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Esther 7:2. The king said again] Compare Esther 5:6.
Esther 7:3. My life, … my people] Esther has had time to carefully prepare her words, and her earnest language rises to the emotionality of poetic parallelisms. We may throw her address into the following form:—
If I have found favour in thine eyes, O king,
And if to the king it seem good,
Let my life be given me at my petition,
And my people at my request.
For we are sold, I and my people,
To be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish.
If, now, for slaves and for bondwomen we were sold, I had been silent,
For the enemy is not to be compared with the injury to the king.
Esther 7:4. We are sold] Allusion to Haman’s offer to pay into the king’s treasury ten thousand talents. Destroyed, … slain, … perish] She quotes the very words of the fearful edict, and thus gives a most telling point and emphasis to her plea. Although the enemy] This sentence is obscure, and perhaps Esther meant that it should be ambiguous. The common version conveys the meaning that if the Jews were all sold into slavery, their enemy, who brought this woe upon them, could not, by any payment into the king’s treasury, recompense him for the loss he would sustain. But the Hebrew seems to make this last sentence give a reason for Esther’s keeping silence; namely, because she does not consider the enemy worthy of the trouble and injury it must cost the king to punish him, and counteract the decree of death that has gone forth against the Jews. The enemy] to whom she contemptuously refers is, of course, Haman. Countervail] The Kal participal—meaning, to be equal with; to be compared with. Damage] may be here taken in the sense of injurious trouble, annoyance, vexation.—Whedon’s Com. Thus Esther says (Esther 7:4), The enemy has determined upon the total destruction of my people. If he only intended to bring upon them grievous oppression, even the most grievous oppression of slavery, I would have been silent, for the enemy is not worthy that I should vex or annoy the king by my accusation.—Keil.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 7:1-4
A STRANGE BANQUET
I. The banquet was strange if we consider the incongruous nature of the company. Things are not what they seem, and the three now meeting together at the banquet are not what they might seem to casual observers. They were not happy, could not be happy under the circumstances. Very different feelings now took possession of their natures. Ahasuerus was now stirred up to a sense of his responsibility. Haman must have felt the approach of his doom. The declaration of the wise men and of his wife must have been ringing in his ears. And Esther was roused up to the fact that an important crisis in her own and in her nation’s history was now at hand. A deep sense of uneasiness must have pervaded the company which the wine could not allay. Thus, if we could only pierce the outward we should find that the gatherings of this world are not at all in harmony. Sometimes such gatherings end without any startling revelation; but it was not so in this case. It came to a fatal end for Haman at least. The harmonizing spirit of the gospel of love is the true power by which gatherings may be rendered pleasant and profitable. At the gospel banquet all spirits should harmonize. At the banquet of heaven we may expect complete harmony.
II. The banquet was strange if we consider the unaccustomed constancy of the king. Ahasuerus was evidently a vacillating monarch, to one thing constant never. But now he shows a strange exception. For the third time he asks Queen Esther, “What is thy petition?” The king appears more willing to give than Esther is to ask; and in this he is a type of God. He is indeed more willing to give than the sons of men are to ask. Yea, he gives before we ask; gives in spite of our unwillingness to receive, and of our ingratitude. He is giving every day. Let us be more constant and extensive in our askings. Ahasuerus proves his willingness to give by a repetition of his question. In this he is a small type of the great Giver. He repeats and repeats his assurances of his willingness to give. His invitations and his promises to the children of men are plentifully scattered throughout the sacred records. Ahasuerus showed his willingness to give by a large promise. God shows his willingness to give not only by large promises, but by large bestowals. How many are the bestowals of God! How vast his bounties! What a proof of willinghood in the gift of his well-beloved Son!
III. The banquet was strange if we consider the peculiar character of Esther’s petition. Notice—(a) The graceful modesty of the preface. “If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king.” Could anything be more graceful, more modest, and more artistic? Such words from such sweet lips must have confirmed Ahasuerus in his determination to help the speaker in her present difficulty. It is evident that Esther was a woman of skill as well as of beauty. Modesty becomes the petitioner. Beauty is often arrogant. But beauty’s charms are increased by the presence of modesty. Morally we have no beauty to plead as we come to God in prayer. Modesty is becoming. Yet boldness is permitted because we come to God in the name of Jesus Christ, who always is well beloved. Let us go to God not pleading our deserts, but the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. (b) The natural and the benevolent request. She pleads for her own life, and that was natural. “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” Wonderful this intense love of life. Wise arrangement of Divine providence. Through trial, and poverty, and pain, and sickness the human being clings to life. Esther might well ask for life with her propitious surroundings. But Esther pleads for the life of her people, and that was benevolent. Most probably Esther might have secured the boon of her own life without securing the salvation of her people. This, however, would not have satisfied her benevolent nature. Haman was very fearful when his own life was threatened. He was very reckless about the lives of others. Esther was calm when her own life was in danger, and was anxious for the salvation of the lives of her people. A sweet type was she of the Son of man, who came to save the lost. He did not even go so far as to plead for his own life. Yea, he gave his life a ransom for many. He pleads for the life of his people. As Esther’s, so the Saviour’s intercession was successful, and shall be to the end of time. How noble the office to plead for life! Esther pleaded for physical life; Jesus pleads for intellectual and moral life. Not because God has issued a foolish and wicked decree, not because God is a stern tyrant, a luxurious despot, but because the claims of justice must be met, and the interests of God’s moral government must be maintained. Esther asked little for herself. She asked for her life, but that was a prelude to the further request of the life of her people. The granting of one part of the petition was a pledge for granting the rest. Jesus only asks to see the fruits of the travail of his soul. He desires the salvation of men. Ahasuerus would be astonished at the nature of Esther’s request. God is not astonished at the nature of the Saviour’s request. Not like Ahasuerus, God saw the danger, and provided a remedy. Let us believe that God Almighty willeth not the death of a sinner. (c) The timely confession. She acknowledges her people. She confesses that she belongs to the persecuted race. The time has come for confession, and she is ready to face the worst. The queen talks of the outcast, despised, and death-decreed race as her people. A period will come when a more wondrous confession than this will be made. Jesus Christ will bring forth his people in the day of final reckoning. Very many poor and despised ones of earth will then be spoken of by Jesus as “My people.” Are we now the people of God? Let us not despise any in whom the smallest spark of Divine grace is found. (d) The startling avowal. “For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish.” There is more harm done through want of thought than through want of heart. The thoughtlessness of Ahasuerus caused this declaration to come upon him in a startling manner. Very many people are still sold to destruction through this very thoughtlessness. And too often Esthers are not found to interpose between the thoughtlessness and its bitter consequences. Let us think about our conduct, and especially as to its bearing upon other people. (e) The gracious considerateness. “But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.” How little consideration for others some people possess! A little personal inconvenience soon sets their tongues working, and they do not shrink from giving much trouble to those about them. Esther would have held her tongue had it been a small thing she was called upon to endure. She shrank from giving the king needless trouble. Let us learn to keep the door of our lips, not for reasons of worldly policy, but because we do not desire to give trouble that can lead to no beneficial results. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O God, my strength and my Redeemer.” Thus shall our words be timely. Thus shall our words be profitable to others. Thus our tongues will be silent even in suffering.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 7:1-4
Ahasuerus is not more liberal in his offer than firm in his resolutions, as if his first word had been, like his law, unalterable. I am ashamed to miss that steadiness in Christians which I find in a pagan. It was a great word that he had said; yet he eats it not, as over lavishly spoken, but doubles and triples it, with hearty assurances of a real prosecution; while those tongues which profess the name of a true God say and unsay at pleasure, recanting their good purposes, contradicting their own just engagements, upon no cause but their own changeableness.—Bishop Hall.
Trembling soul, if this heathen king is so trustworthy in his promises, then your heavenly King is far more faithful. The former promises only to give the half of his kingdom, but he to give you the whole kingdom. Truth may be crushed to the earth, but it dies not; it can be avoided or offended, yet it will finally come to light and triumph.—Starke.
But in all this the first notable thing is how far apart stand the judgments of the Almighty and those of this world, since those whom the world esteems most happy and fortunate are truly most unhappy and unfortunate before God. Men, indeed, seeing only what appears, and judging according to the outward semblance, would have boldly pronounced no man more fortunate than Haman. But in fact, and in God’s view, who sees the heart, he was of all men the most miserable. For he was inflated with ambition, he was hot with envy, he was bursting with hate, and went to the banquet in the most disturbed state of mind. There rankled in the bottom of his heart the thought of the fresh honour which he had lately been forced to confer upon his enemy; and he was, moreover, goaded to desperation by what his friends had told him to his face—that he himself, having once begun to fall before the Jew, would for ever be his inferior, and that Mordecai would increase in glory and honour.—Feuardent.
“Let me make haste away to my country; there are my excellent ancestors, there dwell my noble relations, there is the constant residence of my dearest friends” (Plotinus). “Oh, happy will that day be when I shall come into that glorious assembly, when I shall have better company than Homer, Orpheus, Socrates, Cato; when I shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the palace of their Friend and mine! Oh, happy day, when I shall come to my Father’s house, to that general assembly, the Church of the first-born, to an innumerable company of angels, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the spirits of just men made perfect!” (Tull). A man’s knowledge of other things may add to his fears, and make his miseries greater; but the more knowledge we have of God, the less our fears and sorrows must be; and when our knowledge of God is perfect, all our fears and sorrows shall be for ever blown over. I cannot omit a brave speech of that noble Stoic which comes to my mind: “If the acquaintance and favour of Cæsar can keep you (as you are made to believe) from some fears, how much rather to have God for your Father and Friend? How little cause have such to be afraid at any time of anything! Death itself is not an evil to a friend of God; he may say, Come, let us go quickly to our Father’s house; our Father calls us” (Epict.).—Janeway’s Quotations.
The concluding words were calculated to draw his attention to the subject as affecting the interests of his kingdom. The Jews were an industrious race. Dispersed throughout the kingdom of Persia, they had devoted themselves to the pursuits of agriculture and commerce. They were captives, but not properly slaves, having their settlements here and there, for the cultivation of the soil or for merchandise, as their inclination led; and, although foreigners, yet mixed up with the general population of the country, and in the character of quiet, peaceful subjects, contributing toward the general wealth and prosperity. That they were not burdensome for their support, but, as to temporal matters, in a flourishing condition, is very manifest from Haman’s offer to pay out of their spoil so large a sum into the royal treasury. To have swept away, then, by a wholesale slaughter, a race so active and industrious as the Jews were, would have been to inflict a heavy blow upon the prosperity of the kingdom. Their spoils might be a present benefit to the royal exchequer, but the loss entailed upon the national wealth would be permanent and irreparable. And the difference would not be great as to the national loss, if they were not to be destroyed, but merely reduced to the state of slavery. If sold as slaves, and carried away into other countries by the slave-merchants of Tyre and Sidon, the price paid for them would be a poor return for the fruit of their continued industry as the subjects of the Persian king. And if they were made slaves in his own dominions, there would be the loss to his revenue of so much active enterprise on the part of a people who paid all the public taxes, and increased the national resources by the cultivation of the soil and foreign trading. Esther seems to have known better than the king did, and better than some modern politicians have done, or yet do, the secret of the wealth of nations. To annihilate an industrious and peaceful people she represents as an act equally cruel and impolitic. To substitute slave-labour for the labour and vigorous and persevering industry of freemen she speaks of as also most opposed to the real interests of the state. This is the meaning of her words: “If we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king’s damage.” The sentiment here expressed is far in advance of the age in which Esther lived, and the truth and significance of it have often been illustrated since her time, although only illustrated so as to indicate that its importance was not yet estimated, nor the wisdom of it practically felt. Thus, for example, when persecution against the friends of Protestantism raged fiercely in France and Belgium, and those who preferred the religion of the Bible to Popery had to choose between remaining at home to be massacred, or seeking a refuge abroad, a vast number of the most intelligent and industrious of the population took refuge in England and Scotland, bringing their skill and industry with them to benefit the land of their adoption. History settles it as a fact beyond all question, that these refugees for conscience’ sake contributed more largely to the industrial and commercial advancement of this country than it would be easy to calculate. For in those days we were far behind our continental neighbours in the practice of the mechanical and useful arts; and thus the bigotry and cruelty which drove multitudes to seek an asylum in this island, dried up the sources of the wealth of the countries from which they came, while Britain, on the other hand, was rewarded for opening her arms to shelter the oppressed by obtaining all the benefit of their intelligence and labour, as not only skilful artisans, but peaceful and religious citizens.
And then again, with respect to the difference between the exertions and enterprise of freemen for the real advantage of a country, as contrasted with slaves, Esther’s judgment was far more correct, for instance, than that of the Americans, who boast so much of their liberty and their political wisdom; and her judgment is corroborated by the sentiments of all intelligent travellers, who have recorded their experience in passing through those States of America where slavery is legalized.* The labour which is exacted by the lash is neither so well performed nor so great in amount as that which is paid for. There is no inducement to the slave to cultivate his intellect. When he sees that he cannot better his condition, he naturally sinks into a state of apathy, or endeavours by craft and cunning to over-reach his taskmasters. And thus, altogether, the just law of Providence comes in to punish the avarice and cruelty of those who trample upon the rights of their fellowmen. For while the strength of a country consists, humanly speaking, in the amount of its industrious population, with a full supply of the means of subsistence—every man being free to employ his mind and his labour in the field which he thinks will be most profitable—the increase of a slave population is a source of positive weakness, as well as a growing cause of insecurity. Apart altogether from the evils and sinfulness of the system of slavery, as opposed to the great law of love which Christ came to enforce and establish, and apart from the danger which results from the preponderance of a class between whom and those above them there cannot be any real good-will and sympathy, slavery is a positive loss to a community in all respects, whether moral or social; and Esther spoke the truth when she denounced it as calculated to work damage to the king.—Davidson.
Esther 7:1-2. So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen. And the king said again to Esther on the second day at the banquet of wine, What is thy petition, queen Esther? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? and it shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom.
Haman, honoured with the king’s society at the banquet of wine, might expect to be consoled for his late disappointment by new expressions of the royal favour. But soon did his hope of any remedy prove like the giving up of the ghost. He was brought to the banquet, not that he might enjoy the queen’s smiles, but that he might hear an accusation against himself, which touched his life, and to which he could not answer.
The king persisted in his kind sentiments towards Esther. For the third time, he promises, whatever her petition was, to grant it, even to the half of the kingdom. Who would not have been emboldened by a promise so often given? To have deferred the petition any longer would have but argued an ungrateful distrust of the king’s sincerity. Let us remember how much greater encouragement we have to present our requests to God, and what distrust we discover of his faithfulness if we do not come before his throne of grace with boldness. No less than six times, in the compass of one sentence,* does our Lord Jesus assure us that our prayers shall be heard.
Esther 7:3. Then Esther the queen answered and said, If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given at my petition, and my people at my request.
Esther at last ventured to bring forth her request. The nature of the case pressed her. The king’s solicitations urged her. His kindness and his promises encouraged her. Unnecessary delays are dangerous, especially in matters of great importance.
The request was for her life, and the life of her people. The king was no less surprised at this petition than Festus was at hearing the accusation of the Jews against Paul. It was certainly not for any such thing as the king supposed. It never came into his mind that his beloved queen could have any occasion to present a petition to him for her life. Although by his own authority (but without his knowledge) a sentence of death had been pronounced against her, it must have astonished him to hear that she and her people were doomed to destruction; and it must astonish the reader of this history that the king, five years after his marriage with the queen, should have passed a sentence of death upon her whole nation without knowing it. Into such absurdities are princes led who are too indolent to look into their own affairs, and leave them to be managed without control by favourites, who have their own interests to serve, and their own passions to gratify.—Lawson.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Esther 7:3-4. Philosopher and enraged emperor. Joseph charged his brethren that they should come no more in his sight, unless they brought Benjamin with them. We come at our peril into God’s presence if we leave his beloved Benjamin, our dear Jesus, behind us. When the philosopher heard of the enraged emperor’s menace, that the next time he saw him he would kill him, he took up the emperor’s little son in his arms, and saluted him with a Potesne, Thou canst not now strike me. God is angry with every man for his sins. Happy is he that can catch up his Son Jesus; for in whose arms soever the Lord sees his Son, he will spare him. The men of Tyre were fain to intercede to Herod by Blastus. Our intercession to God is made by a higher and surer way; not by his servant, but by his Son.—Adams.
There is a notable story which is commonly by divines applied to our present purpose; it is concerning a law among the Molossians, where whosoever came to the king with his son in his arms should be accepted with favour, let his fault be what it might. So let a man be what he will before, yet if he come to God in Christ he cannot be thrust away.—Janeway.
The full chest hidden. In the very last year of the Arctic expeditions, last year or the year before, they found an ammunition chest that Commander Parry had left there fifty years ago, safe under a pile of stones, the provisions inside being perfectly sweet and good, and eatable. There it had lain all those years, and men had died of starvation within arm’s length of it. It was there all the same. And so, if I may venture to vulgarize the great theme that I am trying to speak about, God has given us his Son, and in him all that pertains to life and all that pertains to godliness. My brothers, take the things that are freely given to men of God.—McLaren.
The gipsy horse-stealer. There was a time in our country’s history when, according to our Draconic code, death was the penalty of horse-stealing. This awful sentence was passed on a poor gipsy who had been guilty of this crime, and no hope of mercy was held out. The young man, for he was but a youth, immediately fell on his knees, and with uplifted hands and eyes addressed the judge as follows: “Oh, my lord, save my life!” The judge replied, “No, you can have no mercy in this world; I and my brother judges have come to the determination to execute horse-stealers, especially gipsies, because of the increase of the crime.” The suppliant on his knees still entreated, “Oh, my lord judge, save my life. Do, for God’s sake, for my wife’s sake, for my child’s sake!” “No,” replied the judge; “you should have thought of your wife and child before;” and the poor fellow was literally dragged away from his earthly judge. Haman pleaded for his life, but he was taken to the gallows. Vast is the mercy of Heaven. At the eleventh hour the sinner repenting and confessing and believing may find mercy.
Esther 7:5. Who is he] Ahasuerus could not really have doubted; but he affects to doubt, that he may express his anger at the act, apart from all personal considerations.—Rawlinson. Who … is he that durst presume] Lit., as the margin, whose heart has filled him to do this. The evil and ambitious man is filled with foul thoughts and purposes from the corrupt fountain of his own wicked heart.
Esther 7:6.] Esther replies, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then was Haman afraid before the king and the queen.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 7:5-6
THE DOINGS OF A WICKED HEART
Ahasuerus was yet in the dark. He had signed the decree for the extermination of the Jews at the instigation of Haman, he had seen Haman’s great ambition, he had heard Esther’s piteous appeal, but still he is not sharp enough to fix upon Haman as the offender. Perhaps it is that he does know, but waits to have a clear declaration from Esther’s own lips, but waits to see the case plainly settled that Haman was the guilty one.
I. A wicked heart induces foolhardiness. There is wisdom apparent in the renderings given by the translators of the Bible. They speak, for the most part, as if inspired by the Holy Ghost. Very suggestive is their rendering of the question uttered by Ahasuerus. “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” The daring presumption of those impelled by wicked hearts is indeed appalling. A wicked heart is both deceitful and deceiving. Haman’s wicked heart must have deceived him as to the daring nature of the course he had been pursuing. He only thought of gratifying an evil nature, and did not calmly consider the possible and very probable bitter consequences. This is characteristic of wicked hearts through all time. The foolhardiness of the wicked is astonishing. They appear as if bereft of their senses. When we see how clumsily they proceed to work, we ask, How could they hope to escape detection? What induced them to take the fatal step? How is it that they actually permit themselves to be caught in their own toils?
II. A wicked heart, sooner or later, meets with open condemnation. “And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.” It may be true that the wicked heart does not always meet with a righteous and indignant Esther come to judgment. Yet it cannot escape either here or hereafter. It will either discover itself or be discovered. The wicked heart will discover itself by its wicked fruits. For a long time it may work in secret, but ultimately all will be revealed. He that doeth evil may avoid the light, but he cannot always escape its detecting rays. There is only one way of escape, but there is one way, and it is all-sufficient. That one way is repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. If the light shines upon the wicked heart, and the man sees with holy remorse the evil of his nature, then there may be, and is, a way of escape. If we say the wicked heart must meet with open condemnation, we mean if that wicked heart will not condemn itself, but continues obdurate and impenitent.
III. A wicked heart leads to fearfulness. “Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.” The wicked flee when no man pursueth. If a man has not his sensibilities all deadened, then he must be afraid in the midst of his wickedness. All the annals of crime tell us that fearfulness surprises the wicked. They live in constant terrors. Haman, however, had now outward reason for fear. How greatly was he troubled at this crisis! He had fears within. There were fightings against him without. Easy it is for us to say that Haman was a coward. Who would not have been a coward under the trying circumstances? A virtuous soul may be calm and brave in the face of outward terrors; but strange would it be if a vicious soul did not give way to fear. Hardened sinners may pass through the terrors of time with apparently unmoved natures; but in the great day of Divine wrath they will say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 7:5-6
Now Queen Esther musters up her inward forces, and, with an undaunted courage, fixing her angry eyes upon the hated Agagite, she says, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.” The word was loath to come forth, but it strikes home at the last. Never till now did Haman hear his true title; before, some had styled him noble, others great, others magnificent, and some, perhaps, virtuous; only Esther gave him his own, “Wicked Haman.” Ill-deserving greatness doth in vain promise to itself a perpetuity of applause. If our ways be foul, the time shall come when, after all vain flattery, after all our momentary glory, our sins shall be ripped up, and our iniquities laid before us, to our utter confusion. With what consternation did Haman now stand! How do we think he looked to hear himself thus enstyled, thus accused, yea, thus condemned? Certainly death was in his face, and horror in every one of his joints. No sense, no limb knows his office. Fain would he speak; but his tongue falters, and his lips tremble. Fain would he make apologies upon his knees; but his heart fails him, and tells him the evidence is too great. Only guiltiness and fear look through his eyes upon the enraged countenance of his master, which now bodes nothing to him but revenge and death.—Bishop Hall.
Esther 7:5. Then the king Ahasuerus answered and said unto Esther the queen, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?
What! to compass the death of the queen, and, as if that were too small a wickedness, the destruction of all her people also! Was a man so wicked to be found in any of the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the king’s dominions? If there were such a daring criminal to be found, no death was too terrible for him.
What, then, will our Lord do when he rises up to revenge the wrongs done to himself in the persons of his brethren; of those who are espoused to him in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies? Will he not account the wrongs done to them to have been done to himself? When he maketh inquisition for blood, woe to them that are stained with bloody crimes against his people. The wrath of Ahasuerus against the enemies of the Jews was a fruit of God’s wrath against them. He forgot not his promise to Abraham, “I will bless him that blesseth thee, and I will curse him that curseth thee.”
“What and where is he that durst do this thing?”—What if Ahasuerus himself is the man, although it would have been unwise in the queen to tell him that he was. He was certainly, though unconscious of it, a partner in this wickedness; and yet he was filled with horror at hearing that any person could dare to load himself with such guilt. Thus David was filled with anger against a man who was only the emblem of himself.* Consider what abhorrence you have of the sins of other men, and consider how like your own sins are to theirs, and let your souls be humbled within you. Take care how you speak of the sins of other men, lest your tongues condemn yourselves. Your sins are probably much liker to theirs than you imagine, till you have well considered the matter. Perhaps they are a great deal worse, when every circumstance is considered.
Esther 7:6. And Esther said, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.
Haman now finds for what reason he was invited by the queen to her banquet. It was, to be accused to his face of the blackest crime. He had an opportunity of saying what could be said (if anything could be said) in his own vindication, or in mitigation of his offence. But if he had nothing to say, it was to be expected that the confusion of his face would be a witness against him.
This was actually the case. “Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen.” He had too good reason to tremble for his life. The queen had brought a dreadful accusation against him, and his guilt was too apparent to be denied or to be extenuated. It was, besides, of a nature fitted to excite the king’s fiercest indignation and bitterest rage.—Lawson.
Esther 7:7.] The king went into the palace garden in order to recover from the first burst of anger, and to consider what was to be done with Haman. He stood up and besought Esther to shield him from the king’s fury.
Esther 7:8. Haman was fallen upon the bed] In the wild emotion and alarm of the moment he had thrown himself upon the couch or divan on which Esther reclined at the banquet, and was supplicating for his life. Will he force the queen] Of course the king did not believe his own words. But he meant to tax Haman with a further offence in not sufficiently respecting the person of the queen, and he thereby suggested to the attendants his instant execution.—Rawlinson. Covered Haman’s face] The covering of the face was probably the beginning of the execution of the death sentence. (Compare Curtius: They brought Philetas with covered head into the palace.) Even old interpreters remind us of the sentence in Cicero: Lictor, bind his hands, veil his head, hang him on the hapless tree. However, only mentioned here as a Persian custom.
Esther 7:9. Harbonah … said] This eunuch had been many years in Xerxes’ service. Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, &c.] may not imply that the other servants, or even Harbonah himself, had already brought accusations against Haman, and, in addition, would also reproach him with the erection of this gallows; but, from Harbonah’s views, it points out the most appropriate means at hand offered by the prepared gallows for the fate of Haman. This is more significant against Haman. In giving prominence to the fact that Mordecai was the one who spoke well for the king by revealing the plot against the king’s life, he intimates that it was more fit for Haman to grace the gallows than the one for whom it was originally erected.—Lange. In all the range of literature we find no more signal display of righteous retribution than in the death of Haman.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 7:7; Esther 7:10
THE FEAR, THE FOLLY, AND THE DOOM OF THE EVIL-DOER
After Ahasuerus had heard Esther’s accusation, he went out into the palace garden. Wrath was in his countenance; wrath in his hasty tread. The sweet air of the palace garden, laden with rich odours, did not allay his anger. No soft music was found strong enough to drive away the evil spirit. Angry he went forth, and angry he returned. The offence was of too grave a character to be thus easily forgotten. It is not for us here to conjecture how far Ahasuerus might have gone on the line of forgiveness. Perhaps it was needful for the interests of his government that this bad man (Haman) should be at once brought to judgment. In human codes the boundary line of forgiveness is soon reached. In the Divine administration there is the exercise of forgiveness on a vast scale. But even there we seem to find a limit. If men reject all the Divinely-appointed means for obtaining pardon, there only remaineth “a certain fearful looking for of judgment.” “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” Men must not trifle with the Divine nature. God is merciful, but God is just. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found.”
I. The evil-doer receives warning. “Haman saw that there was evil determined against him by the king.” At present Haman had not ascertained the extent and the nature of the evil; but he clearly heard the sound of the avenging deity, though his feet might be shod with wool. The wrath on the king’s countenance and the guilt in Haman’s soul both tended to give him awful warning. Evil-doers receive warning. Nature gives warning. She declares that evil-doing must bring damage sooner or later. She is stern, and will not suffer her great laws to be violated with impunity. Revelation gives warning. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “The wages of sin is death.” History gives warning. The warnings too are given long before it is too late. The evil-doer when meeting the doom of his crimes will not be able justly to say, Had I known only in time! had some voice only spoken early enough to arrest me in the career of crime! The voices do speak, but the evil-doer turns a deaf ear. Oh, let us listen to every warning voice; let us be wise in time. Haman now heard the warning voice, but it was almost too late. But it may not yet be too late for us. “Hear, and your soul shall live.”
II. The foolish evil-doer works his own destruction. Perhaps anything that Haman could have done at this crisis would not have been efficacious to avert his awful doom. May we not suppose, however, that if Esther had seen the signs of genuine repentance in Haman, and had heard from his lips a sincere confession of his baseness and of his guilt, she would have done something for his pardon? But he did not take this course. He was found by the king in a position that tended to excite still more the king’s wrath. The very means that Haman took to save his life was the means of bringing about his speedy execution. All through this history Haman is seen working for his own destruction, though he thought he was working for the destruction of his enemies. Sinners work their own destruction, and bring upon themselves their own awful doom. In this connection we may rightly speak of the inexorable nature of law. It is a dreadful thing to sin against the great laws of nature and of revelation. “Our God is a consuming fire.” We bring upon ourselves our own punishment. In this sense we are the dread arbiters of our own fearful fate.
III. The evil-doer raises striking evidence of his own guilt. “Behold also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman.” Crafty as Haman might be, he was not crafty enough to keep his vile purpose a secret. It was evidently well known for whom the gallows was intended. Haman in raising the gallows was preparing a terrible and irresistible evidence against himself. Facts are stubborn things, and whatever poor Haman might attempt to say in his own defence, he could not talk down the gallows raised fifty cubits high. There it was to speak for itself, and to condemn the guilty Haman. How often in life do we see the evil-doer making a gallows fifty cubits high! The sinner unwittingly writes bitter things against himself, and the writing is brought forth in an evil hour to his condemnation. “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?”
IV. The evil-doer is practically his own executioner. “So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.” We must pity Haman in his direful doom; still we feel as if there was a certain fitness in the case. Our natures approve the law of retribution. We seem to feel that unblushing crime should not go unpunished. The course and the doom of Haman may not be the exact counterpart of every evil-doer’s course and doom; yet there is here portrayed a great general law which we would do well to note with all seriousness. When we come to harm on account of our sins, we are too apt to blame our fellows, to blame our circumstances, to blame the devil. We ought to blame ourselves. We only get hung on the gallows we ourselves have erected. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Let us at once proceed, by repenting of our pride, our hate, and our jealousy, to destroy the gallows. Let us look by faith to the cross, and all that is signified thereby, and then any other cross raised by sinful folly will be diverted of its power to do us lasting damage.
“Then was the king’s wrath pacified.” The flattering minion was removed out of his sight. The projector of wholesale murder was himself destroyed. Ahasuerus himself was not safe so long as Haman was allowed to exist. Wrath, however, is cruel, and nothing but Haman’s death could pacify the angry king. If it must needs be that capital punishment be the portion of certain transgressors, the sentence should not be carried out in order to pacify wrath, but to meet the demands of justice, as a deterrent to crime, and to promote the public safety. Well were it if we could dispense with the gallows. Well were it if strict justice tempered by mercy always administered the law to transgressors. God’s laws are always wisely and righteously administered. Never yet can it be said that God’s wrath was pacified by the execution of any sinner. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was not an exhibition of Divine wrath, but of Divine love. It was the method by which God could be just, and yet the Justifier of the believer. It may be a mystery, but there is in the remedial scheme of the gospel more mercy than mystery.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 7:7-10
The king indeed is unjust in fixing this calumny upon Haman; but God is just, who permits the righteous penalty to fall upon him for his lies and calumnies, inasmuch as he would have brought violence upon other virgins or matrons and would have plunged the whole people of God into ruin. Accordingly, it is written, “By what one sinneth, by that also shall he be punished;” and again, “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you again.”—Feuardent.
It must also so happen in the just judgment of God, that since the highest minister of state had caused the highest gallows to be erected, in accordance with his greatness of feeling and state position and honours, before which all bowed in adoration to the earth, he should himself be elevated above all other people that were hung.—Starke.
Said before the king.] Not a man opens his mouth to speak for Haman, but all against him. Had the cause been better, thus it would have been. Every cur is ready to fall upon the dog that he seeth worried; every man ready to pull a branch from the tree that is falling. Cromwell had experience of this when once he fell into displeasure by speaking against the king’s match with Lady Catherine Howard, in defence of Queen Anne of Cleve, and discharge of his conscience, for the which he suffered death, Stephen Gardiner being the chief engineer. Had Haman’s cause been like his, albeit he had found as few friends to intercede for him as Cromwell, yet he might have died with as much comfort as he did. But he died more like to the Lord Hungerford, of Hatesby, who was beheaded together with the noble Cromwell; but neither so Christianly suffering nor so quietly dying for his offence committed against nature, viz., buggery. Cromwell exhorted him to repent, and promised him mercy from God; but his heart was hardened, and so was this wicked Haman’s. God, therefore, justly set off all hearts from him in his greatest necessity; and now, to add to his misery, brings another of his foul sins to light, that he might be the more condignly cut off.—Trapp.
It was an excellent saying of Ambrose, “If thou canst not hide thyself from the sun, which is God’s minister of light, how impossible will it be to hide thyself from him, whose eyes are ten thousand times brighter than the sun!” You know what Ahasuerus, that great monarch, said concerning Haman: “What,” saith he, “will he force the queen before me in the house?” There was killing emphasis in the words “before me.” Will he force the queen before me? What, will he dare to commit such villany, and I stand and look on? O sirs, to sin in the sight of God is a thing that he looks upon as the greatest affront, and as the highest indignity that can possibly be done unto him.—Brooks.
The thought which is at once suggested to our minds in connection with Haman’s execution on the gallows which he had himself prepared for Mordecai, is that of a righteous retribution in providence, a subject which cannot be too delicately handled, nor too cautiously and reservedly applied. There are some who are always ready to interpret calamity as a retribution in providence, with the greatest self-blindness as to their own sins. Let a terrible accident happen to a railway train travelling on sabbath day, and some will be found to describe it as a retribution in providence against sabbath desecration. Alas! Do they never desecrate the sabbath, that they should be so ready to give a stone for bread to the wounded and mourning? Let a theatre, or some other place of public resort not generally approved of, be destroyed by fire, and many lives lost, and some will discourse upon it, in like manner, as a retribution in providence. Do they not reflect that buildings devoted to useful manufacture, and even to the worship of God, have been destroyed in the same way, and with similar disastrous results? If they would not venture to apply the rule in the one case, why should they do it in the other? Cowper has put the doctrine of a universal providence in two lines, with which we must all agree:—
“Happy the man who sees a God employed
In all the good and ill that chequer life.”
But when men sit in judgment upon God’s judgments, and apply the law of retribution in particular cases, according to their own notions of things, they are in danger, like Job’s friends, of mistaking the chastisement of God’s children for signal marks of his disapprobation, or, like the barbarians on the island of Melita, who conceived that Paul must be a murderer when the viper had come out of the fire and fastened on his hand, but who, when he had shaken it off and suffered no harm, changed their minds, and said that he must be a god. Better for us rather to make the personal application of all the calamities which occur in the providence of God recommended in the Gospel by Luke, and read therein these words of solemn warning:—“Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
But whilst we cannot consent to men becoming the interpreters of God’s judgments in particular cases, we have a great law of retribution clearly indicated as well in the Bible as in profane history. We may call the illustrations of it which might be adduced simply coincidences; but the sin is so conspicuously stamped on the punishment that we can hardly avoid connecting the one with the other in providence. The guilty Agagite takes the place of the unoffending Jew, and bears the punishment which he had prepared for him. Joseph’s brethren sold Joseph into Egypt, and by-and-by they were themselves carried down into Egypt. Adoni-bezek had the thumbs and great toes of threescore and ten kings cut off, and when he himself was taken in battle Judah and Simeon had his own thumbs and great toes cut off, moving him to make this confession: “As I have done, so God hath requited me.” Herod the Great massacred the innocent little children of Bethlehem, and he himself was overwhelmed with agonizing physical disease, and his numerous family was extinct in a hundred years. Pontius Pilate, who condemned Christ to death; Judas, who betrayed him; and Nero, who slew thousands of early believers, committed suicide, though the last had to call in the aid of others to complete what he had begun. Almost all the prominent persecutors of the Church have died deaths of violence. Maximum put out the eyes of thousands of Christians, and afterwards he himself died of a fearful disease of the eyes, in great agony. And Valens, who caused fourscore presbyters to be sent to sea in a ship and burnt alive, himself, defeated by the Goths, fled to a cottage where he was burnt alive. Still more comprehensively we have the Apostle Paul declaring, with reference to those who “received not the love of the truth that they might be saved,” that they would be smitten with judicial blindness; “and for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”
In avoiding Scylla we must beware of falling into Charybdis; in refusing to become interpreters of particular calamitous providences, we must be on our guard against denying a retributive providence altogether. No doubt this specialty in providence comprehends both nations and individuals, noiselessly overtaking evil-doers and causing them to reap as they had sown, according to the proverb—“The feet of the avenging deity are shod with wool.” Without commotion or tumult the punishment grows out of the sin, and the transgressor is visited according to his iniquity. In most instances it requires no direct interference of the Almighty, but follows, surely and directly, from the operation of great natural and spiritual laws. “Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity; for they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.”
Then a reflection of a different kind is suggested by the feelings of the king after the execution of Haman: “Then was the king’s wrath pacified.” Modern theology is apt to drift away into mere sentimental views of the character of God. It may be a reaction from the harsh and terrible aspects in which the Divine character was presented in a former age, giving to childhood and youth such an idea of God as was fitted rather to excite terror than inspire with reverence and love. From one extreme, however, we must be careful not to dart to another, equally false and dangerous. We must not conceive of God as simply all love and mercy. We cannot indeed exalt too highly these perfections of his nature, but we must not allow them to shut out from view other attributes of his being. Let these alone have possession of our minds, and we might suppose that there was no need for God being reconciled to sinners, but only of them being reconciled to him; that he is all love and mercy toward them if they would only return to him, and that he will be their Father if they will only submit to be his children. There is a measure of truth in this kind of reasoning, but it is only a half-truth; and a half-truth is sometimes more perilous than unmitigated error. He assures us that he is “angry with the wicked every day;” that he is a “consuming fire;” and that he will “by no means clear the guilty.” Though his wrath against the wicked has nothing of vindictiveness or revenge in it, yet is it none the less, but the more, wrath—tremendous wrath. If a king is merciful and loving, as well as just and righteous, his wrath is all the more to be dreaded; and whilst God is infinitely loving and merciful, he cannot allow his love and mercy to overreach his justice, righteousness, and truth. So long as we keep in view only the paternal aspects of the Divine character, we might see in the cross of Christ nothing more than an exhibition of love and mercy, to attract, if possible, the regards of mankind sinners; no real satisfaction offered for sin—“the just for the unjust”—but only a proof and pledge that God was kindly disposed toward them if they would only return to him. How defective and misleading would be such a contemplation of the cross of Christ! Besides the expression of love, it is the endurance by One who was able to bear it, because he had no sin, of the penalty and curse of sin in the room of all who believe. So that only when we come to God, presenting in faith the atonement for sin which Christ made on Calvary, is God’s wrath pacified, and the sinner not simply reconciled to him, but he also to the sinner. The claims of his law and the demands of his righteous government are only and fully satisfied in Christ. Accordingly, we cannot tell the sinner that God’s wrath is pacified towards him so long as he has not accepted Christ, and is not to be found in him. It is true that God is all loving and merciful; but his love and mercy cannot reach him so long as he is outside of Christ. Apart from Christ, through unbelief, he cannot be otherwise surveyed than as exposed to wrath—a wrath which shall find its full manifestation in the decisions and allotments of the final day. But in Christ, received by faith, that wrath has already emptied itself and been exhausted in him, and for the true believer there are only love and mercy—love and mercy, the fulness of which can be measured only by the greatness of the sacrifice made, in order that they might rest with him for ever. “He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” “Then was the king’s wrath pacified.”—McEwan.
As of one crucified, whose visage spake
Fell rancour, malice deep, wherein he died;
And round him Ahasuerus the great king;
Esther his bride; and Mordecai the just,
Blameless in word and deed.
Thus Pharaoh drowns the Hebrew males in a river; therefore is drowned himself with his army in a sea. He had laid insupportable burdens on Israel; God returns them with full weight, number, measure. When Israel cut off the thumbs and great toes of Adoni-bezek, hear the maimed king confess the equity of this judgment: “Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table; as I have done, so God hath requited me.” As proud Bajazet threatened to serve Tamerlane, being conquered,—to imprison him in a cage of iron, and carry him about the world in triumph,—so the Scythian, having took the bragging Turk, put him to the punishment himself had lessoned; carrying and carting him through Asia, to be scorned of his own people. Thus Haman is hanged on his own gallows. Perillus tries the trick of his own torment.—Adams.
When Haman desires the ruin of the Jews, procures the king’s commission, sends despatches to all the governors of the provinces, sets up a gibbet for Mordecai, and wants nothing but an opportunity to request the execution, he tumbles down to exchange his prince’s favours for an exaltation on the gallows. When the serpent increased his malicious cruelty, and cast out a flood against the Church, God makes the earth, the carnal world, to give her assistance, and repel the force that Satan used against her. “The earth helped the woman.” When “multitudes shall gather together in the valley of decision,” then shall “the Lord roar out of Sion, and be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.” And when spiritual Egypt shall make a war against Christ, who sits upon the white horse, and combine all their force for the destruction of his people, then shall the beast and the false prophet be taken, and brought to their final ruin, and their force be broken in a lake of fire, as that of Egypt was in a sea of water. The time of their greatest fierceness shall be the time of Christ’s fury.—Charnock.
Haman missed of his plot; he fell into danger; he fell into the same danger which he contrived for Mordecai; and was the means of Mordecai’s advancement. It had been enough to have woven a spider’s web, which is done with a great deal of art, and yet comes to nothing; but to hatch a cockatrice’s egg, that brings forth a viper which stings to death, this is a double vexation. Yet thus God delighteth to catch the “wise in the imagination of their own hearts,” and to pay them in their own coin. The wicked carry a lie in their right hand; for they trust in man, who is but a lie; and, being liars themselves too, no marvel if their hopes prove deceitful, so that, while they sow the wind, they reap the whirlwind.
Mischievous attempts are successless in the long run; for did ever any harden themselves against God and prosper long? Let Cain speak, let Pharaoh, Haman, Ahithophel, Herod; let the persecutors of the Church for the first two hundred years, let all that ever bore ill-will towards Sion, speak, and they will confess they did but kick against the pricks, and dash against the rooks. The greatest torment of the damned spirit is, that God turns all his plots for the good of those he hates most. He tempted man to desire to become like God, that so he might ruin him; but God became man, and so restored him. God serveth himself of this arch-politician and all his instruments; they are but executioners of God’s will while they rush against it. Joseph’s brethren sold him that they might not worship him, and that was the very means whereby they came at length to worship him. God delights to take the oppressed party’s part. Wicked men cannot do God’s children a greater pleasure than to oppose them, for by this means they help to advance them.—Sibbes.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 7
Esther 7:7. The French king. By imploring mercy perhaps you may be saved, but by justifying the injury you cannot but be lost. As the French king, Francis the First, said to a woman kneeling and crying to him for justice, “Stand up, woman, for justice I owe thee; if thou beggest anything, beg mercy.” So if you request anything of God, let it be mercy, for he owes you justice; and in this point, God be merciful to you all.
Judge Jeffreys. Very cruel people are sometimes very cowardly. Judge Jeffreys could go through his black assize in the west of England, the terror of the land, manifesting the fury of a wild beast; but when the tide turned, and he saw nothing before him but ignominy and disgrace, he sank into a state of abject fear which was pitiable to see. “Haman was afraid before the king and the queen? “As he well may be. It is an awful moment. His life trembles in the balance. If the king keeps his couch he may be spared. If he rises up abruptly, and withdraws, he is doomed. The king’s retirement is like passing solemn judgment. The custom has descended to our times, and the Shah of Persia, or, if not he, certainly some of his immediate predecessors, have condemned men to death in this way.—Dr. Raleigh.
Case of retribution. Tamerlane the Great, having made war on Bajazet, Emperor of the Turks, overthrew him in battle, and took him prisoner. The victor gave the captive monarch at first a very civil reception; and, entering into familiar conversation with him, said, “Now, king, tell me freely and truly what thou wouldest have done with me, had I fallen into thy power?” Bajazet, who was of a fierce and haughty spirit, is said to have thus replied: “Had the gods given unto me the victory, I would have enclosed thee in an iron cage, and carried thee about with me as a spectacle of derision to the world.” Tamerlane wrathfully replied, “Then, proud man, as thou wouldest have done to me, even so shall I do unto thee.” A strong iron cage was made, into which the fallen emperor was thrust; and thus exposed like a wild beast, he was carried along in the train of his conqueror. Nearly three years were passed by the once mighty Bajazet in this cruel state of durance; and at last, being told that he must be carried into Tartary, despairing of then obtaining his freedom, he struck his head with such violence against the bars of his cage, as to put an end to his wretched life.—Dr. Cheever.
Innocence vindicated. It is stated as a singular circumstance in the history of the holy and devoted John Graham, of Ardclach, that he quoted these words not long before his death:—” If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men, then the Lord had not sent me.” He had been a victim to the foulest accusations, and driven from his ministerial charge. The utterance was fulfilled in mysterious ways. Those who had persecuted and calumniated him died off long ere old age; by accident, by sudden and fatal sickness, or by their own hands. Thus it has pleased God, on some occasions, to vindicate the reputation of a faithful servant by providences which none can dispute. Mordecai’s innocence was vindicated. His triumph was complete. Poor Haman was humiliated, defeated, and executed. If the history of human lives could be rightly interpreted and correctly written, startling and triumphant revelations would be made. It would be seen that the wicked do not always triumph. They cannot; for surely eternity will adjust the false measures of time, if time itself does not so rectify.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28