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THE QUEST FOR MAIDENS, AND THE CHOICE OF ESTHER TO BE QUEEN IN VASHTI'S PLACE (Esther 2:1-18). Vashti having ceased to be queen, Ahasuerus appears to have been in no haste to assign her dignity to any one else. Probably there was no one among his other (secondary) wives of whom he was specially fond, or who seemed to him pre-eminent above the rest. And he may even have begun to relent in Vashti's favour (as seems to be somewhat obscurely intimated in Esther 2:1), and to wish to take her back. Under these circumstances the officers of his court would become alarmed. Vashti's disgrace had been their doing, and her return to power would be likely to be followed by their own dismissal, or even by their execution. They therefore came to Ahasuerus with a fresh piece of advice: "Let there be fair young virgins sought for the king; let officers be appointed in every province to select fitting damsels, and send them up to the court, for the king to choose a wife from among them." So sensual a monarch as Xerxes (Herod; 9:108) would be strongly tempted by such a proposal (Esther 2:2, Esther 2:3). Ahasnerus embraced it at once (Esther 2:4), and orders were given accordingly. The quest began, and among other maidens selected by the officials as worthy of the royal consideration, there happened to be a young Jewess, named Hadassah, the cousin and adopted daughter of a Jew called Mordecai, a eunuch attached to the court, who had a house in Susa. Hadassah was beautiful both in form and face (verse 7), and having been selected by those whose business it was to make the choice, was conducted to the palace, and placed under the care of Hegai, the eunuch who had the charge of the virgins on their arrival (verse 8). Hadassah, who on becoming an inmate of the palace received the Persian name of Esther (= Stella), attracted at once the special regard of Hegai, who granted her various favours (verse 9), and after she had been "purified" for a year (verse 12), sent her in her turn to appear before the king (verse 16). The result was such as Hegai had perhaps anticipated. Ahasuerus, preferring her to all his wives and to all the other virgins, instantly made her his queen, placed the crown royal upon her head, and celebrated the joyful occasion by a grand feast, and a general remission of taxation for a specified period (verses 17, 18). Thus the humble Jewish maiden, the orphan dependent for her living on a cousin's charity, became the first woman in all Persia- the wife of the greatest of living monarchs—the queen of an empire which comprised more than half of the known world.
After these things. Probably not very long after. Between the great assembly held in Susa in Xerxes' third year, b.c. 483, and his departure for Greece, b.c. 481, was a period of about two years, or a little more. The application of the officers must have been made to him, and the directions to seek for virgins given, during this space. Ahasuerus … remembered Vashti. With favour probably, or at any rate with regret and relenting. His anger was appeased, and balancing what she had done in one scale, and in the other what had been decreed against her, he may have begun to question whether her punishment had not been too severe.
The king's servants that ministered unto him. i.e. the great officers of the court, eunuchs and others, who had been more or less concerned in the disgrace of Vashti. Fair young virgins. Or, "young virgins fair to look on" (see Esther 1:11).
The house of the women. In an Oriental palace the women's apartments are always distinct from those of the men, and are usually placed in a separate building, which the Greeks called the gynaeceum, and the Jews "the house of the women." At Susa this was a large edifice, and comprised several subdivisions (see Esther 2:14). Hege, the king's chamberlain. Literally, "the king's eunuch, i.e. one of the royal eunuchs (see Esther 1:10). Keeper of the women. Strictly speaking, Hege seems to have been keeper of the virgins only (see Esther 2:14); but he may have exercised a certain superintendence over the entire gynaeceum. Their things for purification. See Esther 2:12. Such a divinity lodged in the Persian king that even pure maidens had to be purified before approaching him! It would have been well if the divinity had been himself less impure.
Now in Shushan … there was a certain Jew. Hitherto the narrative has been a mere story of the Persian court. Now at last a Jew is brought on the scene, very abruptly; and the history is to a certain extent attached to the other sacred books, and assigned its place, by the genealogy which follows. Whose name was Mordecai. The name Mordecai must almost certainly be connected with that of Marduk, or Merodach, the Babylonian and Assyrian god. But it may have been given to his son by a Baby-Ionian Jew without any thought of its derivation or meaning, perhaps out of compliment to a Babylonian friend or master. Another Mordecai, also a Jew, is mentioned by Ezra (Ezra 2:2) and Nehemiah (Nehemiah 7:7).
Who had been carried away. The word "who" may have either Kish or Mordecai for its antecedent. It is simplest, however, and most grammatical, to refer it to Kish. Chronological considerations also lead to the same result; and indeed, if we suppose Mordecai to be intended, we must give up the identification of Ahasuerus with Xerxes. The captivity which had been carried away with Jeconiah. There were at least three captivities of Judah the first when Daniel was carried away, in the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1), which was b.c. 605; the second that here referred to, when Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah, was made prisoner, eight years later, or b.c. 597; and the third when Zedekiah was taken and Jerusalem burnt, in b.c. 586. Kish belonged to the second captivity. Whom Nebuchadnezzar … carried away. See 2Ki 24:15; 2 Chronicles 36:10; Jeremiah 24:1.
He brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther. "Hadassah" has been compared with "Atossa," and "Esther" with "Amestris;" but there is probably no more ground for the one identification than the other. Mordecai's cousin received originally the Hebrew name of "Hadassah," a derivative of hadas "myrtle" (compare "Susannah" from shushan, "lily"); but was subsequently called by the Persians "Esther," which may either be Ishtar, "Venus," or an equivalent of the Zend ctare, Mod. Pers. sitareh, Greek ἀστήρ, Engl. "star," etc. His uncle's daughter. Therefore his own first cousin, but probably much younger than himself. Whom Mordecai … took for his own daughter. Not perhaps By a formal adoption, but by taking her to live with him, and treating her as if she had been his own child. This fact is related to account for the terms of familiarity between the two, which form an essential part of the later narrative. It introduces Mordecai to the reader under a favourable aspect, as kindly and benevolent.
His decree. Literally, "his law"—the same word as that which occurs in the phrase "the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not" (Daniel 6:8, Daniel 6:12, etc.). Hegai. The "Hege" of Esther 2:3. Slight differences in the mode of spelling names were common at this period. Esther was brought. Some have rendered, "was forcibly brought;" and in the second Targum on Esther there is a story that Mordecai concealed her to prevent her from becoming an inmate of the royal harem, and that the king's authority was invoked to force him to give her up; but the Hebrew word translated "was brought" does not contain any idea of violence; and the Persian Jews probably saw no disgrace, but rather honour, in one of their nation becoming even a secondary wife to the great king.
The maiden pleased him. Literally, "was good in his eyes," the same expression as that which occurs in Esther 1:21. And she obtained kindness of him. This is a phrase peculiar to the Book of Esther, and a favourite one with the author (see verses 15, 17; and Esther 5:2). It is better translated "she obtained favour" (as in all the other places where it occurs) than "she obtained kindness," though the latter translation is more literal. Her things for purification. See verse 12. With such things as belonged to her. Literally, as in the margin, "with her portions"—by which is probably meant her daily allowance of food. And seven maidens. Rather, "and her seven maidens." It is implied that each virgin had seven female attendants assigned to her. Meet to be given her. It was in this point that the "favour" or "kindness of Hegel was shown. He selected for her use the most suitable of the attendants.
Esther had not showed her people. To have confessed that she was a Jewess would probably have roused a prejudice against her, or at any rate have prevented her from being received with special favour. Mordecai, knowing this, had instructed her to say nothing to Hegel on the subject, and no one else, it would seem, had enlightened him.
Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house. Mordecai seems to have been one of the porters at the main entrance to the palace, and his proper place was at the gateway. He contrived, however, during some part of each day to visit the court in front-of the seraglio, in order to see Esther, or at any rate obtain intelligence concerning her.
After she had been twelve months, according to the manner of the women. Rather, "After she had been (in the palace), according to the law prescribed to the women, twelve months." A year's purification was considered necessary before any maiden could approach the king (see the comment on Esther 2:3). Six months with oil of myrrh. Myrrh was highly esteemed, both for its scent and for its purifying power, by the ancients. In Egypt it was employed largely in the preparation of mummies (Herod; 2.86). The Jews were directed to make it one of the chief ingredients in their "holy anointing oil" (Exodus 30:23-25). Dresses and beds were scented with it (Psalms 45:8; Proverbs 7:17). And six months with sweet odours. The word translated "sweet odours" seems to mean "spices" generally (comp. So Esther 4:16).
Then thus came every maiden, etc. Rather, "And when each maiden came thus purified to the king, whatever she asked was given her," etc. The whole verse is one sentence. The meaning is, that on quitting the house of the women for the king's apartments, each maiden was entitled to demand anything that she liked in the way of dress or ornament, and it had to be given her.
On the morrow. Literally, "in the morning." The second house of the women. The gynaeceum comprised at least three distinct houses:—
1. A residence for the queen, corresponding to that which Solomon built for the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 7:8);
2. A house for the secondary wives, or concubines; and,
3. A house for the virgins. On returning from her first visit to the king's chamber, a woman ordinarily became an inmate of the "second house." This "second house" was under the care of a eunuch called Sha'ashgaz.
Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai. Literally, "the paternal uncle," or "father's brother." The genealogy may be thus exhibited:—
See diagram, Genealogy of Mordecai and Esther
Who had taken her for his daughter (see the comment on verse 7). She required nothing, etc. Esther would not trust to the extraneous and adventitious beauty of dress or ornaments, or at any rate would give herself no trouble about such things. If she succeeded, it should be without effort. Hegai might dress her as he pleased. She left all to him. Esther obtained favour, etc. Either this is intended as a general assertion—"No one could ever see Esther without admiring her and feeling favourably disposed towards her,"—or it has special reference to the particular occasion—"No one who saw Esther on this evening but admired her and felt well disposed towards her."
The tenth month, which is the month Tebeth. This is the only mention of the month Tebeth in Scripture. It followed Chisleu, and corresponded to the end of December and the earlier part of January. The word seems to have come in from Egypt, where the corresponding month was called Tobi, or Tubi. In the seventh year of his reign. Four years after the disgrace of Vashti, probably in January, b.c. 479. Xerxes had recently returned from the Grecian expedition defeated and disgraced. He was glad to dismiss warlike matters from his thoughts, and to console himself for his failure by the pleasures of the seraglio.
Above all the women. i.e. "above all his former secondary wives, as well as above all the virgins." The royal crown. See the comment on Esther 1:11.
Then the king made a great feast. As Persian kings were in the habit of doing on every joyful occasion. Even Esther's feast. It seems to be meant that the feast was one which continued to be spoken about, and which was commonly known under this title. And he made a release to the provinces. As the Pseudo-Smerdis had done when he usurped the throne (Herod; 3.67). A "release" was an exemption from taxation, or from military service, or from both, for a specified period. And gave gifts, according to the state of the king. Literally, that is, "in right royal fashion" (see Esther 1:7). The practice of making presents, so common in the East at all times, was much in vogue among the Persians, and was practised especially by the monarchs (Herod; 1.136; 3.135; 7.26; Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 8.2, § 7, et seq.; 'Anab.,' 1.9, § 22, etc.).
Evil counsel overruled.
When a king takes counsel of flatterers and favourites, it bodes no good either to himself or to his people. Such parasites think only how they may make their masters' vices the stepping-stones to their own preferment and power. And a king encompassed with adulation, and encouraged to gratify his own passions, is not likely to rule over his subjects with justice or with wisdom. The ministers of Ahasuerus, in advising him to have his provinces ransacked for beautiful girls, to be brought to him for his approval, that from among the multitude he might select a consort to succeed the disobedient Vashti, were animated by a desire to please the voluptuous monarch, and so to strengthen their own position and influence. Yet even counsel so nefarious was overruled by Divine providence for good.
I. THIS ADVICE WAS IN ITSELF BAD. Oriental despots were encouraged to lead a life of self-indulgence. Yet the counsel given to Ahasuerus passed all bounds of decency.
1. It was bad for the king, who was thereby led to think of his own sensual gratification, rather than of the cares of state which properly devolved upon him.
2. It was bad for the young women themselves, all whose thoughts were engrossed by their desire and plans to please the monarch, and who were encouraged to regard themselves in no higher light than as instruments of royal pleasure.
3. It was bad for the population generally; for the families from amongst whom the maidens were taken to supply the harem of the king, and for the young men who were deprived of wives whose beauty and amiability might assist them in living a virtuous and honourable life.
II. THIS ADVICE WAS NEVERTHELESS OVERRULED FOR GOOD. HOW apparent is this principle to every thorough student of history, to every careful observer of life! How confirmatory of our belief in a general and particular Providence l
1. The policy in question was directly overruled for the advancement of Esther. A virtuous, benevolent, and deserving girl was raised from an obscure position to one of eminence and influence.
2. And this policy was indirectly overruled for the deliverance of a nation. Vashti was deposed; Esther was raised to power; Mordecai was enabled to communicate with the throne; Haman was defeated and disgraced; Israel was delivered from the enemy. Such were the links in this chain of Providence.
1. We have no right to give evil counsel in the hope that good may issue from it, to "do evil that good may come."
2. We must not be discouraged when tyrants and flatterers seem to have their own way. The Lord reigneth. He has a thousand ways of fulfilling his own purposes. He bringeth the counsel of men to nought.
3. We must at all times trust and hope in the Lord. He bringeth forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noon-day. Our extremity is his opportunity. They that trust in him shall never be moved.
4. For we cannot forget that the evil counsel of Caiaphas, the greed or ambition of Judas, the weakness of Pilate, the fury of the Jews, were all overruled for the salvation of mankind!
Esther 2:5, Esther 2:6
A captive Hebrew.
Among "the children of the captivity" were some remarkable instances of high character, beautiful patriotism, sincere and conspicuous piety. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel come before the mind of the student of the later books of the Old Testament as persons who would have been an honour to any nation, any age, any condition of life. Mordecai may claim to rank with, or only just below, these noble men. His career furnishes us with several striking illustrations of the wisdom and efficiency of the plans of Divine providence.
I. We see, in Mordecai's life, now PROVIDENCE PREPARES BEFOREHAND FOR THE EVENTS OF AFTER YEARS. Both in his rearing and nurturing his young cousin Esther, and in his preserving the king's life by discovering the plot of the eunuchs, Mordecai was unconsciously preparing himself for the great service which was his chief claim to be held in remembrance and honour. How often do we observe the same fact—the unconscious education of his people by the Lord for the future work to which he destines them!
II. We see, in Mordecai's life, now PROVIDENCE CAN RAISE THE LOWLIEST TO THE LOFTIEST POSITION. He was a Jew, a captive exile, a eunuch probably, a servant in some lowly capacity in the palace. Yet he came to be acknowledged as "the man whom the king delighted to honour." He came to be in the king's favour, "was great in the king's house, and his fame went out throughout all the provinces: for this man Mordecai waxed greater and greater," and became "next unto king Ahasuerus." God, in his wisdom, often "exalteth them of low degree."
III. We see, in Mordecai's life, HOW PROVIDENCE CAN USE THE UNLIKELIEST INSTRUMENT TO DO GREAT SERVICE. Everything we know about this man leads us to the belief, that in selecting him for the work God chose to do by human means, Divine wisdom evinced independence of and superiority to the standards and the expectations of men. Our confidence should be shaken in the plans of men, should be strengthened in the wisdom of God. And we should beware of scorning any child of God, and of counting the lowly as unworthy of confidence and esteem. "Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the Judge; he putteth down one, and setteth up another."
The Jewess after whom this sacred book is called has been always regarded by her nation with affectionate gratitude, on account of the service she rendered to Israel during the captivity. And there are some features of her character which claim our notice and admiration, and which explain the position she holds in the heart of the Hebrew people. We recognise in Esther—
I. FILIAL AFFECTION AND REVERENCE. An orphan, she was adopted by her cousin and senior, Mordecai, who "took her for his own daughter," and "brought her up." Accordingly, she treated Mordecai as her father. His will was law to her. She sought and obeyed his advice. Even when upon the throne she did not lose her reverence for the guardian of her youth.
II. A PRUDENT AND AMIABLE DEMEANOUR. When in a strange place, and in unfamiliar society, and in a difficult position, Esther commended herself to the favour of those with whom she was brought into contact. Simple, unexacting, compliant, she won all hearts.
III. WIFELY AFFECTION AND DEVOTION. Esther rapidly gained influence over the king, who raised her to share his throne. She evidently gained her position and influence not by haughtiness and arrogance, but by amiability and affection, by humility and grace.
IV. SINCERE PATRIOTISM. "How," said she to the king, "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?" Though raised to be a queen, she did not forget the people amongst whom her earliest years had been passed, and in whose religion she had been trained.
V. WISDOM AND BOLDNESS OF POLICY. Esther, as the queen of an arbitrary and capricious monarch, was placed in a position of immense difficulty. She conducted herself with wonderful discretion. Especially she knew when to act with a firm though modest boldness. Her whole conduct, with regard to Haman and with regard to Ahasuerus, was marked by sagacity, patience, and a wise audacity. And it resulted in a conspicuous and happy success. The poor orphan captive came to a throne, and thence wrote with all authority to confirm decrees, delivered a nation from impending peril, and instituted a festival which has lasted through centuries of human history.
Esther was early left fatherless and motherless, and in her orphanage found a friend and benefactor in Mordecai, her cousin, and evidently her senior by many years. He adopted her, and treated her as his own child. Under his roof and protection she lived, until, for her beauty, she was selected for the household of the king. This is but one of many illustrations of the practice of adoption issuing in signal advantages to both parties.
I. Observe THE ADVANTAGES ESTHER SECURED through Mordecai's adoption of her as his own daughter. Her wants were supplied; a home was provided for her, a suitable education was given her, and her character was trained-to habits of obedience and piety. She was protected from the temptations which might otherwise have assailed a beautiful orphan girl. And in due time her station and her work in life were pointed out by Divine providence.
II. Observe THE BLESSINGS WHICH ACCRUED TO MORDECAI HIMSELF through his adoption of Esther. His home was brightened by the presence of a bright and lovely daughter; his heart was gladdened by her filial affection and gratitude; his solicitude and care were rewarded by her attention to his wishes and compliance with his admonitions. And, more than all, the time came when his adopted daughter was the agent in saving his life and the life of the community and people to which they both belonged. Never could he regret having received Esther as his own child. Ever must he have looked back upon his adoption of her as one of the wisest acts of his life; as one which God manifestly smiled upon and blessed.
III. Consider THE LIGHT WHICH ADOPTION CASTS UPON THE RELATION BETWEEN GOD, THE DIVINE FATHER, AND THE CHILDREN OF HIS SPIRITUAL FAMILY. It is to Divine, adopting love that we owe our position of privilege, happiness, and hope. "What manner of love hath the Father bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God?" Happy we if we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father! What obligations to gratitude and affectionate obedience are connected with the pity of God and the grace of Christ, through which we have been received into the heavenly family!
1. There may be those, people of good means, and childless especially, who may do wisely, who may exercise true benevolence, by adopting an orphan child, and receiving such a destitute one into their home. How much better this than subscribing to an orphan asylum, excellent and useful though that may be.
2. Adopted children are laid under a stringent obligation to recompense the kindness shown them by their benefactors, by their obedience, devotion, and anxiety to serve and please. Scarcely inferior to the claim parents have upon their own offspring is that they have upon the children they have adopted as their own.
3. Great is the mercy of God, who invites us, "by nature children of wrath," into his spiritual family. There can be no question more momentous for each hearer of the gospel than this: "Am I a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus?"
Reserve and reticence.
Both when residing in the king's house, under the custody of Hegai, the keeper of the women, and afterwards, when promoted to be queen, Esther concealed her family and her nationality. This is expressly mentioned in verses 10 and 20, and stress is evidently laid upon her acting thus. A general practical lesson may be drawn from this part of Esther's conduct.
I. THERE ARE OCCASIONS FOR RESERVE AND RETICENCE WITH REGARD TO ONESELF. Such concealment is especially repugnant to our frank and open English habits. Yet there may be reasons and justification for it.
1. Filial obedience may require such reticence. Esther was charged to act as she did; and, even when raised to the throne, she "did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him." Her guardian's care of her entitled him to use some authority, which her just gratitude disposed her to acknowledge.
2. Prudence may make such reticence expedient. It was probably for Esther's advantage that her nationality should remain a secret in her own bosom. Had it been known that she was a Jewess, an exile, she might have had to endure some suffering, and disfavour, and contempt. There was no sufficient reason for disclosing her kindred and people; no one had a right to interrogate her thereupon; and she was not guilty of falsehood, or of deceit, in acting as she did.
II. THERE ARE OCCASIONS WHEN RESERVE AND RETICENCE MUST BE THROWN ASIDE. The wise man tells us, "There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak." The time came when Esther spoke out, and declared herself one of the exiled and contemned race, against which the haughty minister of state was maliciously plotting: Until then there was no obligation for her to reveal herself; after that moment silence would have been guilty. Christ himself remained silent amidst the accusations and calumnies of the false witnesses; but when adjured by the high priest, he acknowledged himself to be the Messiah, and the Son of God. There is scope for great discretion and prudence in the conduct of those who mix much with the world, and especially of those who are connected with courts and governments. The Christian will often stand in need of that guidance, which can be obtained only by consulting the oracles of God, and by seeking the teaching of the Spirit of all wisdom and grace.
It is observable that Mordecai did not remit his attention and care when his adopted daughter was taken into the royal palace. He still made it his daily business to ascertain her happiness and her prospects. Remark—
I. THAT THE YOUNG AND INEXPERIENCED NEED TO BE WATCHED WITH A ZEALOUS AND AFFECTIONATE CARE. NO person with any experience of human life can be ignorant of this necessity. How many young people have we known who have been ruined for want of vigilance, kindly interest, and wise counsels! It is cruelty to leave the fatherless and motherless beauty to the tender mercies of strangers—perhaps of the wicked.
II. SUCH VIGILANCE AND SOLICITUDE WILL HAVE AN EXCELLENT EFFECT UPON THOSE WHO ARE ITS OBJECTS. It is a protection to a young person to know that she is not forgotten by affectionate and anxious relatives. One who is abandoned by her kindred is very likely to be abandoned by all that is good. We are, all of us, the stronger for the sympathy and interest of those who love us.
III. WATCHFUL CARE MAY BE THE MEANS OF DEFEATING EVIL DESIGNS. It does not seem that, in Esther's case, there was any special reason of this kind for her guardian's vigilance. But in sinful society it may often happen that the protection of honourable and Christian friends may be the means of preserving the young in the paths of virtue and religion, c, We are members one of another;" and none should be unconcerned at his neighbour's danger, or unwilling to put forth an effort for his neighbour's safety and welfare.
1. Are there none over whom we may watch, for their social happiness and for their spiritual good?
2. Are there not young people who are indifferent and ungrateful for the service of friendly regard and kindly watchfulness? This is a sin, indeed, of which they cannot too soon repent. By the prayers offered for you, and the tender watchfulness of which you are the objects, I entreat you to follow the ways of wisdom, which are ways of pleasantness and peace.
Favour with men.
We read of Esther that "the maiden pleased" the custodian, and that "she obtained kindness of him;" that she "obtained favour in the sight of all them that looked upon her;" that she "obtained grace and favour in the sight of the king more than all the virgins." Thus she obtained the influence which she used to so good and benevolent purpose in after years.
I. THERE ARE CERTAIN QUALITIES BY WHICH THE FAVOUR OF OUR FELLOW-BEINGS IS GAINED. Natural endowments are the easiest passport to general favour. A handsome presence, beautiful features, a winning voice, natural and graceful manners, all have great immediate influence with society generally. Genius and heroism, learning and accomplishments, birth and station, all these contribute to popularity. It seems a very easy thing for some persons to become general favourites; yet many of the qualities which secure favour are the result of painstaking and study. In the case of Esther, her extreme beauty, and the simplicity and humility of her demeanour, and the modesty and integrity of her character, all contributed to make her the favourite of the king, and the court, and the people.
II. GENERAL FAVOUR SECURES REMARKABLE INFLUENCE. Men will listen to the counsels or the requests of those who enjoy their affection and esteem. In all stations of life there are those who, being in favour, are therefore in power. Esther used the influence—which another in her position might have employed for selfish ends—for the public good. But had she not won esteem and confidence she would have been without the power to do the great service she rendered.
III. THOSE WHO ENJOY FAVOUR WITH MEN ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS WISE EMPLOYMENT. How often have kings' favourites treed their influence for sordid and vile purposes! And how often is popularity prostituted to base ends l Like other "talents," the favour a Christian enjoys should be used for the promotion of the cause of righteousness and human happiness. For the employment of this, as of other sources of influence, men must give at last an account to God.
1. The young should cultivate qualities and habits which may give them favour with men. There is a foolish notion that moroseness is usually associated with independence and integrity. But we have the Scriptural admonition, Be courteous. And we read that the Lord Jesus "grew in favour with God and men."
2. Those who enjoy favour should endeavour, with watchfulness and prayer, to use the gift for the good of their fellow-men and the glory of God.
Esther made queen.
History records many strange vicissitudes of fortune. The beggar is raised from the dunghill to the palace; the wealthy is brought to poverty; those once flattered and caressed are forgotten or despised. In Scripture history the Arab sheik becomes the father of nations; the boy sold into bondage becomes the prime minister of the greatest of states; the deserted babe becomes the mighty leader of a people; the shepherd lad becomes the renowned king of Israel. And Esther, the poor orphan, adopted by the despised Mordecai, becomes the successor to Vashti, and the queen of Ahasuerus, king of Persia.
I. We have in Esther's exaltation AN INSTANCE OF THE UNCERTAINTY AND MUTABILITY OF HUMAN LIFE. Here how true it is that "nothing continueth in one stay!" As the ancients figuratively expressed it, "Fortune is ever turning her wheel." We know that the hand of a wise and overruling Providence is manifest to the eye of faith in all the changes which occur in human life. We should learn not to think too much of circumstances, but to seek in every state to be content, and to be ready to profit spiritually by all events, and to turn every position in which we are placed into an opportunity for serving and glorifying God.
II. Elevation to a high position is AN EFFECTIVE TEST OF CHARACTER. There are some weak and worthless natures which cannot endure when put thus to the proof. Such persons when raised to a lofty station forget, despise, or disown former friends. Other and nobler natures are benefited by promotion. Such persons retain kindly recollection of former associates, carry with them into new positions the ancient sympathies, even enlarged and refined, and, above all, retain the sweet grace of humility. Esther forgot not the friend of her youth, forgot not the people from whom she had received her knowledge of the true God. And she demeaned herself with the exquisite grace of lowliness when exalted to a throne.
III. Exaltation may bring with it OPPORTUNITIES OF ENLARGED USEFULNESS. Every station in life affords scope for serving our fellow-men. But a station of eminence and authority has pre-eminent advantages of this kind. Noble natures value rank chiefly for this reason, that it imparts facilities to public services. To Esther there came one great and signal opportunity of serving her kindred and nation, an opportunity for which she was indebted to her position as consort of the king of Persia. And she did not neglect to avail herself of the opportunity thus placed within her reach.
IV. Elevation to power may LEAD TO THE ENJOYMENT OF WIDE-SPREAD GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION. Esther used her position in such a way that she has been held by the nation she rescued from ruin in lasting and grateful remembrance. Those who employ power for self-aggrandisement will, by just minds, be contemned; but all who toil "not for their own, but for their people's good," will have their record in the grateful hearts alike of contemporaries and of posterity.
Release and gifts.
Esther's marriage was celebrated in a manner intended and fitted to impress the nation with a sense of the favour and honour with which she was regarded by the "great king." There was a great feast at Susa, that the metropolis might have an opportunity of honouring the new queen. And throughout the kingdom there took place, according to the command of Ahasuerus, such celebrations and observances as were in accordance with Oriental customs. Particularly are mentioned the releases or remissions—it may be presumed from taxation or military service; and the gifts—probably of robes, and in some cases of jewels. We may regard these tokens of kingly favour as emblematic of the blessings provided by Divine mercy in the gospel of Christ for the sinful and needy children of men.
I. The heavenly King favours us, sinners and spiritual bondsmen, with RELEASE AND REMISSION.
1. From the service of Satan.
2. From the thraldom and punishment of sin.
3. By the redemption of his Son, Jesus Christ.
II. The heavenly King bestows upon us, his subjects, NUMEROUS AND PRICELESS GIFTS.
1. As the condition and means of all other benefactions regard him who is "the unspeakable Gift."
2. The gift of the Holy Ghost.
3. The gift of eternal life.
4. Remember that all the bounties of Divine providence come to us as proofs of the Father's love, and through the mediation of Christ.
1. Spiritual liberty is provided and offered; the prison doors are opened. Go ye free.
2. Spiritual bounty is at your disposal; "all things are yours." Take and rejoice in the manifold gifts of God.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The interval here indicated cannot be measured exactly. It is not important, or probably it would have been stated. But some things respecting it are worthy of note: that time is measurable by what we do in it, and by how the individual character grows in it. It is measurable in sadder ways—by all the heap and accumulation of the undone lying at our feet. And once more, among many other ways, we are reminded here how it is measurable by the duration or the cooling down of temper, of "wrath." Though the fiercest passion and the hottest wrath burn out the quickest and cool down the most rapidly, it is not to be forgotten that their effects are not similarly disposed of or reversed. Far otherwise. The fire burns out rapidly because it has finally consumed its fuel, and the hot wrath cools down quickly because it has devoured its prey. These results are irreparable, though the loss they speak, the guilt they fix, the crime they mark, men gladly turn away from—results indeed often incalculable. This passage calls attention to the subject of memory's visitations. We may make a distinction between memory's visits and its visitation. The former often sweet and often welcome, even when most touched with the spirit of sadness; but the latter heralding for the most part reproof, remorse, and the retributive. Let us observe—
I. HOW MEMORY MAY BE HELD IN ABEYANCE; RATHER, UNDER CERTAIN TREATMENT, HOLDS ITSELF IN ABEYANCE. There is a sense in which it neither holds itself in abeyance, owing to any unconscious affronts we offer it, nor is held in abeyance by any distinct and defined efforts of our own. For is it not a thing worthy to be observed, as one of the evidences of a wise and merciful Creator, that memory itself does not insist on an equable exertion of all its power. Wide as its jurisdiction, it is abundantly evident that it is not all equally travelled. Its hemispherical chart shows only some strongly-marked places; multitudinous as the names engraved on its latitude and longitude,—yes, even innumerable,—they were, as regards the enormous majority of them, but very faintly graved, and they become soon enough illegible, indiscernible. The few things which we judge most important to be remembered, we charge ourselves with special pains and by special methods to remember. If memory were obliged to retain all that it had ever taken cognisance of, it is evident that it would choke up all other present exercise of our faculties, and would imperiously stop the working of the mental machinery. It would bring all to a deadlock. On the other hand, and to our present point, there are things which, instead of needing our study and effort and rational methods in order to charge memory to retain them, will need some soporific treatment if memory is to be disarmed. All our grand mistakes, all our vivid joys, all our vivid sorrows, all our vivid warnings, all our vivid experiences, of almost every kind—the startled moment, the hairbreadth escape, the pang of irretrievable failure, the moment of supreme success, Ñ all these and their likes write themselves with ink that suffers no absolute effacing, even for the present life; and though it does suffer itself to be dimmed, obscured, and over-written, so as a while to be illegible, this is gained only by methods intrinsically undesirable, very unsafe, very forced. These works of memory are of nature's own quickening, and to try to stifle their due utterance is of the nature of a premeditated offence against nature. It is, with rare exceptions, at an indefensible risk that we consciously dare this, or by any species of recklessness court it. Of the devices of Satan in this sort let us not be ignorant, that we may be the rather forearmed. Some of the methods of dimming memories that should not be dimmed are illustrated forcibly in the history of Ahasuerus' present conduct; as, for instance—
1. The blinding force of the storm of "wrath," of hate, of intemperateness, of lust.
2. The stupefying force of sensuality, of bodily indulgence, and excess of luxuriousness.
3. All headstrong recklessness—the defiant disposition that "neither fears God nor regards man."
4. The enfeebled conscience, and, of necessity, much more the temporarily paralysed conscience.
5. The imperious yoke of self-seeking in all we think, and of supposed self-interest.
6. A heart already callous, hardened by habit, familiarised with sin. These and other causes frighten away the most useful messages of memory, weaken her wings, and she is not to be depended upon to alight with the needed whispers of either warning or encouragement. It is one of the worst of signs, one of the most ominous warnings of approaching spiritual disaster, when memory in certain directions abnegates her rights; offended and grieved, holds herself in the background; or, rudely repelled, seems awhile to accept the law of banishment pronounced against her.
II. HOW AT AN UNSUSPECTED MOMENT MEMORY RE-ENTERS THE SCENE, WITHOUT DEROGATION OF ITS RIGHTS, AND WITH ADDED EFFECT. It was so to a remarkable degree now. The "wrath," with some concomitant auxiliaries, which had held memory awhile at bay, was subsided, and memory with silent majesty walks in. Its figure is not dim, its utterance is not indistinct, its indictment is not vague. No; the trial must be called on, the debt must be demanded, and interest must be added to debt. With what skilful brevity, of amazing power to suggest, the position is put before us. "Ahasuerus remembered Vashti, and what she had done, and what was decreed against her." The arbitrary, licentious man could depose the woman who resolved to maintain her own and her sex's rightful dignity and modesty, but he could not depose his own memory. She was a mistress still, and one who stuck closer than an ill-treated, dishonoured wife. Affection helps memory; he sees with his inner eye the woman he had loved so well once to prefer her to all, and to make her wife and queen. Conscience perhaps in some part helped memory, as memory certainly was paving the way for the future work of conscience. The figure of Vashti was before his inner eye, but she herself was not. The law of Mede and Persian stood in the way, crumpled up the law of right, stifled the dictate of affection, and smothered the muffled, incoherent accents of conscience. The hall of trial is in his own disordered breast, but the essentials of the trial are present there nevertheless. He remembered Vashti, and "what she had done"—nothing worthy of divorce, of punishment. All the reflection was upon himself, fell back with a heavy thrust on himself. He remembered Vashti, "and what was decreed against her"—an iniquitous decree, a decree not merely injurious to her, but also to himself and his reputation henceforward down through all the world's time. This is what memory's visitation was now for Ahasuerus, and memory left him in the most appalling condition in which a human heart can be ever left—left him drifting into a woeful BLANK. He missed Vashti. He could not replace her. He has decreed for himself a void which cannot be filled, even though a better object be offered for the void. Memory leaves him again awhile when it has forced this conviction on the unwilling victim, that he has stricken himself sore, and that on himself his "decree" has recoiled.—B.
The verdict of pleasure an untrustworthy basis of action.
If wisdom and goodness sometimes make all profit they can by embracing opportunity, much more often do policy and evil. For the "children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." They most studiously adapt means to end; they most patiently bide their time; they most unerringly, in this disordered scene, this dislocated system, see and snatch the opportunity. Let us observe here the appeal made to the King Ahasuerus—
I. IN THE LIGHT OF THE OPPORTUNE TIME AT WHICH IT WAS MADE. Meaning much there was in that time. The moment makes often the difference. Now the moment and the man met. A cheerless blank before the king. An aching void within him, as though emptiness were the most veritable existence. We do not indeed read that of this inner vacancy the king said a word or uttered a complaint; he would not make so humiliating a confession. But whether he did so or not, it was no doubt seen, and he was seen through by the minions of his retinue and his court. His own "wrath," and, as we have reason to know, matters of state and matters of war, had helped him tide over several months; but un-ease at heart can be no longer endured, and is bound to betray him. Neither momentary diversion of heart nor months' diversion of mind destroys facts, nor turns back dissatisfaction's natural tide. The most they do is to arrest awhile, certain to aggravate after a while.
II. IN THE LIGHT OF THE SPECIAL INNER PREPARATION FOR IT WHICH THE WHOLE HERETOFORE COURSE OF HIS LIFE HAD MADE. That antecedent course of life might have been judged to be a deliberately-constituted preparation for such a moment as the present. No outward opportunity for good or evil, no outward invitation of gain or loss, is comparable for effect with that opportuneness which is, which is made, which grows within. There is no such ripeness of time as that which comes of ripeness of disposition. If the spark also is to have its fair chance, it must fall on touch-paper, dry wood, gunpowder. If an ill-starred suggestion, or the happiest, holiest impulse, is to have each its own due course, the one and the other must fall, though in time's briefest instant, upon the material of a character that has been consciously or unconsciously fitting and maturing a long time for each respectively. An instant's mere hint, whether of good or had, will not mean much, except it come upon the product of months' or years' education; but if it light upon this, it may.
III. IN THE UNJUSTIFIABLY READY AND HASTY ACCEPTANCE OF IT. There was apparently no consideration of the proposal contained in it. There was certainly no careful exercise of the judgment upon it. No counsellors are called in as before. The seven "wise men which saw the king's face, and sat the first in the kingdom," are not called in to consult. Nay, not so much as an hour's time is reserved before an answer. It seems plainly that all was considered safe, and he acted on a momentary impulse, thinking only of self-gratification. "The thing pleased the king; and he did so." Self-pleasure is made the basis of conduct. The thing that pleases is the right. The thing that pleases is to be done. Poor learner, Ahasuerus! He has already forgotten what he .was remembering, regretting, only yesterday—the hasty thing "which was decreed against Vashti." And that also was at the suggestion of others—ratified at his own pleasure.—B.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
A relative's solicitude.
"Mordecai walked every day before the court." Esther was cousin-german to Mordecai, being the daughter of his father's brother. Her relationship was not, therefore, very close, yet we see what great interest Mordecai took in her. The text teaches us—
I. How GOD RAISES UP FRIENDS FOR THE APPARENTLY FRIENDLESS, Esther's parents were possibly very troubled, when passing from this world, as to what would become of their daughter. God, however, found her a protector in Mordecai. God appointed her path in life. Her parents little expected that she would become the queen of Persia, and deliverer of her people.
II. How ANXIOUS ARE RELATIVES AND PARENTS WHEN THEIR CHILDREN ARE ENTERING ON NEW POSITIONS. Esther's was not only new, but dangerous. She might have become vain and degraded in mind, like many with whom she had to associate. "Mordecai walked." etc. He wished to know how Esther succeeded. How our heavenly Father walks "every day" by our side, watching what will become of us!—H.
"She required nothing but what Hegai, the king's chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed." Esther's habits and tastes were simple; she cared not for the various arts supposed to lend attraction; she was content with a moderate toilet, and believed more in the charm of purity, modesty, simplicity, and piety than in artificial methods. She was right.
I. Simple tastes are LESS COSTLY.
II. Simple tastes INDICATE A PURE MIND.
III. Simple tastes ARE THE MOST ATTRACTIVE.
Behold in a queen who now lives and reigns over the British Empire—an empire wider by far than that of Persia—the power of simple tastes and habits. It is this that makes the perusal of the "Memorial of the Prince Consort," and 'Leaves from the Highland Diary,' so delightful. It is this that has given her Majesty such a hold on the affections of her subjects, and to monarchical rule a longer lease than it promised to have. Piety and purity have power not only in the palace at Shushan and the castle at Windsor, but in the lowliest cottage of the realm.—H.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
An unexpected coronation.
"He set the royal crown on her head." This crown was a crowning- event. It was the signal event of a long and hitherto obscurely-connected series; it was the one effect of a series of causes and effects. Up to this point there was no one of all the foregoing to compare with it for significance. It will be well to pause awhile in the presence of this coronation scene. There have indeed been occasions of coronation which have attracted little notice or interest. There have been some supremely sad, although perhaps they have not seemed so to the eye, and at the time. But this coronation scene may be found able to yield much more for thought and profit than most. For undoubtedly it has aspects, some unhappy in their surroundings, others most happy in their substance, which strikingly difference it from very many others.
1. It was not a crown won by effort, either noble or ignoble. It was not one of those crowns which had been lifted to the brow, amid the enthusiastic plaudits of multitudes, as the result of athlete's training, poet's inspiration, or the force of genius. The statesman's anxious toil, the philanthropist's oft self-sacrificing ministry of mercy, the warrior's sword—these had not carved the way to a throne. It was not an occasion of coronation of this sort. In fact, nothing that had been specially done, and nothing that had been specially suffered, showed the way to it—no keen strain of effort, no severe tension of patience. Neither these things, nor anything failing more within feminine range, and answering to them, heralded the gift of this crown.
2. It was not a crown conferred amid surroundings of the most august kind, or associations at all elevating.
3. It was not a crown given by hands pure, honest, or merciful.
4. It certainly was not a crown of imperishable material, of ancestral renown, or that could be reckoned upon to sit easy, or remain long on the head that now was to wear it.
But amid much to detract from it, there are some things to be remembered highly to the advantage of this crown.
1. The crown was one that was not sought with ambitious self-seeking.
2. It was one that did not come of mere hereditary succession.
3. It was one—very rare indeed in this respect—to the attainment of which moral qualities did undoubtedly largely contribute. It was the more remarkable because those moral qualities had to make their way, and assert their influence, in the most unfavourable atmosphere, and the most unlikely circumstances. Had Esther ingratiated herself? But it was not the result of wiliness. Had she ingratiated herself? But it was not among the like-minded and the pure of heart. Had she ingratiated herself? It was actually, considering her distinguishing qualities, with the worst kind of character of all for her to go near—the official character. Yet bribery had not done it, meretricious ways had not done it, insincerity had not done it, immorality had not done it. The force of simplicity, of contentment, of modesty, of refusal of superfluous ornament—positively these things had done it l It is evident that she was a pattern of goodness, after a sort not so commonly recognisable, with those who surrounded her, and with such as they, but which, streaming gently forth, made its radiance seen, felt, admired by some of the most unlikely. Esther's docile obedience to her guardian while she lived under his roof, her continued obedience to him after she had left it, her fidelity to the faith and hope of her people, her uncomplaining acceptance of a position decidedly humiliating to one of her race, in consideration of the captive adversity of her people, and still more of those objects which her cousin apparently, but which God really, would work for them by her—these things all bear witness to the deep heart of goodness that dwelt in her. Yet, granting all this, was it not a strange thing that she should so make her way, and "walk the queen," that they were all ready to designate her such, and that he, with whom the choice and decision lay, at once did so? Many a desirable crown has been won by methods most undesirable. This was an undesirable crown, won by methods full of real honour and grace.
4. It was a crown which God designed for the head which it now reached. This is the best thing of all to be said about it. But for this, it would have nothing really to favour it; with this, it may claim all the rest as well. The providence of God raised the crown, after first raising the head of the humble and meek to receive it. His providence had other ends in view, great and good and kind, for his people. And by the vicarious humiliation of this maiden he wrought great miracles and wonders. For her the outer ornament of such a crown, in alliance with such circumstances, could have had small attractions indeed. But viewed in this other aspect, the crown had in the highest sense the qualities of the "unfading," the "imperishable." And for the patient head that now wore it, it was the earnest of another of immortal "honour and glory."—B.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
We observe here—
I. AN ABIDING MEMORY. The past cannot be wholly shut out from the present. The power of memory cleaves to the soul. The king "remembered Vashti." Time, which had appeased his wrath, had not destroyed the queen's image, or cast into oblivion the facts connected with her disgrace. The persons and things of the past continue to live in memory either to sweeten or embitter the life. We should lay up nothing in this storehouse but what will bear pleasant review.
II. AN UNAVAILING REGRET. The narrative seems to indicate that as the king's anger against Vashti died out, his love for her returned. But, with other memories, that of the irrevocable decree came into his mind. Whatever his regrets, they were in vain. It is a solemn thought that sins and wrongs once done cannot be undone. Even though bad decrees may be reversed, the evils they have wrought remain. How many through the follies of the present heap up regrets for the future!
III. A STRANGE DEVICE. Of the plan suggested by the courtiers, it may be said—
1. That it was significant of the king's state of mind. It showed a perception of the feelings that troubled him. Such an appeal to his sensual nature could only be intended to drown a reviving affection and troublesome regrets.
2. That it was selfish and cunning. The restoration of Vashti would have been dangerous to those who counselled her disgrace. The possibility of a change in the king's mind was anticipated in the decree that could not be altered. Yet such a king, under the prompting of passion, might break through any legal fiction, and therefore it was resolved to wean him from thoughts of Vashti by the prospect of an unlimited variety of sensual indulgence.
3. That it was heartlessly wicked. No thought or pity was expended on the many fair young maidens who were to be brought from their homes and sacri-riced to the lust of the king. The king and his courtiers would probably regard the transaction as bestowing a special honour on its victims. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."
4. That it was, nevertheless, not out of harmony with prevalent ideas and customs. Few would be shocked by it in all the vast empire. Whilst we hold the truth to be one in all circumstances, our judgment of conduct (like Christ's—Matthew 11:21) should allow for differences of time and place.
5. That it marks a distinction between heathenism and Christianity. Under Christian rule such a device would be impossible. The mere idea of it excites a shuddering horror in the Christian heart. All heathenisms are hopelessly corrupt. They contain the seeds of their own decay. It is at once a blessed and a responsible thing to live in a country whose institutions, laws, and general life are governed by the Christian truth and spirit.
IV. AN INCURABLE FOLLY. "And the thing pleased the king; and he did so." The novelty of it arrested him; the pleasure which it promised charmed him; all memories and regrets were speedily swallowed up in the anticipated delights of a new self-indulgence. There is a folly which no lessons will teach wisdom, which no experiences will long influence for good. Sin hardens the heart. A yielding to carnal lusts destroys the power of the soul to follow the lights and monitions that would deliver it. Occasional fears and perplexities may arise, but "the dog returns to its vomit."
V. A SUGGESTION OF BETTER THINGS. The pleasures of sin may be fascinatingly great to the ungodly who have not tested their fruits. But however alluring, experience proves them to be short-lived, degrading to our nature, and laden with an ever-growing and corroding bitterness. They are not to be compared with the higher delights that spring from a virtuous and self-denying life, a conscious fellowship with Jesus Christ, a trustful obedience to the heavenly Father's will, a possession of the hope that is full of immortality (see Galatians 5:19-26).—D.
The strange plan adopted for the providing of a new queen in the room of Vashti resulted in a good choice. We need not assume that Esther was a willing- candidate for royal honours. The account we have favours the belief that she passively yielded to a power which she could not resist. Among the attractive qualities she possessed, we may notice—
I. BEAUTY. She had a fair form and a good countenance. Physical beauty is not to be despised. It is one of God's gifts, and has much power in the world. Yet it exposes the soul to special danger. When not sanctified and guarded by the grace of God, it becomes a ready minister to vanity and varied sin. Moreover, it is frail and precarious. A temporary illness will destroy the brightest beauty. A few years will wrinkle the face of youth, and give a tottering gait to the most graceful form.
II. MODESTY. Esther's beauty did not make her vain and foolish. She avoided all arts to adorn it and increase its effects on others. Modesty is a lovely grace which adds a new charm to the highest physical beauty. It conciliates and wins by its own gentle force. An immodest assertion of one's self in any circumstances indicates either a want of moral sensitiveness, or a want of intellectual sight. A pure heart, a true self-knowledge, and the fear of God, are all and always modest.
III. DISCRETION. In her new and trying position Esther never failed in prudence. This was the result not of skilful planning, but of a good training, and of a modesty which quickly saw what was becoming. She made no effort to please (verse 15). The very simplicity and artlessness of her conduct won her the favour of the king's servants, and finally drew to her the preference of the king himself. Truth and wisdom are one. There is no brighter jewel in womanly character than the discretion which reflects a simple and true heart (Proverbs 11:22).
IV. DUTIFULNESS. One of the most attractive qualities of Esther was her daughter-like fidelity to her foster-father Mordecai, both before and after her election to the throne. She admired, loved, and trusted him. and submitted as a child to his guidance. Young people dislike restraint, and long for the freedom of independence before they are ready to bear the responsibility of it. They often fret under the wise and affectionate safeguards which their parents impose. Yet in after life most men and women are willing to confess that they were very ignorant in youth, and that it would have been well for them if they had understood better, and followed more fully, the parental admonitions which seemed so irksome.
V. INTEGRITY. Esther bore well the sudden flush of prosperity which came upon her. This is first and best seen in her unchanging regard for the man who had been the guardian of her orphaned childhood and youth. Her elevation to Vashti's place made no change in her reverent affection for Mordecai. We read that she "did the commandments of Mordecai like as when she was brought up with him" (verse 20). A very beautiful and instructive example! Changes in condition often work sad changes in heart and conduct. Many grow false to themselves and their past, and to those who formed the chief good of their past, when some tide of prosperity raises them into a higher social circle, and creates new ties which can have no sympathy or connection with the old ones. Nothing is more despicable than that pride of worldly advancement which forgets or looks coldly on early friends whose humble fidelities of affection may have laid the foundation of future success.
The character and conduct of the Jewish maiden teach us—
1. A higher beauty than the physical. In all precious qualities beauty of mind and heart far transcends the most brilliant beauty of face or form. The "beauties of holiness" are the best adornments of man or woman. "Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary" (Psalms 96:6). "Zion is the perfection of beauty" (Psalms 50:2). The prayer of the Church is, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us" (Psalms 90:17).
2. A better possession than worldly rank. The treasure of a good understanding in the fear of the Lord is of more value than any grandeur of outward circumstance. A soul that is humble, patient, trustful, loving, holy, Christlike, has riches that all the gold of Ophir or the diamonds of Golconda could not buy, and is elevated higher than if it were to occupy the greatest earthly throne (Ecclesiastes 7:12; Matthew 6:19-21; John 6:27).
3. The importance of early training. Youth is the seed-time. Seeds are then sown which, in the after life, will surely bring forth fruit either good or evil. Well-meaning parents may be sometimes unwise, and well-trained children may sometimes go astray; but the rule is—"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Esther may be taken as an illustration of the powerlessness of worldly influences to change the feelings of the heart, or the judgments of the mind, or the government of the life, in the ease of one who in early youth has been trained, under loving care, in the principles and practices of a holy religious life.
4. The truth of the saying, "Man proposes, but God disposes." In all the incidents connected with Esther's election to be queen we see the guidance of an invisible hand. The narrative is brief, simple, and artless; but on that very account it impresses us all the more with the conviction of a Divine purpose and leading.—D.
Mordecai possessed a lofty nature, and was destined to do great things; but our notice of him here is restricted to his relation to Esther up to the time when she was made queen. He presents to our view—
I. A FINE NATURAL DISPOSITION. When his cousin Esther lost her parents he "took her for his own daughter." His heart and home were at once opened to the little orphaned girl. The natures of men vary greatly. Some are born tender, some hard; but all may do much to cultivate the softer affections of sympathy and love. The ties of kindred and friendship afford many opportunities for their exercise.
II. A RECOGNITION OF THE DIVINE LAW. Mordecai's adoption of Esther was in accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic legislation. As a good Jew, he could scarcely have done otherwise. This, however, does not detract from the pure benevolence of his conduct. The good actions of religious people are often regarded as mechanical and constrained, as springing rather from a slavish fear of authority than from a willing and loving heart. On this point observe—
1. That natural light and strength are insufficient. All history and experience teach that when left to himself man becomes hard-hearted and cruel in his self-regard.
2. That a Divine revelation of truth with respect to relative and other duties is an unspeakable benefit. It is a clear light amidst the dark confusions of sin.
3. That good natural dispositions are purified and strengthened by a reverence for Divine truth. Mordecai, apart from religious influence, might have charged himself with the care of his orphaned relative; but, if so, his sense of obligation to Jehovah's law would deepen his compassionate interest, and give a sacredness to the adopted duties of fatherhood. The religion of God adds power and freedom to the exercise of all affections that are unselfish and good.
III. A FAITHFUL DISCHARGE OF ACCEPTED DUTY. It was no grudged place that Mordecai gave to his cousin in his family. He did not put her there, and then allow her to grow up neglected. There is much significance in the words "he brought her up." They imply, as the result shows, that he bestowed loving attentions on her; that he trained her carefully, tenderly, and religiously. It is not enough to acknowledge duty; the important thing is to discharge it. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them" (John 13:17).
IV. A HELPER IN TIME OF NEED. Before Esther was removed from her adopted home, Mordecai had time to speak to her words of comfort and instruction. One piece of advice he gave her was that she should keep secret her lineage or nationality (verse 10). It was meant to protect her from needless humiliations and troubles, and perhaps to remove a hindrance to her reaching the dignity of wifehood and queenhood. From this fact we gather that the fatherly Mordecai spent the moments that preceded the parting in administering solace and courage and wise counsel to the trembling maiden. A true love never fails, and it shines brightest in the sympathies and succours which suffering claims.
V. A CONTINUING CARE. Mordecai did not cease to watch over the charge whom God had entrusted to him when she was removed into another sphere. Separation did not diminish his love or relax his care. He had evidently an appointment which allowed him to be near her; for we read in verse 11 that he "walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her." Some parents think that when they get their children off their hands, as it is called, they have met every obligation of duty. Mordecai thought and acted differently, and in this he was a type of Christ, who, having loved us from the first, loved us to the last; who, when we were led captive by sin, still loved and cared for us, and became himself our ransom; who, now that he is ascended above all heavens, is still ever near to guide us by his word and Spirit in the way that leads to a crown and throne immortal. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).
1. As followers of God and his Christ, we should consider the orphaned and needy (Psalms 68:5; James 1:27).
2. God blesses those who, like himself, are compassionate and merciful. Mordecai was amply rewarded for all his faithful and loving care of the orphan child, in the beautiful, modest, wise, winning, courageous, and pious woman who became the queen of Persia and the saviour of Israel (Matthew 10:42).—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The pagan harem and the Christian home.
Every one is inclined to feel kindly toward the orphan Esther, who, at her own great risk, rendered such signal service to her race. But her introduction to us as one of the candidates for royal favour, among several other women of the harem, is far from pleasing. Under the teaching and influence of Christian truth we have formed habits and acquired instincts and sensibilities which are so far removed from those of Eastern lands, that it is difficult to read, without a strong prejudice, even this purely-written page. We have suggested to us—
I. A. STRIKING CONTRAST BETWEEN A PAGAN HAREM AND A CHRISTIAN HOME. We have the virgins "requisitioned" from all the provinces (Verse 8), the fairest and finest being taken from their parents and friends, a large part of the palace specially assigned them before admission to the king s chamber (verse 8), and another devoted to them afterwards, when they had become his concubines (verse 14); the extensive and protracted preparation, or "purification," including everything that could conduce to bodily comeliness and sensuous gratification, and extending over an entire year (verse 12); the introduction to the royal presence after a choice made by the maiden herself of whatever she thought would adorn her person (verses 13, 14). In all this we have an extravagant and evil provision for one man's satisfaction. Well had Samuel warned his countrymen (1 Samuel 8:1-22.) against the monarchy of those times and lands. It meant the elevation of a single individual to a post of such dignity and power that the people were much at his mercy and held their life, property, and honour at the caprice of one erring and passionate mortal. How excellent and how pleasing to be led away in our thought by the suggestion of contrast from the heathen harem to the Christian home. This is based on mutual spiritual attachment. It is spiritual; for the love which precedes and justifies a union of man and wife is not an ignoble passion nursed by such sensuous attractions as the king's chamberlain spent his ingenuity in perfecting; it is a beautiful combination of esteem and affection; the pure admiration which is felt for the beauty of virtue, for spiritual graces, as well as for fineness of form and sweetness of face. It is mutual. No union is sacred, in Christian morality, if the love of the one is not returned by the affection of the other. And, therefore, it is lasting; not lingering for a few weeks or months at most, but extending through the whole life, and becoming more real as the years go by. Begun in youth, it glows in prime, and shines with serene and steady light through declining years. Let us mark here a proof of the excellency of our holy faith. One of the very worst consequences of the reign of sin in this world is the degradation of woman. Meant to be man's helpmeet and companion as he walks the path of life, she became, under its dominion, the mere victim of his ignoble passion. But what has the Christian faith done for woman, and through her for society? It has introduced such purity and elevation of spirit, that it is painful even to read a page like this; so that it has become a" shame to us even to speak" of the things heathenism does without any shame at all. What a contrast between the Christian home, at this day, and the home of the Mahommedan and the heathen! It is the handiwork of Jesus Christ.
II. AN INSTRUCTIVE INSTANCE OF GOD'S WAY OF WORKING (verses 16, 17). It is true that (verses 6, 7) Mordecai was a kindly and generous man, treating his uncle's daughter, Esther, as his own child; it is true that the "fair and beautiful" Esther was modest, and cared not to deck and trim herself with ornaments, that "she required nothing but what Hegai, the king's chamberlain, … appointed" (verse 15). But we should not have supposed that God would condescend to use such a heathen custom as this to place one of his people on the Persian throne, and, by such means, to provide for the rescue of the Jewish race. Yet he did. He thus brought it about, in his providence, that one who feared him and was disposed to serve his chosen people "obtained grace and favour in the sight" of the king (verse 17), and had "the royal crown set upon her head." He who "makes the wrath of man to praise him" can make other passions of men to serve him. We must not be hasty in concluding that God is not working in some sphere, or by some instrument, because it may seem to us unlikely. God not only rules, but overrules. And when we can take no part in institutions, or are obliged to refuse to enter circles, or can have no fellowship with men, because to do so would compromise our principles, we may stand by and pray that the overruling hand of Heaven will compel even those things, or those men, to subserve his cause and the welfare of the world.
III. A HOPEFUL FACT FOR THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD. As heathenism and Mahommedanism perish—and both are "marked to fall"—such a system as that described in this chapter becomes impossible. In place of it is the purifying influence of the Christian home. What flowers and fruits of virtue, wisdom, kindness, diligence, purity, bloom and ripen there. The future of the world is in the Christian parent's hand. Let the fathers and the mothers of Christendom do their duty in
(1) teaching the truth of Christ, and in
(2) training their sons and daughters in all Christian virtues, and then there will go forth an influence for good which will permeate and regenerate the world.—C.
MORDECAI'S DISCOVERY OF A PLOT AGAINST AHASUERUS' LIFE (Esther 2:19-23). Some time after Esther had been made queen, there was a second collection of virgins at Susa (verse 19), under circumstances which are not related, and which were probably of small importance. At this time (verse 21) Mordecai, still serving in his humble office at the palace gate, from which he had not been advanced, since Esther had told no one that he was her relation (verse 20), happened to detect a conspiracy against the king's life, which had been formed by two of the palace eunuchs, Bigthan and Tercsh, whom Ahasuerus had somehow offended (verse 21). Being still in the habit of holding communication with Esther, Mordecai was able to make her acquainted with the facts, of which she then informed the king, telling him how she had obtained her knowledge (verse 22). There was nothing surprising or suspicious in a eunuch of the palace having had speech with the queen, especially when he had intelligence of such importance to impart to her. On inquiry, the king found that Mordecai's information was correct; the conspiracy was laid bare, and the conspirators put to death (verse 23)—the facts being, as was sure to be the case, entered in the court chronicle, a daily record of the life of the court, and of the circumstances that befell the king. It was to have been expected that Mordecai would have been rewarded for his zeal; but somehow or other it happened that his services were overlooked he was neither promoted from his humble office, nor did he receive any gift (Esther 6:3). This was quite contrary to ordinary Persian practice; but the court generally may .have disliked Mordecai because he was a Jew.
When the virgins were gathered together. Rather, "When virgins." There is no article. The fact seems to be mentioned simply as furnishing a date, and we must suppose both that there was a second gathering, and that the time when it happened was generally known to the Jews and Persians. Then Mordecai sat, etc. The three verses, 19, 20, 21, hang together, and form a single sentence: "When virgins were gathered together a second time, and Mordecai was sitting in the king's gate—now Esther had not showed her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the command of Mordecai like as when she was brought up with him—in those days, while Mordecai sat in the king's gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs, being of the number of them which kept the threshold, were wroth," etc.
Esther had not yet showed, etc. This is inserted to account for the humble position still occupied by Mordecai. In the East a person's relations usually rise with him; and the reader would naturally expect that when Esther was once queen, Mordecai would have become rich and great. Esther's silence accounts for Mordecai's low estate; Mordecai's command (see verse 10) accounts for Esther's silence. For Esther did the commandment of Mordecai. The royal dignity did not change Esther's heart. She was still the dutiful child she had been so many years. Mordecai had forbidden her to tell her kindred; he had not removed his prohibition, so she had kept silence.
In those days. Or, "at that time"—i.e. at the time when the second gathering of the virgins took place (see Esther 2:19). Two of the king's chamberlains. Rather, "eunuchs." Bigthan, or Bigthana (Esther 6:2), is probably the same name as the Bigtha of Esther 1:10, and possibly the same personage. Teresh is not mentioned elsewhere. Of those which kept the door. Two of the eunuchs who guarded the entrance to the king's sleeping apartment. This was a position of the highest possible trust, and gave conspirators a terrible advantage. Xerxes actually lost his life through a conspiracy formed by Artabanus, the captain of his guard, with Aspamitras, a eunuch and chamberlain (Ctes; 'Exc. Pers.,' § 29).
And the thing was known unto Mordecai. Josephus says that a certain Pharnabazus, a slave of one of the conspirators, betrayed them to Mordecai ('Ant. Jud.,' 14.6, § 4). One of the Targums on Esther attributes his discovery of the plot to his knowledge of languages. But it is probable that these are mere guesses. And Esther certified the king thereof. The original is simpler, "And Esther told it to the king." In Mordecai's name. Mordecai's name thus came first before the king. Esther mentioned him as her informant, but did not say that he was related to her (comp. Esther 8:1).
It was found out. The subsequent history shows that Mordecai's information was found to be correct, since he was ultimately adjudged to have deserved the highest possible reward (Esther 6:6-10). The two conspirators were condemned to death and hanged on a tree, i.e. crucified or impaled, as traitors and rebels commonly were in Persia (see Herod; 3.159; 4.43; 'Behist. Inscr.,' Colossians 2:0. pars. 13, 14; Colossians 3:0. par. 8). And it was written in the book of the chronicles. Historiographers were attached to the Persian court, and attended the monarch wherever he went. We find them noting down facts for Xerxes at Doriscus (Herod; 7.100), and again at Salamis (ibid. 8.90). They kept a record something like the acta diurna of the early Roman empire (Tacit; 'Ann.,' 13.31), and specially noted whatever concerned the king. Ctesias pretended to have drawn his Persian history from these "chronicles" (up. Diod. Sic; 2.32), and Herodotus seems to have obtained access to some of them. Before the king. i.e. "in the king's presence." This was not always the case; but when the matter was very important the king exercised a supervision over what was written.
Esther was an adopted child. Her debt to Mordecai was very great, for nurture, care, training, and affection. And she was not forgetful of her obligation; she gladly repaid the solicitude of her cousin by her gratitude, reverential regard, and filial obedience. The habit of obedience continued in after life. As far as was consistent with the higher relation of married life, she maintained her grateful and affectionate subjection to her kinsman. If this was right and just, how evidently is it a duty for children carefully to display and exercise the virtue of filial obedience.
I. THE HABIT OF FILIAL OBEDIENCE SHOULD BE FORMED EARLY. It is of very little use for a parent to begin to exercise authority, to require obedience, in after life. If the child has not from its infancy been accustomed to obey, it is highly improbable that the habit will be formed in youth.
"'Tis education forms the youthful mind;
Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined."
There is reason to fear that in our days more children are ruined by indulgence than by harshness; multitudes by the foolish alternation of the two opposite and equally pernicious modes of treatment. If early formed, the habit of obedience will "grow with the child's growth, and strengthen with his strength."
II. THE DEMANDS UPON FILIAL DUTY SHOULD BE REASONABLE. There was occasion for the admonition, "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." Capricious and arbitrary requirements are destructive of all respect, and will only secure compliance whilst there is no power to withhold it. Little children cannot always understand the reason for parental injunctions and prohibitions. But it is wise, as children grow up, to show them the justice and expediency of household regulations, etc. Tyranny on the part of the parent is likely to awaken resentment or to foster deceit on the part of the child.
III. AFFECTION AND GRATITUDE WILL MAKE OBEDIENCE EASY AND DELIGHTFUL. There may be a stage in a child's education when compulsion is necessary and proper; but, generally speaking, the appeal must be that of love to love. A parent's will is a child's law where the parent is wise and the child is grateful and affectionate.
IV. THE REVERENCE AND OBEDIENCE OF CHILDREN SHOULD, WITHIN LIMITS, BE CONTINUED IN MATURER LIFE. A wife's obligations are primarily towards her husband. Still there is force in the English proverb, "A daughter's a daughter all her life." Still she will not forget her father's house, her mother's love. God's blessing ever rests upon this beautiful virtue of filial love and obedience. This was expressed in the commandment with promise, "Honour thy father," etc.
A plot in the palace.
All arbitrary governments are liable to conspiracies; all arbitrary, absolute monarchs to assassination. Especially has this been the case in all ages with Oriental despotisms. We know from history that it was so in Persia; and in fact this very Ahasuerus, if he was the Xerxes of history, fell afterwards a victim to a foul conspiracy. It was not always a political motive that prompted such plots; the motive was oftentimes personal—it might be ambition, or covetousness, or envy, or malice, or revenge.
I. We have here the record of A CONSPIRACY HATCHED. The conspirators were chamberlains, officers of the royal household, probably under an obligation to the king for favour shown. What passion influenced them, what aim they sought, we do not know. But their plot was hateful and iniquitous, and in any case inexcusable and indefensible. Happy is the nation which is under constitutional government, and in which there is no temptation to secret plots.
II. We have here the record of A CONSPIRACY DETECTED. It was discovered by an alien, and a person in a lowly, even obscure, station. How Mordecai detected the plot we are not told; but he had the opportunity, through his adopted daughter, of communicating with the court, and thus frustrating the abominable designs of the conspirators. Thus Esther's influence would naturally be increased.
III. We have the record of A CONSPIRACY PUNISHED. The avenging was swift and stern. The punishment was probably cruel—by crucifixion or impalement. A quaint writer has said, "Traitors, like bells, are never well tuned till well hanged!" No state can tolerate secret plots against the life of those in authority. Yet such plots have often originated in the sense of wrong, in the crushing feeling' of helplessness, in the frenzy of despair. "Oppression makes wise men mad."
IV. We have here A CONSPIRACY RECORDED. The narrative was inserted in the chronicles of the kingdom for subsequent reference. Thus it served as a memento to the king, as a memorial of Mordecai and his services, as a warning to conspirators, as an encouragement to loyalty.
1. Evil purposes are often defeated, and their abettors punished. "Be sure your sin will find you out!"
2. Mean agents may aid in great enterprises. How often has an obscure subject secured the safety of the sovereign or the state!
3. The providence of God may overrule men's crimes, and make them the occasions of great and signal blessings!
HOMILIES BY D. ROWLANDS
A superficial view might lead to an unqualified admiration of Esther and Mordecai, the principal characters in the scene before us. And not without reason, for they exemplify in their conduct some of the nobler qualities of human nature. With regard to Esther, note—
1. That she remembered in her prosperity the associations of the past. This did credit both to her head and to her heart; it evinced her sound sense as well as her humble-mindedness. It is pitiable to witness sometimes the way in which those who have risen in the world forget their lowly origin; they look down with contempt upon those who are still in the position which they themselves once occupied; and nothing wounds their pride more keenly than the slightest allusion to the home of their childhood. But such a miserable display of weakness only degrades them in the estimation of all right-minded men. Esther was very different from this. Amidst the splendours of the royal palace she could not forget her former obscure lot. And this must have been an ennobling power in her soul, elevating her above the corrupt influences of a profligate court.
2. That she showed gratitude to the man who had befriended her in adversity. She had been left a helpless orphan; and must have been thrown upon the mercy of a heartless world, had it not been for the timely succour of her generous kinsman. But there are natures upon whom such services make no lasting impression. They are altogether absorbed in self. Affluence, luxury, ease, harden their hearts, and make them utterly insensible even to the claims of gratitude. But Mordecai's kindness to Esther embraced her entire being; it pervaded all the motives which fashioned her life. Whenever She hesitated how to act, she would put to herself the question, "What would Mordecai advise?" and upon the answer would depend her course of conduct. And this is the highest style of affection, which issues in obedience, self-renunciation, submission to another's will. With regard to Mordecai, note—
3. That he had made the greatest sacrifice for the sake of another. He must have loved Esther deeply, tenderly, devotedly. And no wonder. Her beautiful form, and still more beautiful soul, could not have developed themselves beneath his eye without stealing away his heart. But when the grand prospect of her being raised to the throne presented itself, he hesitated not to give her up. So far we are constrained to admire. But deeper reflection makes us pause. In this most important juncture they seem to have been too completely actuated by mere POLICY. That success crowned their efforts is no excuse for their conduct. On the same ground you might justify some of the most hideous stratagems ever devised by depraved ingenuity. Never let the dazzling glare of the prosperity sometimes attendant upon false moves make us blind to the beauty of eternal principles. Nor can they be excused on the ground that they were carrying out the designs of Providence. For in the same manner you might justify the conduct of Joseph's brethren in selling their brother, and even the conduct of the Jews in crucifying the Saviour. What is POLICY? It is the substitution of the expedient for the right. It is the spirit which constantly asks, What will best promote our own interests? instead of asking, What will best satisfy the immutable claims of justice, truth, and honour? Observe—
I. THAT POLICY HAS A WORLDLY AIM. What is worldliness? An inordinate love of the present, the sensual, the temporal, with corresponding' neglect of the future, the spiritual, the eternal. Any line of conduct that is prompted by this temper of the heart must be accounted worldly. Esther had set her mind upon the crown, and Mordecai supported her ambitious views. From a heathen standpoint it was a glorious prize, but to a Jew it was a forbidden acquisition. Probably they contrived to conceal from themselves their real aim by investing it with fictitious attributes.
1. Esther might have desired to elevate the religious tone of the court by gradually making known the God of Israel.
2. Mordecai might have hoped to serve his nation by placing at the seat of power one who would be willing to help them in time of need. But wrong can never be right. We may glorify it with fine names, forgetting that a change of name does not necessarily imply a change of nature. Let us consider how policy affects men's conduct in politics, in religion, and in private life.
(1) In politics. Wars are sometimes undertaken, with the professed aim of extending to benighted races the blessings of civilisation and Christianity, whose real object may be to flatter national vanity, and satisfy the greed of rulers. Thus base acts acquire a dignity from the halo cast around them by high-sounding names.
(2) In religion. Men will contend for the success of a religious party, with whose prosperity their own honour is bound up, under the mistaken notion that they are fighting the battles of religion itself. Like the idol-makers who defended the faith of their ancestors by crying out, "Great is the Diana of the Ephesians," while they thought of nothing so much as the gains of their own craft.
(3) In private life. Think of illegitimate trades. They are engaged in simply because they happen to be lucrative. A man opens a gin palace, and finds that his coffers are rapidly filling with gold. To allay any qualms of conscience which may occasionally disturb his peace, tie pictures to himself the vast power for good which an accumulated fortune may place at his command; but in his heart of hearts he really worships wealth.
II. POLICY STOOPS TO QUESTIONABLE MEANS. Granted that the crown which Esther sought to secure was a lawful object of an Israelite's desire, how did she endeavour to accomplish her purpose?
1. By contracting an alliance with a heathen monarch, which the Jews, as God's chosen people, were expressly forbidden to do.
2. By becoming that monarch's concubine before she became his wife. The loose notions in reference to this amidst which she had been educated may explain her conduct, but cannot justify it. It may also be urged that she had no option in the matter, that the monarch's will would brook no opposition, that disobedience might bring death. The only reply is that death is better than dishonour.
3. By having recourse to duplicity. She never made known her people, for fear it might interfere with her chance of promotion. In all this it is evident that Esther—and Mordecai, her adviser, too—had thought more of what was expedient than what was right. Note—
(1) That the conduct of good people, even in the most important transactions, are not always to be imitated. Not only in small matters, but also in great matters, are they liable to err. Precedent is a poor standard to appeal to, for it may mislead us when the most momentous principles are at stake.
(2) That true heroism, consists in doing right, irrespective of the consequences. This heroism has its type in Daniel rather than in Esther; in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rather than in Mordecai. If you want to see the highest heroism, you need not gaze upon the battle-field, where men, through the maddening excitement of the conflict, defy death at the cannon's mouth, for there it cannot be found. Rather let your wondering eyes be directed to the martyr dying at the stake, to the pioneer of truth braving the scorn of the world, to the patient worker for the common good who toils in obscurity, and seeks no higher reward than the approval of his own conscience.—R.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
Conspiracy and fidelity.
I. THE INSECURITY OF ANY POSITION THAT IS NOT WELL FOUNDED. The throne of a despot is like a house built on the sand, or like a city under which smoulder volcanic fires. There is no darker page in history than that which records the doings and sufferings of despotic rulers. It is in the nature of an autocratic rule, which subjects the liberty of multitudes to the will of one man, to breed discontents and plottings. When truth and justice are outraged, time only is required to vindicate and avenge them. The first and third Napoleons may be taken as illustrations in modern times. The present Czar of Russia is a just and merciful man, but, occupying a false position, ruling a vast empire not through free institutions, but by personal will, his reign is troubled by the dark conspiracies which now create such fear and horror. The government of that country alone is secure where law and liberty go hand in hand together; where reverence for the throne is maintained by a strict regard for the rights of the people, and where the national constitution and the national life are based on principles that lie deep in the word of God.
II. THE INSECURITY OF LIFE GENERALLY. The king of Persia's life hung by a very slender thread when the two traitors were conspiring. One blow, and all his grandeur would have faded under the dark shadows of death. But all life is insecure. Death has a myriad forms. None are free from it. A cold, a slip of the foot, a breath of unseen vapour may put out the living spark, and quench every earthly hope. A thought so solemn should lead all to take earnest care that their life-building is well founded—built into that foundation of Christian truth and grace which cannot be moved. Christ in the heart conquers the fear of death, and turns the "last enemy" into a friend (John 11:25, John 11:26).
III. THE VIRTUE OF FIDELITY. We cannot tell how Mordecai discovered the design of the conspirators. He may have been asked to join them, or he may have heard or seen enough to awaken suspicion and make him watchful. In any case, he was faithful to his trust, he was loyal to the king whom he served. In all the relationships of life there are attached responsibilities and duties to which we are bound before God and man to be faithful. Fidelity is due, for example, to our sovereign, our government, our country; to our parents, our masters, our associates; to our Church, our brethren in the faith, our God and Saviour. Treachery is a vile sin against God and man, and a grievous enemy to the heart that cherishes it.
IV. FIDELITY HAS A GOOD ALLY IN WISDOM. It is a delicate and dangerous matter to interfere with the dark plottings of unscrupulous men. One needs to be sure of his ground before he charges others with unfaithfulness of any kind. But Mordecai was as prudent as he was loyal; a man of experience, of resource, and of self-reliance. He first made himself sure of the facts, and then by means of Esther secured that the plot should be quietly divulged, and that the two traitors should be seized before they had time to conceal evidence, or concoct a defence which might deceive the king, and cover with shame their bold accuser. Charges against the virtue of men should never be lightly made. A rash and impulsive fidelity may do more harm than good. A wise head works well with a true heart. It is noteworthy that Esther showed at once her confidence in Mordecai's prudence, and her desire to gain for him the credit of his fidelity, in her "certifying the king (of the plot) in Mordecai's name."
V. FIDELITY BRINGS OPENINGS FOR GOOD SERVICE IN ALL RANKS OR POSITIONS. Mordecai was a humble man, yet, being faithful to present duty, a time came when he could do, and therefore did, important service. It is wrong and foolish to despise any position, however lowly. A young man may at first occupy a post that is not encouraging either in its duties or in its rewards, but persevering fidelity will in duo time make its mark and attract attention and respect; and when that occurs the way to success lies open. So also in the field of Christian labour. The service of Christ is confined to no station. Loyalty to the Saviour's truth and name is all that is required to make any man fruitful in good works. The very lowliest may be, in his own circle of influence, as a light shining in the darkness, as a living epistle of Christ, known and read of men. There are endless ways of serving Christ. Opportunities are never wanting to the faithful. God never fails to use and honour those who live in the truth of his word.
VI. THE WANT OF FIDELITY IS A HIGHWAY TO DISGRACE AND RUIN. The plotters against the king of Persia were no doubt very secret and very clever; yet they were found out and doomed to death. Such crimes oftener fail than succeed. It is one of the striking features of historical crime that it has so generally failed, and that the projectors of it have so uniformly met with just retribution. In almost every criminal plan there is some weak point or person; some oversight, or over-confidence, or miscalculation, or unexpected contingency. Righteousness is the real law of God's universe, and when violated it always, in some time and way, exacts a just penalty. Nor are the issues of evil confined to the present life. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
VII. FIDELITY HAS A SURE REWARD.
1. It is always its own reward. The consciousness of having resisted and overcome evil, of having been faithful to duty at all risks, is better to the heart than any gain of gold.
2. Though not always recognised at once, it is sure in time to be duly seen and honoured. In the long run even the world seems to get light, and to do justice, with regard to noble acts which at the time of their performance were allowed to pass unheeded. Mordecai's loyalty and its result were recorded in the king's chronicle only to be forgotten. Yet a time came when the record met the king's eye, and touched his heart, and brought a power to the faithful Jew which enabled him to foil the project of the would-be destroyer of his race.
3. Man may forget, but God remembers. It was in the line of God's providence that the fidelity which saved the king's life should be brought into prominence, and receive its reward, at the proper time. Whether our faithfulness to duty be recognised or overlooked by men, it should be enough for us that God knows it, and records it in his book of remembrance—to be brought to light in his own great day.
VIII. FIDELITY TO GOD EMBRACES AND SANCTIFIES THE DUTIES OF EVERY SPHERE. To be true to God is to be true to men. Every sin against man is a sin against God. Every failure of duty to those above or about us in the world is a breach of fidelity to God's holy and gracious will. Treachery on earth is viewed as treachery in heaven. A solemn fact! The more fully we submit to God, the more heartily we love and follow Jesus, the better shall we be and do as parents and children, as masters and servants, as rulers and ruled, as friends and fellow-workers, and as members of a Christian Church. Loyalty to God means a true and holy life.—D.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
"And when inquisition was made of the matter, it was found out." Two men, Bigthan and Teresh, had a grievance. The king's favouritism may have pained them, or their own ambition galled them. Absolute systems of government, like that in Persia, generally foster conspiracies. Kings have always been "fair marks for traitors." Queens also have shared this danger. Our Queen Elizabeth said," In trust I found treason;" and, "I marvel not so much that I am, as that I am not." Bigthan and Teresh, owing to their position as chamberlains, had every opportunity of poisoning the king when awake, or assassinating him when asleep. They had a plan, and were as careful to keep it to themselves as possible; but it became known, and "inquisition was made of the matter, etc.
I. THE MOST CAREFULLY-CONCEALED PLANS ARE LIABLE TO BE MARRED BY UN-THOUGHT-OF INSTRUMENTALITY. It is right to plan for success in our lawful under- takings. We should have no plans but such as those on which we can ask God's blessing. To plot against the welfare of others is always dangerous. Plotters are ever likely to "hoist with their own petard." Accident may mar our plottings. A word dropped, or a look passed, may betray. There is generally some Mordecai who carries the whisper to an Esther, and an Esther who carries it to the one most interested. Sometimes God directly thwarts wicked planning. Pharaoh said, "I will pursue," etc; but God "blew with his wind." "They sank as lead in the mighty waters."
II. UNWORTHY PLANNINGS ARE OFTEN SUBJECT TO THE KEENEST SEARCHINGS. The king made thorough investigation into the matter. He did not condemn on mere hearsay or suspicion. Many, in the anxiety to protect self, are seized with prejudice which hinders just deliberation. A watch was set. Manners, companions, places of resort were marked. Inquisition was made.
III. ALL WRONG-DOING WILL SOONER OR LATER BE DISCOVERED. "The thing was found out." Bigthan and Teresh learned their folly when suffering impalement, the usual punishment of traitors in Persia. They might not have been discovered. Wickedness is sometimes successful in this world, and evades justice. That which may escape detection by men cannot pass the eye of God. Ahasuerus little knew what was in the hearts of those men, but God knew. Bigthan and Teresh would have served Ahasuerus as Ehud did Egion, or Joab, Abner. Learn—
1. That there will be inquiry into our lives, our acts and motives.
2. That none will be exempt from the searching.
3. That we should take warnings given in kindness.
Suppose Ahasuerus had paid no heed to Mordecai's warning; he would have lost crown, throne, and life.—H.
Written, but not remembered.
"It was written in the book of the chronicles before the king." The king had been delivered from danger, but he seems to have overlooked the deliverer. Ahasuerus had at least one faithful subject, Mordecai. This man had proved his loyalty by his acts, while Bigthan and Teresh paid the penalty of disloyalty by being hung. Criminals and the righteous were alike spoken of, in the chronicles of the king.
I. MAN, EVEN WHEN HE PROMISES TO REMEMBER BENEFITS, IS LIKELY TO FORGET. Ahasuerus commanded Mordecai's act to be recorded. He intended to reward him. Mordecai doubtless expected some recognition of his services, but he was for a long time disappointed. It is a "black blot" on the name of Ahasuerus that he forgot his indebtedness.
II. GOD NEVER FORGETS MAN'S GOOD ACTS OR EVEN KINDLY THOUGHTS. All are written in his book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16). He, the King of kings, gives reward beyond our deserts. We should remember how much we owe to Christ, who is the good Mordecai who warns and saves us. We should write it in our memories that we owe everything to him for his grace and forbearance. Not until we reach the other world, and look over life's history, shall we know how much we owe to him.—H.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany