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Esther 6:1. On … sleep] Heb. the king’s sleep fled away, an unusual thing. “That night] which succeeded the events of the last chapter, settled with apparently a most ominous cloud upon the future of Mordecai, but it was the harbinger of a most auspicious day for him. God, who works in the darkness as in the light, caused sleep to flee from the king, and disposed him to beguile the wakeful hours, not with music or song, but by having one to read to him from the book of records of the chronicles] His mind was in a mood to ruminate on the events of his own life, and the State annals were called for to assist his memory. Rawlinson thinks that the Persian kings were in most cases unable to read.”—Whedon’s Com. They were read before the king] These were in the act of being called over. In the original there is a participle which denotes the long continuance of this reading.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 6:1
A HUMILIATED KING
IT is not to be presumed that this was the only night on which the king found it impossible to command the recuperating services of that sleep which is nature’s sweet restorer. Other nights there were, most likely, when the king could not sleep. But on those other nights there might be found satisfactory explanations of the sleeplessness. There may have been physical pain preventing the enjoyment of sweet repose. There were visible or ascertainable causes to account for the unusual restlessness. On this occasion the king could not sleep, and yet he could not account for the restless condition. How is it that I cannot sleep? I have no physical pain. I have no fears. I am not conscious of danger. All appears to be much as it has been on other nights when I have enjoyed repose. The king was now touched by a hand that he could not see. The king was now moved and controlled by a power that he did not acknowledge. An unseen and irresistible force now rendered uneasy the couch on which the mighty monarch in vain sought for sleep. Kings have their master. Sleepy and sleepless kings have their humiliating Conditions. All are in a state of subjection. God can at all times use us for his great purposes, but he has need of wakeful creatures. Even kings must not sleep when the Great King has work to be performed. Here is a lesson for all. We must be willing to sacrifice sleep when God’s Church and God’s world has pressing claims upon our immediate service.
I. A king in need. Eastern monarchs sought by the pomp of circumstances to separate themselves from their subjects, and thus to maintain a condition of superiority. At all times monarchs have been regarded by the vast majority as superior beings. Yet it is plain, and a truism to assert, that kings have their needs as well as subjects. They too are human, and require those helps which are needful to the rest of humanity. Ahasuerus, the monarch ruling over a hundred and seven and twenty provinces, seeks for sleep just as the meanest peasant seeks for sleep in his rude cot. Sleep is said to be the image of death. As the latter, so the former is a great leveller. They know no distinctions of rank. They do not recognize the gorgeous trappings of royalty. A sleeping king is just as helpless as a sleeping beggar. What becomes of our greatness when we are compelled to sleep? The beggar in his sleep may dream himself to be possessed of vast wealth. For a beggar may have his pleasant dreams; while kings may be haunted with the nightmare. Kings must sleep, or kings must die. Kings too must sleep the final sleep; the sleep from which there is only one awakening. We all must sleep the great sleep of death. How often have we laid ourselves down to sleep, and yet it may be, that many of us have never thought of this sleep prefiguring our last sleep? Death is near to us, not only by our liability to accident and to disease, but by its image in our nightly sleep. When death comes will it find us ready? Shall we lie down to sleep with the assured conviction that we shall awake in the resurrection of the just?
II. Thus a king in subjection. A king ruling and yet ruled. He is in subjection to the law that sleep is a necessity of nature. Kings are under law. They even cannot violate the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, with impunity. Philosophers may assume kingly prerogatives. They may patronize nature and nature’s God. They may talk in grandiloqueut terms about how the universe was framed, and how it ought to be framed. But philosophers must sleep. Philosophers must humbly bow and submit themselves to this humiliating condition. A philosopher snoring is a withering irony on a philosopher talking. Who could believe that the philosopher recumbent, wrapped in the embraces of sleep, is the same being as the philosopher erect, defying with his tongue all the powers in earth and in heaven? If the kings of men own no other kingly power, they must place themselves in subjection to king sleep. This is one of the great sovereigns that rules humanity. It will not be denied. It demands its offering of time. If the offering be not constantly presented, it comes with awful vengeance. Sleep is the messenger that death sends before to tell of his coming. Mighty sleep, but mightier death! Sleep is a king ruling gently and sweetly. Death is a king ruling sternly and dreadfully. God is a king mightier than either sleep or death. They rule only with delegated authority. They too are subject. God can take away sleep, as he did on that night when Ahasuerus could not sleep. God can stay death as he did in the cases of Enoch and of Elijah. If we would sweetly sleep and calmly die, we must sleep resting assured that He is our friend who giveth to his beloved sleep; we must die in Jesus Christ. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.” When the day is drawing to a close, when night is throwing the sable curtains about a bright and busy world, when the exhausted system is seeking the help of its restorer, and is wooing the sweet embraces of balmy sleep; how delightful to feel that in seeking the earthly rest we get a type of the heavenly rest, and to say to the body, Return to rest on that pillow which will one day lose its power to soothe; to the soul, Return to rest on that bosom of Divine love which will never fail in its comforting and recruiting influences. When life’s evening is drawing to its close, when earth can no more give rest, when with trembling feet we are treading the darkest valley of all, how great the peace if we can feel that we are going to rest for ever where no adverse forces will disturb the divine repose.
III. A king in defeat. Kings have their defeats as well as common men; not only on the battle-field, not only in the national councils, but in the ordinary circumstances of life. Here a king is defeated. Ahasuerus seeks sleep, and yet it refuses to come at his request. He cannot now secure the boon which is obtained by the meanest subject in his realm. All material appliances are at his command, and yet sleep will not be compelled. Sweet music cannot lull to repose where it is denied. Soft couches and splendid drapery cannot always compel the embraces of sleep. It is coy and fickle; and sometimes when most earnestly sought, it appears to fly the farthest away. At other times when not sought at all it comes readily. On that night could not the king sleep. The king is defeated. Here is a lesson for Ahasuerus if he had only been wise. What a lesson on our limitations! Here is a lesson for all. We may know our weakness, and yet we will not bow in lowly reverence to the Great Supreme. How humble should all men be in the presence of their limitations! How little reason has a proud man to vaunt himself of his greatness!
IV. A king in subjection commands. He commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles. He commands because he is commanded. He was commanded not to sleep. He was also commanded to turn his attention in sleepless hours to the book of records of the chronicles. Here we have doubtless the case of an ungodly man under Divine inspiration. It may be said that it was only a freak on the part of the king. He was restless and did not know what to do with himself, and so he turned to these royal records. Such a freak, however, is unaccountable unless we suppose him unconsciously directed from heaven. It would have been more natural for him to have commanded the presence of a musician to bring forth dulcet strains to soothe the restless nature. Or to have called for some calmly entertaining story. Or to have summoned the doctor to administer, so as to settle the perturbation. Imagine the Queen on some sleepless night calling for the Blue Book to be brought into her presence. Picture yourselves asking for police statistics, for the records of crime, when sleep forsakes in the dark and stilly night; why it would be enough to drive sleep away. It may be supposed that Ahasuerus asked for these chronicles as being dry reading and calculated to induce slumber, just as some people take a volume of old dry divinity to bed to read: just as some people go to church in order to get slumber. Still the case is not altered. However it came about in human working, it was settled in Divine purpose that Ahasuerus must read in these records, and read at the particular part of those records relating to Mordecai. Ungodly men may be under Divine inspiration. God can use the wicked. But God will use the good for their own greater good; for the good of others, and for his own glory. Let us seek to be good, and ready for Divine uses. When we cannot sleep, when an unusual restlessness takes hold of our nature, what should we summon to our aid? Should we not ask for the book of the Divine records? Let us seek ever to God’s word. Let us find in it light in the darkest nights, repose in the most restless periods, and help in our varied weaknesses.
V. A king in defeat listens. A king in defeat is more likely to listen than a king triumphant. The records of the chronicles were read before the king. Dull reading no doubt, but still he listened. When the attention is properly engaged, then the dullest reading becomes interesting. It would require a skilful reader to make these chronicles attractive and lively. This king we may well imagine did not look for the nicely modulated voice. He was Divinely directed to take a special interest—an interest he had never felt previously; yea, it is likely he had never heard the records before—in these dull chronicles. Our times of humiliation are mostly our best times of listening. Our times when we are under Divine impulses are our times for receiving with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save our souls. Let us be in earnest as the Divine records are read in our hearing. Let the attention be thoroughly aroused and awake to the subject matter, and then the manner of the speaker will be of comparatively small importance. With some the voice of the messenger is the all-important concern. The message should be that which commands and engages the supreme attention. This defeated king listens with intelligent interest. He notes the very point which is requisite for the working out of Divine purposes; as we shall see more fully in the after-part of this narrative. Let then the whole mind be engaged while the Divine records are being proclaimed. The head as well as the heart must be employed. Listen, for important interests are at stake. Listen for your own benefit, and thus you will become of benefit to others. Ahasuerus listened for himself, and in thus listening he became a true service to Mordecai and all his people. Good listeners help to make good readers and good doers. They benefit both themselves and the community at large.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 6:1
God has employed sleep for weighty purposes, in various ages of the world. It was while Adam was in “deep sleep,” that “one of his ribs was taken,” and made a living being, and an help meet for him. It was while Jacob was asleep, that he was favoured with that wonderful vision, in which he beheld a ladder set upon the earth, whose top reached to heaven—a striking representation of God’s providential care for his people; and likewise of that Redeemer, who is the way to the Father—a way, in which whosoever walketh, the angels of glory continually afford to him their friendly ministrations. It was when Joseph was asleep, that he was directed from heaven to take Mary for his wife; because that which had been conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost. He was in the same condition, when he was warned from above to take the Holy Child with his mother to Egypt, to avoid the death intended him by Herod; and when he was ordered to bring him back to Judea, after death had taken that cruel tyrant from the earth. But here God carries his purposes into execution by means of the absence of sleep. He is never at a loss to bring his designs to pass. All things are in his hand, and he maketh them all, even those most contrary to each other, to work together for the good of his chosen. “He hath put all things under the feet” of Christ and given him to be the head over all things to the Church, for the benefit of his believing people.
Sleep, my brethren, is the gift of God, and an invaluable mercy. Our feeble frames require it frequently, and the Lord frequently imparts it. It re-animates our drooping spirits, and reinvigorates our wearied limbs: with grateful hearts ought we then to say with David, “I laid me down and slept. I awaked: for the Lord sustained me.” But precious as is this gift, if we employ the bodies, whose weakness demands these frequent cessations from labour, in the service of him that bought them, they shall be ere long in a condition in which it will not be needed. Our resurrection bodies will be as active as our spirits, and with them will serve God without fatigue, without intermission, throughout eternity. “It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.”
When Ahasuerus was thus supernaturally robbed of his sleep, he commanded the records of the empire to be brought before him. He might have fixed upon many other ways of beguiling the slowly passing hours: but this tended to facilitate the object which Esther had in view: therefore her God disposed the king to adopt it. If he had ordered instruments of music to be brought before him (which was customary among the Eastern monarchs, Daniel 6:18), he might have diverted his mind, and possibly rendered his sleepless hours pleasurable; but, in that case, Mordecai would not have come to his mind: the fidelity of that subject, which he had forgotten, and by which his life had been preserved, had remained still in forgetfulness, and nothing would have been done towards the accomplishment of Esther’s design. Let our contemplation of God’s wisdom and overruling power herein, constrain us to say, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things: and blessed be his glorious name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.”—Hughes.
Esther 6:1. On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.
The king could not sleep, any more than we, when he pleased. Of what use, some will say, is royal dignity, if it cannot procure sleep to the wearied eyelids? A king, by the wise administration of government, may procure sleep to his people; on the contrary, by his oppression, he may cause many wearisome nights to his subjects, in which their sorrows will not suffer them to sleep. But the regal dignity will not insure sleep to him who enjoys it. It is more likely to debar his eyes from rest by those anxious cares which attend it; or by those uneasy reflections which attend the abuse of power. Labour, and a good conscience, will procure sweeter sleep than all the riches in the world.
On that night could not the king sleep.—On what night? The night preceding the decisive day on which Esther was to present her petition, and the morning on which Haman had a petition of an opposite kind to be presented to the king. Observe how Divine Providence kept sleep from the eyes of Ahasuerus, to serve its own gracious purposes. It is said that “God giveth his beloved sleep.” But he sometimes too withholds sleep from them for good purposes; and he sometimes hath withheld sleep from other persons, or disturbed it with strange dreams, for their benefit. A dream was sent to Pharaoh, that Joseph should be delivered from his prison, and exalted to power. Another dream was sent to Nebuchadnezzar, to procure the exaltation of Daniel and his friends. Ahasuerus was kept from sleep, that he might not suffer Mordecai to be hanged.
It is of great use to know how to improve those moments of the night in which we are debarred from sleep. Ahasuerus, it seems, thought he could not employ his waking moments better than by hearing the chronicles of his reign. Here too we may observe the superintending care of Providence. Why did not a prince, who delighted in pleasure, rather call for the melody of the harp and viol, than for the chronicles of his reign? It was the will of God that he should be put in mind of what Mordecai had done for him, because now the fit time was come that he should receive the reward of his fidelity.
“Blessings on him,” says Sancho Panza, “who invented sleep.” This is a sentimént in which all the world will agree. Sleep is, indeed, as much the true remedy for the troubles and worries of the mind, as it is for the fatigues of the body. In every one’s life there are occasions when the gloom of the present is only exceeded by the darkness of the future. If there were no such thing as sleep, a man would succumb either mentally or bodily; he would die of exhausted nervous power, or if it were possible for him to live, would become a maniac.
After some hours of the deepest mental distress, relief is usually brought by sleep, and the sufferer feels his exhausted powers revive. He wakes with the memory of his troubles still present to his mind, but also feeling that he is better prepared to face them. The keenness by which they wound him is somewhat blunted; and this gradual process of blunting is nightly repeated. Thus, by causing intermission in our troubles, it is that “tired nature’s sweet restorer” reanimates our drooping spirits. Sleep was supposed to be caused by accumulation of blood in the head; and in support of this view the facts have been advanced, that full-blooded people are usually the best sleepers, and that the recumbent position which promotes the flow of blood to the brain, induces sleep. But it is now the most generally received opinion, that sleep is caused by a withdrawal of blood from the brain. In perfect sleep there is no consciousness. It has been, therefore, called with truth the image of death. It is a temporary death, as far as concerns all action and motion which lie under the power of the will. But although the brain is at rest, the heart and lungs continue their tasks, because they are presided over by a department of the nervous system which acts independently of the brain. The brain is the seat of consciousness, and from it all the nerves which originate and control voluntary motions take their rise more or less directly. The intellectual faculties sometimes continue active during sleep. La Fontaine made admirable verses in his sleep. Alexander is said to have planned battles. In the same way mathematicians have solved problems, and school-boys have accomplished tasks.—Physiology far Practical Use.
Earthly crowns often sit heavily on the monarch’s head:—
O polished perturbation! golden care,
That keeps the ports of slumber open wide
For many a watchful night.
Esther 6:1. This is as it is written in the Psalm: “He suffered no man to do them wrong; nay, he rebuked even kings for their sake.” For the pious are so great a care to God, that in order to preserve them he does not even spare kings, but brings upon them various calamities.—Brenz.
Let every one bear in mind day and night that pious proposition of Augustine concerning the solicitude of God for his saints: so day and night dost thou watch for my safeguard as if, forgetful of thy whole creation in heaven and earth, thou considerest me alone, and hadst no care for others.—Feuardent.
O Lord, it is good to trust in thee in the expectation of thy help! Thou dost continually watch over the souls left in thy care, and thou dost even wait until things have come to extremities, in order to cause the greater exercise of faith, so that none may despair of thy assistance, still at the right time thou art ever ready to help. What indeed is more natural than that a king could not sleep, and that he should wish something read to him? It is this altogether natural, yet wonderful, leading, which causes the hearts of those who experience it to rejoice! To all other hearts this is dark. This wise, Divine Providence is still unknown to those who only live in and for themselves.—Berl. Bible.
“He that keepeth Israel, and neither slumbereth nor sleepeth,” causeth sleep that night to depart from him that had decreed to root out Israel. Great Ahasuerus, that commanded a hundred and seven and twenty provinces, cannot command an hour’s sleep. Poverty is rather blessed with the freedom of rest, than wealth and power. Cares and surfeit withhold that from the great, which passeth upon the spare diet and labour of the meanest. Nothing is more tedious than an eager pursuit of denied sleep, which, like to a shadow, flies away so much faster as it is more followed.—Bishop Hall.
God gives sleep to the bad, in order that the good may be undisturbed.—Sadi.
Oh, sleep, sweet sleep! whatever form thou takest, thou art fair, holding unto our lips thy goblet fill’d out of oblivion’s well, a healing draught.—Longfellow.
Could not the king sleep.] Heb. the king’s sleep fled away, and, like a shadow, it fled away so much the faster as it was more followed. Sleep is best solicited by neglect, and soonest found when we have forgotten to seek it. They are likeliest for it who together with their clothes can put off their cares, and say as Lord Burleigh did when he threw off his gown, “Lie there, Lord Treasurer.” This great Ahasuerus cannot do at present, for crowns also have their cares, thistles in their arms and thorns in the sides. Lo, he that commanded one hundred and twenty-seven provinces cannot command an hour’s sleep. How should he when sleep is God’s gift? And it was that at this time kept him awake for excellent ends, and put small thoughts in his heart for great purpose, like as he did into our Henry VIII., when the Bishop of Baion (the French ambassador) coming to consult with him about a marriage between the Lady Mary and the Duke of Orleans, cast a scruple into his mind which rendered him restless, whether Mary were legitimate (‘Life and Death of Card. Wolsey,’ 65). If it were his surfeiting and drunkenness the day before that hindered Ahasuerus from sleeping, God’s goodness appeareth the more, in turning his sin to the good of the Church. Venenum aliquando pro remedio fuit, saith Seneca. He can make poisonful viper a wholesome treacle; and by an almighty alchemy draw good out of evil.—Trapp.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Esther 6:1. Safe sleeping. When one asked Alexander: how he could sleep so soundly and securely in the midst of danger, he told him that Parmenio watched; he might well sleep when Parmenio watched. Oh how securely may they sleep over whom he watches that never slumbers nor sleeps! “I will,” said David, “lay me down and sleep, for thou, Lord, makest me to dwell in safety.”—Venning.
A sleepless night. “Because God wouldn’t let him,” was the answer given by a little boy in one of our Sunday Schools of a large city in the West of England to a question asked by the teacher in reference to the Persian monarch not being able to enjoy his accustomed slumbers. It was a simple but sound reply, for God’s providence was watching over his ancient people, and when they appeared to be in imminent danger of falling by the hand or the sword he again proved faithful to his promises, and made transpiring events and circumstances subservient to his purpose. On that night the king could not sleep because
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.”
A sleepless night. A few years ago, a pious man at Gravesend had retired to rest late on the Saturday night, having first secured the doors and windows of his house and shop. Weary, however, as he was with the labours of the week, he found it impossible to sleep; and, having tossed about in his bed for an hour or two without rest, he resolved to rise and spend an hour in the perusal of his Bible, as preparatory to the engagements of the Sabbath. He went downstairs with the Bible under his arm, and advancing towards one of the outer doors, he found several men who had broken into the house, and who but for this singular interruption would probably, in a very short period, have deprived him of the whole of his property.—R. T. S. Anec. quoted in Biblical Museum.
Providence of God in withholding sleep.—The late Sir Evan Nepean, when Under-Secretary of State, related to a friend of his that one night he had the most unaccountable wakefulness that could be imagined. He was in perfect health, had dined early and moderately, had no care—nothing to brood over—and was perfectly self-possessed. Still he could not sleep, and from eleven till two in the morning had never closed an eye. It was summer, and twilight had far advanced; and to dissipate the ennui of his wakefulness, he resolved to rise and breathe the morning air in the park. There he saw nothing but sleepy sentinels, whom he rather envied. He passed the Home Office several times, and at last, without any particular object, resolved to let himself in with his pass key. The book of entries of the day before lay open on the table, and in sheer listlessness he began to read. The first thing appalled him!—“A reprieve to be sent to York for the coiners ordered for execution the next day.” It struck him that he had no return to his order to send the reprieve, and he searched the minutes, but could not find it. In alarm, he went to the house of the chief clerk, who lived in Downing Street, knocked him up (it was then long past three), and asked him if he knew anything of the reprieve being sent. In greater alarm, the chief clerk could not remember. “You are scarcely awake,” said Sir Evan; “collect yourself: it must have been sent.” The chief clerk said he did now recollect he had sent it to the Clerk of the Crown, whose business it was to forward it. “Good!” said Sir Evan; “but have you his receipt and certificate that it is gone?” “No!” “Then come with me to his house. We must find him, though it is so early!” It was now four, and the Clerk of the Crown lived in Chancery Lane. There was no hackney coach, and they almost ran. The Clerk of the Crown had a country house, and meaning to have a long holiday, he was at that moment stepping into his gig, to go to his villa. Astonished at the visit of the Under-Secretary at such an hour, he was still more so at his business. With an exclamation of horror, cried the Clerk of the Crown, “The reprieve is locked up in my desk!” It was brought. Sir Evan sent to the Post Office for the trustiest and fleetest express, and the reprieve reached York at the moment the unhappy people were ascending the cart. Surely this was the finger of God.—Leisure Hour.
Esther 6:2.] The name Bigthana is in Esther 2:21 written Bigthan.
Esther 6:3.] The king’s question means what honour and reward has been assigned him? What has been apportioned? How has he been requited? “It was a settled principle of the Persian government that royal benefactors were to receive an adequate reward, the names of such persons were placed on a special roll, and great care was taken that they should be properly recommended. It is a mistake, however, to suppose (Davidson) that they were always rewarded at once. Themistocles was inscribed on the list in B.C. 480, but did not obtain a reward till B.C. 465. Other benefactors waited for months, or perhaps years, before they were recompensed. Sometimes a benefactor received no reward at all.”—Rawlinson. The king’s servants answered: Nothing has been shown him. No favour has been shown him. No greatness, i.e. no promotion to honour.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 6:2-17.6.3
A KING’S SORROW FOR AN UNREWARDED SUBJECT
The chronicles of earthly kings are concealing. The chronicles of the heavenly King are revealing. In the former, events may be recorded and forgotten. In the latter, events are recorded and remembered. For five or six years the conspiracy discovered and exposed by Mordecai had been recorded in the book of records of the chronicles. It must have remained thus for ever, had it not been, as men say, revealed by accident; but by what we ought to say, the direct interposition of God.’ The records of the heavenly state are not managed in the same loose fashion. All that is needful will be ultimately brought to light. Mordecai had to wait because the Persian king was either ungrateful or unmindful. Saints may have to wait, not because God is either unmindful or unwilling to reward faithful service, but because the proper season has not come for the fulfilment of his purposes. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness.” Now consider the state of Ahasuerus after listening to the reading of this account concerning the conspiracy of Bigthana and Teresh; and its discovery by Mordecai.
I. The working of remorse. And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? The gloomy and sleepless night is a season well calculated to bring about mournful reflections. Then the brain is busy, and the memory works with unwonted activity. Thoughts come and go in quick succession. As instantaneously there flashes before the drowning man his whole life, so often on the sleepless bed there appears the ghostly army of our past deeds, and especially misdeeds. It is a season for the working of remorse. And we can easily suppose that Ahasuerus required no reading of the dull chronicles in order to stir up grief for past deeds. His mind is not now diverted by the pomp and circumstance of his great position. His mind was now ready to fix upon this one fact, that a deserving man had been unrewarded. He at once wakes up to the fact of his ingratitude, and asks the question about Mordecai’s reward. The eagerness with which he asks the question, the promptness with which he proceeds, and the energy with which he resists the blandishments of his favourite minister, show that his better nature was asserting itself; for even Ahasuerus had a better nature. The mighty monarch may well say, How ungrateful have I been! Here is a man to whom I owe my life left pining in obscurity.
II. The working of repentance. Ahasuerus might have asked the question in a penitent mood, and then have dismissed the subject from his mind. Too many, in moments of remorse, utter a few well-coined phrases, and then let the affair pass away. Even in such cases it is not fair to say that there was no true feeling for the time being, for we are strange mixtures; the subjects of fitful changes, good this moment and bad the next. But the question of Ahasuerus taken in connection with his after conduct, evinces that there was just then the working of a right spirit. He desired, and set himself, to make the only reparation in his power. He had been unmindful of great services, but he will be unmindful no longer. He seems to ask with noble resolve what honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Repentance is not merely to weep over a remediless past, but to do justice to those who have suffered from our previous neglect, or to repair as far as possible the injustice we have done them. One of the Divine requirements is “to do justly.” In order to carry out this precept, the man who has suffered from our injustice must have his wrongs righted. Ahasuerus sets himself to do justly to Mordecai. Already the purpose is being formed in his mind to heap upon this man the highest honours, as if to make amends for past neglect. Well was it for the king and for the subject that Mordecai had not passed away beyond the reach of Ahasuerus. Then the king could simply have erected a monument to his memory. This is the mode in which too many seek to still the voice of conscience The hero starves in a garret. The benefactor pines in obscurity, and battles with poverty, is worsted in the contest, and dies a victim on the altar of ingratitude. Then the nation rouses itself to an appreciation of the good man’s claims. A costly monument celebrates his worth, but no line is written to tell of vile neglect, and of a nation’s base ingratitude. Even the luxurious and weak-minded Ahasuerus may speak a lesson to those who build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous; but who persecute the living prophets, and are blind to the worth of the living righteous.
III. A voice from the guilty past. Then said the king’s servants that minister unto him, There is nothing done for him. The voices of the present are too often but echoes of the past. Ahasuerus was too deaf during six years to hear the still small voice which said there is nothing done for the deserving Mordecai. The voice gathers force and volume, and now it comes like a thunder-clap to the soul of Ahasuerus as the servants say there is nothing done for him. Neglected duty has a voice; if we hear and at once obey, much sorrow will be prevented. If we are deaf, purposely deaf, the voice goes on speaking, and in the dreary night, when all is still, when the soul is awake, it speaks with tremendous emphasis. If then we listen and repent destruction may be prevented. If we still refuse to hear the voice will speak once more, when the only response can be, It is now too late. Let us listen to the voices of the present. Do they echo our past? Do they say there is nothing done where much ought to have been done. Let us pray for Divine mercy through Jesus Christ to blot out our past; and for Divine grace to remedy the past as far as possible, and to do nobler and better in the future. The king listened eagerly and penitently to those preachers who had only a tale of misdoing to tell; for not-doing is in many cases misdoing. Wise are those hearers who listen to the preacher who declares there is nothing done where much was rightly expected. The king’s servants proclaim their own guilt. There is nothing done for him. We have waited and never urged the claims of good Mordecai. Sometimes in proclaiming the injustice of others we pronounce our own guilt. Thou that reprovest Ahasuerus because he has done nothing for Mordecai, what hast thou done for the benefit of the neglected man? Thou that ravest about a nation’s neglected heroes, what hast thou done for the heroes round about thee, for the heroes whose heroism is not on a large scale, for the heroes who tread the quiet walks of life, but whose aggregated worth constitute a nation’s safety. Neglected heroes! Unrecognized worth! They seem to meet us everywhere. In the present day it appears too much the case that the only heroism which receives notice is the heroism of boasting. In the heathen kingdom of Persia modest Mordecai meets at last with some reward. In the Christian kingdom of England the modest Mordecais too often pass to the grave, and on their tomb-stones may be written the epitaph: There has nothing been done for them. In the heathen kingdom of Persia the boasting Haman ends on the gallows. In the Christian kingdom of England the boasting Haman sadly often maintains a position of social influence, and crowds follow his remains to the grave. Let the art of graceful puffing be taught in our schools and colleges; let its glories be proclaimed from our pulpits and in our lecture-rooms. No more vainly talk about the virtues of modest merit. The cry is now heard, He is too sensitive to make his way. Solomon said, Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, set not out thy glory. The modern Solomon says, Put thy best foot foremost, set out thy glory, have a good opinion of thyself if thou wouldest rise. Well, never mind, serve thy God by serving thy fellows. God is always doing something for his faithful servants. There is no neglected Mordecai in his kingdom. Let each so live and so act, that pleasant memories may delight the spirit that cannot lose itself in the sweet oblivion of sleep. However we may have neglected our fellows, let it never be said that we have neglected the God-man. When the question is asked, What honour and dignity hath been done by us to Jesus?—let not the reply be heard, There is nothing done for him. Nothing done for Jesus! Nothing done for him who did infinitely much for mankind!—and if we do much for Jesus we should do much for our fellows. He who does not try to serve his race may hear the awful reply: There is nothing done for Jesus. “Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these my brethren,” &c. What room for grief when we hear the question, What honour and dignity hath been done to Jesus for this his great work of saving men? It is high time to repent. Much has been done. But when we consider his claims and our indebtedness and our small sacrifices, we appear to hear a guilty past shouting in thunder tones, There is nothing done for Jesus.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 6:2-17.6.3
The king inquired what honour and dignity had been done to Mordecai for this, suspecting that this good service had gone unrewarded, and like Pharaoh’s butler remembering it as his fault this day. Note—The law of gratitude is the law of nature. We ought particularly to be grateful to our inferiors, and not to think all their services such debts to us, but that they may make us indebted to them.
Two rules may be gathered from the king’s inquiry here:—
1. Better honour than nothing. If we cannot, or need not, make a recompense to those who have been kind to us, yet let us do them honour by acknowledging their kindness and owning our obligations to them.
2. Better late than never. If we have long neglected to make grateful returns for good offices done us, let us at length bethink ourselves of our debt.
The servants informed him that nothing had been done to Mordecai for that eminent service; in the king’s gate he sat before, and there he sat still. Note—
1. It is common for great men to take little notice of their inferiors. The king knew not whether Mordecai was preferred or not till his servants informed him. High spirits take a pride in being careless and unconcerned about those that are below them and ignorant of their state. The great God takes cognizance of the meanest of his servants, knows what dignity is done them, and what disgrace.
2. Humility, modesty, and self-denial, though in God’s account of great price, yet commonly hinder men’s preferment in the world. Mordecai rises no higher than the king’s gate, while the proud ambitious Haman gets the king’s ear and heart; but, though the aspiring rise fast, the humble stand fast. Honour makes proud men giddy, but upholds the humble in spirit. Honour and dignity are rated high in the king’s books. He does not ask, What reward has been given Mordecai? what money? what estate? but only, what honour?—a poor thing, and which, if he had not wherewith to support it, would be but a burden.
4. The greatest merits and the best services are often overlooked, and go unrewarded among men. Little honour is done to those who best deserve it, are fittest for it, and would do most good with it. The acquisition of wealth and honour is usually a perfect lottery, in which those who venture least commonly carry off the best prize. Nay—
5. Good services are sometimes so far from being a man’s preferment that they will not be his protection. Mordecai is at this time, by the king’s edict, doomed to destruction, with all the Jews, though it is owned that he deserved a dignity. Those that faithfully serve God need not fear being thus ill paid.—Matthew Henry.
Princes should have diligent care that none who have deserved well of the State or of themselves are left to go unrewarded. God knows our acts of kindness; and though we may regard them as lost or ignored, yet he can bring them to the light at the proper time to receive even a greater reward than if they had been immediately rewarded.—Starke.
Although men are unmindful of benefits received, and, as Pindar says, “Old thanks sleep,” still our Lord God is never forgetful. When God’s time for reward has come, then even the zeal of enemies must assist him. However watchful and diligent our enemies may be in order utterly to destroy the righteous, yet all their acts and labours form only the ground of the scene, which by the help of God is made to serve in perfecting the web of his leadings.—Brenz.
He could not believe that he had been so thoughtlessly ungrateful, as never to requite for such a length of time a service so eminent as that which Mordecai had performed; and was astonished to hear his servants say that nothing had been done for him.
Let us take a review of our lives, and consider what we have done, or not done. If our memories are good, we shall be surprised at many instances of our conduct, or at our forgetfulness. Have we showed all that sense of gratitude to our benefactors, to which we must acknowledge them to be entitled? Have we not often intended to do what we have never done, although we must blush at the thought that we have not done it? And can we forget, that amongst our benefactors are to be reckoned our parents, and, most of all, God our Maker?
We are taught likewise by this question of Ahasuerus, not to impute to intention what may be the effect merely of inadvertence. We are apt to make louder complaints than we have any reason to make of the ingratitude of those to whom we have performed good offices. Perhaps they have forgotten that they did not requite them. Perhaps their neglects have not originated in depravity of heart, or insensibility to benefits, but in thoughtlessness, as it were, occasioned by the many avocations of other affairs. We cannot indeed justify those who do not with the first opportunity requite benefits received; but we must not aggravate real evils. Who will say that David did not retain a grateful remembrance of what Jonathan had done for him? And yet several years seem to have elapsed, after he was advanced to the regal dignity, before he inquired who were left of the house of Saul, that he might show them the kindness of God for Jonathan’s sake; and several more years passed away, before he brought the bones of that beloved friend from Jabesh Gilead to be interred in the sepulchre of his father.
“There is nothing done for him,” said the servants of Ahasuerus. This was a disagreeable truth which they could not conceal from the king. But the evil was not irreparable. Mordecai was still alive, and the king could yet testify his sense of the benefit received.—Lawson.
The king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered to him, There is nothing done for him. O ye smooth sycophants, where were your tongues before? Ye were not ignorant of the important service performed by Mordecai. Ye knew well the mean office which he continued to discharge. Why did you not embrace the opportunity which your access to the king’s person gave you to remind him of the merits of a neglected servant? You had too many favours to ask for yourselves and your friends. Oh! if Haman had come a little earlier, you would have abetted his plea, and might have been found bearing witness that Mordecai had blasphemed the king and his favourite.
We should not, and good men will not, look for their reward from creatures. The world is full of ingratitude. It is often seen that “the greatest merits and the best services are forgotten, and go unrewarded among men; little honour is done to those who best deserve it, are fittest for it, and would do most good with it.”* Modest merit is overlooked, while the aspiring, the ambitious, and the time-serving rise to honour and riches. Nor is ingratitude confined to courts. It is the vice of the low as well as the high—the sovereign people, as well as sovereign princes. “There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he, by his wisdom, delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man. Wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.”† Ingratitude to God and to his servants are nearly allied. “The children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side: neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had showed unto Israel.”‡ You know who it was that “went about doing good;” and yet, as a reward, the Jews sought to stone, and at last crucified him.
“Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”§ The King of heaven has his records—his “book of remembrance,” in which are entered not only the good deeds which they have done in his service, but also their dutiful words and their gracious thoughts. This book is not only written before him, but it is always open before him. He whom you serve slumbers not nor sleeps at any time. He stands in no need of remembrancers, and no adversary can poison his ear to their prejudice. He may delay the reward, but he will not baulk their expectations. He “is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name.” When the books are opened, he shall read, “I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
If we are thoroughly convinced of our neglect of duty, and sorry on account of it, we will lose no time in repairing the injury. Satan is always at hand to divert us from a good purpose. Had Ahasuerus delayed acting on his present impressions, a temptation would have assailed him which might have proved too strong, and led him to add cruelty to ingratitude, by taking away the life of one who had preserved his own.
It teaches us how well a good man can afford to wait for the due acknowledgment of his uprightness, and for any reward he may need for the good he has done. The conjecture is that six long years had gone by since Mordecai revealed the plot of the chamberlains and saved the king’s life, and not even a word of acknowledgment had come to him during all that time. At first he would naturally look for something of the kind, for it was usual, it was kingly, on such occasions to confer honours and give rewards; but as time went on expectation would, of course, diminish, and finally, in all probability, die away, so that when acknowledgment and reward come none is more surprised than he who had ceased to expect them. But what we most admire is his behaviour meantime. If he had been a self-seeking man, he could easily have found means to refresh the king’s memory as to his services; but he kept silence. If he had been a malignant man, he might have sought what he would, in that case, have called a just revenge for the ungrateful neglect with which he had been treated, by hatching or falling in with some other plot. But no; he keeps his place, and does his office at the gate quietly and faithfully, and without fail, expecting nothing, complaining of nothing, faithful to duty, and fearing God. And then, how well all turns out in the end! How much better than if the reward had been given at the time! Suppose he had got some gift or office at the time, the answer to the king’s question could not have been, “Nothing has been done for him;” and Haman’s plot would not have been arrested, but would have rolled on, on wheels of fire, towards the destruction of a whole people. “He that belleveth shall not make haste;” God’s time is always the best. Six years are to the Lord as so many moments. And God’s method of reward and acknowledgment is the best too. Seldom, indeed, does it take in the case of any of his servants a form so dramatic as this. We misapprehend and degrade the dramatic element in this history if we crave the repetition of it. It is brought out here in such tragic splendour in order that the great moral truth may be stamped deeply in human memory, and may stand out vividly to the human imagination. You have done some good things in your time which have never been acknowledged, or never adequately rewarded; even as such things go among men. Even a few frank kindly words from the proper quarter would have been something. As it is you are sometimes a little chilled and discouraged by what you feel to be the complete and unwonted neglect. Well, now, don’t expect Haman at your door some fine morning with the king’s horse, and the royal apparel to make you all purple and gold, and the blaring trumpets to tell all the city what you have done; he is not likely to come; you must do as you can without him. Righteousness is its own reward, and we are never righteous as God would have us be until we feel this deeply and act accordingly.—Dr. Raleigh.
And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Lyra saith that he had waited six years for reward and had none. In princes’ courts men are sure to meet with two evils, delay and change; not so in heaven. The butler forgat Joseph. Solomon speaketh of a poor man, who by his wisdom had saved the city, yet no man remembered that same poor man; this is the world’s wages. Mordecai had saved the king’s life and yet is unrewarded. The kings of Persia used to be very bountiful to those that had well deserved of them, or of the commonwealth; calling such Orosangæ, and setting down both their names and their acts in the chronicles, as Herodotus testifieth. Among the rest he mentioned one Phylacus, who was put upon record for his good service to the king, and rewarded with a great deal of land given him. Others had great store of gold and silver, and a gallant house, as Democedes Crotoniales, the physician who cured Darius, had at Susis. It is well known out of Xenophon what rich gifts Cyrus gave to his friends and followers—chains of gold, armlets, bridles bossed with gold, Persian stools called Dorophoricæ. Herodotus telleth us that this Ahasuerus, alias Xerxes, gave Megabyzus, for his good service at Babylon, a golden mill weighing six talents. Plutarch writeth, that he gave Themistocles above two hundred talents, and three cities besides, viz. Magnesia, Lampsacus, and Myuntis, to find him food, and for clothing and furniture two more, viz. Percos and Palæscepsis. How came it then to pass that good Mordecai was so forgotten? Surely it was a great fault in this ungrateful king—but God’s holy hand was in it—that Mordecai should not have a present recompense, but that it should be deferred till a fitter opportunity, when God might be more glorified in the preservation of his people and destruction of their enemies. Let us not therefore be weary of well-doing; for (however men deal by us) we shall be sure to reap in due season if we faint not. God best seeth when a mercy will be most sweet and seasonable.—Trapp.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Esther 6:3. Count Zinzendorf owed his religious zeal to the accidental view of a picture of the crucifixion, underneath which was this simple inscription—
“All this for thee, how much for me?”—What honour and dignity hath been done to Jesus? Remember how much he has done for thee, and then ask how much can I do, how much ought I to do, for him?
According to Thieisch Napoleon maintained that a prince who followed his conscience would be a good and noble governor, but not a great man. However, Ahasuerus in this history only appears a truly great man as he manifests some uneasiness and regret on account of his neglect of the great services of Mordecai.
Esther 6:4.] The question, Who is in the court?] means what officer is now present. The king desires to consult with him as to what distinction would be appropriate to Mordecai. It seems that those desiring to be admitted to the king’s presence bad to wait in the outer court.—Lange. From this question of the king it appears that it was already morning.
Esther 6:5.] Haman was waiting in the outer court, till it should be announced that the king was ready to grant audiences. The king commands, Let him come in] (a short order) namely, into the house of the king.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 6:4-17.6.5
THE KING’S INQUIRY AND CONCESSION
FROM the conduct of Haman on this occasion we learn that hate inspires a man with energy. For anything we know to the contrary Haman may be but an active man, one who is prompt in business, and who scarcely allows himself sufficient leisure to take necessary sleep. But in this case the impelling motive is hate. It will not allow him to sleep. At the first dawn of morning he rushes to carry out his nefarious design. He is waiting with eagerness for the king’s appearance. He is all alert to set a-going his wily and dark scheme. He is ready to speak unto the king to hang an innocent man. Thus there are too many Hamans. Alas! sadly too many to speak for the destruction of their fellows. Alas! sadly too few to speak for the salvation of their fellows. How this proclaims the depravity of human nature! It rushes to destroy; it creeps to save. It is eager to listen to the voice of hate; it is deaf to the voice of love. Oh, love divine, supplant hate by the sweet force of all-mastering love!
I. The human inquiry. The king said, Who is in the court? It does not appear to us likely that the king was aware that Haman was already in the court. The king was evidently still in the bed-chamber, whence he would not see who was waiting outside. He could scarcely have expected Haman at such an early hour. He asks in ignorance. This is characteristic of human inquiries. We are ignorant, and desire to know. We ask for enlightenment. But, further, the king was in perplexity and desired some one to consult. What is to be done to remedy this long neglect? Who is in the court to whom I may speak? This too is characteristic of our humanity. Perplexity will come. In such trial we ask who is in the court? Who will help me in this perplexity? Who is there to whom I may successfully appeal? We seek to men, but they fail. Seek to the court of heaven. If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God.
II. The Divine response. The king’s servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. God speaks by human voices. Holy men are generally the vehicles of Divine messages, but he can and does make use of unlikely vehicles. These servants, heathen though they were, were God’s instruments. They were working out Divine laws. Why did they at once fix upon Haman? Were there no others in the court? Doubtless there were. The true answer is, not that Haman was the favoured minister, but that God directed them to announce Haman’s presence. The king did not hear the Divine response in the answer of his servants, but it was there all the same. God is speaking even when we are too deaf to hear. Be swift to hear the Divine response.
III. The disappointing concession. And the king said, Let him come in. Earthly kings grant their audiences, but the privileged ones find that the concession is disappointing. Haman found it so to his cost. Better almost for him had the king said, Let him stop out. Even when those who seek the king’s presence have no dark designs there is disappointment. The earthly monarch may say, Let the man come in, and then the monarch lets the man go out as empty as he entered. High hopes have often been raised by a monarch’s summons to court, but it has only been a vain parade. No false hopes are raised by King Jesus. Does he say to a man, Let him come in? then he means to enrich; and does he not say it to all? To each the invitation is given, Let him come in, let him come to me. Him that cometh to me I will in no-wise cast out. Even a proud, ambitious, and bloodthirsty Human may come. How sweet the word—come! Come not to further thy dark designs, Haman; come not to seek help in the promotion of thy schemes of self-aggrandizement; but come to be taught a better way; come to be endowed with a nobler spirit; come to learn, Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy; Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
IV. The joyful but fatal obedience. So Haman came in. Haman did not go in like one moving to the gallows, which in fact he was doing. He was now much nearer that fatal structure than he knew. Had Haman lived in our days he might have thought, This is now the tide in my affairs which should lead on to further glory. But, oh! it was the dark tide leading on to destruction. Haman went in joyful, but came out sorrowful. The rosy morning was bright and beautiful; clouds gather on the evening sky. The lightnings flash and thunder peals in terrific grandeur. What a picture is presented to the mind by those simple words. So Haman came in. Haman’s mistake was not in obeying the permission of the king, but in obeying the voice of an evil spirit. Had Haman repented during the night, and gone in a right spirit and with wholesome counsel to the king, all might still have been well. The motive, then, counts for much. Let us look to our motives. A wrong motive will cast a blight on the obedient action. See to it that good deeds arise out of faith in Jesus Christ, out of love for his glory.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 6:4-17.6.5
Haman came early, but too late. To us, knowing arrangements made on either side, in the king’s mind, and in his favourite’s, it is a neck-and-neck race. Who should have the first word? The king has it; Haman is lost! “A single moment to tell Ahasuerus of the persevering insolence of one of his menials: I need not name him; enough to say that he is one of the race doomed all to perish on the thirteenth of Adar, and that I am but anticipating the end ordained for him a few months hence.” No, Haman; not a single moment you have for that purpose now or ever. Ahasuerus had no wish to forestall his friend. Had he known that he had a request of his own to present he must have given him permission to state it; and had Haman then only avoided naming Mordecai, the king must have granted his request. It is “another King” who is beforehand with the Jew’s enemy.—Symington.
And the king said, Let him come in. See here, saith Merlin, a sweet and special providence of God in this, that Ahasuerus should take advice about honouring Mordecai, and not of his servants that attended upon his person, but of Haman then present (though for another purpose); and, concealing the man he means, should Haman say what was fit to be done, and then do it accordingly. Neither the king nor his servants, likely, would ever have thought of doing Mordecai so great honour as Haman prescribed. See here, as in a mirror, how the Lord by a secret providence bringeth about and overruleth the wiles of men, their affairs, times, counsels, words, and speeches, to the fulfilling of his own will and decree; and this when they think least of doing God’s will or serving his providence.
So Haman came in, merry and jocund, but went out sad and heavy-hearted. These hosts (profit, pleasure, and preferment), though they welcome us into our inn with smiling countenances, yet, if we watch them not, they will cut our throats in our beds, It is observed of Edward III., that he had always fair weather at his passage into France and foul upon his return. Pharaoh had fair weather till he was in the heart of the Red Sea. The sun shone fair upon the earth that morning that Lot came out of Sodom, but ere night there was a dismal change. He that lives in the height of the world’s blandishments is not far from destruction.—Trapp.
Who is in the court? The morning light may have begun to fill his chamber when the king nervously addressed this question to his attendants. He had spent a sleepless night; and might it not be because another conspiracy was being matured against him? Might it not be something of this kind which was troubling the queen? Did he not deserve that it should be concealed from him, since he had done nothing to reward his former preserver? There might be cause for haste,—at least he was impatient of delay; and who was this, at early morn, pacing the outer court of the king’s palace, as though also in haste about some great work? Haman. His night’s rest had not pacified his thirst for revenge. There was to be the queen’s banquet in an after part of the day; and if he was to go in merrily to it he must first have obtained authority for the execution, and had Mordecai hanged on the gallows prepared for him. How fortunate! thought Haman; the king is early astir, and calleth for me. How fortunate! thought the king; my favourite courtier and counsellor is early in the way this morning, and is the best man to whom I can commit this business. Behind the back of each of them there was the providence of God, secretly working out his own purposes of mercy and judgment. “And the king said, Let Haman come in.”—McEwan.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Esther 6:5. Come, a song-bird. In a lonely cot there sat one night an aged widow, very poor and nearly blind. The Christian lady had been reading from the best of books. “Ah,” said the poor widow, “there is one word sweeter than all the rest. It is a song for my darkness. Can you guess what it is? The visitor thought, and she said presently, “Yes, I think I know; it is Jesus, the name above all other names.” “No,” said the widow; “Jesus is a blessed word, but that is not enough for me, unless I know him for my Saviour. It is no comfort for me that he died for sinners, unless I know he died for me.” “Perhaps you mean heaven,” said the visitor, “for he is there.” “No,” said the widow; “what comfort would it be for me to know that Jesus is in heaven, and others should see his face, and love and serve him there, if I am not bound for heaven. No; it is just one word from his own lips, I call it my little song-bird—come.” Jesus says come in a far different sense from that in which Ahasuerus said, Let him come in. Ahasuerus said this for his own enlightment. Jesus says “Come unto me” for our enrichment.
Royal presents to an official.—The presentation as a gift from a royal personage of that which had been worn on his own person was a special mark of favour and condescension. Morier, in his narrative of “A Second Journey through Persia,” thus illustrates this custom:—“When a treaty between Russia and Persia was concluded, some years since, in the commencement, according to the usual form, the ranks of the two principal persons who were deputed to arrange it had to be specified. The Russian general was found to have more titles than the Persian plenipotentiary, who was therefore at a loss how to make himself appear of equal importance with the other negotiator; but at length, recollecting that, previous to his departure for the place of conference, his sovereign had honoured him by a present of one of his own swords, and of a dagger set with precious stones, to wear which is a peculiar distinction in Persia, and besides had clothed him with one of his own shawl robes, a distinction of still greater value, he therefore designated himself as ‘endowed with the special gifts of the monarch, lord of the dagger set in jewels, of the sword adorned with gems, and of the shawl coat already worn.’ ”
Esther 6:6.] When the king had asked the question, Haman thought within himself, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?] Going beyond me, more than myself.—Lange.
Esther 6:7.] Haman was quickly prepared to give answer, and without any difficulty called up one distinction or honour after another.
Esther 6:8-17.6.9.] The royal garment is one which the king has already worn. Hence not an ordinary state-robe, the so-called Median apparel which the king himself, the chief princes among the Persians, and those on whom the king bestowed such raiment were wont to appear in, but a costly garment the property of the sovereign himself. The highest mark of honour to the subject. So too was the riding upon a horse on which the king had ridden, and whose head was adorned with a royal crown. We translate literally; and a horse on which the king is wont to ride, and on whose head is set a royal crown. We do not, indeed, find among the classical writers any testimony to such an adornment of the royal steed; but the circumstance is not at all improbable, and seems to be corroborated by ancient remains, certain Assyrian and ancient Persian sculptures representing the horses of the king, and apparently those of princes, with ornaments on their heads, terminating in three points, which may be regarded as a kind of crown.—Keil (abridged).
Esther 6:10-17.6.11.] This honour, then, the haughty Haman was now compelled to pay to the hated Jew. That Mordecai was a Jew and accustomed to sit in the king’s gate could be well known to him from the records of the chronicle of the empire or from the courtiers, who read the history to him, and who had doubtless also given him still other information respecting Mordecai.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 6:6; Esther 6:11
SELF-FLATTERY LEADING TO SELF-HUMILIATION
OUTWARDLY at least self-flattery does not always lead to self-humiliation. But we cannot see and know all. We cannot perceive the bitter stings which must be endured in silence by the conceited man. In his passage through time, in his contact with his fellows, he receives many a stab which he must conceal. And these hidden sores are often the most difficult to endure. After all the herb of humility is a true heart’s-ease. The modest man may not make a great position in the world, but he is most likely to possess the invaluable treasure of contentment. Certainly he is not at all likely to find himself in the humiliating position to which poor Haman was reduced. Sooner or later, in some way or another, in time or in eternity, pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better is it surely to be of a humble spirit with the lowly. Better to sit with calm resignation with Mordecai at the gate than to be the subject of those great inward shocks, and of those outward humiliating changes, which were endured by the conceited Haman.
I. An artless question addressed to conceit. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? If we may so say there was either designed or undesigned artlessness in this question on the part of king Ahasuerus. The form of the question was just that form calculated to bring out Haman’s over-weening self-confidence. The question was artlessly vague, and leaves room for Haman to conclude that he himself was the man whom the king delighted to honour. If the form of the question was designed, if he purposely keeps the name of Mordecai in the background, it shews a skill on the part of the king which the history does not prepare us to expect. However, it was a natural form for the question to take; and simple straightforwardness is often the most direct mode of defeating the schemes of the cunning and of the conceited. It was so in this case. The luxurious monarch proved himself more than a match for the wily politician. However, we may well suppose that the monarch was moved by the current of events. The form of the question was not merely of the king’s own shaping. There was a higher mind suggesting.
II. The reasoning of conceit. A conceited heart is a bad guide in critical junctures. This was a crisis in Haman’s history, and, unfortunately for himself, he listened to the hollow reasoning of a conceited heart. Haman’s conceit hindered him drawing a correct conclusion. Some of the premises were hidden from Haman, and therefore he was not in a position to construct a perfect syllogism. He should have asked himself, are the premises that I have occupied a high place at court, that I have secured an edict against the Jews, that Mordecai is still sitting at the king’s gate neglected, sufficient to warrant me in concluding that I am the man whom the king will most delight to honour? A conceited nature may study all the books on logic that has ever been written, but its reasonings for all that are sure to be faulty. Logicians sometimes speak of vicious reasoning; of this kind of reasoning a conceited nature will be guilty. To be a correct reasoner there must be a clear head, and also, and perhaps much more, a clear heart. Errors of the head most frequently spring from faults of the heart. Take heed to thyself, and then to the doctrine—as a man thinketh in his heart so is he. Ham in thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself? Of course not. At this moment self was with Haman the sum-total of the universe. Is poor Haman the only one who raises self to a false position, from which it falls with hideous ruin? Alas, to too many men self is the world. There is too much conceit in all. Let there be proper self-love, but let it not degenerate into selfishness.
III. The answer of conceit. It is an unscrupulous and fool-hardy answer. Haman here seems to aim at royal honours. Practically he was guilty of treason. He now asks to have regal honours assigned to himself. Outwardly this could not be charged against him, for he might have pleaded, I am yet in ignorance as to the man whom the king will delight to honour. And it might not have been as plain to the king, and to the listeners, whom Haman meant as it is to us who now read the whole account with the calmness of unprejudiced investigators. If Haman had thought of another self beside his own self as likely to receive these honours he might not have been so lavish in his description of what should be done. How lavish we are in expenditure when myself, ourselves, is the subject of consideration! How thrifty and parsimonious we become when we have to consider the claims of other selves. Self says, Look every man on his own things. Self asks for itself the royal apparel, the royal horse, the royal crown, the royal procession and proclamation. Self practically says, All this for me and the gallows for Mordecai. Is not this a solemn figure? How difficult would it be for the judge to pass sentence on the criminal if he could make his self take the place of the criminal’s self? The world would be much altered for the better if each man could consider properly the claims of other selves. How long will it be before the world practically acts out the injunction—Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others? Here conceit aims at the subversion of royal supremacy. There is much conceit at the bottom of republicanism. Conceit does not believe in honouring all men and fearing the king. And is there not much conceit in infidelity? Is there not an effort to destroy Divine supremacy? The pride and the daring of conceit are insufferable. It would overturn thrones. It would if possible overtop the throne and monarchy of God himself.
IV. The fearful blow to conceit. We can easily suppose that the command now given by the king to Haman was more galling than the rope placed round his neck when he was hung on the gallows. How galling to have the honours I had intended for myself given to another, and that other the man I most hate, the man whose destruction I have most earnestly plotted! The king told Haman to make haste. What a hard command! To make haste is a hard task when I have to carry on my journey a broken heart, a disappointed nature, blasted hopes, blighted prospects; to make haste when in myself I must carry the hideous ruins of that fair castle which I have just been building with so much skill and labour. Make haste to honour the man I have most hated! Love your enemies is the gospel precept. Where is the Christian that makes haste to heap honours on his enemy? Have pity then on wretched Haman if his heart-strings crack and break as he strives to do the king’s bidding. Oh! to be emptied of self-seeking, to lie low at the foot of the cross! it will save us from many a hard knock. Stoop low if thou wouldst not be hurt. Think not too much of thyself.
V. The humiliating condition of conceit. The most humiliating condition in which Haman was placed was, not when he hung on the gallows, but when he marched through the streets of the city by the side of Mordecai, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour. The righteous one is now exalted, the wicked one is debased. The city may well rejoice. The truth, like Mordecai, may lie long neglected; falsehood, like Haman, may ride in triumph. But the condition must be reversed. Truth will be lifted out of its degradation, clothed in its royal apparel, and even falsehood will be compelled to minister to the honour of the truth and proclaim its glories. Also the time must come when Jesus will ride forth in royal apparel, and his enemies will join in the proclamation—This is the man whom the universe delights to honour. Seek to be the friends of King Jesus now, and then in the day of his glorious appearing we shall not be numbered among those humiliated by his triumph.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 6:6; Esther 6:11
Of all troubles the trouble of a proud heart is the greatest. It was a great trouble to Haman to lead Mordecai’s horse, which another man would not have thought so; the moving of a straw is troublesome to proud flesh. First or last, self-denial and victory over ourselves is absolutely necessary; otherwise faith, which is a grace that requireth self-denial, will never be brought into the soul and bear rule there.—Sibbes.
Self-conceit, obstinacy, and selfishness are three shameful and harmful evils that have plunged many into ruin. Worldly persons seek their highest good in external pomp and appearance. Self-love appropriates all things to itself, and concedes nothing to its neighbour. Men seek perishable honour; would that they strove diligently after the imperishable honour and glory of heaven! The manner of wicked advisers is, when the haughty fare too well, to goad them on to vindictiveness; but if something unforeseen checks them they drive them to despair. God is the same always; He can bring it about that neither earth nor hell can prevail against us. The wicked are nearest destruction when they deem themselves farthest from it.—Starke.
Ambition (as they say of the crocodile) groweth as long as it liveth; and self-love, like to a good stomach, draws to itself what nourishment it liketh, and casts off that which offends it. It maketh men unreasonable, and teacheth them to turn the glass to see themselves bigger, others lesser, than they are. Herodotus reporteth, that after the Greeks had got the better of Xerxes and his Persians, and came together to divide the spoil, when it was put to the question who of all the commanders had deserved the best reward, none would yield to other, but every man thought himself best deserving and second to none. In the battle of Belgrade, where Mahomet, the great Turk, was beaten and driven out of the field, Capistranus and Huniades were the chieftains there, and whereas both of them wrote the relation of that day’s work, neither of them so much as once mentioned the other, but each one took the whole praise of it to himself. Haman, though altogether unworthy of the least respect, yet holds himself best worthy of the greatest honours, and therefore will be sure to be no niggard in advising those ceremonies of honour which he presumes meant to his own person.—Trapp.
Ambition may rear turrets in emulation of heaven, and vainglory build castles in the air, but they should have no roof, as the latter should have no foundation. Philip threatened the Lacedemonians, that as he entered their country he would utterly extinguish them. They wrote him no other answer but si (if); meaning, it was a condition well put in, for he was never like to come there.—Adams.
Four distinct services did Haman render Mordecai. First, he was his hair-dresser, for he shaved and anointed him; secondly, he was his valet, for he attended him in the bath; thirdly, he was his footman, for he led the horse Mordecai rode; fourthly, he was his trumpeter, for he proclaimed before him: Thus shall be done to the man whom the king desireth to honour.—Talmud.
To thyself be it, Haman! Albeit what may please thyself may hardly be so agreeable to another. Pity for the “most noble prince “—and Haman may have had some one in view whom he wished to have laid at his feet—who should be appointed to execute what thou shouldst prescribe as the king’s commandment! There was no honour and distinction high enough for himself, and no service too menial which he would not have done to him by another. “The royal apparel,” by which was meant the gorgeous outward garment of the king, which, according to Persian law, it was a capital crime to wear without his consent—the horse which the king was accustomed to “ride upon,” well known both by its excellency and its peculiar trappings and ornaments,—“the crown royal,” probably such a lofty tiara as an Oriental writer has described, “entirely composed of thickly set diamonds, pearls, rubies, and emeralds, so exquisitely disposed as to form a mixture of the most beautiful colours in the brilliant light reflected from its surface,”—were to be brought, and “one of the king’s most noble princes” was to act the part of his servant, arraying him in his robe, setting the crown upon his head, and when he was mounted, to go—reins in hand—through the city proclaiming before him—“Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.”
The intense vanity and parade of Haman’s advice to the king may move our contempt, but we must remember that he was choosing for himself. There are many others who, if they were only to put their wishes into words, would ask for things quite as foolish and absurd. In every case they would reveal the ruling passion of their hearts, and if it proved to be worldly or sensual, what was desired in large measure would only, if granted, mature it and injure the receiver. Sometimes there are secret murmurings that God does not leave every man to choose his own portion, but if we only knew our own dispositions better, and the evil principles within us which require to be checked and overcome, we should have much greater reason for gratitude that God retains our earthly portion in his own care and allotment. Especially when we take into account our discipline and preparation for eternity, would we be the very worst to advise regarding what would be best for us. A Haman would choose what would minister to his pride, a Demas to his worldliness, another and another to even baser lusts, and the soul would be left, like a temple in ruins, more and more desolate, and infested, in an ever-increasing degree, with what was vile and loathsome. For the sake of our present peace and future hope, we should rejoice rather in the choice of God—“Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass.”
When a scheming self-seeking worldling is brought to poverty and punishment, sympathy for him is apt to spring up in some breasts. They put the man in the foreground, and by his miserable plight are moved to commiseration and pity. But what of those whom it was in his heart to have ruined? The widows and children whose gains he would have greedily grasped and used for his own selfish ends? The bed which he would make for others is surely good enough for him to lie upon. Simply to change places with his intended victims is a merciful dealing in providence, in so far as it is calculated to convince of personal wrong-doing, and to bring to repentance if the man has not placed himself beyond it Haman had this justice meted out to him. He would have demeaned one of “the king’s most noble princes,” by making him his valet and public proclaimer of his own praise through the streets of Shushan. His selfishness blinded him to the suffering and mortification which the procedure would inflict upon another. But ah! what a revulsion of feeling must he have experienced when he was commanded by the king to change places with that other; to become himself the menial slave, putting on him the royal robe and crown; and whilst he rides on the king’s horse, compelled himself to walk at its head and sound the other’s praise. The greatest grief was that the man who was declared worthy to take the place which he had pourtrayed for himself was “Mordecai the Jew,”—the man who had refused him homage at the king’s gate was to receive homage from himself in the public thoroughfares; and the same for whom he had provided a gallows was to have a crown put upon his head by his own hands. It was pitiful. And as we now see him executing the king’s order, which he knew it would be in vain to oppose, commiseration and pity for him are liable to bias our judgment. How downcast and forlorn he must have looked. How the words of the proclamation must have gulped in his throat. How he must have hung down his head and averted the astonished looks of the people. Still, he had only changed places with “the most noble prince,” whom he would have callously subjected to the same ordeal. For selfishness to reap what it had sown for another is not by any means an unequal punishment. It may be severe, but not more so than this intense selfishness would have accounted nothing if prescribed for an equal. Oh, no, we cannot even compassionate thee, Haman! If it had been thyself who had been robed and crowned, and royally conducted through the streets riding on the king’s horse, thou wouldest have made sure that Mordecai had been hanged on the gallows, and one of “the king’s most noble princes” would have been degraded to minister to thy pride and selfishness.—McEwan.
This is a great infelicity which attends worldly pursuits, that there is no proportion between the pleasure of success and the pain of disappointment. How unsatisfactory to Haman would the wearing of royal ornaments for a small part of a day have been, and all the other honours which he expected to enjoy only for a few moments! We can scarcely suppose that the pleasure of this feast to his vanity would have lasted longer than a night, or a week. But how dreadful a stroke was given to him, by hearing that the man whom he mortally hated was the man whom the king delighted to honour; that he was to be invested with that royal pomp to which himself looked, as the perfection of felicity, and that he must become the servant of that man for whom he had erected a gallows fifty cubits high! What exquisite misery, if he had lived to endure it, must have been his portion, at the galling remembrance of his own disgrace, when the erection of that lofty gibbet published to the whole city the height of his hopes and the bitterness of his disappointment!
“Let nothing fail,” said the king, “of all that thou hast spoken.”—He counted no honours too great for his benefactor. He would compensate by his liberality the time which Mordecai had lived unrewarded and unhonoured. If we have neglected to do good when we should have done it, let us use double diligence in doing it, at least whilst time is still left us to repair our omissions.
Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour. Do you complain that you must deny yourselves, and take up your cross in following Christ? But who is the man that is exempted from trouble, or the man that does not find it necessary to deny himself on many occasions? And is it not better to deny ourselves for Christ than to deny ourselves for the sake of any earthly object? You see that Haman, great as he was in the court of Ahasuerus, must serve Mordecai as his lacquey, and perform to him those services which to Haman himself appeared the most glorious of all others, when he would have given thousands of gold and silver for a warrant to slay him. The greatest earthly princes must often do things displeasing, or omit things pleasing, to themselves for temporary advantage, or even without the prospect of advantage. What could Haman gain from Mordecai, or from Ahasuerus, for doing what he could not do without the most extreme reluctance? But the least instance of self-denial for the sake of Christ shall be attended with a great reward, worthy of the bounty of the Giver.
Mordecai was too wise to value those childish honours which appeared so glorious to Haman. He was, undoubtedly, struck with amazement when Haman brought to him the royal robes and the royal horse. But it was necessary for him to yield obedience to the king’s pleasure; and doubtless he saw the gracious hand of God in what was done to him. Mordecai had more sagacity than the friends of Haman, who saw the fall of Haman before Mordecai the Jew, presaged by this instance of his humiliation. Jacob saw the love of God in the face of his reconciled enemy. Mordecai saw the favour of God in the reluctant services performed by an enemy as full of malice as ever, and was cheered by the dawnings of that deliverance to his nation for which he had been praying and looking.—Lawson.
As I have said in a former lecture, I am reluctant to offer any conjecture of my own on a subject on which so many learned men have bestowed their labour; but it does seem to me that this proposal of Haman’s has a meaning which has not been commonly observed. Acquainted as he was with the dangerous and, slippery tenure of a favourite in an Eastern court, what possible object could he have in wishing to be allowed, for one brief hour, to act the king, arrayed in his master’s robes of state, with the crown of Persia on his head, and paraded through the streets of the city upon the royal horse? And this strange fancy becomes stranger still when we remember that these honours were accounted so divine and sacred by the Persians, that to assume an imitation of any one of them, without the king’s express command, would have been an offence to be expiated by instant death.
The true explanation of Haman’s proposal appears to me to be this: that he really was aspiring to the sovereignty of Persia, and was meditating an attempt on his master’s throne. His wealth was incalculable, and his power was already all but boundless and supreme. All, it appears, that was wanting to his happiness was, that he should be decked in the external badges and symbols of royalty:—a very unlikely wish for any man to entertain who did not aspire to royalty itself. In those countries the steps from a throne to a dungeon were often but few, and the transfer of the crown from the prince to one of his nobles or favourites was sometimes but the work of a few hours. Nor is it at all improbable, that the incredible presumption and conceit of this vainglorious man may so far have misconstrued the extraordinary favours which Esther was now showering upon him, as to lead him to imagine that the queen herself would not regret the change. Self-admirers are generally self-deceivers. If these suppositions are just they will throw considerable light both on Haman’s answer and on what soon after followed.
But, whatever were his motives, it is almost impossible to conceive the horror and amazement he must have felt at the king’s reply. If the ground had opened under his feet he could scarcely have been more dismayed than when the clear and awful tones of that voice, which few ever heard without trembling, issued from the sanctuary in which the great king sat enshrined, and the wretched man listened to those memorable words which rung out the knell of his ambition. “Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.” “Mordecai the Jew”—“That sitteth at the king’s gate”—“As thou hast said.”—It was agony. It was madness. Every syllable left a poisoned arrow rankling in his heart. But he heard and obeyed without a murmur: wonderful illustration of the self-command which a man of such passions could assume, as well as of the abject submission by which he had won the favour of his master.
But who can form any conception of the tortures Haman must have endured while executing such an order? With what bitter reproaches must he have loaded himself for having given such advice, without first taking the precaution to ask the name of the person whom the king designed to honour. Never was folly more fitly punished. That he, Haman, should be obliged to single out, from among the crowd of wondering courtiers, the object of his loathing and abhorrence for this unparalleled honour and distinction; that, publicly, and before the eyes of so many who, he well knew, would exult over his humiliation, he should be compelled, with his own hands, to adorn the detested Jew in all the glories of that royal splendour which he coveted for himself; that he should be forced to wait as a lacquey at his horse’s rein, and amid the sneers of multitudes, who were perfectly aware how much he hated Mordecai, and with what scorn Mordecai had defied him, to proclaim with his own lips that this was the man whom the king delighted to honour; and as he walked along, while thousands bowed down and prostrated themselves—not to him, but to Mordecai—to know that he himself was the contriver, and adviser, and doer of the whole of this odious pageant,—this was a punishment so exquisite, so just, so utterly beyond the power of man to have concocted, that it was scarcely possible for any one to avoid seeing in it the hand of Providence and the forewarning of a coming fate.—Crosthwaite.
There is an increscent power in evil (as indeed there is also in good), in view of which we cannot be too watchful and anxious, lest by any means we should fall under the power of it. The power of it, remember, is very silent and gentle generally in its operations. The use of strong metaphors to signify the growth of evil is apt to mislead and deceive us; and the contemplation of very strong human instances like this of Haman is apt enough to have the same effect. The growth of evil—Do not figure it by the waters of Niagara hurrying down the rapids and plunging over the brink in ocean fulness. Take rather a plant or slender tree in your garden, which has just begun to grow: there it stands in the morning sunlight; there it stands in the evening dew. It never travels, never plunges, never roars. It is growing—and that is enough. So do not look at Haman reeling on the giddy eminence he is trying to scale, and falling thence, as Satan did from heaven. But look at a man growing up in perfect quietness, who has no care to grow up in real goodness, no fear of growing up in evil—and there you have the picture which would be to us, if we could see things as they are, as alarming as any other. Anything may come out of that—Haman, Ahitophel, Judas Iscariot.
Here is the strength, and here is the fitness of the Gospel, and here its inestimable preciousness—that it goes to the root of all evil in man. It is a regeneration, a renewing, a quickening, a redemption; when it comes in power it is death to the principle of evil within—considered as the reigning power of the life. “We are crucified with Christ;” and with Christ we attain to “the resurrection of the dead.” O happy change that puts us for ever on the winning side, that gives us the pledge and assurance of eternal victory by the attainment of eternal goodness. Is it wonderful that we should exhort sinful men to flee to him, and to trust him to the uttermost? In him we are in the undecaying strength—in the perfect purity—in the infinite love—and therefore in the eternal blessedness.—Dr. Raleigh.
Esther 6:12-17.6.14.] It is quite consonant with Oriental notions that Mordecai, after receiving the extraordinary honours assigned him, should return to the palace and resume his former humble employment, Ahasuerus regarding him as sufficiently rewarded, and not yet intending to do anything more for him.—Rawlinson. Haman, with covered head and sorrowful heart, hastens home to his friends and wife only to hear the discouraging prophecy that the unfortunate occurrence will be the beginning of his end. To cover the head was a sign of deep shame and distress. His friends are now called wise men] at least some of them, because they undertook to forecast his future.—Lange. His diviners now hesitate not to predict his fall. If his enemy is of the seed of the Jews] a new and startling fact that seems suddenly to have impressed these wise men; then it is certain that the providence which has ever been such a wondrous power in the Jewish nation, and which has now so strangely elevated Mordecai at the very moment when Haman thought to have slain him, will cause the Jew to triumph. Hasted to bring Haman] The avenging Fates seem to hurry him to his doom.—Whedon’s Com.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 6:12-17.6.14
A SMALL MAN IN ADVERSITY
MEN are to be judged so as to form an estimate of their greatness or their littleness, not by their surroundings, but by the manner in which they conduct themselves in the trying changes, in the ups and downs, of life. We must consider their conduct. “By their fruits shall ye know them.” Does a man carry himself with calmness in prosperity and with fortitude in adversity, then we may pronounce him great. Is a man unduly elated by prosperity and brokenhearted by adversity, then we pronounce him a small man. Tried thus the despised Mordecai is the truly great man, and the haughty Haman is the little man. In one sense we are the creatures of circumstances. We cannot help being more or less affected by them. In another sense we ought to be the masters of circumstances. They must not be permitted to unman our natures. In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider. Adversity so acts upon some people that all power of consideration is removed. Oh, to be masters of ourselves! This can only be done by the help of Divine grace. “I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.”
I. A great man in prosperity. Are there no great men that meet with no prosperity, as the world accounts prosperity? Has God no hidden heroes in quiet walks? We may believe that he has. Up to this time Mordecai had been a great man in obscurity. Really Mordecai was no greater when riding on the king’s horse in triumphal procession through the city than when sitting at the king’s gate. We are slow to learn and believe the truth, that not circumstances, but character makes a man great. Mordecai’s mind was so great that he rose above the state of things and men. He dwelt in a higher sphere than that formed by the pomp of circumstances, by the parade of royalty. We can imagine Mordecai with calm majesty riding through the city Susa. He took the thing naturally; he penetrated to the heart of things. When the little show was over he went calmly to his obscure place at the city gate. In some degree he is a type of him who rode forth amid the hosannas of the multitude, and then listened, as one not astonished, to the cry, Crucify him, crucify him. A great soul had Mordecai. He had food to eat of which Haman had no conception. Seek high conceptions of duty. Sit at thy post, even at the city gate, and wait only for the opening of heaven’s gate.
II. A small man in adversity. Oh, when adversity really comes are we not all small men? The Bechuanas sit and talk as if they felt nothing when under going a painful surgical operation. But most men wince beneath the sharp knife of adversity. Most are but bruised reeds when the blasts of sorrow blow keenly and sharply, and they give forth dismal wailings. Therefore we must temper our judgment with much mercy as we consider Haman in adversity. “Our grief is but our grandeur in disguise;” but our grief also tells of our littleness. Most are brothers to Haman in the time of their adversity. The dreaded blow of trouble sends them to their houses mourning. Adversity makes us acquainted with strange bed-fellows. How many despise the guilty Haman, and yet are by trouble reduced to his miserable level. Haman was a small man. He was fretting like a little child because the coveted toy had been grasped out of his hand. For we do not suppose that Haman as yet knew that this honour rendered to Mordecai was but the beginning of his own awful end. So far Haman’s troubles were in great measure of an ideal character. A great many of our troubles are of this character. But ideal troubles cause us real misery. If we could only act out the lesson, man wants but little here below, nor wants that little long, we should not have many troubles. Small are most men in the nature of their desires and their disappointments. They strive and fight for childish toys, and when they get them they are not satisfied, and ask for more. When these toys are wrested from them they haste to their houses mourning, and have their heads covered for grief.
III. A small man in adversity seeks for counsellors. He went to his wife and his friends. Where should a man go in the time of trouble if not to his wife and his friends? A good wife should be a help-meet. Like the ivy plant, she should cling the faster the greater the ruin, and be a helping support and a graceful ornament even to that ruin. Where can a man in sorrow go if not to his friends? where Haman little thought of going. Friends are not always glad to see humiliated Hamans. Even the wife may turn round upon the husband and say, Curse God and die. There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
IV. A man in adversity obtains poor consolation. One thing is certain, Haman’s wife and his friends told him the truth now, but they had not told him the truth before. They had not warned him of his danger, nor showed him the way out of his difficulty. Even now they have nothing in the way of really helpful advice to offer. They simply predict his further downfall. Friends too often have the fatal capacity of plunging a drowning man deeper into the water. Very sad sometimes is the errand on which the man goes when he consults his friends as to the best thing to be done in his trial. He comes back a sadder, but not always a wiser, man from the visit. They glibly show him his faults; they tell him where he has made a slip; they too often appear as if they were taking pleasure in making him look contemptible. We compassionate Haman from the bottom of our hearts. He has sown the wind, and is now reaping the whirlwind. He is now deserted by all, left to his own bitter fate. Heaven’s consolations even then might have been obtained. Rich are the consolations that Jesus brings. He never upbraids on account of our faults. If he does not deliver us from our distresses, he gives us strength that we may bear them manfully.
V. A man in adversity receives an ominous summons. And while they were yet talking with him came the king’s chamberlains. Trouble upon trouble; but Haman did not understand the worst. He did not foresee the future. He little dreamt that Esther’s banquet was but the way to the gallows. We sometimes say, If I had only known! Well, we all know, or might know, that wrong-doing will lead to trouble, and yet we go on doing wrong things. Had Haman known, perhaps, like too many, he would simply have done another wrong thing to prevent the mischief likely to come from past wrong-doing. No need for prophetic sight. We know that sin worketh death; let us then forsake all evil. From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 6:12-17.6.14
In prosperity he is highly insolent and cruel, but in adversity he is so broken and dejected that he knows not which way to turn. But his counsellors are no better off than himself. His friends do not console him, nor show him any plan for escaping his danger, which nevertheless was then the most needful help for Haman; but they throw him, just hesitating between hope and fear, into despair. “Thou wilt surely fall in his sight,” say they. Had they admonished him indeed of his many and heinous sins toward God and his servants, of his duty of recognizing the inevitable judgment of God, of repentance, of reconciliation, then perchance it may have turned out better with him. The power and efficacy of truth is so great that even its enemies and all the ungodly bear testimony to it. So the magicians of Pharaoh are compelled to explain, This is the finger of God; and the Egyptians’ cry, Let us flee before Israel, for the Lord fighteth for them.—Feuardent.
Men find no difference in themselves. The face of a Jew looks so like other men’s that Esther and Mordecai were not, for long, taken for what they were. He that made them makes the distinction betwixt them; so as a Jew may fall before a Persian and get up and prevail; but if a Persian, or whosoever of the Gentiles, begin to fall before a Jew he can neither stay nor rise. There is an invisible hand of omnipotency that strikes in from his own and confounds their opposites. O God, neither is thy hand shortened, nor thy bowels straitened in thee: thou art still and ever thyself. If we be thy true spiritual Israel, neither earth nor hell shall prevail against us; we shall either stand sure or surely rise, while our enemies shall lick the dust.—Bishop Hall.
The chief reason why the enemies of the Church gnash their teeth at the sight of God’s gracious dealings is, that they take the rising of the Church to be a presage of their ruin: a lesson which Haman’s wife had learned.
Haman’s wife had learned this, that if her husband began once to fall before the Jews he should surely fall. Wicked men have an hour, and they will be sure to take it; and God hath his hour too, and will be as sure to take that. The judgments of the wicked are mercies to the Church. So saith David, “He slew mighty kings, Og, king of Bashan, for his mercy endureth for ever.”—Sibbes.
In the narrative which follows we have an example of that decency and propriety with respect to circumstances which is always observed in Scripture, and which may be traced in what is omitted as well as what is introduced. Nothing is said of what passed between Mordecai and Haman, either at the beginning or close of the ceremony. The inspired writer gives us no account of the acclamations of the multitude whom the spectacle drew together. They would no doubt act, poor souls, as they are always accustomed to do, hail the favourite of the day, and echo back the voice of the herald. Let them alone—they would have done the same for Haman. We are even left to conjecture what were the thoughts of the judicious few, both Jews and natives, who might be led by this strange event to augur the approaching fall of the arrogant prime minister, and the rising fortunes of the object of his hatred. The sacred narrative passes over these things, and hastens to the crisis.
The pageant is now over, and we see, issuing from the dispersing crowd, the two principal persons, moving in different directions, and in opposite moods of mind.
Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered. There is a double portrait drawn with one stroke, but it is by the hand of a master! “We see the hearts of the two men depicted in their looks and gait;—the composure and humility of the one, and the confusion and bitter mortification of the other. These two lines give us a deeper insight into the characters of the men than a would-be painter could have conveyed by the most elaborate representation.
Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. He did not remain to prolong his triumph, and to drink in the incense offered by the crowd. He did not go to his own house, and gather together his friends and countrymen to tell them of his high honours, and to receive their congratulations. He did not hurry back to the palace in expectation of receiving some more substantial mark of the royal favour. He did not seek an audience of the king to bring an accusation against his mortal enemy. But he came again to the king’s gate from which he had been taken, and resumed his former place as a servant. He was not elated—he was not even discomposed by his honours. “He stood not up, nor moved,” for all that Haman had done to him.
“If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee” (saith the wise man), “leave not thy place.” But it is still more difficult to keep our place when we are visited with the favour of the ruler. Few can bear honours and dignities with equanimity, even when they come upon them gradually; but such sudden and high advancement was enough to make any ordinary person giddy, to cause him to forget himself, and behave unseemly. What fatal effects upon the head and heart do we often witness in persons who have all at once been raised from poverty to riches and rank. Even good men are not always proof against the intoxicating influence of such transitions. How incoherently did the disciples talk on the Mount of Transfiguration! That vessel needs to be well ballasted, which, after being long becalmed, has all its sails at once filled with a favourable gust of wind.
But Mordecai kept his place; like a gallant ship, firmly moored in a bay, which during a flood-tide heaves, and seems for a time borne along with the lighter craft, but, obeying its anchor, comes round and resumes its former position. The pageantry of an hour could not unsettle his mind; he regarded it in its true light—a vain show. Had he had a choice, he would have declined it; as it was, he suffered rather than enjoyed it. It may be difficult to determine which of the two felt most awkward and constrained—Haman in conferring or Mordecai in receiving the extravagant honours. Not that the latter was insensible or a stranger to feeling on the occasion. But then he viewed it, not as a prelude to his own aggrandizement, but as an earnest of the deliverance of his people; and as his confidence of this event rested on surer grounds than his own advancement or the influence of his daughter, his heart was filled with astonishment and with gratitude at the prospect; he possessed his soul in patience—he stood still, and waited for the salvation of God.
But let us now turn to Haman. He had not confidence to return to the palace to present the request for which he had visited it in the morning. Nor could he endure the sight of the people, before whom he felt himself dishonoured. But he “hasted to his house mourning, and with his head covered.” Had Haman been a man of virtue and true dignity of mind, this occurrence could not have disturbed his peace, far less broken his heart. “Why? what harm has it done to me? I have been selected as ‘one of the king’s most noble princes,’ to do this temporary honour to a man who saved the royal life.” At most he would have regarded it as one of those freaks which fortune delights to play in arbitrary courts, and which break the dull monotony of a palace. He would have said, “I have seen servants riding upon horses, and princes, like servants, walking on the earth.” But the man who could complain that all his wealth and honours “availed him nothing, so long as he saw Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate,” could not fail to be stung to the quick by the recent transaction. Hatred, and disappointment, and mortified pride, rankled in his breast, and, to torment him still more, awakened remorse for the past, and fearful forebodings of the future. Surely such a sight is sufficient to cure those who have been smitten with pride or with envy at worldly greatness.—McCrie.
Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him. Who were these wise men? Either sages whom Haman patronized, and from whom he expected wise counsel when he required it, or diviners, who were believed to know more than men could know, without some communication with superior beings. Many of the heathens put much confidence in diviners, but we have learned better things from the word of God. By making it our counsellor at all times of perplexity we shall find peace to our souls.*
“If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall.”—If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews. Why do they lay so much stress upon the stock from which Mordecai sprung? If Mordecai had been a native Persian, or a Babylonian, or an Egyptian, would they not have prognosticated equal success to him against Haman? No; it plainly appears that the dispensations of Divine Providence in favour of the Jews were so far known to them as to assure them that Providence watched over their interests in a manner peculiar to their nation. Although most men are disposed to think that their own country is happy above others in the Divine favour, and although the Persians at this time seemed to have good reason to flatter themselves with a special interest in the favour of Heaven, yet these wise Persians plainly confessed, that the Jews scattered through the nations were the special objects of the Divine care. The wonders done in Babylon were known to all the world, and could not fail to impress all confederate princes with high sentiments concerning the God of Israel. Haman’s wise men might have read the sacred books of the Jews, in which they would find that their God had wrought as great wonders for them in times past as in the period of the Babylonian captivity. They learned instruction from the works of God. They saw that the same God who had preserved Daniel and his companions watched over the safety and fortune of Mordecai, and they concluded that Haman, his irreconcileable enemy, would fall under the weight of his vengeance.
But it is strange that these wise men, and even the wife of Haman, whatever they thought, expressed to him their mind so fully. If they did not choose to flatter him, might they not at least have concealed their dismal conjectures, especially as he was led by their counsels to that public disgrace in which he had involved himself, by building a gallows for the man who was appointed to be the king’s favourite? for although it was built in the court of his own house, yet the news of its erection was soon to spread. It appears from the freedom they used with Haman, that they already considered him as a lost man, whom it was useless to flatter. They were his friends, as long as his friendship could profit them, and now they seem to have cared little whether he accounted them as his friends or his enemies. Their prophecy must have been as unpleasant as the howling of a dog, or even a sentence of death, to his ears. The rich hath many friends; but when poverty is seen coming like an armed man, they vanish away like snow in the days of sunshine.
We may, however, learn useful instruction from a prophecy dictated by reflection on the works of the Lord. Blind heathens have been forced to see that God takes care of his people, that he often interposes wonderfully for their deliverance, and that he leaves not his gracious works in their behalf unfinished. Why do not God’s own people, in the day of their distress, call to remembrance his judgments for their consolation and the support of their faith? When he begins to deliver them, why do they indulge distrusting fears about the accomplishment of that work which he hath taken into his own hand? Why are they not thankful for the day of small things, as the beginnings of months of joy? After Jesus undertook to heal the daughter of Jairus strong temptations met the mourning parent, when Jesus was on the road to complete his work, and fears began to overwhelm his soul. But what said Jesus? “Fear not, only believe.” He believed, and received his daughter back from death.—Lawson.
Still, although we may despise the wife and the friends, we cannot say that by their counsel now they do Haman any injustice. They do not render him the highest service. The highest service would be to tell him the truth, and help him to conform to it by confession, repentance, and amendment. (If they had been even worldly wise they would have told him at once to take down the gallows.) But they do him no injustice. The poor man (for now pity begins to rise) has been sowing diligently, and he is now to reap as he has sown. Black harvest comes in a day. It begins to come in his own house. There—where he had plotted the mischief, begins to fall the shadow of doom.
Yet, let us not overdraw the picture; possibly, if we knew all, there are softer lines to put into it, and some lights of human kindness. There is always much untold and unknown in these histories. Did they follow up their confident prediction that he could not succeed against Mordecai and the Jews, by earnest friendly counsel to Haman to conceal himself, or at once to take flight out of the empire, or away to some distant part of it? We know not. We know only that they were still talking with him—talking over the whole matter—the gathering dangers, the possible methods of relief—when the conference is interrupted by the entrance of the king’s chamberlains, who have come, in haste, to bring Haman to the banquet that Esther had again prepared.—Dr. Raleigh.
When Haman’s wife heard her husband say that Mordecai was against him, because he was an Israelite, she said that her husband should take the foil, and Mordecai should prevail. What if she had heard her husband say that the Lord of Mordecai was against him? If the servant be so terrible, who dare encounter with his master?—H. Smith’s Sermons.
And Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. Was there ever a nobler man than this? You will find ten Christians who bear well the trial of adversity for one who can bear well the sharper trial of prosperity. Mordecai, returned to his place, was wearing fairer robes than the king’s—that vesture of humility wherein the Son of God walked on earth, and which he has ordained as the livery of his redeemed. Go tell him that he has now a splendid opportunity to rise in the world, that his foot is on the ladder, and he needs but to climb; and he will tell of another ladder he is climbing, with angels for his helpers, and that the show this morning had almost cast him down. His duty is at the king’s gate, and there he will wait upon God to show him the end of this strange thing.
“The dew that never wets the flinty mountain
Falls on the valley free;
Bright verdure fringes the small desert fountain,
But barren sand the sea.
The white-robed saints the throne-steps singing under,
Their state all meekly wear,
Their pauseless praise wells up from hearts that wonder
That ever they came there.”
But Haman hastened to his house mourning, and having his head covered. The change was swift and ominous since morning, when he had seen to the gallows being ready, and gone forth hopeful. Not a man in all the city knew that two hours hence others would cover his face and lead him out to death; but Haman felt that God was fighting against him, and anticipated his doom. Is it wrong to mock him now? Why not report yourself to the king as having done his bidding, and ask what you purposed to ask this morning? On the showing of your own words, the king has treated you as “one of his most noble princes.” Zeresh and your friends are expecting you to bring back your victim with you for the gallows. Why so downcast? But, despicable as Haman is, pity is fitter for us than scorn—pity, with a prayer for ourselves that we may escape the fatal madness of making self our god. Haman’s friends had helped him last night, and roused him to hope; but they failed him now. These were summer friends, and thought it not worth while even to lie to him any longer. Besides, they were superstitious. “If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews.” Why this emphasis on Mordecai’s race? The case would not have been so bad if he had been an Ethiopian; but there were strange features about these Jews. They sometimes stood out on ground of high principle, and when they did so they prospered against all probability. The friends of Haman were Amalekites, in all likelihood, and familiar, therefore, with a history of warning. “Before whom thou hast begun to fall.” His friends see no hope for Haman now that he is started on the swift incline of ruin. When great men of this sort begin to go down their course is quick in proportion to their greatness; and it is a serious aggravation of their misery that the friends of their prosperity hasten their unpitied fall. The tempters, in this world or the next, prove the tormentors.—Symington.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 6
Esther 6:12. Fortitude of the Bechuanas. They are excellent patients. There is no wincing; everything prescribed is done instanter. Their only failing is that they become tired of a long course. But in any operation even the women sit unmoved. I have been quite astonished again and again at their calmness. In cutting out a tumour, an inch in diameter, they sit and talk as if they felt nothing. “A man like me never cries,” they say; “they are children that cry.” And it is a fact that the men never cry. They stand in striking contrast to Haman, who hasted to his house mourning for what was an imaginary evil in great measure; yea, they reprove a great many who profess to be sustained by higher motives. It may be a want of sensitiveness on the part of the Bechuanas, but with increased sensitiveness there should be an increased power of self-control. It is wonderful what power of self-control is possessed and manifested by the members of the Society of Friends.—Dr. Blaikie’s Personal Life of David Livingstone, LL.D.
Satan, a hard task-master. There was a man in the town where I was born who used to steal all his firewood. He would get up on cold nights, and go and take it from his neighbours’ wood-piles. A computation was made, and it was ascertained that he had spent more time, and worked harder, to get his fuel than he would have been obliged to do if he had earned it in an honest way, and at ordinary wages. And this thief was a type of thousands of men who work a great deal harder to please the devil than they would have to work to please God.—Beecher.
So Haman worked hard to please the devil of an evil nature, and it ended in mourning. He would have found more satisfaction in the long-run if he could have set himself to serve a good nature.
Circumstances. He is happy whose circumstances suit his temper; but he is more excellent who can suit his temper to his circumstances.—Hume.
If you can’t turn the wind you must turn the mill-sails. Joseph was a beautiful example. See him, in his changed positions, still the upright saint; and Jesus, his conduct at the marriage and in the temple. William Pitt used to be called the minister of existing circumstances. A Christian shepherd, when a gentleman said, to try him, “Suppose your master were to change, or your flock to die; what then?” replied, “Sir, I look upon it that I do not depend upon circumstances, but upon the great God that directs them.” The Rev. H. W. Fox, when dying, had constantly upon his lips the words of Baxter:—“Lord, when thou wilt; where thou wilt; as thou wilt.” Mordecai, riding in the procession, and then returning to sit at the gate, shows his superiority to mere externals.—Bowes.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent