity, has to bear the burden of bodily suffering. Nevertheless you might never get from the poor sufferer under the influence of religion the same confession of wasted happiness and blighted peace, that we have from this lordly great man in the high day of his abounding prosperity. Let the outward condition be what it may, his spirit—the real man—rises superior to it, and is not touched by it. But in the other case it was the spirit which was diseased, and which, like the scorpion when surrounded by fire, turned its sting in upon itself. So that, before we could estimate relative individual happiness or unhappiness, we would require to go below the surface of things and look upon the heart. The most enviable might then be found to be really the least, and the least the more so. Injured pride, malice, jealousy, and hatred, though all unseen, may yet have rendered the heart inconceivably more miserable, and the man’s estate vastly less desirable, than any amount of poverty and merely physical suffering could possibly have produced. Neither his pride, the presence of friends, nor the prospect of again banqueting with the king and queen on the morrow, could restrain Haman from making the humiliating confession that, because of one thing which was rankling in his soul, he was truly an unenviable—miserable man.
Moreover, we cannot fail to notice that outward prosperity in an unsanctified heart, renders the man more susceptible to trifling annoyances. He becomes so accustomed to what is highly pleasing that a very small thing occasions great uneasiness. While he looks at his good things through the large end of the telescope he beholds what is troublesome and vexatious through the small. What a hardier nature would dash off as a hot plate does water, the nature softened to effeminacy by luxury receives as a poisonous drug, and because of it can find no rest. The more that it gets the more does it crave; and until the little thing craved has been obtained—and yet on the back of it there is always another and another—the confession is, and it is the confession of every vain, worldly, wicked life, “All this availeth me nothing.”
Whilst we now leave Haman fomenting his rage and preparing for revenge on the morrow, there is one great spiritual truth which his lamentable confession should press home upon our hearts. Let a man have the whole world laid at his feet, there shall yet be a void in the soul, which cannot be reached by all its pleasures and rewards—a void which, until it has been supplied, the whole world will avail him nothing. The world’s broad way is crowded with eager seekers after happiness. “It is here,” cries one, and there is a rush in that direction, only to be followed by disappointed looks and longing hearts. “It is there,” cries another, and there is anxious toiling and plodding for its attainment; but the cisterns are found at last to be broken and empty. In the midst of this thirsting, moiling, weary world, Jesus has caused his voice to be heard, pleading and saying:—“If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”—McEwan.
1. In the first place, in the case of men worldly-minded and destitute of the fear of God, there is generally some dominant principle or passion which destroys their comfort, and precludes them from reaping the full benefit of the blessings which God has bestowed upon them. Thus the man whose heart is full of covetousness can never be happy. What he has, although it is far more than sufficient to supply his wants, is yet so far beneath what he desires, that he will not take full use of it, just because it is not so much as he would have. What Mordecai was to Haman, some imagined amount of wealth is to him; and thus his present acquisitions avail nothing, so long as he cannot get all he aims at. Again, the envious man cannot be happy. Oh, with what malignant eye he looks upon his neighbour’s good, and marks his advancement, and observes the success of his schemes, and his growing prosperity! He may be thriving in the world himself beyond what he could have anticipated, and may have all the substantial comforts of life in abundance; but he cannot find enjoyment in them, because this other man stands so much higher than he. What Mordecai was to Haman, his neighbour’s worldly advantages are to the man in whose heart envy dwells; for it eats out all happiness. Again, the victim of pride and vanity cannot be happy. The self-importance to which these passions give birth cannot escape unruffled in the world. Men are not always measured by their own pretensions; and when any respect or honour is withheld from them to which they think themselves entitled, they are far more deeply troubled than they would be by any temporal loss. They deem themselves insulted and degraded; they cannot look with patience upon objects which formerly pleased them; and they long for an opportunity to make retaliation for the wrong or slight they have received. This is a case analogous to that of Haman; and those who are animated by these feelings must, like him, be necessarily wretched. I might protract these remarks, but enough has been said to illustrate the principle, that whatever amount of worldly good men who fear not God may have, yet, by allowing some evil passion or propensity to obtain the mastery over them, they destroy their own comfort, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows.
2. But now, in the second place, I would advert for a moment to the danger to which such people expose themselves. That which the covetous spirit feels to be lacking to satisfy its desires, it will often strive to attain by most unwarrantable means. Hence the sins of dishonesty, deceit, falsehood, and, when opportunity serves, violence and rapacity, are superadded to the sin of covetousness, and men, ere they are well aware, are drawn into courses from which at one time they would have shrunk back with horror. So also the cherishing of the spirit of envy leads to the sins of uncharitable judging, malice, detraction, slander, all of which are destructive of a man’s personal happiness, as well as of the peace of society. In the same way vanity and pride stand not alone, but bring in their train hatred and revenge, as we see in the text, and as all history testifies. And thus, by the indulgence of forbidden passions and desires, men not only deprive themselves of the comfort which they might derive from the blessings of a kind providence, but, as one sinful propensity leads to another, they lay themselves open on every side to many positive evils, from which, with better regulated hearts, they would have been completely free.
3. But in the third place, there is another and more general application that may be made of the text to matters bearing more directly upon the spiritual interests of men. Haman, describing to his friends his wealth, his grandeur, his various possessions, and his vast influence, had to conclude by saying: “All this availeth me nothing.” There was still a something needed to complete his happiness. Now, we say this is a true picture of the feelings of worldly men, who are destitute of the fear of God, even when it cannot be affirmed of them that they are in any marked manner the slaves of evil passions. There is always some dissatisfaction with their present lot which needs to be removed; there is a want—a something which the soul requires to its full and thorough well-being, which all the world’s good cannot supply. That want originated in man’s apostasy, when he ceased to have God as his friend and his chief good. It makes itself felt ofttimes in the midst of such profusion of earthly enjoyment as would lead one to think that there could be no want there. It will make itself be felt awfully when the soul hovers on the brink of eternity. Now this want the Gospel of Christ supplies. Through the acceptance of him by faith as the Redeemer of the lost, the light of God’s countenance shines upon the soul, and God himself comes again to be enjoyed as the soul’s chief good and portion. Then providential blessings, and chastisements also, are felt to be good; yea, all things work together for good to them that believe in the Son of God, for they are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
Yet let me here, before concluding the present lecture, remind you that the feeling of dissatisfaction with earthly good does not of itself indicate a spiritual mind, although sometimes it is unhappily mistaken for it. I have referred to the soul’s want as felt and expressed not unfrequently when death approaches. And so it is, that under deep suffering, and after long-protracted illness, the confession will be made that the world cannot satisfy, and that the strength has been spent for that which is not bread. But, my friends, do not wait till that time ere you make the confession and seek the better portion. Why should you live under the pressure of a felt want which can be at this moment supplied? Why should you, under the dominance of some evil principle, deprive yourselves of the right relish for the good gifts of God, by saying: “All this availeth me nothing, while the very thing I long for is not given me.” Does not the Saviour declare, with reference to earthly good: “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but he that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Trust his word, then, and take himself, and your soul will have substantial and imperishable realities to feast upon. Amen.—Davidson.
Esther 5:13.—Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.
Haman himself confesses the vanity of his high-swelling words. Why does he talk of his riches, of his children, of the favour of the king and queen, of the grandeur of his condition? That his friends might congratulate him as the happiest man in the king’s dominions. Yet with the same breath he declares himself unhappy. He confesses, that all that confluence of blessings which swelled him with pride, were not blessings to him, because a certain man whom he despised did not bow the knee to him.
There are few who will confess so plainly as Haman the weakness of their own spirit. Men are ashamed to say that trifles disturb their minds, and deprive them of self enjoyment. But it is certain, that numbers, like Haman, are miserable amidst the means of happiness, because they want a disposition for enjoying happiness. They are so unreasonable, that a thousand enjoyments lose their relish, for the want of something else which they cannot obtain. “A good man is satisfied from himself;” and he that is not satisfied from himself, will not be satisfied from anything without him. He is like a sick man surrounded with the richest dainties. He cannot relish them. He starves in the midst of plenty.
Give a whole world of pleasure to a man who loves the world, and the things of it, he will soon find that something is wanted, though perhaps he does not know, so well as Haman thought he did, what it is. He finds some gall and wormwood that spread poison over his pleasures. All his abundance cannot compensate for the loss of some one thing or other that he deems essential to his happiness. The fact is, that the world cannot give a right constitution to his disordered soul, or be a substitute for that Divine favour in which lies the life of our souls. Habakkuk, Paul, and other good men, could be happy in the want of every earthly enjoyment; nor could all the miseries which are abhorred by the generality of mankind greatly disturb their tranquillity; for God was the portion of their inheritance, and in him they had what a thousand worlds could not give. But those who know not God, and his Son Jesus Christ, in whom are the light and the life of men, know not the way of peace. Whatever they have, they want the one thing needful, without which all things else are vanity, and vexation of spirit.
“I have all things, and abound,” said an apostle, who was often in hunger, and thirst, and nakedness, and who, at the time when he wrote these words, was a poor prisoner that had newly received a temporary supply from his friends. This man had nothing, and yet possessed all things. Ten thousand talents were but a small part of Haman’s wealth, and yet he is miserably poor, for all that he had could avail him nothing. The believer in Christ must be rich in the midst of poverty; for he is possessed of gold tried in the fire. The man who knows not Christ, is poor though he be rich; because he is utterly destitute of the true riches.—Lawson.
Suppose a man has a very fair house to dwell in, and he has fair orchards and gardens, and set about with tall brave trees for ornament; what a most unreasonable thing were it for him to be weeping and wringing his hands because the wind blows off a few leaves of his trees, when he has abundance of all kinds of fruit! Thus it is with many; though they have a great many comforts about them, yet some little matter, the blowing off a few leaves even, is enough to disquiet them.—Burroughs.
Our base hearts are more discontented at one loss than thankful for a hundred mercies. God hath plucked one bunch of grapes for you; but how many precious clusters are left behind.—Watson.
Discontent is a secret boasting of some excellency in ourselves, as if God did not govern well, or we could govern better! Should a silly passenger, that understands not the use of the compass, be angry that the skilful pilot will not steer the vessel according to his pleasure? Must we give out our orders to God, as though the counsels of infinite wisdom must roll about according to the conceits of our fancy.—Charnock.
To secure a contented spirit, measure your desires by your fortunes, and not your fortunes by your desires.—Jeremy Taylor.
Contentment is a pearl of great price, and whoever procures it at the expense of ten thousand desires makes a wise and happy purchase.—Balguy.
Be content; and the best way to be contented is, believe that condition best which God carves out to you by his providence. If God had seen it fit for us to have more, we should have had it; but his wisdom sees this best for us. Perhaps we could not manage a great estate; it is hard to carry a full cup without spilling, and a full estate without sinning. Great estates may be snares; a boat may be overturned by having too great a sail. The believing that estate best God carves for us makes us content.—Watson.
“The noblest mind the best contentment has.”
“All great souls still make their own content;
We to ourselves may all our wishes grant;
For, nothing coveting, we nothing want.”
“My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen; my crown is call’d content;
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”
“Cellars and granaries in vain we fill
With all the bounteous summer’s store,
If the mind thirst and hunger still;
The poor rich man’s emphatically poor.
Slaves to the things we too much prize,
We masters grow of all that we despise.”
“Contentment gives a crown,
Where fortune hath denied it.”—Ford.
The nature of true content, says an old writer, is to fill all the chinks of our desires, as the wax does the seal. Content is the poor man’s riches, and desire is the rich man’s poverty. Riches and poverty are more in the heart than in the hand; he is wealthy that is contented; he is poor that wants it. O, poor Ahab, that carest not for thine own large possessions, because thou mayest not have another’s! O, rich Naboth, that carest not for all the dominions of Ahab, so thou mayest enjoy thine own! Content produces in some measure all those effects which the alchemist usually ascribed to what he calls the philosopher’s stone, and if it does not bring riches, it does the same thing by banishing the desire of them.—Addison.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Esther 5:13. Selfishness. Haman as a type. We are all too slow to learn the lesson, “Thou art the man;” so that, whilst one’s thoughts centre upon Haman, the victim of selfishness, we can with difficulty realize the antitype in ourselves. Nevertheless, the scene in Shushan the palace is a scene in every-day life. The world is a palace of vanity, and abounds with Hamans. “I would have this or that,” is the utterance of the soul coveting some longed-for possession. It has it, and it is not satisfied. How can it? An immortal be satisfied with the painted, tinselled finery of fading time! It asks for some near object. “Oh that I had but that!” It obtains it, and its appetite is but whetted for more. Another prize, and another disappointment; another tide of homage, fame, adulation, and another ebbing, with only worthless weeds left on the forsaken shore. Another freight of honour to Haman, and another unbending figure in the rear, whose dark shadow lies outspread upon his pathway, so that all he hath availeth him nothing,—“he is not satisfied.” If all this then availeth nothing, what will avail? Now “sin,” says Bishop Reynolds, “put bitterness into the soul, that it cannot relish the creature, and it put vanity into the creature that it cannot satisfy the soul; therefore the creature, so long as it is empty of God, must needs be full of vanity and vexation.” Hence no one can be truly happy and contented, be his possessions ever so large and splendid, till he grasp by faith the “pearl of great price;” then envy dies, and Mordecai vanishes.—New Cyclopædia of Anecdote.
Esther 5:11. The ungodly Pope. A certain Pope had engraved upon the gates of his new-built college: “Utrecht (where he was born) planted me; Lovain (where he was bred) watered me; but Cæsar (who promoted him to the Popedom) gave increase;” and a merry passenger underwrote: “Hic Deus nihil fecit”—here God did nothing. God had done much for him, but for a mischief to him; as he once gave the Israelites quails to choke them, and a king to vex them; as Saul gave Michal to David to be a snare to him; and as our Saviour gave Judas the bag, to discover the rottenness of his heart. Haman telleth what the king had done for him, but not a little what God. God was not in all his thoughts.—Trapp.
Esther 5:13. The danger of discontent. I recall a picture I once saw in a public gallery. It was a scene in the higher Alps. A noble eagle was in flight, and scores of birds were pursuing him. The hawks and other larger birds he could keep at a distance, as whenever they came near he tore them with his claws, or struck them with his beak. Some humming-birds had joined the others in an attack on the eagle; one of them, scarcely visible in the picture, so tiny a thing is it in comparison with the king of birds, was sitting on his head, pecking away, and scattering the feathers as the eagle soared higher. Naturalists tell us that sometimes the humming-bird will so peek the head and injure the brain of the eagle as to cause his death, while seldom or never in a fair fight with larger birds is he injured. The humming-bird is small, and has a small beak and but little strength; but sitting on the vital part, and constantly teasing, he very frequently accomplishes his work of death. The eagle cannot bite or claw him, and he has not the presence of mind to dip his head in the sea, and thus drown his pursuer.
How often is it the case that we allow little things to annoy us, to destroy our peace, and our happiness, and health? Great troubles we manfully meet and conquer; but little things—humming-bird troubles—get near our heart, and we know not how to shake them off.
It is related by a London physician, of a patient whom he was attending, that he was a great beauty. By some accident, one of his hands was the victim of a malformation. The thing troubled the man day and night, and his health began to fail. He could not bear to have fingers so white and graceful disfigured. “My patient,” says the doctor, “was also suffering from a disease that I knew, and he knew, would ultimately be fatal. This, however, did not seem to trouble him. It was his maimed left hand that haunted him everywhere, and concerning which he made perpetual complaint to me. At length he was taken with a fever traceable, in a measure, to his unhappy frame of mind, and in a few days died.—Preacher’s Lantern.
Esther 5:13. Literary Jeremiads. Goethe, the greatest of German poets, whose long life was one success, said, “They have called me a child of fortune, nor have I any wish to complain of the course of my life. Yet it has been nothing but labour and sorrow; and I may truly say, that in seventy-five years I have not had four weeks of true comfort. It was the constant rolling of a stone that was always to be lifted anew.” A mournful echo of the old patriarchal words, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my pilgrimage been.” Who can read the posthumous memoirs of Chateaubriand without being struck with the illusive nature of worldly honours and worldly pleasures. Contemporary applause was not wanting to cheer the craving spirit of this scholar and statesman. The author of the ‘Genius of Christianity,’ and the ambassador of France at the court of London, could not complain that what men call honourable and enviable was denied to him. The following passage from the great Frenchman’s memoirs contains a sad and home truth:—“I know not in history a reputation that would tempt me; and, were it necessary to stoop to pick up from my feet, and for my own advantage, the greatest glory the world could offer, I would not give myself the trouble.” Are not these like the words of “the preacher, the son of David, the king of Jerusalem?” The miserable lamentations of Lord Chesterfield, a mere drudge of earthly pleasure, over the wretched inanity of a worldly and sensual life, may be considered one of the best sermons unintentionally preached against the inordinate love of this world, coming, as the sentiment does, from one of its successful votaries. Let his own words, penned in the evening of life, tell what he had found the result of his experience to be: “I am now at the age of sixty years; I have run the silly rounds of pleasure, and have done with them all. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I have been as wicked and as vain as Solomon; I have not been so wise; but this I know, I am wise enough to test the truth of his reflection, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Lord Byron gave a similar testimony to Dr. Millingen, who attended him in his last illness. “Do you suppose I wish for life? I have grown heartily sick of it, and shall welcome the hour I depart. Why should I regret it? Can it afford me any pleasure? Have I not enjoyed it to a surfeit? Few men can live faster than I did; I am, literally speaking, a young old man. Pleasure I have known under every form in which it can present itself to mortals. I have travelled, satisfied my curiosity, lost every illusion; I have exhausted all the nectar contained in the cup of life; it is time to throw the dregs away. He had sought his happiness in the things of the world, the result was dissatisfaction of spirit.—Preacher’s Lantern.
Esther 5:13. Worldly dignity renounced. Baron von Bulow had been, during the earlier part of this century, chiefly engaged in the sanguinary scenes of war. He had signalized himself on the field, and received every honourable testimony to his skill and courage; a special handsome gold medal also had been given him, the inscription was, of course, in German, with the royal cypher. Late in life he attended the Continental Peace Confederation, at which he said, he had endured many hardships through life; for more than forty years he had gone through various scenes, often misled by worldly pleasure, and frequently by infidelity; but now, without discussing the propriety of a military life, he felt in his heart that the best service was that of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had rescued him from darkness and brought him to a knowledge of the gospel. He then, with deep feeling, took from his breast the badge of honour which he had received in foreign military service, saying, as he handed it to the chairman, with much emotion, “This I bought with my blood, but it is all over, sir; I do not give it to you, or to this Society, but I give it up to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”—Preacher’s Lantern.
Esther 5:13. Things temporal. Never, perhaps, in any period of the world’s history did literary talent receive a homage so universal as that of Sir Walter Scott. His reputation was coextensive, not only with the English language, but with the boundaries of civilization. The king conferred on him a baronetcy; and wherever he appeared, at home or abroad, he was the lion of the day. All the good things of life were his. His mansion at Abbotsford realized the highest conceptions of a poet’s imagination, and seemed like a “poem in stone.” His company was of the most honourable of the land, and his domestic enjoyments all that his heart could desire. Yet he was not happy. Ambitious to found a family, he got into debt, and in old age he was a ruined man. When about to leave Abbotsford for the last time, he said: “When I think of what this place now is, with what it was not long ago, I feel as if my heart would break. Lonely, aged, deprived of all my family, I am an impoverished and embarrassed man.” At another time he writes: “Death has closed the dark avenue of love and friendships. I look at them as through the grated door of a burial-place filled with the monuments of those who once were dear to me, and with no other wish than that it may open for me at no distant period.” And again: “Some new objection or complaint comes every moment. Sicknesses come thicker and thicker; friends are fewer and fewer. The recollections of youth, health, and powers of activity neither improved nor enjoyed, is a poor ground of comfort. The best is, the long halt will arrive at length and close all.” And the long halt did arrive. Not long before he died, Sir Walter Scott requested his daughter to wheel him to his desk. She then put a pen into his hand, but his fingers refused to do their office. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks. “Take me back to my own room,” he said; “there is no rest for Sir Walter but in his grave.” A few days after this he died, realizing, in reference to all his fame, honour, and renown, the truth of Solomon, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
Campbell, the author of the ‘Pleasures of Hope,’ in his old age wrote: “I am alone in the world. My wife and the child of my hopes are dead; my surviving child is consigned to a living tomb—a lunatic asylum; my old friends, brothers, sisters, are dead, all but one, and she too is dying; my last hopes are blighted. As for fame, it is a bubble that must soon burst. Earned for others, shared with others, it was sweet; but at my age, to my own solitary experience, it is bitter. Left in my chamber alone by myself, is it wonderful my philosophy at times takes flight; that I rush into company, resort to that which blunts but heals no pang; and then, sick of the world, and dissatisfied with myself, shrink back into solitude?” And in this state of mind he died.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great orator, made an almost similar confession. He perished in wretchedness and want. His last words were: “I am absolutely undone.”—Preacher’s Lantern.
Esther 5:13. Honour from man. The meaning of the words, “In honour preferring one another,” appears to be this: Consider all your brethren are more worthy than yourself; and let neither grief nor envy affect your mind at seeing another honoured and yourself neglected. This is a hard lesson, and very few persons learn it thoroughly. If we wish to see our brethren honoured, still it is with the secret condition in our own minds that we be honoured more than they. We have no objection to the elevation of others, provided we may be at the head. But who can bear to be even what he calls neglected? I once heard the following conversation between two persons, which the reader will pardon my relating, as it appears to be rather in point, and worthy of regard. “I know not,” said one, “that I neglect to do anything in my power to promote the interests of true religion in this place, and yet I seem to be held in very little repute, scarcely one person even noticing me.” To which the other replied: “My good friend, set yourself down for nothing, and if any person takes you for something, it will all be clear gain.” I thought this a queer saying; but how full of meaning and common sense! Whether the object of this good counsel was profited by it I cannot tell; but I looked on it and received instruction.—Dr. Adam Clarke.
Esther 5:13. The Caterpillar. An Allegory. “Patience! patience! until I become a butterfly, and then I shall laugh at all my enemies.” This was a common saying with a caterpillar, while it was yet a caterpillar. At last the moment of its transformation came. On a beautiful summer’s morning it arose out of its dark sepulchre, dressed in a rich golden attire, and strong in the strength of a new life. “Yes,” said she, as she looked upon herself, “now I am satisfied with nature! now I am safe!” But alas! she erred. A single leaf could screen the dark-hued caterpillar from many enemies, even from the sharp-sighted hunter of insects. Now, as a many-coloured butterfly, she shone in radiant beauty, drew on her the eyes of a hundred pursuers, and saw only too soon the impossibility of eluding them all. In vain she plied her new-born wings with diligence, in vain she flew fearfully from bough to bough, from flower to flower. The craft of her enemies surprised her after all, and on the third day she was impaled upon the murderous needle of an entomologist. A dazzling glory is often the forerunner of destruction.—Meissner.
Esther 5:13. The death of Saladin. About this time (1193) died the great Sultan Saladin, the greatest terror of the Christians, who, mindful of man’s fragility, and the vanity of worldly honours, commanded at the time of his death no solemnity to be used at his burial; but only his shirt, in manner of an ensign, made fast unto the point of a lance, to be carried before his dead body as an ensign,’ a plain priest going before, and crying aloud unto the people in this sort: “Saladin, Conqueror of the East, of all the greatness and riches he had in this life carrieth not with him anything more than his shirt.” A sight worthy so great a king, as wanted nothing to his eternal condemnation more than the true knowledge of his salvation in Christ Jesus. He reigned about sixteen years with great honour.—Cary’s Dante. Notes.
Esther 5:13. Alexander and the Cynic. Alexander, the great monarch of the world, was discontented because ivy would not grow in his gardens at Babylon; but the Cynic was herein more wise, who finding a mouse in his satchel, said, he saw that himself was not so poor but some were glad of his leavings. Thus, had we but hearts to improve higher providences, we might soon rock our peevish spirits quiet by much stronger arguments; as to take notice of God’s bountiful dealing with us, that we are less than the least of his mercies; that though we be not set in the highest form, yet there are many below us; that God is our good benefactor,—this would bring us to that pass, as to conclude with ourselves, having food and raiment, therewith to be content; and though we were many times cut short of creature accommodations, yet this would limit our desires after them, and make us rest assured that nothing is withdrawn or withheld from us which might be really advantageous to us.—Spencer.
Esther 5:13. Apologue of a Bird-catcher. There is an old apologue of a bird-catcher, who having taken a nightingale, the poor bird pleaded for herself as well as she could, and seeing divers go to the pot before her, said, “Alas; I am not worth the killing; I have little or no flesh on my back, therefore you may well let me go.” “No,” says the fowler, “one bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The bird replies, that her notes were worth more than her corpse, and that she would chant him out three songs, for which he should fare the better all the days of his life, if he kept them, than if he killed her. The bargain was made, and the bird let fly; the songs were these—
Strive not beyond thy strength.
Grieve not too much for the loss of that which cannot be recovered.
Believe not that which is incredible.
Now, whilst the wise bird-catcher was conning these lessons, the bird flying over his head told him that he had lost a great treasure; for she had within her head a precious stone as big as an ostrich egg. ‘At this news the birder began to ply the nightingale in fair words, and told her, that if she would come again to his hand he would spare the meat out of his own belly to feed her. Then answered the bird: “Now I see thou art a fool indeed; thou canst make no good use of my counsel; for, first thou labourest for me whom thou canst not reach; secondly, thou grievest for that which is irrecoverable; and thirdly, thou believest that which no wise man will, that I have a pearl in my head as big as an ostrich egg, whereas all my whole body is not so big.” Thus, surely, there are many of these fowlers, or rather foolers, in the world, such as doat in their reposals, setting up their rest in the things of this world, where it is not to be found, and in the mean time neglect to seek where it is; for the world hath no more sufficiency to man’s desire than the nightingale had the true pearl within her to give him content; all the advantages of outward things being to man’s desire but as sharp sauce to the appetite, which doth not satisfy hunger, but provoke the stomach to hunger after more.—Spencer.
Esther 5:13. What Diogenes can do without. Diogenes walked on a day with his friend to see a country fair, where he saw ribands, and looking-glasses, and nut-crackers, and fiddles, and hobby-horses, and many other gimcracks; and having observed them, and all the other finnimbrums to make a complete country fair, he said to his friend, “How many things there are in this world, of which Diogenes hath no need!” And truly it is so, or might be so, with very many who vex and toil themselves to get what they have no need of. Can any man charge God that he hath not given him enough to make his life happy? No, doubtless; for nature is content with a little; and yet you shall hardly meet with a man that complains not of some want; and thus, when we might be happy and quiet, we create trouble to ourselves. I have heard of a man that was angry with himself because he was no taller, and of a woman who broke her looking-glass because it would not show her face to be as young and handsome as her next neighbour’s was. And I knew another, to whom God had given health and plenty, but a wife that nature had made peevish, and her husband’s riches had made purse-proud, and must, because she was rich, and of no other virtue, sit in the highest pew in the church; which, being denied her, she engaged her husband into a contention for it; and at last, into a lawsuit with a dogged neighbour, who was as rich as he, and had a wife as peevish and purse-proud as the other; and this lawsuit begot higher oppositions, and actionable words, and more vexations and lawsuits; for you must remember that both were rich, and must therefore have their wills. Well, this wilful purse-proud lawsuit lasted during the life of the first husband; after which his wife vexed and chid, and chid and vexed, till she also chid and vexed herself into her grave; and so the wealth of these poor rich people was cursed into a punishment, because they wanted meek and thankful hearts; for those only can, make us happy.—Izaack Walton.
Esther 5:13. Joseph Brotherton. In Peel Park, Manchester, a monument is crected to Joseph Brotherton, having on it this statement, “My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants.” How happy most could be if their wants were not so many. The great majority want vastly more than is actually needful.
Esther 5:13. Byron’s lameness. It was said of Byron by Goethe, that he was inspired by the Genius of Pain; for, from the first to the last of his agitated career, every fresh recruitment of his faculties was imbibed from that bitter source. His chief incentive, when a boy, to distinction, was the mark of deformity on his person, by an acute sense of which he was first stung into the ambition of being great. In one of his letters to Mr. Hunt, he declares it to be his own opinion that “an addiction to poetry is very generally the result of ‘an uneasy mind in an uneasy body;’ disease or deformity,” he adds, “had been the attendants of many of our best. Collins mad—Chatterton, I think, mad—Cowper mad—Pope crooked—Milton blind,” &c. &c. His reverend friend, Mr. Becher, finding him one day unusually dejected, endeavoured to cheer and rouse him, by representing, in their highest colours, all the various advantages with which Providence had endowed him—and among the greatest, that of “a mind which placed him above the rest of mankind.” “Ah, my dear friend,” said Byron mournfully, “if this (laying his hand on his forehead) places me above the rest of mankind, that (pointing to his foot) places me far, far below them.” “Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”
Esther 5:14. Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends unto him, &c.] The name Zeresh is probably connected with Zered Zara, “gold.” Compare the Greek chrysis.—Rawlinson. Zeresh led the counsel. Kings as well as their chief officers doubtless often allowed themselves to be directed by their wives. Let a gallows] Heb. a tree, or wood: that is, a lofty beam or post for impalement; not a gallows, or gibbet, in the ordinary sense. Hanging with a rope by the neck seems not to have been a Persian mode of punishment, but impalement was common. Haman’s wife and friends proposed to make the post of wood for Mordecai’s execution fifty cubits high—seventy-five feet—so as to make his impalement as conspicuous and as ignominious as possible. Feuardent well says: “But why make it so high? (i.e. the tree, gallows). In order that his disgrace might be plainly observable to the eyes of all, and the more striking. Wherefore should he be in such haste about it? Lest there should be danger in delay or procrastination. For what reason have it erected before his own house? So that he and all his family, going in and out, seeing Mordecai hanging, might mock and feast their cruel eyes and minds with so miserable and foul a spectacle.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 5:14
THE SPEECH OF A FOOLISH WIFE
Job said unto his wife, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh;” and if Haman had been as good and as wise as Job he might have said the same unto his wife, Zeresh. But Haman was not like Job; and it may be that his wife and his friends spoke according to that which they knew would harmonize with his depraved and wicked nature. Sometimes the wife is the salvation of her husband, but too often by the natural delicacy of her nature she follows his leadings. We know little about Zeresh, but her speech in this verse at least does not tend to give us an exalted view of her character. Here we find that the wicked Haman is joined to, and backed up by, a wicked wife. We now refer to the wife, and leave the friends alone, for she is evidently the mouth-piece of the company. She leads the counsel; she lays down the diabolical plan by which Haman may seek to satisfy his revenge. A good wife, who shall tell her value? A bad wife, who shall declare her power of mischief? Haman was now far gone in wickedness; but a good wife might still have done much for his restraint.
I. The speech of this foolish wife is vindictive. Here are none of those sweet words which we naturally expect from a gentle woman. There is not the slightest trace of that tenderness which should be the characteristic and the glory of the female nature. There is rather the hard cruelty of Lady Macbeth inciting her shrinking husband to the performance of the murderous deed. “Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high.” Let the lofty gallows speak of the all-mastering force of the revenge. Let the ignominious nature of the punishment set forth thy determination to glut thy wicked feelings. Revenge is loathsome in any. Never does revenge seem more loathsome than in a woman. The wife, the mother, appears to view with a nature so hard that we can scarcely imagine her capable of motherly feeling. Is it possible that the woman who speaks in this verse ever gloated with motherly love and fondness over the infant beauty of her first-born? But what strange mixtures we are. Zeresh might have run to her child in distress, and have gently nurtured the sick ones; and yet can say, “Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high.” Strange inconsistency! Our human love is too often of a mere selfish character. Divine love is not self-considering. It flows out to the evil and the good. Human love must be formed after the pattern of Divine love if it is to work beneficially, and to be ennobling.
II. The speech of this foolish wife is flattering. “To-morrow speak thou unto the king.” Thou art all-powerful at Court; use thy power for the removal of thy hated enemy sitting at the king’s gate, and causing thee constant annoyance. The pleasant words of a dear wife are encouraging. The busy world does not sufficiently consider how much it owes to the stimulating words of good wives living in retirement, living for those whom they fondly love, living to strengthen their husbands for the stern battle. The faith of a fond wife in her husband’s power has but the husband’s salvation. Happy is it for the nervous and sensitive husband that the wife considers him a here, and loves to extol his virtues. A true wife has large conceptions of her husband’s abilities. Zeresh may still have believed in her wicked husband. But her flattery is ruinous. Let discretion rule in our loving words. Let us beware lest we be led astray to our own destruction by flattering words.
III. The speech of this foolish wife is cruel. Bitterly cruel as coming from a woman. Cruel if we consider the doom proposed for poor Mordecai; and cruel if we consider the repellent selfishness to be encouraged by the exhortation. “Then go thou in merrily with the king to the banquet.” What is Mordecai’s crime that he should be impaled on the lofty tree? What has so hardened the delicate nature of a woman that she can speak callously of that most awful form of human punishment? How very hard a woman can be when she sets herself to be hard. The hellish cruelty of a cruel woman is the most awful fact on God’s sin blighted earth. Happy the man so far who has never had to experience the effects of such cruelty! Oh, Zeresh, this is not the high road to merriment! The gallows on which the Mordecais hang are not the means by which it is to be secured. Well, yes, perhaps merriment, but not lasting happiness. The laughter of fools, but not the deep joy of the righteous. Merriment and hanging! The banquet and the gallows! Extremes meet in this world of contradictions. Joy and sorrow tread upon each other’s heels. Tears and smiles are close together in this strangely disordered universe. The gallows is raised by selfishness. Merriment is the outcome of selfishness. Celestial joy is the outcome of benevolence.
IV. The speech of this foolish wife was pleasing. “The thing pleased Haman.” It was intended to please, and the object was accomplished. Depraved nature is pleased by that which ministers to its depravity. Had Zeresh set herself to reform Haman, the work would have been more difficult, less pleasing, but perhaps more satisfactory in the long run. The work of the reformer is always difficult, and not always satisfactory in this world. Some tell us that speaking the truth always pays. That men at first may not like the truth, but that afterwards they come to respect the speaker, and even give a testimonial. The only testimonial that Stephen received was stones, not curiously carved, not having inscribed upon them his virtues, and not presented by a kid-gloved deputation. Stephen was not likely to receive much benefit in this world from the report of his testimonial as sent to the Christian newspapers of his time. Zeresh had evidently no high-souled views; she spoke of the present, like too many. She pleased Haman, and thought of no dreadful future.
V. The speech of this foolish wife was ruinously successful. Haman caused the gallows to be made in accordance with the suggestion of Zeresh and the friends. There is a success which is ruinous, and this was one of the kind. Ruinous not to Mordecai, but to Haman and to Zeresh. Our own words are sometimes our own bitter and relentless destroyers. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned.” In lonely hours of bitter grief did the words of Zeresh haunt her memory, and fill her soul with anguish. As she saw her poor Haman impaled on the lofty gallows, how she would have liked to have recalled the foolish words. But they cannot be recalled. Foolish words once spoken are spoken beyond control. Be slow to speak. Be swift to hear. In consigning other people to sorrow we must inflict sorrow on ourselves. Those who erect the gallows for others should walk very carefully themselves.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 5:14
An envious man cannot peacefully enjoy the benefits which God gives him. “Go not after thy lusts, but refrain thyself from thine appetites.” It is very grievous of wives to urge their husbands to do wickedly. He who digs a pit for others will fall in himself. We must not of ourselves revenge ourselves on our enemy, but first bring him before the proper tribunal. When the wicked are busy to remove from their path what will mar their earthly joy, then, on the other hand, the godly should be diligent to remove that which will embitter their spiritual and heavenly joy.—Starke.
Observe how false and vain is the confidence of impious and cruel men, who seek and hope to oppress, and utterly destroy, the servants of God. It is themselves that perish by the just judgment of God, and they are often caught by the very snares they lay for others; while God rescues his servants, and magnificently vindicates them. Goliath and Holofernes are slain with their own swords, and the saints triumph with their heads. The Babylonian satraps seemed to themselves secure, when the flames and the lions were about to devour Daniel and his companions; but the latter were gloriously preserved, and the former ignominously perished by their own artifices and instruments. Pharaoh boasted, “I will overtake (the Hebrews); I will divide the spoil;” but he immediately became food for the fishes, and a prey for the servants of the Lord. “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are foolishness.” “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh at them.” These are the effects of the judgment of which the Holy Spirit speaks by the prophets: “Evil-doers shall be cut off; but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” Let us therefore cast away impious security, contempt of God, and inhumanity towards others; but let us walk in the love and fear of the Lord, that at length we may come to His heavenly kingdom.—Feuardent.
The wit of women hath wont to be noted for more sudden, and more sharp. Zeresh, the wife of Haman, sets on foot the motion of speedy revenge, which is applauded by the rest. I do not hear them say: Be patient awhile; thou hast already set Mordecai his last day; the month Adar will not be long in coming; the determination of his death hath made him desperate; let him in the mean time eat his own heart in envy at thy greatness. But they rather advise of a quick despatch. Malice is a thing full of impatience, and hates delay of execution next unto mercy. While any grudge lies at the heart, it cannot be freely cheerful. Forced smiles are but the hypocrisy of mirth. How happy were it for us, if we would be zealously careful to remove the hindrances of our true spiritual joy, those stubborn corruptions that will not stoop to the power of grace.—Bishop Hall.
“Thou canst never prevail against Mordecai by means which have already been brought to bear against his people,” said Zeresh to Haman. “Thou canst not kill him with a knife or sword, for Isaac was delivered from the same; neither canst thou drown him, for Moses and the people of Israel walked safely through the sea. Fire will not burn him, for with Chananyah and his comrades it failed; wild beasts will not tear him, for Daniel was rescued from the lion’s fangs; neither will a dungeon contain him, for Joseph walked to honour through a prison’s gates. Even if we deprive him of sight, we cannot prevail against him, for Samson was made blind, and yet destroyed thousands of the Philistines. There is but one way left us; we must hang him.” It was in accordance with this advice that Haman built the gallows fifty cubits high. After he had erected this dread instrument of death, he sought the presence of Mordecai, to gloat over his coming triumph. He found the Jew in the College, with his pupils gathered around him. Their loins were girded in sackcloth, and they wept at the words which their teacher was addressing to them. “To-morrow,” said Haman, “I will first destroy these children, and I will then hang Mordecai on the gallows I have prepared.” He remained in the school and saw the mothers of the pupils bring them their meals; but they all refused to eat, saying: “By the life of our teacher, Mordecai, we will neither eat nor drink; fasting will we die.”
But Haman was to receive his punishment. There is a saying of the Rabbis: “If a stone falls upon a pitcher, the pitcher breaks; if the pitcher falls upon the stone, the pitcher also breaks.” Be it as it may, it is bad for the pitcher, and bad similarly for the enemies of Israel; for even when Israel strays from righteousness, the instruments of their chastisement are also punished, as in the instances of Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Haman, &c.—Talmud.
Haman was pleased with the advice of his friends, and began to put it in execution. But he found too soon, that “he who flattereth a man spreadeth a net for his feet.” Haman prepared for Mordecai in intention, but for himself in reality, a gallows of fifty cubits high. Remember and believe the instruction of the wise man, “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge a serpent shall bite him.”—Lawson.
As Mordecai’s offence had been presumptuous above measure in the view of Haman and his friends, so the punishment of it was to be conspicuous. The gallows on which he was to be hanged was to be upwards of forty feet (seventy-five feet) in height, so that the victim might be exposed to the view of the whole city—so that all might learn that it was no slight matter to provoke the vengeance of the favourite of the king. And mark how the thirst for vengeance converts men into fiends. Far more gratifying than any of the luxuries which he could taste at the table of the queen would be the sight to Haman of Mordecai hanging on the gibbet. “Have everything ready to feed your revenge,” his friends said to him, “and then go in merrily with the king unto the banquet.” Generally a deed of cruelty and bloodshed for a time destroys, even in wicked men, their relish for their usual pleasure. But there are monsters in human form, as the recent massacres in India show us; indeed as all history shows us; and as we see here in the case of Haman. There are human fiends who, when their passions are inflamed, riot in cruelty, and feel as if the exercise of it gave a zest to all their other enjoyments. Some philosophers talk of the innate dignity and excellence of human nature, but it may be safely said that there is no enormity which men will not perpetrate when they are left to themselves, and destitute of the softening and elevating influence of true religion.
But passing from this topic, we may suppose now, when Haman was comforted by the suggestion of his friends, that the two things which chiefly occupied his mind and pleased him, were the preparation of the gallows for Mordecai, and the thought of the interview with the king on the morrow, when he felt sure he would obtain the request he was to make. “Behold the wicked,” says the Psalmist, “he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief: he made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made: his mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon himself.” That night was spent in Haman’s house—by his slaves in making all ready for the murderous deed of the morrow, and by himself, in joyous anticipation of having his victim fully within his power.
If we should fail,—
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail. When Duncan is asleep,
(Whereto the rather shall his day’s hard journey
Soundly invite him,) his two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassel so convince,
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only: When in swinish sleep
Their drenched natures lie, as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan? what not put upon
His spongy officers: who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell?”
A good wife, says an old writer, is heaven’s last, best gift to man: his angel of mercy; minister of graces innumerable; his gem of many virtues; his casket of jewels. Her voice, his sweetest music; her smiles, his brightest day; her kiss, the guardian of innocence; her arms, the pall of his safety, the balm of his health, the balsam of his life; her industry, his sweetest wealth; her economy, his safest steward; her lips, his faithful counsellors; her bosom, the softest pillow of his cares; and her prayers, the ablest advocates of heaven’s blessing on his head. A married man falling into misfortune is more apt to retrieve his situation in the world than a single one, chiefly because his spirits are soothed and retrieved by domestic endearments, and his self-respect kept alive by finding that although all abroad be darkness and humiliation, yet there is a little world of love at home over which he is monarch.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28