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Esther 8:1.] The Targums understand by “house” all the people in it, and the entire property belonging thereto.—Lange. The confiscation of the property of one publicly executed followed as a matter of course. And to whom could the goods of the Jews’ enemy be more appropriately transferred than to Esther the queen?—Whedon. Came before the king] Was made one of his officers.
Esther 8:2. Took off his ring] (See Esther 3:10). By this act Mordecai was advanced to the post of first minister of the king. The king’s seal gave the force of law to royal edicts.—Keil. A pleasure-seeking Persian king, like Xerxes, was glad to be relieved of the toil of governing, and willingly committed to one favourite after another the task of issuing and sealing with the royal signet the decrees by which the government was administered.—Rawlinson.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 8:1-2
SUDDEN BUT WISE CHANGES
In affairs of conscience first thoughts are best. In affairs of prudence second thoughts are best. But even in affairs of conscience deliberation may be necessary, because we do not always know how far conscience may be properly enlightened. We have to see to it that what we think is the voice of conscience be not some other voice. Sudden movement, then, is very often dangerous and misleading. Make haste slowly is a wise exhortation for the management of human affairs. Many a man has taken a hurried step which has proved disastrous, and which no after movements have been able to remedy. Perhaps the English nation may be considered as moving too slowly. Certainly it takes a long time in this country to repair old abuses. But this very slowness may help to give us our national stability. In these two verses we have sudden changes; but they will be seen to be wise in every respect. There is no reason to suppose that Ahasuerus had any cause to repent of the steps which he now took so suddenly. Without any long parliamentary deliberations he made a prime minister, and most important changes in the court, and all tended to increase the national glory.
I. A sensible reversal. “On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews’ enemy unto Esther the queen.” Not only was Esther the king’s favoured queen, but she showed herself a virtuous and sensible woman—one likely to make a wise disposal of the blessings of wealth. Haman only thought of using wealth for selfish purposes. Esther thought of using her temporal advantages for the good of others. That she so thought we judge by her conduct. She did not talk great things only, but did them. How sadly often do we find in this world that the “house” is possessed by the selfish Haman! What a blessing to the community when the “house” becomes the possession of a benevolent and patriotic Esther! Take the house here as emblematical of Haman’s wealth. When the eternal King gives a “house” it becomes us to feel that our responsibility is thereby increased. We must not close the house, but open its doors and its rooms for the benefit of others. Still be careful as to the guests. God has given to each and to all a soul-house. We are to be careful as to the mastership. Let not Satan rule; let Jesus rule, and then there will be light, and gladness, and joy, and honour in the house.
II. A grateful confession. “And Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her.” The confession was not forced from Esther. She did not utter it by reason of the terrors of the inquisitor; she did not own the relationship because she saw that Mordecai was about to make the declaration; she was impelled to it by a sweet sense of gratitude. Here is one of those omissions in the narrative that we could wish had not been made. A pleasant story was that which Esther had now to tell unto the king. We listen in pleasant fancy as Esther, inspired by gratitude, told the king what Mordecai was unto her. She would tell of the blood relationship, but surely she would tell much more. Certainly she told much more if she told all that Mordecai was unto her. Sometimes the words fail us, when inspired by gratitude, as we try to tell all that a true-hearted one has been to us. Some there are with whom we have no family connection who have been more to us than the nearest relatives. Esther confers honour on Mordecai by declaring all that he had been unto her. We confer honour by grateful confession of the services rendered to us by others. Let us not forget to acknowledge our indebtedness. And shall we not bring honour to Jesus by the confession of what he has been and is to us. Time will not suffice to tell the tale of the Saviour’s doings on our behalf. We have to tell what he is to us in the way of spiritual relationship; we have to tell what he is to us as prophet, priest, and king. The sweet tale will last through eternity.
III. A reasonable token of honour. “And the king took off his ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai.” It was just and fair that this honour should be conferred upon Mordecai, for he had rendered important services to the king, and was evidently a man that might be safely trusted with the management of most important affairs. But it was not right that Mordecai had been compelled to wait so long before his services were acknowledged. Time is on the side of him who will but wait; but sometimes we have to wait so long that our time is over. We do not now live for centuries, and cannot afford to keep on waiting too long. Many a man has waited only for the grave. The only waiting which cannot end in disappointment is that of quietly and hopefully and earnestly doing the work of the Lord, and looking for the crown of glory that fadeth not away. Then the great Master will give his tokens of approval and of honour. Oh, to be sealed by heaven’s eternal King!
IV. A judicious arrangement. “And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.” If Esther, having received the gift from the king, was not at liberty to transfer it to Mordecai, the next best thing was to make Mordecai steward of the property. She had received proof of Mordecai’s sagacity, and could therefore securely entrust to him the management of her property. He would turn it to the best possible account, both for individual and collective advantage. Having shown himself wise and faithful in small spheres, it was judicious to raise him now to fill a higher sphere. All his recorded after-course declares that he was not unfaithful to his many important trusts. If we want to rise, let it be by faithful service in that sphere where we find ourselves placed. Woe to the man who seeks to rise by trickery! The crash must come sooner or later. The deception must be found out. The blown bladder will receive a prick, and then there will be the humiliating collapse. Many instances of this in modern times. Better to remain always in obscurity than to rise by false methods, for such rising is sure to end in a most hideous down-fall. A high position is always perilous—perilous in England with its stable institutions, as well as in the Persian empire with all its fickleness. But a high position reached by falsehood and deceit is especially perilous. “He that is down needs fear no fall.” “Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Haman thus had not reached the gallows. We can even suppose that Mordecai was happier at the king’s gate than when ruling in the palace, and over Haman’s house.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 8:1-2
We are taught by Mordecai’s example that even pious men sometimes come to the head of affairs, and are safely entrusted with the reins of government; and that God adorns with this glory on earth those whom he will afterwards crown in heaven likewise. They are promoted, however not so much for their own sake as that they may aid and promote the Church and people of God, and may free and console those in affliction.—Feuardent.
Be not solicitous about treasuring up the riches of this world. What you can gain is to-day yours, to-morrow you know not whose it shall be. Should it fall into the hands of your children after you, you know not whether they will be wise men or fools, whether they will be losers or gainers by the possession of it. But you know not whether it may not fall into the hands of your most abhorred enemies. This is often the fate of ill-gotten riches. “The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” With what vexation would Haman have thought of that wealth in which he gloried, if he had foreseen that it was to be possessed by a Jewess. Would he not rather have chosen to live a beggar all his days than leave his wealth to persons whom he so mortally hated?
The queen was enriched beyond her expectations and wishes; yet the wealth bestowed upon her would enable her to perform important services to her beloved nation. The donation of it by the king, to whom it was forfeited, was a testimony of his affection, to which she still must have recourse, with new petitions for her people. Above all, this donation was a remarkable testimony of the kindness and justice of the Divine providence, which put into her hands that immense wealth of the enemy of her nation, by which he would have bribed the king, if a bribe had been necessary, to procure their destruction. The Lord had already not only wrought deliverance for her, but had given her an accession of riches out of the snares that had been laid for her kinsman; and she was thereby encouraged to hope that he would bring to a happy conclusion that great work that occupied her mind.
Her kinsman, too, was highly advanced, both on her account and his own. The king had formerly caused his favour for Mordecai to be proclaimed through the city of Shushan; but now he loaded him with real and substantial honours, which could put him into a proper condition for protecting his nation, exposed to danger for his sake.
It was now the fifth year since the adopted daughter of Mordecai was seated on an imperial throne, and hitherto it was not known that he stood in any relation to the queen, or had showed to her the kindness of a father.
The king must surely at least have condemned his own thoughtlessness in inquiring so little after Esther’s friends. He now discerned, that, besides his unrequited obligations to Mordecai for saving his life, he owed to him likewise the graces and accomplishments of his queen, and almost her life; for he had been to her a second father, without whose kind care none knows what might have befallen her in her tender years.
It would be likewise a powerful recommendation of Mordecai, that he had hitherto lived quietly in a low station, without so much as mentioning his claims to preferment. It appeared plainly that he was more careful to deserve the king’s favour than to enjoy it, and that greatness had no charms but the opportunities it might give him of doing good, or preventing evil. Those are fittest for high stations that are best satisfied with any station in which Providence is pleased to put them.
The king put Mordecai into Haman’s place; and the queen, who now thought it highly expedient to inform the king of Mordecai’s kindness and relation to her, did likewise make him her steward. To her dying day she forgot not the kindness showed to her in the days of her youth, and behaved as the best of daughters to the best of fathers.
Gratitude to benefactors is essential to a virtuous character. If you call a man ungrateful you need say nothing more of him, you have already said everything that is bad; nor will the highest elevation excuse forgetfulness of benefits received in a lower condition. The blessed Jesus, exalted above men and angels, forgets none of the kindnesses showed to him in the persons of his brethren in a low condition upon earth; but what is done to the least of them is rewarded as if it had been done to him-self. We need not envy those women who ministered to him of their substance in the days of his humiliation the glorious rewards bestowed upon them in his state of exaltation. We still have it in our power to feed him when he is hungry, to give him drink when he is thirsty, to clothe him when he is naked; and he will not be unrighteous to forget our works and labours of love to his name. Did Esther in her royal condition retain such a kind remembrance of the friends of her low estate, and shall we doubt of the infinitely superior virtues of him who is the fairest among the children of men, to the operation of whose Spirit we owe everything that is lovely in our temper and conduct?
Esther, on the throne, retained the kindness of her youth, not only to Mordecai, but to all her friends and all her people.—Lawson.
1. In the first place, we see how, in the providence of God, the wealth which worldly men would use in opposition to the interests of God’s cause and people may be wrested from them, and made available for the advancement of these interests. It was painful enough to the proud spirit of Haman to be compelled to conduct Mordecai, whom he hated, through the city in triumph; but it would have been anguish intolerable to him if he had been told that this man was forthwith to be his heir, and to have all his wealth placed at his disposal. So not unfrequently it happens, that the riches which have been accumulated by those who would grudge the expenditure even of a small part for any purpose purely religious, pass into the hands of those who feel their responsibility as stewards of God’s bounties, and who gladly employ his gifts for the promotion of objects by which their fellow-men are really benefited. The conclusion which we draw from all this, and which, without further remark, we leave with you, is, that the best and happiest arrangement which a man can make with respect to the good things which have been bestowed upon him is, that in his lifetime he seek to be personally the dispenser of good to others. If he lives and acts in this spirit, then he will have the less anxiety as to the disposal of what he may be able to leave behind him.
2. In the second place, the peculiar providence which we see exercised in the case of Mordecai teaches us that men may be well content to wait, while they are in the way of well-doing, until they receive their recompense. It was with no view to temporal reward, we most fully believe, that Mordecai assumed the guardianship of his orphan cousin, and brought her up tenderly in the knowledge of the God of her fathers. But if he had any expectation of reward, when he discovered and made known the plot against the life of the king, and such expectation he might have reasonably enough cherished, he had long to wait for the realizing of it. But he waited patiently, and at length his reward came, in greater fulness than his most sanguine hope could have anticipated. Now even in worldly things, although not on the same large scale, we often can mark similar movements of providence. Worth and faithfulness and humility, after they have been long neglected, are brought into the light, and are honoured in proportion to the neglect which they formerly experienced.
But it is not with exclusive, or indeed with special, reference to the administration of providence in this world that we speak at present. History sets before us the examples of many, who were the excellent of the earth, persons of whom the world was not worthy, whose deeds of benevolence, and whose faithful services to the Lord and the men of their generation, were never openly acknowledged during their lifetime. Against reproach and obloquy, and opposition the most crushing, many have had to pursue their way, compelled to hear even their good evil spoken of. But this does not alter the fact, that the reward of all Christ’s faithful servants is certain. It is not for reward that they labour in his service; it is from love to him, and for the glory of God. Yet as Christ himself “looked forward to the joy that was set before him,” so his people are taught by his word and his example to have respect to the recompense of reward. Now as Mordecai had to wait for a season before he obtained what he was well entitled to receive, would it have been a matter of great consequence although he had to wait for a few years longer? If he had received at length, after a very protracted season of delay, what he waited for, while he had still full power left him to enjoy it, would it not have been well? Then may we not say, that although believers in Christ have to wait for their reward until death come to carry them away, or, as we may say, until this their last enemy come to lead them in triumph into the presence of the King, clad in the glorious robe of his righteousness, will it not be well, seeing that then they shall be in condition to enjoy fully and for ever the blessedness of being with him and rejoicing in his smile?—Davidson.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Esther 8:1-2. Advantage of change. As Gotthold was examining with delight some double pinks, which at the time were in full blossom, he was told by the gardener that the same plants had in former years borne only single flowers, but that they had been improved and beautified by repeated transplantations, and that in the same manner a change of soil increases the growth and accelerates the bearing of a young tree. This reminded Gotthold that the same happens to men. Many a man who at home would scarcely have borne single flowers, when transplanted by Divine Providence abroad, bears double ones; another, who, if rooted in his native soil, would never have been more than a puny twig, is removed to a foreign clime, and there spreads far and wide his luxuriant boughs, and bears fruit to the delight of all. We may also notice that, as the plant, so the man must have the capacity of bearing fruits and flowers. Esther and Mordecai were fruit-bearing in lowly spheres, and then being placed in high positions they brought forth more fruit Through them light and gladness came to all the Jews.
Esther 8:1-2. Prosperity not suitable for every man. Great skill is required to the governing of a plentiful and prosperous estate, so as it may be safe and comfortable to the owner, and beneficial to others. Every corporal may know how to order some few files, but to marshal many troops in a regiment in a whole body of an army requires the skill of an experienced general. As for prosperity, every man thinks himself wise and able enough to know how to govern it, and himself in it. A happy estate, we imagine, will easily manage itself, without too much care. Give me but sea-room, saith the confident mariner, and let me alone, whatever tempests arise. Surely the great Doctor of the Gentiles had never made this holy boast of his divine skill, “I know how to abound,” if it had been so easy a matter as the world conceives it. Mere ignorance and want of self-experience is guilty of this error.
Mordecai had shown himself possessed of great skill in the management of small affairs, therefore it was fitting that he should be promoted over the house of Haman, and to the principal position in the kingdom of Ahasuerus.
Signet rings. On the little finger of the right hand is worn a seal-ring, which is generally of silver, with a cornelian, or other stone, upon which is engraved the wearer’s name: the name is accompanied by the words, “His servant” (signifying, the servant, or worshipper, of God), and often by other words expressive of the person’s trust in God, etc. The seal-ring is used for signing letters and other writings, and its impression is considered more valid than the sign-manual. (Therefore, giving the ring to another person is the utmost sign of confidence.) A little ink is dabbed upon it with one of the fingers, and it is pressed upon the paper; the person who uses it having first touched his tongue with another finger and moistened the place in the paper which is to be stamped. Almost every person who can afford it has a seal-ring, even though he be a servant.—Biblical Museum.
Esther 8:3.] Haman was dead, but the edict which he had issued remained in force: therefore Esther “wept and made supplication” to Ahasuerus.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 8:3-4
SIN SURVIVES THE SINNER
When Haman was executed Ahasuerus doubtless expected to be left at peace. He would suppose that by one strenuous effort he had delivered himself from the encircling confusion; and, unaccustomed to personal effort and responsibility, he would overrate the good he had accomplished. So men are continually surprised if a little virtuous effort is not considered a full compensation for a long course of sin. But evil is not easily rooted out of a heart, or out of a state. Bad habits once formed in the heart soon become inveterate; and bad institutions once founded in a state tend to perpetuate themselves for ever. It is written in the Psalms, “Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.” So, frequently, sin bears painful fruits long after the sinner himself has grievously repented. Thus David received Divine forgiveness, and yet along with Uriah’s life the splendour and happiness of his reign faded away for ever. As he sinned with Bathsheba, so Amnon sinned with Tamar; as he murdered Uriah, so Absalom murdered Amnon; and as his pride numbered the people, so Adonijah’s pride, and Absalom’s pride, rebelled against his authority. Let no man fancy that by a little repentance he can undo the effects of a great sin. As some weeds are hardly to be eradicated from a favourable soil, so sin finds a congenial lodging in the heart, and is slow to leave. Ahasuerus, who looked to spend his days in idle dalliance, now learnt that Haman’s death had not delivered him from his troubles, for Esther came to him to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite.
I. Evil outlives its first contrivers. (a) Haman is dead, but the mischief he devised still hangs over the Jews. The laws of Persia could not be reversed, and therefore Haman’s edict had to stand; the laws of nature will not be reversed, and therefore a thing done once is done for ever. A passing stranger may loosen a stone in an embankment, and go on his way; but a whole province will bewail his folly. An infidel father trains most carefully an infidel son; the son becomes an eminent and influential writer, and spreads through a whole generation the fatal poison he imbibed on his father’s knee. An English colonist, filled with pity for the Caribbæans, introduces negro slavery into the West Indies,—doing evil that good may come,—and for centuries those fair islands are cursed by his device. Always men perish, but their work remains. As he who scatters thistledown in a field of wheat does an evil which years may be needed to cure; so every sinner scatters bad seed into a prolific soil. (b) Evil tends to permanency, because of the natural corruption of the heart. As acids and alkalis have a mutual affinity, so that they rush together with violence, and can only be separated by force; so is there an affinity between the heart and sin. Hence, when evil is once published there are many ready to embrace it. Certain constitutions of body will take every infectious disease that they approach; and every form of evil finds somewhere a congenial home. This principle is assisted by the solidarity of our race. The whole universe is bound into one system, with a mutual interdependence among all its parts: the meanest and the noblest parts of creation are indissolubly bound together. Especially is this true of man. No man liveth to himself. We are all so closely locked and interlocked together that what affects one affects all. Now if man were not liable to disease, or if, being liable, he could live alone, there would be no epidemics; so if man were not liable to sin, or if, being liable, he could be set free from his fellow-sinners, evil might soon cease. But as the case is, sin ever tends to spread widely, and to stand permanently.
II. Evil yields before holy self-sacrifice. Esther, having had formerly so free an access and so good success in her appeals, ventures to draw near again. (α) Esther was intensely solicitous, for we read, “she wept and besought him.” The welfare of the people was dearer to her than her own. The mere dilettante accomplishes nothing, for evil grows naturally; while virtue is like those birds of song which come from afar, are caught with difficulty, and are ever ready to depart. There must be strenuous effort on the part of those who would do good. She wept over temporal ruin; do we weep over spiritual ruin? (β) Esther was persistent. She came again. As her former success encouraged her to approach again to an earthly, so our former successes should encourage us to approach the heavenly King. Like the poor widow, men ought always to pray and not to faint. (γ) Esther was boldly self-sacrificing. Un bidden she came to the king, bearing her life in her hands. A noble type of the sacrifice and intercession of Christ is presented by this scene in the life of Esther. In entire self-forgetfulness and self-surrender she ventured her life in order to plead for her kindred; and Christ gave his life that, now within the veil, he might make intercession for his kinsmen after the flesh. (δ) Esther succeeded. The king stretched out the golden sceptre. Oh, Esther, thou hast won for ever the gratitude of every Jew. Moses delivered from slavery; thou hast delivered from death! A sword was about to destroy the whole race, and thy fair neck was stretched under to avert the blow! Our Intercessor has equal success. As the wishes of Mordecai were presented by Esther, and she brought back assured safety; so our petitions, poor, babbling cries, are presented by Christ, sprinkled with his own blood, and return to us in showers of blessing.
III. Evil crushed, but not killed. Ahasuerus could only allow Mordecai to invent some contrivance to counteract the evil. To undo the wickedness of Haman seemed impossible, and, to avoid the results of it, the whole empire incurred the risk of civil war. To destroy is always easier than to save; and many a man, who has no hammer for building, has a good torch for burning. As a madman may set on fire a cathedral which a whole generation cannot rebuild, or as a child may tear a painting which only a Raphael could reproduce; so one sin may ruin a soul which only God could save. Partially the effects of sin may be destroyed. The guilty conscience may be set at rest, and the foul heart may be cleansed; the gates of hope may be opened, and those of despair may be shut; but some of the effects endure for ever. A prodigal wastes his estate by intemperance, and it is never restored; a nation is hurried by ambition into unjust war, and is maimed for ever; a suicide takes poison, and has no more opportunity of repentance on earth. The action may be temporary, and the results eternal.
IV. Practical lessons. (α) The folly of infallibility. For either Pope or Kaiser to say, “The thing is settled, and cannot be reconsidered,” is to doom the Church or the State to dire disaster. For the imperfect state of man on earth, “live and learn” is a suitable motto. But, like the Bourbons, the kings of Persia learnt nothing and forgot nothing. (β) The power of intercession. Our Lord himself takes a precisely parallel case to that of Esther to teach the efficacy of prayer. As she, in the parable, won by her importunity a blessing from the unwilling, much more may we by our pleading secure the mercy of the ever-willing. Esther’s earnestness, her humility, and her self-forgetfulness, teach how to draw near to God. (γ) The awful nature of sin. The actions that are performed the most thoughtlessly may ruin the soul. As one frosty night when the bloom is on the trees may destroy the hopes of spring, as one fierce gale may dash the gallant ship against the rocks; so one sin may ruin the soul. Sickness does not weaken its hold, and death does not destroy its venom. If once the venom is seated in the soul, there is only one healer, and he Almighty, who can wash away the stain.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 8:3-4
Sin never dies of age. It is as when a young man dies in the full fire and strength of his youth by some vehement distemper; it, as it were, tears and forces and fires his soul out of his body. He that will come and fight it out with his corruption to the last shall find that it will sell its life at a dear rate; it will strive and fight for it, and many a doubtful conflict will pass between that and the soul. It may give a man many a wound, many a foil, and many a disheartening blow; for, believe it, the strong man will fight for his possession.—South.
My friends, the old statement, “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” is absolutely true, universally true. The gospel is not its abrogation. It modifies it, gives it a new aspect, in some respects it gives it a new incidence; but be sure of this, that the harvest has to be gathered. If you waste your youth no repentance will send the shadow back upon the dial, or recover the ground lost by idleness, or restore the constitution shattered by dissipation, or give again the resources wasted upon vice, or bring back fleeting opportunities. If you forget God and live without him in the world, fancying that it is time enough to become “religious” when you “have had your fling,”—even were you to come back at last, and remember how few do,—you could not obliterate the remembrance of misused years, nor the deep marks which they had left upon imagination, and thought, and taste, and habit.—Maclaren.
When the king “held out the golden sceptre towards Esther” she was animated with greater confidence, and “stood before him” with touching tenderness, and hearty self-consecration to the cause which she pleaded. She importuned him to issue a new decree, reversing the edict of Haman for the destruction of the Jews—“For how,” said she, “can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” Her love for her people was intense, self-sacrificing, and disinterested. She hinged her intercession upon that love. For her own sake did she ask that the lives of her kindred should be spared. In this aspect of it her intercession reminds us of the advocacy and intercession of the Saviour. How vast was his love for his people! Not only did he imperil his life for their sakes, but gave himself “a ransom for many.” He intercedes for them in heaven, and is mighty and all-prevailing because that intercession is centred in himself. How could he endure to see those perish for whom he died? and whom, in his exaltation, he ardently loves? If such a contingency could be supposed possible the trial would overwhelm him, and spoil his satisfaction and joy. They are his kindred—his brethren; and in testimony of his love for them, as well as in proof of his ceaseless intercession in their behalf, he appears in the midst of the throne, and of the elders, and of the living ones, “a lamb as it had been slain.” How many Jews were there in Persia who knew of the sentence of death which had been passed against them, but who knew not the powerful, loving intercessor whom they had before the king! And there are not a few, even within the enclosure of the Church, who, whilst dreading the condemnation under which they have been laid by sin, take not home to their hearts the consolation which arises from the intercession of the Saviour. As the appearance of Esther before the king, with her tears and earnest love-pleading, would have sent a thrill of hope throughout millions of hearts in the Persian empire, had it been everywhere visible, so could the sight of Christ before the throne of God be witnessed by faith by all believers, the burden of fear which oppresses many souls throughout the earth would be removed, and there would be the peace and tranquillity of resting in his love. In the survey of our own condition he could not discover any arguments which he could successfully use to secure our forgiveness and final deliverance, but in himself he has all-prevailing pleas. And whilst the believer’s prayers derive their power from the concluding words—“For Jesus’ sake;” these words receive their confirmation and response in heaven, where Jesus pleads in our behalf for his own name’s sake.
“Fair is the lot that’s cast for me,
I have an advocate with thee;
And he is safe, and must succeed,
For whom the Lord vouchsafes to plead.”
Oh queen, thou art victor now! Thou art ascending a higher and a holier throne than that on which thou wast crowned on the day of thine espousals. Thy great king was but now holding forth to thee the golden sceptre on which thy very life was hung, and thou didst arise and stand as a weeping suppliant before him. And lo! now thou art waving a far more powerful sceptre, albeit invisible, over his head! Thou art ruling him partly by the power of womanly beauty and accomplishment over a fitful but susceptible nature, but still more by the irresistible power of moral earnestness, by the grandeur of patriotism, and by the holy spell of self-sacrificing love! And soon the pens of the scribes will be busy for thee, and the swift beasts will be carrying thy message of life to distant provinces, and thy poor people far and near will gratefully bless thy name.—Raleigh.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Esther 8:3. Honesty in little things. One of the kings of Persia, who is famous in history for his exact justice, was once out hunting, when, finding himself hungry, he ordered the people to dress a deer that they had just taken. When all was nearly ready, they found that they had forgotten to bring any salt with them, so they sent a lad off to fetch some from a village at a little distance. The king overheard them, and, calling to the boy, said, “And mind you take money to pay for it.” The attendants expressed their surprise at his thinking of such trifles, and asked what harm there could be in taking a handful of salt. The king replied, “All the evil that now troubles the earth first began in such trifles, till by degrees it grew to its present height; and if I take the salt, my officers will perhaps seize the cow.”
“To put away the mischief of Haman” as it had now reached its climax was difficult. Great evil would have been prevented had Haman in the first instance put away the mischief that was brooding in his heart.
Esther 8:5.] The introductory formula are in part similar to those used before, but strengthened by the introduction of two new phrases. Let it be written to reverse the letters] Perhaps Esther was not sufficiently acquainted with Persian law to know that no royal decree could be reversed.—Whedon.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 8:5-6
THE PLEADING OF A GREAT PASSION
Patriotism is among the noblest and strongest passions of the human heart. This warm and self-forgetting devotion to the claims of our country often very closely resembles the all-reaching love which is produced by Christianity. If, indeed, the Church can boast of martyrs, men who have died rather than deny the truth, every great nation can tell of patriots who chose death rather than the dishonour of their country. In ancient Sparta this passion burned with so hot a flame that mothers rejoiced when their dead but triumphant sons were carried home upon their shields; and a mother was, at least on one great occasion, known to slay her son who had turned coward upon the field of battle. The patriotism of the Jews, being a religious as well as a national sentiment, was peculiarly strong. With the glory of the nation, the success and even the existence of the religion were inextricably involved: if Israel were destroyed, the worship of Jehovah ceased from among men; and if David’s line were cut off, the world’s Redeemer could never appear. Now, if it was the proudest boast of ancient days to be able to say, “I am a Roman citizen;” and if so many of us would not sell for untold wealth our British birthright; how much more noble is it to say, “I am a citizen of heaven.” The very dust and stones of Zion should be precious in our sight. No sacrifices can be too great which are made for Christ, and no work can be mean which tends toward the extension of his kingdom. The noblest offices of the world are mean and poor beside the humblest duties of the Church. We cannot refrain from a lofty emotion when we remember the glories of our spiritual temple. The temple of Jerusalem has passed away; but the true Zion, of which that was but a type, is established for ever. Now the whole of Esther’s life shows that she was under the influence of both the national and the religious sentiments. But perhaps in all the story, her patriotism never shines so beautifully as in this paragraph. All the grace of a tender woman, all the exquisite tact of a woman deeply in earnest, and all the deep pathos of a woman’s heart, are richly displayed.
I. A great passion inspires humility. If it please the king, and if the thing seem right before the king. Pride is effaced in the presence of a lofty emotion. That the thing was in itself right she does not venture to assert, but recognizes the supreme power of the Oriental despot. As a mountain torrent, swollen by the winter rains, sweeps away the feeble dykes which were intended to impede its overwhelming progress; so the lofty passion which inspired her heart made Esther oblivious of her own claims upon the king. Lest she should injure her plea, she does not stop to insist upon absolute right; but asks as a favour what might have been demanded as an act of justice. She was the wise counsellor, and Ahasuerus was the fool; and yet she descends even below his level. Yet if her language was becoming in her lips when she addressed only an earthly monarch, much more is such submission suitable on the lips of a Christian. Possibly many an earnest prayer meets with no Divine “I will” in answer, because what ought to have been asked as a favour is demanded almost as a right. Our ignorance, which knows not what is expedient,—our folly, which wishes for injurious comforts,—and our guilt, which takes away all merit from our prayers,—are all arguments for humility. Above all is the example of our Lord, who prayed “Thy will be done.”
II. A great passion consecrates personal gifts. “If I be pleasing in his eyes.” What treasures of wealth, genius, and affection have been laid on the altar of patriotism! Even for a shilling a day men will be found ready to die rather than submit to the dishonour of their flag. No need to travel back to either Jewish or Roman history for illustrations of the text. The grand valour of the Dutch in their wars against Spain, or the countless deeds of daring performed on many a desperate field by British troops, show that every generous heart holds the country dearer than the life. Equally wonderful the triumphs of faith! Elliott and Brainard, Martyn and Schwartz, were animated by the same passion for the heavenly that inspired Esther for the earthly kingdom. So the Cobbler of Leicestershire conquered the difficulties of forty dialects in order that, beneath the shadow of ancient temples or high on the slopes of swelling hills, he might preach Christ to the people of India. So Howard, or Wilberforce, or Livingstone were equally inspired by Christ with the grand enthusiasm of humanity.
III. A great passion creates a delicate tact. “Let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman.” Thus, with all a woman’s subtle insight into the heart, she does not remind the king of his share in the iniquity; she only speaks of the sin of Haman. A lower level of patriotism might have reproached the king with his own folly; but in her lofty zeal for her people she avoids all manner of reproach. It will be time enough for reproaches when her petition has failed. If the king will not undo the wrong that he has done, then she will cast in her lot with her kindred, and fling the king’s favours back in his face. Meanwhile she builds for him a bridge of gold. Many seem more anxious to reprove the sinner than to remove the sin. Accordingly they are full of invective, and the sinner “turns away in a rage.” Those who are pleading for Christ need, along with other noble gifts, a delicate tact. It is easy to make the sinner cry, “What! am I to beg and pray like a beaten child? No! Let Divine vengeance fall. Terror shall not make me afraid.” And truly if hell were the only motive of the Gospel there would be some reason in the bitter words. But as Esther pleaded delicately for her people, so the preacher should plead wisely for his Master. Men are oftener to be led than driven; as flies are caught by honey rather than by vinegar.
IV. A great passion is called up by a great occasion. “How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people?” It is sometimes said as an objection to Christianity that the Bible does not teach the duty of patriotism. But by example it does. The example of our Lord as he wept over the city is a supreme instance. Here is the example of Esther. (α) Patriotism is a noble sentiment. It arises above the natural selfishness that confines affection in narrow limits, and extends to all the nation. It burns more brightly in a small brave nation than in a vast empire; so Athens, Judea, Montenegro were noted for this virtue. It feeds upon the noble traditions of the past, so that the example of a Washington becomes reproductive. It is injured by party faction, so that a nation torn in two by intestine strife is open to the arts of any invader. Often it is altogether destroyed by the vices of a ruler; thus, it is said that the Moors were introduced into Spain, and the English into Ireland, in order that certain nobles might revenge themselves upon their king. But this virtue never shines so brightly as in days of disaster. Motley’s ‘History of the Dutch Republic’ is a magnificent illustration of this principle. As Macaulay speaks of that stubborn British valour which never shines so brightly as at the close of a long and doubtful day; so true patriotism never flames up so high as when an invader’s foot is planted on our shores. Then a patriot may use the language of Pitt—“I would never lay down my arms; never! never! never!” (β) This virtue has corresponding dangers. As humility tends to cowardice, courage to recklessness, liberality to prodigality, so that Aristotle teaches that virtue is always a mean between two extremes; similarly patriotism tends to ostentation, to self-confidence, and injustice. A Roman pardoned any wickedness by which the territory or wealth of Rome was increased; Englishmen condone many a crime because it seems to be for the national advantage. Artifices which would rouse the derision of the whole country if they were to be perpetrated by the French, become sacred as soon as they are practised by statesmen of our own. (γ) Patriotism will some day be merged in a far wider sentiment. As the farmer sows two kinds of seed in the same field, and when the one which grows more rapidly has ripened and is cut down, then the other more slowly comes to maturity; so amid the thick growth of family and national affection there is slowly developing a far deeper and nobler passion, which will look forward to the day when, in all the earth, there shall be but one nation, whose king is Christ.
V. A great passion does not overlook family affection. “Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” The national sentiment arises first in the family; and as the domestic affections are pure and strong, or corrupt and weak, will be the growth or decline of the nation. In the great days of Rome divorces were unknown for centuries together; and as the family ties relaxed the whole empire became corrupt. As Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; so Esther could not separate herself from her people. The vine which hangs its rich clusters of grapes over some stately palace sends its roots far under the ground to perennial springs of water; and so, while Esther adorned the palace with her beauty, she still felt that she grew up out of a despised race of Jews who usually lived far away from the court. Humanly speaking, her whole virtue sprang from her adherence to her people. Distrust the man who treats lightly the claims of family and home. Family affection is essential to the State, is consecrated by Christianity; and here Esther becomes a type of Him who, though exalted to a nobler throne than that of Shushan, still remembers his kinsmen after the flesh.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 8:5-6
1. This petition Esther presents with much affection. She fell down at his feet and besought him with tears: every tear as precious as any of the pearls with which she was adorned. It was time to be earnest when the Church of God lay at stake. Let none be so great as to be unwilling to stoop, none so merry as to be unwilling to weep, when thereby they may do any service to God’s Church and people. Esther, though safe herself, fell down and begged with tears for the deliverance of her people.
2. She expresses it with great submission, and a profound deference to the king, and his wisdom and will. If it please the king, and if I have found favour in his sight. Even then when we have the clearest reason and justice on our side, and have the clearest cause to plead, yet it becomes us to speak to our superiors with humility and modesty, and not to talk like demandants when we are supplicants. There is nothing lost by decency and good breeding. As soft answers turn away wrath, so soft askings obtain favour.
3. She enforces her petition with a pathetic plea: “For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come upon my people?” Little comfort can I have of my own life if I cannot prevail for theirs: as good share in the evil myself as see it come upon them; for how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred that are dear to me? Esther, a queen, owns her poor kindred, and speaks of them with a very tender concern. Now it was that she mingled her tears with her words, that she wept and made supplication. We read of no tears when she begged for her own life; but now that she is sure of that, she wept for her people. Tears of pity and tenderness are the most Christ-like. They that are truly concerned for the public would rather die in the ditch than live to see the desolations of the Church of God and the ruin of their country. Tender spirits cannot bear to hear of the ruin of their people and kindred, and therefore dare not omit any opportunity of giving them relief.—M. Henry.
We should have sympathy for the oppressed brethren in the faith (1 Peter 3:8; Colossians 3:12; Galatians 6:10). The innocence of the guiltless should be protected (1 Samuel 20:32). He who has no pity for the pious and innocent when they are in danger is not worthy of the name of a man, much less that of a Christian; for we are members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:10).—Starke.
She had her life already given her at her petition; but unless she might have her people at her request, who were sold as well as herself, her life would be unto her a joyless, that is, a lifeless, life. It is rather a death than a life that is spent in heaviness and horror. And this would be Esther’s case if her people should be massacred, as was designed and decreed.… How can I? and shall I see? how should I do otherwise than sink at the sight? Melancthon said that the good Œcolampadius died of grief for the Church’s calamities. Nehemiah was heart-sick for the breaches of Joseph. Moses wished himself expunged, and Paul accursed, rather than it should go ill with God’s people.—Trapp.
Indeed there is no sublimity of human character to equal that which is reached in such a mood. Take the greatest men who have lived, in their greatest moments, you will find that either they are in this mood or in one not far removed from it. Morally, the grandest act in the life of Moses, to our thinking, is not to be found on the granite peaks of Sinai amid the thunders, and the darkness, and the flames; nor on Pisgah, with the far-stretching land of promise lying in light before him; but when grieved, and humbled, and disappointed with the idolatries of the people, and yet clinging passionately to them still, he threw himself before God as their intercessor, crying, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin; yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin,—and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” If I fail in this I fail in everything. Life itself will hardly be desirable any longer. If this people for whom I have lived is to die, let me die with them, and let us all be forgotten together.
David could sing with loud voice to the praise of God. He could cry to him in the lonely wilderness by night until his voice echoed among the rocks and hills. He could fight at the head of the bravest. He could sometimes magnanimously spare the life of an enemy, even when, by sacrificing that life, his own advancement would be promoted. But among all the moods of his life, none, probably, is really diviner than that which is expressed in these words, written apparently while his heart was melted, while his tears were flowing,—“Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.”
St. Paul, often great in this greatness, is never more conspicuously so than when he declares that he has “great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart,” and that he “could wish that himself were accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh.” Like Esther, his cry is, “How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?”—only his meaning covers the spiritual and the eternal, Esther’s only affecting this time-life.
But the really perfectly sublime of this condition or state is found only in the Master, who not only wished and desired the good of all, and lived promoting it, but actually died for us; gave life for life, the just for the unjust—redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. Oh for a love of race-kindred like that of Esther; for a love of country like that of David; for a love of souls like that of Christ!—Raleigh.
It was with great earnestness and evident marks of affection that Esther urged the king to interpose his authority to prevent the execution of the bloody decree. “She fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears.” We have here a bright example of female patriotism. At her first appearance we read of nothing of this kind. Then she was a party concerned,—and, with the dignity which became a queen, and one of an injured and innocent race, she pled her cause, and boldly arraigned the enemy and adversary. But now, her own life having been secured, she appears as an intercessor and advocate for others. Her whole soul was embarked in the cause which she had undertaken—very different from a man of law, or one who engages to act the part of his client for fee and reward. She “preferred Jerusalem above her chief joy.” When her own life was in danger she bent no knee, she shed no tear; but now she weeps and makes supplication, and refuses to rise from the ground unless her people are given at her request. To obtain this there is no humiliation to which she will not submit, no entreaty that she will not employ. She will not separate herself from her kindred, and, like the wife of Phinehas,* cannot think of surviving the destruction of her people. “For how,” she exclaims, “can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people, or how shall I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?”
The true patriot is ready to sacrifice everything for the public weal; he prefers public to personal interests, and would rather die than witness the desolations of the church of God and the ruin of his country. Such was the patriotism of Moses:—“Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”† And such was the patriotism of the New Testament Moses, the Apostle Paul: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh;”‡—a passage, the beauty of which is not half seen unless it is compared with the close of the preceding chapter, in which we find the Apostle exulting in the love of God, and declaring his persuasion that nothing could separate him from Christ. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us.” But what all these things could not do, singly or together, his love for his brethren would have induced him to undergo. “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ (separated from his love) for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”—McCrie.
At no time was Esther more beautiful than when, with tearful eye, at the king’s feet, she besought him to pity her brethren. And no prayer of yours will be wafted more acceptably to the heavenly throne than that which, with thankfulness for good you have yourselves received, and pressing, tender desire for the good of others, you present for the salvation of those who will not and cannot pray for themselves.—Davidson.
It is a good sign, when we feel an interest in the welfare of those related to us, and when we can with importunity invoke the blessings of God upon them. Thus did Esther. She was not more earnest for herself than for her people. Thus did Jeremiah. “Oh that mine eyes were fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of my people.” Thus felt Jesus. “When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it.” Thus felt St. Paul. He poured out his very soul for his people, the Jews, though they persecuted him, and tried to effect his destruction. He tells us, that he “had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart” at their folly and wickedness in rejecting Christ, and that his “heart’s desire and prayer unto God for them was, that they might be saved.”
Brethren, are we thus minded? Esther fell down at the king’s feet for her people. Have you done so for your relatives and friends? She wept at the temporal ruin which was coming upon them. Have you wept at the eternal ruin to which your unbelieving friends are exposed? She said, “How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?” Have you said, “My parents are dark and careless, Oh what heaviness I have in my heart on account of their spiritual indifference! My children give no signs of grace. They ‘remember not their Creator in the days of their youth,’ all remonstrances, admonitions, and persuasions are lost upon them. They will have their own way,—‘How can I endure the destruction of my children?’ Lord, enlighten them; Lord, arrest them in their career of sin and folly. Make them, like Obadiah, ‘to fear God from their youth.’ Deliver them from youthful follies and vanities. Bring them to the Saviour, that they may be among thy ransomed ones for ever. ‘Oh that’ my children ‘might live before thee!’ ”—Hughes.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Esther 8:5. Ask and receive. Sir Walter Raleigh one day asking a favour from Queen Elizabeth, the latter said to him, “Raleigh, when will you leave off begging?” To which he answered, “When your Majesty leaves off giving.” Ask great things of God; expect great things from God; let his past goodness make us “instant in prayer.” Esther kept on begging till she had secured a position of security for her countrymen. So great was her earnestness that she besought even in tears. Not for herself, but for her country she now prayed to the king. She was an earnest and powerful intercessor. Not so powerful, however, as the great Intercessor; he is a more powerful Pleader, and he approaches a more powerful and more liberal King, even the King of heaven.
Esther 8:6. Patriotism. A Corsican gentleman, who had been taken prisoner by the Genoese, was thrown into a dark dungeon, where he was chained to the ground. While he was in this dismal situation, the Genoese sent a message to him, that if he would accept a commission in their service, he might have it. “No,” said he; “were I to accept your offer, it would be with a determined purpose to take the first opportunity of returning to the service of my country. But I would not have my countrymen even to suspect that I could be one moment unfaithful.” Esther in the same spirit asks, How can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?
Patriot’s duty. When Burnet first began to grow eminent in his profession of the law, he went down to visit his father in Wiltshire. One day, as they were walking in the fields together, the father observed to him that men of his profession were apt to stretch the prerogative of the Crown too far, and injure liberty; but charged him, if he ever came to any eminence in his profession, never to sacrifice the laws and liberty of his country to his own interest or the will of his prince. He repeated this twice, and immediately fell into a fit of apoplexy, of which he died in a few hours; and this advice had so lasting an influence upon the son that he ever after observed and pursued it. Esther preferred the interests of her country before her own aggrandisement.
Spartan patriotism. A Lacedæmonian mother had five sons in a battle that was fought near Sparta, and, seeing a soldier that had left the scene of action, eagerly inquired of him how affairs went on. “All your five sons are slain,” said he. “Unhappy wretch!” replied the woman; “I ask thee not of what concerns my children, but of what concerns my country.” “As to that, all is well,” said the soldier. “Then,” said she, “let them mourn that are miserable. My country is prosperous, and I am happy.”
Esther wept over the sorrows of her country, and could not rest till she saw her countrymen delivered from impending dangers.
Disinterested loyalty. After the battle of Ivry, Henry IV. of France, being very much in want of money, asked one of his most trusty courtiers where he could procure some. The courtier mentioned a rich merchant’s wife, who was a zealous royalist. The monarch in disguise immediately accompanied his courtier on his visit to the lady, Madame le Clerc, who received them with great hospitality, and congratulated them on the success of the king’s arms. “Alas, madam,” replied the courtier, “to what purpose are all our victories? We are in the greatest distress imaginable. His Majesty has no money to pay his troops; they threaten to revolt and join the League. Mayenne will triumph at last.” “Is it possible?” exclaimed Madame le Clerc; “but I hope that will not afflict our sovereign, and that he will find new resources in the loyalty of his subjects.” She then quitted the room, but soon returned with several bags of gold, which she presented, saying, “This is all I can do at present. Go and relieve the king from his anxiety. I wish him all the success and happiness he deserves. Tell him to be confident that he reigns in the hearts of his subjects, and that my life and fortune are, and ever will be, at his disposal.” The king could no longer conceal his incognito. “Generous woman,” he cried, “my friend has no occasion to go far to tell his Majesty the excellence of your heart; here he stands before yon, and is a witness to it. Be assured that the favour will be indelibly engraven on the heart of your prince.” From that time success attended the king, and when he was master of the capital, and safely seated on the throne, he sent for Madame le Clerc, and, presenting her to a full and brilliant court, said, “You see this lady, who is a true friend of mine. To her I owe all the successes of my last campaigns. It was she who lent me money to carry on the war when the troops threatened to abandon me.”
Mordecai and Esther were loyal both to King Ashasuerus and to the race of the Jews. Haman’s fall was a blessing both to the king and to the nation. The extermination of the Jews would have been a great disaster.
Esther 8:7.] The answer of Ahasuerus is a refusal, but one softened as much as possible. He first dwells on the proofs he bad just given of his friendly feeling towards the Jews; he then suggests that something may be done to help them without revoking the decree. Finally, he excuses himself by appealing to the well-known immutability of Persian law.—Rawlinson. Sheltering his imbecility behind the immutability of the law, the king commits the work of saving the Jews to the wit of Mordecai; but reminds him that his device shall stand. Thus Ahasuerus prepares the way for a most fearful conflict of laws. “The suggestion of Ahasuerus quickened the inventive powers of Esther and Mordecai. The scribes were at once summoned, and a decree issued, not revoking the former one, but allowing the Jews to stand on their defence, and to kill all who attacked them. It has been pronounced incredible that any king would thus have sanctioned civil war in all the great cities of his empire; but some even of the more sceptical critics have pronounced that Xerxes might not improbably have done so.”—De Wette. Besides, there would be no slaughter at all if their enemies did not first attack the Jews. The probability was, that, when the Jews were permitted to arm themselves and stand on the defensive, there would be no conflict at all. But the result showed, that, in many parts of the empire, the heathen attempted to destroy the Jews in spite of the edict—Whedon.
Esther 8:8. Snow and the king’s edict. Here, a second time in the history of Artaxerxes, we have a proof of the felt inconvenience of that law, which despotism itself could not set aside. Gladly would the king be a party to the practical defeating of the object of it; but in its literal acceptation it must stand.
It is said that something like the principle of the unchangeableness of the purposes of the kings of Persia has been preserved in that country even till recent times. And a circumstance may be here alluded to in illustration of this, which although somewhat strange and almost ludicrous, yet does bear some resemblance to the difficulty in which Artaxerxes felt himself place I between the unalterable law, and the willingness which he displayed at the same time to get quit of the obligation to observe it literally. A Persian king, who reigned not very many years ago (Aga Mahmed Khan), having set out upon a military expedition, and encamped in a place convenient for his purpose, gave forth his edict that the encampment should not be removed until the snow had disappeared from the neighbouring mountains. The season was severe. The snow clung to the mountains longer than usual, and in the mean time the army became straitened for supplies. Here was an unexpected difficulty. The king’s appointment must stand, but the result was likely to be ruinous. To avert the difficulty, then, a vast multitude of labourers were despatched to clear away as far as they could the snow that was visible from the camp; and with their aid, and the help of a few days of sunshine, the snow disappeared, and then immediately the army was put in motion.—Davidson.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 8:7-8
A MONARCH’S IMBECILITY
Weak men usually trust to cunning. The lion leaps straight upon its enemy, but the fox has recourse to trick; and so the strong man, who knows his own purpose, boldly faces obstacles; while the weak employ indirect courses. Even an open lie may betray less feebleness of character than the mean evasions to which some men have resort. The one bespeaks a bold bad man, the other reveals a cowardly bad man. As a known enemy is always preferable to a treacherous ally; so the strong but wicked man is to be preferred to the weakling. The great qualities which the former will be likely to possess may win admiration; but the latter will be only despised. The fact is, that the weaker man is at heart as false as the other, but has not the courage to sin boldly. He therefore tries to cheat both God and the devil. The weakness of a weak man is never seen so clearly as after he has committed some palpable error. He does not manfully confess his mistake, but twists and shuffles till he persuades himself that his error was, at worst, a matter of necessity. Always distrust the man who is the victim of circumstances. Great men make their circumstances, and little men are made by them. Not unfrequently the path to heaven seems to lead only to a choice of difficulties. Our corrupt hearts and emasculated wills declare that virtue is impossible, and that the only path open to us is one that leads through transgression. When the tradesman smooths over a palpable dishonesty by speaking of the necessities of trade; or when, in times of persecution, the timid confessor throws the incense upon the impious altars of idolatry; they are always ready to excuse the enormity of their sin by the force of the temptation: that is, they say they are tempted of God. But no circumstances can make the good man sin, or the really strong man bend. If, then, we have done evil, let us take our own share of the blame, and not cast it upon our circumstances. Yet circumstances usually make a second sin easier than the first. In that downward path each step is accompanied by an increasing impetus; and thus sins of an enormity to shock the inexperienced become easily possible when other sins have prepared the way. As an army that is once beaten becomes by that very fact more likely to be defeated again, so a man who has once been mastered by temptation will be all the more likely to yield when next be is assailed. Thus Ahasuerus finds that his wicked compliance with Haman has enwrapped him in difficulty. A good man could never have fallen so low; a wise man could never have been so foolish; and a strong man could never have descended to such a monstrous device. He was unable to resist the pleading of Esther; and therefore his course was boldly to disavow his infallibility. Let him convene an assembly of notables, manfully confess his error, and henceforth declare that the laws of Persia could be altered. But this was too brave a course. To confess an error would shake the national respect for authority. He therefore pleads his circumstances, and rather than acknowledge an error, plunges the whole empire in danger of civil war. Even this responsibility he does not fully assume. The weakling throws upon Mordecai the duty of contriving a remedy against his own mistakes.
I. A weak man’s self-defence. “I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hands upon the Jews.” Even if the whole race of the Hebrews perish, the king had proved his affection for Esther by endowing her with the wealth, and sacrificing to her the life, of her enemy. Wonderful devotion! He had given what cost him nothing; he had hanged a man of an alien race! Surely these Oriental monarchs prove that “lust dwells hard by hate.” His love for Esther was simply a passion which had not yet spent its novel force; and her beauty was rewarded by the life of her foe. Ahasuerus was unworthy of his queenly wife. She is inspired with profound tenderness for her people; and he appeases her patriotism by the execution of a foe. Yet what would the wealth of Haman benefit Esther when her heart was broken for her murdered kinsmen? There are griefs which wealth cannot solace, and which vengeance cannot forget. Better a thousand Hamans alive than one Jew murdered. Yet, clearly, the monarch fancies that Esther will pardon the edict which he has signed because of the punishment which he has meted out. He sees that he has exposed himself to the hatred and contempt of his fair wife by yielding to the devices of Haman, and therefore he offers her the life of her enemy as a proof of his devotion. How much nobler had he said, “Oh, queen, I have weakly allowed myself to be led to the verge of a great wickedness; now that my eyes are open to my folly, I must in some way reverse the decree.” But he was too weak. With a maudlin tenderness, like that of a drunken man, while she is inspired with an almost Divine passion of patriotism, he pleads his affection for her person. Surely Esther despised him in her heart. As if it was so easy to forget that he had agreed to murder all her race. Thus we have a great wickedness and a small propitiation. As if the hero of one hundred swindles flung a copper to a beggar; as if a cowardly murderer gave a crust to his victim’s orphan; as if a life-long sinner offered to God the compensation of a Sunday prayer; so Ahasuerus hopes that Haman’s death will make Esther unmindful of the wickedness devised against her kindred.
II. A weak man’s “non possumus.” “That which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s seal, may no man reverse.” What I have written I have written. Rulers too often say, “Thus I order; let my will stand instead of a reason.” Weakness and folly usually turn to obstinacy. He who is easily imposed upon at last takes a determined stand, and usually takes it in the wrong place. The determination of the wise is no way to be feared, for they will yield to right reason; but it requires a surgical operation to make an argument penetrate to the brain of a fool: hence the fool is obstinate, because he cannot understand. States also which take an immoveable stand upon the “wisdom of our ancestors” are in a fair way to ruin. Time is the great innovator, and therefore lapse of time brings vast changes into the body politic; and hence “he that will not apply new remedies, must expect new diseases.” So science continually takes new departures; and he who rested in the discoveries of a previous generation, would be the laughing-stock of his own. There is but one unchanging truth,—the revelation of Jesus Christ,—and even that assumes varying aspects. As the sun now draws near and now departs, now is glorious in mid-day, and yet soon leaves-us in darkness, while still himself unchanged and, as far as our earth is concerned, unmoved, so our holy religion is compelled to vary with the varying aspects of the times. Only the fool never learns wisdom. So Ahasuerus says, “Take it not amiss that I do not reverse the decree of Haman, for the king’s writing stands unaltered for ever.”
III. A weak man’s refusal of responsibility. “Write ye also for the Jews as it liketh you in the king’s name.” Having done the mischief, he commits to Mordecai the work of undoing it. Ahasuerus had already had proof of the folly of committing his power to the hands of his minister; but even experience will not make fools wise; he now trusts equal power to Mordecai. Doubtless the king was right in thus committing himself to the skill and loyalty of the new minister; doubtless, also, this minister did the best possible for him to do in the circumstances; but if the king had bestirred himself in a true kingly manner, as already suggested, it would not have been necessary to deluge the land with blood. Few evils are more ruinous to a State than the dread of responsibility. It leads speedily to anarchy. A monarch who never decides, a general who fears to take prompt and vigorous action, a statesman who dares not step beyond the line of musty precedent, are greater curses to a land than even open wickedness. In this world folly and weakness are often punished more severely than sin.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 8:7-8
Esther 8:7. Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews. The king could not grant to Esther everything that she requested. But he assures her, that it was not for want of good will either to herself or to her people that he did not in direct terms reverse the decree procured by Haman. His love to Esther appeared in the rich present of the confiscated estate of Haman. His good wishes to her people appeared in the ignominious death of their capital enemy. But kings cannot do everything. The most noble and potent prince in the world had not the power of rescinding his own decrees, however desirous he might be of undoing foolish things done by himself.
Esther 8:8. Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s ring: for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse. The king himself could not reverse it; and therefore we find that Darius the Mede laboured in vain till the going down of the sun to save Daniel from the lions’ den, and passed a miserable sleepless night in the anguish of a fruitless repentance for passing a mischievous law, which he could not abolish. The Persians thought their kings highly honoured in that their decrees were inviolable. But this honour, like some others enjoyed by absolute princes, was a burden too heavy to be borne by mortals. It precluded them from the comforts of repentance, too often necessary for vain men, who, though they would be wise, are born like the wild ass’s colt.
The king, therefore, could not give Esther and Mordecai a warrant to pass an act rescissory of his own decrees against the Jews. But he allows them to frame a decree in his name, and to seal it with his ring, for counteracting its effects. As the first decree retained its force, the king could not legally punish those wicked enemies of the Jews, who might take the advantage of it to gratify their malice. Their murders were already legalized by a decree that could not be altered. But a law for the protection of the Jews, which did not rescind the former, might possibly be devised by the wisdom of Mordecai; and to establish such a law the king gave him his ring. He had been too ready on the former occasion to lend his authority; but now he commits it to a safe hand, and under necessary restrictions. He gave his ring to Haman to seal a bloody decree; he now gives it to Mordecai to seal a just and necessary decree for the preservation of many precious lives. The inviolability of the king’s decrees, which gave him so much trouble by guarding the wicked laws procured by Haman, would guard the intended decree from violation.—Lawson.
It was a fundamental article in the constitution of Persia, that a law once enacted was irrevocable. A most preposterous provision! and worse than preposterous—irrational and unrighteous. Of all the absurdities into which nations have fallen in their systems of legislation, especially where the power is entrusted to the arbitrary will and caprice of a single individual, this is the most absurd—giving perpetuity and effect to every species of injustice and oppression and cruelty, proceeding on the presumptuous assumption of infallibility, and arrogating the right which belongs exclusively to the Supreme Being, who cannot do wrong, all whose enactments are necessarily founded in truth and rectitude, and “the righteousness of whose testimonies is everlasting.” This arrogance of the Persian despots has never been equalled, except by the claim to infallibility set up by “the man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” No human authority, civil or sacred, whether exercised singly or collectively, is free from error, and consequently its decisions and enactments must always be subject to review and reversal. Some laws may be morally unalterable, in consequence of their being founded on the eternal principles of rectitude and justice, so that the repeal of them would be unjust and morally wrong; but this does not belong to them simply as human laws, with respect to all of which the maxim of our law holds good—the legislature which enacts can annul.—McCrie.
The absurdity of the Persian law, that a decree once passed was unrepealable, has been often commented upon. It has been said that it was the assumption of a prerogative which was to be exercised by God only, and that it rests with him alone to say what can never be altered. But whilst this is true on the side of the Divine infallibility, we have instances in which God provides for the reversal of his threatening and solemn affirmation, when the people, against whom these are made, change in their relation and conduct towards himself. Nineveh was to be destroyed in forty days from the time that the prophet uttered the proclamation in its streets; but when the inhabitants bowed themselves to the earth in deep penitence and humility, the time was allowed to expire without the judgment having been inflicted. But the law of Persia would not have permitted even of this suspended action. It took no account of altered circumstances. By his own act the king rendered himself helpless to defend those who might, as in the case of the Jews, have been hastily and rashly condemned to death. No allowance was made for mistakes in judgment, inadvertence, or what might turn out to be bad legislation. Besides the presumption involved in such a law, as though the king could do no wrong, it must often have led to great injustice and cruelty. What, for example, was Artaxerxes now to do? He would gladly have yielded to Esther’s pleading. He clearly apprehended the unrighteousness of the decree which had been issued, and could not fail to look with dismay on the consequences which would result from its being carried into effect. Nevertheless, all that he could do in the face of this pretentious and foolish law was to leave the matter in the hands of Mordecai and Esther to make another edict “as it liketh you,” which might not cancel the former one, however much it should have this design, and which, when passed, would be equally irreversible.—McEwen.
For ill to man’s nature, as it stands perverted, hath a natural motion strongest in continuance; but good, as a forced motion strongest at first. Surely every medicine is an innovation, and he that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator; and if time of course alter things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel do not alter them to the better, what shall be the end?—Bacon.
The greatest tyranny that ever was invented in the world is the pretence of infallibility, for Dionysius and Phalaris did leave the mind free, pretending only to dispose of body and goods according to their will; but the Pope, not content to make us do and say what he pleaseth, will have us also to think so, denouncing his imprecations and spiritual menaces if we do not.—Isaac Barrow.
Esther 8:10.] Posts on horseback. On horseback, on coursers, government coursers, the sons of the stud.—Keil. Sent letters by posts] This is one of many intimations in this book calculated to engage the attention of those who take interest in studying the progress of society in the arts of convenience and civilization. The testimony of the Greek writers coincides with this, in directing our attention to Persia for the origin of posts and couriers. It is said, that, when the empire became so vast, as in the time of Cyrus, that monarch thought of a plan for facilitating the exchange of communicating between the court and provincial governments. After having ascertained how far a good horse might go in a day with ease and expedition, he caused stables to be erected at the determined distances throughout his dominions, each with a suitable establishment of horses, and men to take care of them. There was also a post-master at each of these stages, whose duty it was to receive the packets as they arrived, and immediately despatch them with fresh horses and couriers. Thus the posts travelled night and day, without intermission; and hence it was proverbially said that they flew faster than cranes. The expedition with which the king was enabled by this process to obtain intelligence from, and forward edicts to, the remotest parts of his empire, astonished the ancient world. Their admiration resembled that with which European travellers regarded the posting establishments of the Mongol empire, which seems to have been similar to that of the ancient Persians. There is a full and interesting description of it in ‘Marco Polo’ (ii. 90), a few particulars of which may serve to complete the idea of Oriental establishments of this class. From the capital (Kambalu) roads extended to every part of the empire, having post-houses, with suitable furniture, at every twenty-five or thirty miles. There were altogether ten thousand of these stations, with two hundred thousand horses. The post rode two hundred, and sometimes two hundred and fifty, miles in a day, on occasions of rebellion in the provinces, or other urgent matters. There were other stations, consisting of a few dwellings, three or four miles asunder, occupied by runners or foot-posts, who, being girded, ran as fast as horses (see the note on 1 Samuel 8:11). These, in dark nights, ran before the horsemen with links to light them along; they also carried letters, mandates, and parcels, to or from the khan, who thus received news or fruit in two days from places ten stages distant, as from Kambalu to Shangtu. Similar establishments are still kept up in China and Japan.—Kitto.
Esther 8:11.] But would not the Jews have defended themselves without any such order from the king? They could expect nothing but death in any case, and, therefore, would have fought with the energy of despair. True, but this edict allowed them to arm and prepare for self-defence. But for this edict, any movement towards self-defence would have been crushed at the very outset. A spasmodic defence with empty hands would have accomplished nothing; but the king’s decree enabled the Jews to arm and gather into companies.—Whedon (abridged).
Esther 8:14. Being hastened] There were still eight months; but the messengers were hastened that the enemies might be warned not to make any attack, and that the Jews might everywhere have ample time to prepare themselves for self-defence.—Whedon.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 8:9-14
IN the conduct of life wisdom is often as necessary as virtue; hence our Lord commands his followers to be wise as serpents, while they are harmless as doves. Indeed folly will ruin an earthly career as effectually as vice. Thus to have a good cause, and to fight manfully for it, are not sufficient in any conflict: the general needs skill in the arrangement of his troops, and also a sharp eye to discern his enemy’s mistakes. Equally in the battle of life we need the open eye, as well as the strong hand, or the brave heart. It is only folly which says, that, as God is righteous, and must therefore be on the side of the righteous, righteousness alone is necessary for success. This may be true on that large scale which takes eternity into the account, but here upon earth it is not true. As our supreme Judge requires at our hands the cultivation of the intellectual as well as of the moral attributes of our nature, he wisely makes much of our earthly success dependent on our skill. Thus a righteous imbecile will often fail, where a skilful scoundrel succeeds. In the case of nations this principle is even more conspicuous. Nations have no hereafter. They are judged here and now. An individual may be righteous and miserable; but a nation must be exalted by virtue. So manifestly is this principle written on the pages of history, that one of the leading philosophers of our century does not scruple to write, “The cause which succeeds is that which has deserved to succeed.” It follows, that in matters of legislation wisdom and righteousness are almost synonymous; but if we could imagine a ruler who was himself utterly immoral, while yet his large intellect guided him wisely in national affairs, such a monster would yet prove a blessing to his country. At times, however, the folly and wickedness of the legislature are equally conspicuous. When most European nations oppressed the Jews; when Spain so cruelly drove out the industrious Moors; or when France expelled those Huguenots who were the very brain and heart of her middle classes, it seems wonderful that no one propagated the maxim, that “What is morally wrong can never be politically expedient.” In times like these a statesman who is both wise and righteous finds a noble opportunity. It is for him to resist the passions of the mob, to devise means whereby the oppressed may be relieved, and to open a highway leading to the fair fields of national greatness. Such was the work now committed to Mordecai. It was his part to undo the folly of the monarch and the wickedness of the minister. Ahasuerus committed to him the task of reversing the mischief devised by Haman the Agagite.
I. A sudden decree. The right of self-defence, which in some aspects of it may be called a sacred inheritance, is generally held in abeyance in civilized states. If every man defended himself from attack, and was the avenger of his own wrongs, society would become impossible. This right is usually yielded up to the government; yet there are always extreme cases, in which this right reverts back to the original owner. So the laws allow of homicide when a burglar, within the house at night, threatens the life of a peaceful inhabitant; or if a traveller, assailed by a garotter, with the first weapon which comes to hand inflicts a fatal wound, he would usually be held guiltless. In England homicide is said to be justifiable: (α) To prevent the commission of a crime which, when committed, would be punishable with death; and also (β) In necessary endeavours to carry the law into execution, as in suppressing riots, or apprehending malefactors. Probably, also, the defence of chastity, which approaches nearest to the preservation of life, would be held to justify the same extremities. Now with men of a western race, at least with men of the brave Teutonic stock, there would be no need to say to those whose lives were assailed that they might defend their right to live. Possibly, however, with sleepy Orientals, oppressed with a sense of the magnitude of the empire, there might be some occasion for a stirring decree. Remembering how cheaply men will sell their lives in China, it seems not improbable that the sentence of Haman would strike the Jews into a dull stupor, from which they needed to be aroused. Yet the decree granted much more than this. It gave first the right of association. When the Jews banded together in armed companies, no heathen ruler of a province could compel them to disarm. Hence, when the fatal day arrived they were ready for their foes. History records, that after the Huguenots had met their foes in battle on many a hard-fought field, they fell a prey to secret and solitary assassination: thus the grand old Coligni, who had no equal on the field, was ruthlessly murdered in his own chamber. From this danger the Jews were delivered. Thanks to the decree, on the thirteenth day of Adar the Jews were able to say to their foes, the motto of the Napiers, “Ready, ay, Ready.” Then, secondly, the decree was an act of indemnification. No Jew, who slew his foe in self-defence, need fear that he would have to give an account in the courts of justice. Those who were killed were beforehand pronounced justly killed. There was also a third result doubtless contemplated by Mordecai. No one would die who did not deserve to die, because, after this decree, no one would attack the Jews who was not madly animated with the love of blood and plunder. Orderly citizens would keep the peace; but the sequel shows how terribly Haman had aroused the passions of the mob. No foe so terrible as an excited mob; it resembles that herd of swine possessed by the unclean spirit. One passion, one soul, one wild spirit seems to animate the mass; and the vile mobs of Persia rushed violently upon their own ruin.
II. A royal sanction. Even in the records of Oriental imbecility, it may be doubted whether ever monarch betrayed more besotted folly. How different the records of the East, where one benevolent imbecile succeeds to another bloated sensualist, from the picture painted by our poet Laureate. He tells how statesmen knew how to make the bounds of freedom wider yet, by shaping some august decree, and how freedom widened slowly down from precedent to precedent. Oriental despotism is a pyramid on its apex. As if the monarch were some Epicurean deity, who was wrapt up in selfishness, but could curse all mankind, the whole multitude of the nation living for his glory or for his luxury. In a lively apologue, a domestic bird moralizes on his own importance. For him suns rise and set; for him tides ebb and flow; to provide for his comfort the race of men exist; and thus the whole universe is employed catering for the happiness of one exalted goose So Oriental monarchs fancy that they are the world. But the theory that the world is governed by kings and statesmen begins to fade away. The country belongs to the people who have made it, and not to the monarch who has been accidentally uplifted above his fellows. Every child has a right to happiness; has a right to an education; has a right to that career which suits his talents; and has a right to a voice in the affairs of state. The state is the private property, the exclusive manor, of no class of men whatever; and the world will not be at rest till this principle is everywhere confessed. Again, also, we must raise our cry against the folly which will not confess a mistake. Not to sin is the noblest lot; and next to that, whether for a nation or a man, is the bold virtue which dares to make restitution. Having taken a wrong position, Christianity demands that we retreat from it as soon as the mistake is discovered.
III. Swift messengers. Bad news proverbially travels fast; and so it is related that, after the Indian Mutiny, long before the tidings could possibly have reached England, strange rumours were current in London—rumours, alas, far surpassed by the real truth. Here good news travels fast, being hastened by the king’s commandment. The haste was demanded (α) in order to relieve the suspense of the Jews. Suspense paralyzes all exertion, and indeed a stunning defeat may be less injurious than long-continued anxiety. To the Jews these tidings would come like cold waters to the thirsty soul. When a vessel has been long becalmed beneath a sultry sky, when the slimy ocean has grown stagnant, and when no evening dews moisten the cracking timbers; or when the travellers of the desert have long been lost, when the cheeks are sunken, and the lips blackened by the continued thirst; let a cloud arise, and streams of rain descend, then men realize the sweetness of good news from a far country. Now, over all that mighty empire the Jew would see that God had not forgotten his covenant, but that he was still mindful of his chosen people Israel. From the banks of India’s mighty rivers, away across the deserts as far as the mountains of Rasselas, the cry would be heard, When the Lord turned again the captivity of Israel, we were like them that dream. Then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them, whereof they are glad. (β) This haste was required in order that the Jews might have full time to prepare. Lest the first decree should take effect, the people must have opportunity to concert schemes of self-defence. In the presence of so overwhelming a disaster as that with which they were threatened, solitary effort availed nothing. Union alone was strength. (γ) This haste also was a merciful warning to all the heathen. Before they were fairly aroused by the messengers of Haman they were admonished by the decree of Mordecai. To the more distant provinces we can fancy the messengers of mercy speeding onward, if haply they may overtake and pass by the messengers of death. So England to-day in her right hand carries to China the deadly opium, and then sends afterward swift messengers of mercy to preach the Gospel. Possibly, in the eyes of the all-wise God the folly of Ahasuerus, perched on his infallibility, is no greater than the folly of Britain murdering a whole empire for the sake of revenue. At least we may pray that the messengers of the modern Mordecai may undo the evil devised by the modern Haman.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 8:9-14
Now in the change wrought in Providence on the condition of the Jews, as well as in the work which was yet imposed upon them before they could deliver themselves from their enemies and establish themselves in the enjoyment of their own liberties and privileges, we have an illustration of God’s working in grace. He accomplishes for us in his grace what we could not do for ourselves. The Jews scattered throughout the Persian empire had no part in securing this second decree of the king. Though they had loudly protested against the cruel wrong which was being done to themselves and their families, yet would it all have gone for nothing; and had not the second decree been passed, apart altogether from their interference, they should all have perished when the day fixed had arrived. It came to them not as an achievement of their own, but simply as a gift. Whilst, however, it threw around them the favour and protection of the king, and did for them what they could not have done for themselves, yet had they to confront and beat down all the enemies who should rise up against them, and virtually gain a victory for themselves. They had to fight in the king’s name, and with the king’s weapons, and under the king’s mandate. The conquest was sure, but the battle might yet be severe. In like manner has God done for us, in Christ, what we could never have done for ourselves. We have in him pardon, reconciliation, and unmerited grace. We have in him the victory. But still have we to “fight the good fight of faith,” and to battle against every enemy who should seek our soul’s ruin. If it had not been for our deed of emancipation and salvation accomplished for us by Christ, when we were ignorant of it, and could have done nothing to forward or finish it, we should never have striven against our enemies, or had only struggled in vain. But on account of what has been done for us we have to be ready against our evil day, to be equipped in the armour of God, and to contend against our enemies in the King’s name and by his authority. There is not an evil passion or lust against which we are not called upon to do battle, not a temptation which we are not commanded to resist, not a spiritual adversary which we are not required to put forth all our energies to overcome. In our “evil day” we are summoned by our King to “stand for our lives,” and be prepared to war against our enemies as though the victory lay with ourselves. God helping us, we will do it! The issues are tremendous. The contention is not simply for the life of the body, but of the soul. Against our immortal life is every fiery dart levelled. The spoil which they would take from us is nothing short of our faith and hope in God, our security in Christ and preparedness for heaven. Let the people of God be always apprehensive of the “evil day,” and be ready on the instant to “stand for their lives.” The victory is theirs if they will only earnestly contend for it. Yield not an inch of ground. “No mercy!” is the war-cry of the foe. Man, woman, little ones, and spoil, must all be taken. “No surrender!” be our war-cry in reply. Everything saved, nothing lost. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”—McEwen.
“The posts were hastened by the king’s commandment.”—He was now made sensible of the great wrong he had done to the Jews, and made all possible haste to undo, as far as he could undo, what he had done. Are you sensible you have done wrong? Make haste, and delay not to repair the wrong, if it is in your power. How can you say that you repent of the evil that you have done, if you hold it fast? The light of nature teaches men that they ought, with the first opportunity, to put away the evil of their doings, and to redress the injuries done by their hands, or their tongues, or their pens. As soon as Jesus brought salvation to the house of Zaccheus, he said, “Lord, if I have wronged any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold.” Is it your intention, in some future part of your life, to compensate the wrongs you have done in the former part of it? But are you sure that you shall see another week, or even another day? Boast not thyself of to-morrow, unless a prophet of as much credit as Isaiah has brought a message from God, that some more years of life are allotted you.—Lawson.
The decree was given in the month Sevan, “the month of May,” says an old author, “when all things are in their prime and pride, and the earth chequered and entrailed with variety of flowers, and God is seen to be magnus in minimis—great in the smallest creatures. Then did the Sun of righteousness arise to these afflicted exiles with healing in his wings, like as the sunbeams did to the dry and cold earth, calling out the herbs and flowers, and healing those deformities that winter had brought upon it.”—Quoted by Dr. Raleigh.
If such anxiety was manifested for this newly-enacted law to be known throughout the empire, how much more anxious should we be to circulate the word of God throughout the world? If it was deemed so important that the Jews should know that they were allowed to withstand their enemies, how much more so is it that mankind should be informed of the strength and craftiness of their spiritual adversaries, of the armour with which they are to be clothed, and of the great Captain of salvation, under whose banners they shall crush them all, and enjoy the fruits of victory in the kingdom of heaven for ever! And if it was deemed of such moment that the decree should be “written unto every people, after their language,” how should we rejoice that the great charter of salvation has been translated into so many of the languages of the earth, and that a copy of the Scriptures goeth forth into distant parts of the world for every moment that passeth away! May these Divine writings be blessed to the hastening of the reign of Christ, “from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same!”—Hughes.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Esther 8:10. Sealing letters. The authenticity of a merchant’s letters, as of his bills, depends entirely upon the seal. It is not usual to sign either; and they are not often written in the hand of the person who sends them; so that it is the seal which is of importance. Engraven upon it is the name and title, if he has one, of the person it belongs to, and the date when it was cut. The occupation of seal-cutter is one of much trust and some danger: he keeps a register of every seal he makes, and if one is stolen or lost by the party to whom he sold it, his life would answer for the crime of making another exactly the same. The person to whom it belongs, if in business, is obliged to take the two most respectable witnesses of the occurrence, and to write to his correspondents, declaring all accounts and business with his former seal null from the day upon which it was lost.—Biblical Museum.
Cheerful and beautiful for Christ. While your religion is impressive by its consistency, let it be attractive by its amiableness. Therefore, think upon and pursue whatsoever things are lovely and of good report. In excuse for the disagreeable tempers and the repulsive manners of some Christians, it is said that grace may be grafted on a crab-stock. Be it so. But instead of excusing the improprieties, the metaphor condemns. When a tree is grafted, it is always expected to bear fruit according to the scion, and not according to the stock: and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Nothing commends godliness more than cheerfulness. All men desire happiness; and if, while every other candidate for the prize fails, you succeed, your success may determine others to follow your envied course. Hence it is not very desirable that religion should be so often expressed by the word “seriousness.” Among many people, as soon as ever a man has become religious, it is said he is becoming “serious.” But does not religion also make him humble, and benevolent, and hopeful, and blessed? Why, then, should we select so exclusively for the designation of its influence an attribute or an effect which is common with many others, but yet the least inviting, and most liable to an injurious construction? I never use it; and if I were obliged to use any other term than religion itself, I would rather say the man was becoming happy.—Wm. Jay.
The Jews here had joy and honour. The Christian should always be in this condition.
Esther 8:15. Crown of gold] Not a crown like the king’s, but a mere golden band or coronet—Atarah.—Rawlinson. Royal apparel of blue and white. State garments such as became the grand vizier; royal robes of royal colours.—Whedon. It is well to compare this description of Mordecai’s appearance on leaving the palace with Xenophon’s description of the attire in which Cyrus himself appeared in public. “Cyrus himself then appeared, wearing a turban, which was raised high above his head, with a vest of a purple colour, half mixed with white; and this mixture of white none else is allowed to wear. On his legs he had yellow buskins; his outer robe was wholly of purple; and about his turban was a diadem or wreath” (Cyrop. viii. 3, 13). Every one of these things occur in the description of Mordecai’s royal attire, except the yellow buskins. Xenophon, however, adds, that the diademed turban was not peculiar to the king, but was allowed to his relations. This doubtless answers to the “great crown” which Mordecai wore. The description does not correspond with the appearance of the cap which the king wears in the sculptures of Persepolis. This difference, which has perplexed antiquarians, is probably owing to the fact that the sculptures represented the king as he usually appeared in his palace; whereas the description refers to his appearance when he went abroad, or on occasions of high state within-doors.—Kitto. The garments in which Mordecai left the king are evidently the State garments of the first minister, which Mordecai received at his installation to his office; and, as such, no fresh token of royal favour, but only his induction in his new dignity, and a sign of his induction to all who saw him issue from the palace so adorned.—Keil. City of Shushan rejoiced] That is, the inhabitants as a whole. They had probably deprecated the massacre awaiting the Jews, and perhaps apprehended with fear the great disorders and dangers that would ensue.—Lange.
Esther 8:16. The Jews had light] Light (this particular form of the noun occurs only here and Psalms 109:12) is a figurative expression for prosperity.
Esther 8:17. And many of the people became Jews] This must not be explained only, as by Clericus and Grotius, of a change of religion on the part of the heathen that they might procure the favour of the queen, and avert the wrath of Mordecai. This may have induced some; but the majority certainly acted from a conviction, forced upon them by the unexpected turn of affairs in favour of the Jews, of the truth of the Jewish religion, and the power of that faith and trust in God manifested by the Jews, and so evidently justified by the fall of Haman, and the promotion of Mordecai,—Keil.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Esther 8:15-17
DAYS OF REJOICING
AFTER a dark and stormy night, when the clouds have hidden every star, and the fierce winds have been howling over hill and dale, what gladness fills all animated nature as the sun arises in the East. He floods the valleys with his cheerful light, and kindles a blaze of glory upon the mountain-tops. Then the thief and assassin, with every unclean and loathsome creature, seek their hiding-place; then the honest artisan goes forth to his task until the evening; and then sweet concerts are heard in every grove. So after the days of national gloom came the morning of gladness to the Jews. Man’s extremity once again proved to be God’s opportunity. As when the breath of heaven sweeps onward through the open sky, and meets there with an easy reception, it creates little commotion; but when it meets the strength of a forest, the same wind grows mighty, and dwells there till it compels the tall trees to bow, and yield a triumphant passage over the top of all their glories. So in days of quiet, men pass easily along, and are barely conscious of the presence of God; but when affliction or persecution ariseth because of the Word, then God wonderfully interferes to save his chosen people, and even his foes are constrained to cry, “Galilean, thou hast conquered.” So had Jehovah vindicated the rights of his people, and compelled even the heathen to acknowledge that his ways were wonderful Days can never be so dark but that the sun may burst through the cloud; our difficulties can never be so great but that our Master can lift us above them all; and often “where sin has made a difficulty, grace has made a triumph.” Now Haman’s devices end in the exaltation of Mordecai, and the threatened destruction of the Jews leads directly to the enlargement of their nation.
I. Honour paid to a wise minister. The once despised Mordecai now issues from the palace clothed in royal apparel, and wearing a crown of gold. It is not always that a wise minister wins national honour. Every age has seen examples of great statesmen hurled from power by the vices of the great, or by the folly of the crowd. But happy is that country in which the poor wise man is not despised. (α) Such a man, placed at the head of the state, will not be blinded by personal vices. Frequently the dearest interests of a nation have been sacrificed to the luxury of the minister; but a man of virtue will always be on the watch for opportunities to serve his generation. (β) A great statesman, again, will not be biassed by selfish motives. To increase his own wealth or prestige, to promote the prosperity of family or party, or to injure the power of a rival, are desires never cherished in such a breast. It should be easier to turn the sun from his path than a statesman from the path of duty. (γ) A great statesman will recognize the supremacy of virtue. The will of God is his supreme law, and his final reward is the approval of that unseen Master. (δ) A great minister, once more, will live for the welfare of others. To raise the fallen, to vindicate the oppressed, to afford an asylum to the slave, to increase the food of the poor, to care for the education of the child, and to promote the glory of God—such is the noble vocation of a truly wise minister of state.
II. A nation rejoicing under the good minister’s shadow. “The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honour.” The Jews had (α) the joy of deliverance. The poet Spenser writes:—
Ease after war, port after stormy seas,
Rest after toil, death after life, doth greatly please.
So there is always joy in a sudden change from danger to safety. As a gentle mother prepares pleasant surprises for her child, so God’s providence frequently delights his people with a sudden change of prospect; and he who was in darkness now finds the light doubly precious. There was also (β) the joy of safety. The danger was not only postponed, but removed. Hitherto they had lived as strangers in a strange land, liable at any time to plots like those of Haman. Such has been the history of the Jews in every nation under heaven. Now, at least for a time, they were safe under the shadow of Esther the queen, and Mordecai the statesman. Every history tells how the liability to a crushing disaster unsettles the morals of a people, and drives men headlong into vice. Every man knows, also, from his own experience, how completely a sense of insecurity detracts from happiness. Hitherto the Jews had been like a man stood on a narrow plank over a yawning chasm. A false step, a sudden breeze, or a weak spot in the board, will precipitate him into the abyss. But now the Jews were standing on a massive rock, and were able to look back on the danger from which they were escaped. (γ) They had also the joy and honour of large accessions. A man’s faith redoubles in intensity when he can persuade others to believe it; and the Jews’ confidence in their national glory would wonderfully increase when they saw the heathen offering themselves as converts to the true faith.
III. The triumph of religion. “Many of the people of the land became Jews.” So always wise rulers may be as nursing fathers to the Church. Multitudes are led by the example of the great; many may be only influenced by the desire for worldly prosperity, and some will be genuine converts. Without the imputation of any sinister motives, two valid reasons can be assigned for this sudden development of Judaism. (α) Many are influenced only by visible signs. Now this wonderful interposition of providence on behalf of the Jews would be to many a sufficient proof that God was on their side. (β) Others, of a nobler sort, might first hear of Judaism as a power in the State through the very tumults excited by Haman. They would then inquire into the history and claims of this strange religion, and become convinced of its truth. Thus the wrath of man is made to praise God.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Esther 8:15-17
This narrative may teach us that in the darkest and most unpromising circumstances there is nearly always some way of relief and improvement. How seldom are things so in human life that literally nothing can be done! There is something unrepealable in all important human action. But there is also much that may be practically repealed. I think we may say that never, at any one time, in the history of a nation; never, in the life of an individual, are things so dark and bad that nothing can be done to amend and lighten them. On the contrary, this world, and the social and individual spheres of it, this whole mundane system, is constructed on the plan, so to say, of admitting, suggesting, prompting to, and furnishing, the means of continual recovery.
If this were not so, the world would soon be full of the most pitiable spectacles that could be conceived; communities and individuals sitting hopelessly amid the gloom of their own failures, amid the consequences of their own mistakes, amid the deepening unhappiness arising from the memory of their own sins—the strokes of penalty heard resounding on every side, the waters of misery rising silently and coldly within, while the long night of despair is deepening and settling without. Such pictures are not to be seen. There is indeed much suffering in the world; some of it penalty, and much of it not. And there are all kinds of calamities, and mischances, and unexpected and unsuspected griefs, and things that ought never to have happened, and things which fill you with sympathy, and pain, and profound regret, and perhaps indignation, as soon as you know them. And there are many mournful people who make the worst of them; or shall we say the best of them, for they really seem to find a kind of dismal enjoyment in seeing how bad they are, and in anticipating that they are going to be still worse.
But who knows not, also, that calamities and misfortunes are retrieved, that injuries are redressed, that mistakes are rectified? Who knows not that oppressions come to an end, and bloody wars, and other evil works? Yes, and those things are accomplished sometimes just when everything appears almost hopeless, and by means which do not seem at all sufficient or equal to the end.—Raleigh.
The joy felt by the Jews was greatly enhanced by the distress into which they had lately been plunged, and by the suddenness and strangeness of the transition. They felt like a sick man at the point of death, when he hears the voice, Deliver from going down to the pit; or like a criminal expecting the hour of his execution, when a pardon is put into his hand. They felt like their fathers when the Lord turned back the captivity of Zion; “they were like them that dream; their mouth was filled with laughter, and their tongue with singing.” And such, my friends, will be the feelings of the ransomed of the Lord, when they shall come to the heavenly Zion; the recollection of all that they have suffered here shall only serve to accent their happiness, and convert it into a joy unspeakable and full of glory. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”
The deliverances experienced in time by the Church and people of Jehovah are earnests of that felicity and glory which shall be enjoyed in the future world. But they are also productive of benefits in this life, which make them sources of joy and thanksgiving to all well-affected minds. Besides confirming weak disciples, and adding alacrity to the strong, they are often blessed for making converts, and inducing strangers to join themselves to the people of God. Thus it is written, “The Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.”*
These promises were partly fulfilled in consequence of the visible interposition of Divine providence, on the occasion referred to in the text. “Many of the people of the land became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.” They became proselytes to the Jewish religion (for no other meaning can be applied to the words, when the Jews were foreigners), renounced idolatry, and worshipped the true God. “When the Church prospers, and is smiled upon,” says a pious commentator, “many will come into it that will be shy of it when it is in trouble.” But we must not altogether despise such conversions. Though nothing but willing and cordial submission will advantage the souls of individuals, God can glorify himself, and Christ is glorified in the “professed subjection” of men. “Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me;” or, as it is in the margin, “shall yield feigned obedience unto me.”† Not fear, but love, is the principle of genuine and evangelical obedience. But the Spirit of God makes use of the natural principle of fear, in awakening persons to a concern about salvation. “Save yourselves from this untoward generation,” was an apostolical exhortation; and among the effects produced by the preaching and miracles of the primitive Church, this is particularly specified, that “fear came upon every soul;” and again, “great fear came upon all the Church, and upon as many as heard these things;” after which it follows, “and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” Amen.—McCrie.
Who could have believed that the contrivances of Haman for the destruction of the Jews would have terminated in the increase of their nation? The lovers of the name of the God of Israel would tremble at Haman’s devices, lest the name of Israel should be put out, and the worship of the God of Israel should be extirpated from the earth. But the revolution of a few weeks convinced them that their God was the same God that he had ever been; and that wherein his enemies dealt proudly, he was still above them. Death and destruction are in the hand of the Lord, and he can make them instrumental for the life, and for bringing about the safety, of his people. “Before him darkness becomes light, and sorrow is turned into joy. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and carrieth the devices of the froward headlong. So the poor have hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth.”—Lawson.
And many of the people of the land became Jews.—That is, they were proselyted, professing the Jewish religion, and siding with them; some in sincerity, doubtless, and some out of sinisterity, and for self-respects, because they saw the king favoured them, the queen and Mordecai were altogether with them and for them. So that mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38), moved with miracles, removed out of Egypt with the Israelites, took hold of the skirts of these Jews and said, “We will go with you.” So in David’s days, whilst he dealt prudently and prospered, so that he became the head of the heathen, a people whom he had not known submitted themselves unto him. The like they did in Solomon’s days, as Josephus relateth, as also that the people were then very careful how they received such prosperity-proselytes. So, many strangers followed the captives returning out of Babylon under the conduct of Zerubbabel; and many heathens joined themselves to the Christian congregations under Constantine, the first Christian emperor. The Huns, well-beaten by the Christians, concluded that their God was the true God, and received the gospel. Thus, whether it be in pretence or in truth (as St. Paul hath it) that people come in, God is glorified and his Church amplified, and the saints therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.—Trapp.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 8
Esther 8:17. House of joy.
I see a forest, dark, dim, deep, and dread,
Whose solemn shades no human foot or eye
Can penetrate; but now, oh, see! a veil
Falls from my strengthened eyes; and now
Even in its deepest centre I behold
A spot more beautiful than human heart
Can comprehend; it is the home of joy;
And there the blessed spirit broods for ever,
Making her dwelling-place a heaven; there
The skies are pure as crystal, and the eye
Looks through their clear expanse direct to God.
No sun is there; the air itself is light
And life; a rainbow spans it like a crown
Of tearless glory, and the forest trees
Sweep round it in a belt of living green.
Colour, that wayward sprite of changeful mien,
Is here subdued to an intensity
Of burning lustre. Sound has but one voice,
And that is joyous song; sight but one object,
And that is happiness; mine eyes are strained
To catch the lineaments of the bright queen
Whose dwelling-place I see; but tis in vain;
Nowhere distinct, yet felt in all, she glides,
A shape of light and colour, through the air,
Making its pure transparency to thrill
With the soft music of her viewless step.
A feast and a good day. These Jews had a feast and a good day, for they were delivered from the fear of their enemies. But surely we may go further, and picture them rejoicing because the righteous are vindicated, and the holy ones are now delivered from the hand of the oppressor. The nation may well rejoice when the righteous are exalted. God often gives to his people on earth a feast and a good day. Every Sabbath should be such a day. Every good day on earth should be a type of the unending feast and uninterrupted good day of heaven. And how transcendent the glory of that world where there shall be no more sin or imperfection, where we all unite in the song, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” “The glory of the Lord doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.” The idolatrous temple of Diana was so bright and splendid that the door-keeper always cried to them that entered it, “Take heed to your eyes.” But what faculties of vision must we have to behold the glory of the temple above! If it is said that the righteous themselves shall shine forth as the sun, what will be the splendour of the Eternal Throne! What a delightful change from this world of darkness and imperfection to that where all shall be light and glory!
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29