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The Preacher’s Complete Hosdmiletic
ON THE BOOK OF
By the REV. W. BURROWS, M.A.
Author of the Commentary on Romans
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY
LONDON AND TORONTO
BOOK OF ESTHER
INTRODUCTION AND PREFACE
THE BOOK IS CANONICAL
THE Book of Esther has been said to be not canonical, but the objectors are mainly found in later periods of the Church’s history. For the Jews have ever regarded this Book as canonical, and placed it on the same level with the law of Moses. Neither does there appear to be any foundation for the observation made by Baxter, in his ‘Saint’s Rest,’ that the Jews were accustomed to cast this Book to the ground, because the name of God was not in it. If, indeed, any such custom prevailed among the Oriental Jews, it must have been simply to express their hatred of Haman. The Jews believed that, whatever destruction might attend the other sacred writings, the Pentateuch and the Book of Esther would always be preserved by a special providence. This latter statement was the prophetic utterance of Maimonides, and so far it has not been falsified. This is a fact worthy of being carefully considered, that while many other writings have passed into oblivion, this story of Esther is still exerting an influence. The reasons, also, which may account for the preservation of other writings will not suffice to account for the continued existence of Esther; for it is not to be regarded as a standard work on history, though it gives a most faithful account of Persian customs. It does not record the advance of either science or philosophy, and on its pages are not impressed the glowing images of the poet’s mind. We may conclude that this little story of a captive Jewish maiden holds its place in the sacred writings because there is a Divine purpose in its preservation.
While its preservation may be due to Jewish patriotism, yet great deference is due to Jewish opinion and to Jewish custom; for to the Jews were committed the oracles of God. They are surely the greatest authorities on this subject, for they lived near the times when the events recorded took place. If then the Jews have put into our hands the Book of Esther as well as the Books of Moses, we must not let go our hold of those treasures which they have transmitted. This Book is canonical, showing the vanity and instability of earthly glory, giving a sublime example of self-sacrifice, and describing for our instruction a daring faith in the right and the true, as well as a wonderful power of patient endurance under oppression.
It may, however, be objected that the revengeful spirit manifested in the latter part of the Book is not an example for our imitation. We may reply that it is no more an example to be imitated than Persian luxury and effeminacy are to be commended, and no more than the vices of Old Testament saints are to be regarded with favour. While we do not lay great stress on the fact that the Itala or ante-Hieronymian version omits the whole of the nineteen verses of the ninth chapter, we may fairly inquire were they originally in the Book, and wish for Esther’s sake that they had never appeared. But this, after all, is characteristic of Scriptural writing. The strong hand of the analyst is present, and nowhere is found unsparing eulogy. The vice that degrades is depicted, though never in attractive colours, as well as the virtue that adorns and elevates. The story of the cruel proceedings in the ninth chapter is no commendation of them; it is a bare recital of facts to make us shrink from even the semblance of evil.
NO DIVINE NAME
The great objection to the Book of Esther is that the name of God is omitted. So De Wette, who objects to all the other books of the Old Testament because of their theocratico-mythological spirit, condemns this for its want of religion. There may, however, be some force in Keil’s observation, that the writer neither wished to depict the persons whose acts he was narrating as more godly than they really were, nor to place the whole occurrence under a point of view alien to the actors and the event itself. It is quite true that the sacred writers never exaggerate; but then Keil’s statement implies a studied omission of the Divine name on the part of the author. We do not enter upon the discussion of the authorship of this Book, and cannot decide as to the relative claims of Ezra, Nehemiah, or Mordecai. If, however, the last-named be the author, as is highly probable, we cannot suppose him purposely forbearing to mention the Divine name simply for fear of making the characters depicted more godly than they really were. A more satisfactory reason for the omission is that it is a translated extract from the memoirs of the Persian king. It is very likely that Mordecai, occupying the high position he did in the Persian court, would have free access to such memoirs. Then the scene of the Book is laid in Persian dominions; we are surrounded with a Persian atmosphere, and Persian words are constantly recurring. This instinctive adoption of the fashion of the Persian court may be the reason of the singular omission. Perhaps we may conclude that this omission arose from the increasing dread of using the Divine name which was already manifested at this period of Jewish history.
The Almighty has no need to write his name in order to let us know that his wisdom and power have been controlling the march of human events. The name of God may be absent, but his power is everywhere visible. Traces of this Divine power may be noticed in the Book of Esther. We may observe Divine Omniscience anticipating threatened evil; Omnipotence thwarting the designs of a jealous favourite, defeating and overruling the plots of the wicked. We may see God’s special providence in bringing forth his chosen instruments to high places in the kingdoms “for such a time as that” at which Esther appeared.
In commencing the study of Esther it might be felt that it was itself barren for homiletic purposes, and that little help was to be expected from previous labourers. But there is more help than might be expected. Of course all the commentators have handled the Book with more or less of skill, and in more modern times Lange and Keil have brought great critical acumen to the study. The story of Esther has been “glorified by the genius of Handel and sanctified by the piety of Racine;” vividly but cursorily handled by the descriptive hand of Stanley; applied to moral uses by Dr. M‘Crie; referred to by Heeren as giving the most accurate picture of Persian customs; and expounded more at large, with that elaborateness which is characteristic of Scotch divines, in discourses by the Rev. George Lawson, Dr. Davidson, and others whose names will be given where quoted. We shall make use of all previous productions, remembering that our work is to be the homiletic expositor of the Book. Its study is interesting, and much useful material may be here found for the pulpit. Pearls lie deep; and, to the faithful and diligent seeker, pearls of Divine truth will be discovered in every part of the Divine Word. Rawlinson tells us that by the Jews this Book is called Megillath Esther, “the roll of Esther,” or, more shortly, Megillah, “the roll,” since it was always written on a separate roll, which was read through at the feast of Purim. We must carefully unwind the roll and attentively read the inscriptions in order that we may find that this Scripture too is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” And this we shall attain if the inspiring Spirit direct in our reading, as he directed in the writing of the Book. Come then, O gracious and holy Spirit, bless our labours, and make them productive of moral enlargement.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29