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AHASUERUS RECEIVING ESTHER FAVOURABLY, SHE INVITES HIM AND HAMAN TO A BANQUET. ALLOWED TO ASK WHATEVER BOON SHE LIKES, SHE INVITES THEM BOTH TO A SECOND BANQUET (Esther 5:1-8). Esther, we must suppose, kept her fast religiously for the time that she had specified (Esther 4:16), and then, "on the third day," made her venture. It has been asked, Why did she not request an audience, which any subject might do, and then prefer her request to the king? But this would probably have been wholly contrary to Persian custom; and to do such a thing may not even have occulted to her as a possible course. Set audiences were for strangers, or at any rote for outsiders, not for the members of the court circle. To have demanded one would have set all the court suspecting and conjecturing, and would certainly not have tended to predispose the king in her favour. She took, therefore, the step which had seemed to her the one possible thing to do from the time that Mordecai made his application to her, and entering the inner court, stood conspicuously opposite the gate of the king's throne-room, intending to attract his regard. It happened that the king was seated on his throne, looking down the pillared vista towards the door (verse 1), which was of course open, and his eye rested on the graceful form (Esther 2:7) of his young wife with surprise, and at the same time with pleasure (verse 2). Instantly he held out to her the golden sceptre, which showed that her breach of etiquette was forgiven; and, assuming that nothing but some urgent need would have induced her to imperil her life, he followed up his act of grace with an inquiry and a promise—"What is thy request, queen Esther? It shall even be given thee to the half of the kingdom" (verse 3). The reader expects an immediate petition on the part of the queen for the life of her people; but Esther is too timid, perhaps too wary, to venture all at once. She will wait, she will gain time, she will be sure that she has the king's full affection, before she makes the appeal that must decide everything; and so for the present she is content with inviting Ahasuerus and Haman to a "banquet of wine" (verse 4). It is not quite clear why she associates Haman with the king; but perhaps she wishes to prevent him from suspecting that she looks on him as an enemy. At the customary time, towards evening, the banquet takes place; and in the course of it the king repeats his offer to grant her any boon she pleases, "even to the half of the kingdom" (verse 6). Still doubtful, still hesitating, still unwilling to make the final cast that is life or death to her, she once more temporises, invites the pair to a second banquet on the morrow, and promises that then at last she will unbosom herself and say what it is which she desires (verses 7, 8). The king once more accedes to her wish, as we gather from the sequel (Esther 7:1); and so the final determination of the matter is put off for another day.
On the third day. The third day from that on which Esther and Mordecai had communicated together through Hatach (Esther 4:5-17). Esther put on her royal apparel. This is certainly the meaning, though the elliptical phrase used is uncommon. Esther, while she fasted, had worn some garb of woe; now she laid it aside, and appeared once more in all the splendour of her royal robes. She took up her position directly in front of the king's apartment, with the object of attracting his attention, and perhaps with the knowledge that he was upon his throne, whence he could not fail to see her. The king sat upon his royal throne, over against the gate. In a Persian pillared hall the place for the throne would be at the further end, midway between the side walls. The throne would be elevated on steps, and would command a view down the midmost avenue of columns to the main entrance, which would commonly occupy that position.
Esther … touched the top of the sceptre. This was, no doubt, the customary act by which the king's grace was, as it were, accepted and appropriated. It is analogous to that touch of the person or of the garments which secured the suppliant mercy among the Greeks.
What is thy request? It shall be even given thee. The practice of granting requests beforehand is one common among Oriental monarchs. Sometimes no limit at all is placed to the petitioner's liberty of choice—seldom any less wide limit than that of the present passage. According to Herodotus (9:111), there was one day in the year on which the king was bound to grant any request made by a guest at his table. To the half of the kingdom. Compare Mark 6:23, where Herod Antipas makes the same limitation.
Let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet that l have prepared. Such an invitation as this was very unusual. Ordinarily the king and queen dined separately, each in their own apartments; family gatherings, however, not being unknown. But for the queen to invite not only the king, but also another male guest, not a relation, was a remarkable innovation, and must have seemed to the fortunate recipient of the invitation a high act of favour.
What is thy petition? Ahasuerus has understood that it was not for the mere pleasure of entertaining himself and his prime minister at a banquet that Esther adventured her life. He knows that she must still have a request—the real favour that she wants him to grant—in the background. He therefore repeats the inquiry and the premise that he had made previously (verse 8).
My petition and my request is. Esther still hesitates to prefer her real request. We are not likely to be able in the nineteenth century to understand all the motives that actuated her, or all the workings of her mind. Perhaps nothing kept her back but the natural fear of a repulse, and a desire to defer the evil day; perhaps she saw some real advantage in putting off the determination of the matter. At any rate, she again declined to declare herself, and merely gave her two guests a second invitation for the ensuing evening. She concludes, however, with a promise that she will ask no further respite. I will do to-morrow as the king hath said. i.e. I will prefer my real request; I will ask the favour which was in my thoughts when I adventured myself in the inner court without having received an invitation.
A royal throne.
This verse is full of royalty. Esther put on "her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of "the king's house." "The king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house." This royal, throne,, may suggest to us some thoughts concerning the throne of "the King of kings.
I. This royal throne must be approached with REVERENCE. The blessed and only Potentate sits thereon. Before his seat it behoves the creatures of his power to fall prostrate in reverential adoration.
II. This royal throne must be approached with CONFIDENCE. "He that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." It is not honouring God to come to him doubtfully or distrustfully. On the contrary, it is to question his faithfulness and his truth.
III. This royal throne must be approached by us in the attitude of SINNERS AND SUPPLIANTS. It is a throne of grace, and to it we come boldly, that we may "obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Let us draw near as those whose only claim is upon Divine mercy, whose only hope is in Divine condescension and bounty.
IV. This royal throne must be approached by the way of FAITH IN THE DIVINE MEDIATOR, JESUS CHRIST. The High Priest and Intercessor both removes every difficulty in our access, and inspires us with those sentiments of confidence and filial love which will animate us in laying our many petitions for urgent blessings at the very footstool of the throne. Asking through Christ, and in his name, we cannot be refused and disappointed.
What is thy request?
With what trembling and anxiety did the queen—uncalled—venture into the presence of Ahasuerus! She was supported by the knowledge that she was doing her duty to her kindred, and that the prayers of thousands were accompanying her, and seeking a blessing upon her application. Still it must have been to her a relief, a joy, when the golden sceptre was held out for her to touch, and when the king said to her, "What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom." The whole tenor of the Scriptures, and some express statements and promises, justify us in believing that very similar to this is the declaration and assurance of the Most High to those who draw near to his throne of grace in his appointed way, and in the spirit he approves. To such the King of grace and mercy says, "What is thy request? It shall be given thee."
I. Here is A TOKEN OF FAVOUR. This is not the language of rebuff, of indifference; it is the expression of a gracious regard. There is evinced a disposition, a readiness to bless.
II. Here is A SIGN OF INTEREST. Whatever is necessary for the satisfaction of the suppliant shall receive the king's consideration. He is concerned for the petitioner's welfare.
III. Here is AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO PREFER REQUESTS. If before the lips were sealed through fear, language like this is enough to open them. Who can refrain from asking who feels the pressure of his need, and at the same time hears a voice like this drawing him onwards?
IV. Here is A PROMISE OF LIBERALITY. This language was the earnest of good things to come. The petitions are virtually answered before they are presented. Is it not amazing that when we have such inducements to pray our prayers should be so infrequent and so cold?
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Human and Divine sovereignty.
Prayer. These verses suggest thoughts on the sovereignty of man and of God, the suggestion being almost entirely one of contrast rather than comparison.
I. THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN MONARCH AND THAT OF THE DIVINE. "The king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house" (Esther 5:1). The words are suggestive of the exceeding pomp and state with which Persian majesty surrounded itself, of the power it wielded, of the obsequious reverence it claimed. We are reminded of—
1. Royal rank. We make much of the different degrees of dignity that exist amongst us; from the common walks of life we look up beyond the knight to the baronet, to the earl to the marquis, to the duke, to the king, to the emperor, and feel something approaching to awe in the presence of exalted human rank. But what are these hum an distinctions to that which separates the mightiest monarch on earth from him who is (what they call themselves) the "King of kings," who sits not "in the royal house," but on the throne of the universe? Merest bubbles on the surface! invisible specks in the air! small dust of the balance! (Isaiah 40:22-25).
2. Royal power. Some human sovereigns have "the power of life and death"—an awful prerogative for mortal man to wield. They can exalt or humiliate, enrich or impoverish. But they have "no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4). What is their power to his, who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell"? (Matthew 10:28).
3. Royal will. The will of the human monarch is often exercised quite capriciously. Esther could not tell whether, when "she stood in the inner court of the king's house" (verse 1), she would be graciously welcomed or instantaneously ordered for execution. All turned on the mood of the moment. God's will is sovereign, but never capricious. He doeth "according to his will," etc. (Daniel 4:35), but never wills to do that which is unwise, unjust, unkind. By everlasting and universal principles of righteousness-he decides what he will do toward the children of men.
II. THE ACCESSIBILITY AND TREATMENT OF THE HUMAN AND THE DIVINE SOVEREIGN. The subject wants to approach the sovereign; he has requests to make of him. Let us contrast the accessibility and treatment of the earthly with that of the heavenly monarch.
1. When he may be approval. Esther was not acting "according to law" (Esther 4:16) in now drawing near. She did it at the peril of her life. We picture her waiting for the king s notice with tearful eye and trembling heart, lest the "golden sceptre" (verse 2) should not be held out to her. Our great and gracious King is accessible to the meanest of his subjects at any moment. There is indeed a Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) between him and us, but through him we may come "at all times." His throne on which he sits is a throne of grace. His sceptre is one of boundless beneficence. We may touch it when we will (verse 3). If he rebukes us, it is not for coming when he does not send; it is for not coming oftener than we do. "Men ought always to pray."
2. How he may be pleased. Queen Esther sought acceptance by attention to her personal appearance; she "put on her royal apparel." That which we are to wear to gain the favour of our Sovereign is other than this. We are to "be clothed with humility" (1 Peter 5:5). "He has respect unto the lowly" (Psalms 138:6). Of such as the poor in spirit is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Another garment we must have on in our approach to the king is that of faith. Without that it is "impossible to please him" (Hebrews 11:6).
3. What it is he promises. The king of Persia made promise to Esther in very "royal" fashion; he offered her, in word, much more than he had any intention of granting. "It shall be given thee to the hall of the kingdom" (verses 3, 6). To-day he promises superfluously; tomorrow he may virtually withdraw his word. There is no wisdom, carefulness, certainty about it. God's promises are righteous, wise, generous.
(1) Righteous, for he gives nothing to those who are deliberately vicious or impenitent, who "regard iniquity in their heart" (Psalms 66:18).
(2) Wise, for he gives sufficiency to those who are his servants, and who, as such, ask for their daily bread (Psalms 50:15; Proverbs 30:8; Matthew 6:1-34.).
(3) Generous, for he gives abounding spiritual blessings to those who seek them in Christ Jesus (Luke 11:13; Romans 8:32). Not tremblingly to an earthly throne, like Esther, do we come, but "boldly to the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:12), to find grace for all our sin and help for all our need.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDIE
"On the third day," when the fast was over, Esther proceeded to visit the king on her mission of deliverance. We notice here—
I. A PROMISE FAITHFULLY KEPT. Whatever tremblings may have visited her heart, Esther gave no signs of hesitation. Good resolutions often fade before the time of performance arrives. Promises are often forgotten or wilfully broken in the presence of danger.
1. Let us keep truthfully our promises to men. An easy breaking of our word to others is inconsistent with a good conscience or a Christian spirit. Besides, it destroys confidence, imperils success, and is the parent of much unhappiness. Our word should be as "good as our bond" (Matthew 5:37).
2. Let us hold sacred our promises to God. Vows to the Most High should not be lightly made; when made they should be religiously performed. All who confess Christ should strive earnestly and prayerfully to fulfil their engagement to be his. The son in our Lord's parable who promised to go into his father's vineyard, but did not go, is a warning against all false or unfulfilled profession (Psalms 66:13,Psalms 66:14; 1 Corinthians 15:58).
3. Let us remember that "God is faithful." His "word endureth for ever." His promise is sure. He is the unchanging One. Read 1Co 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; Hebrews 10:23; Revelation 21:5.
II. A BEFITTING ATTIRE. Before going to the king Esther put off her sackcloth, and clothed herself in her royal robes. We are struck by the contrast between her conduct now and her conduct when, as a maiden, she was being prepared to make her first appearance before the king. Changed circumstances account for it.
1. Now she was queen. There is a propriety in dress as in all other things. Inattention to bodily attire is no sign of virtue or religion. It may be the mark of
(1) an idle and slovenly spirit,
(2) a want of self-respect,
(3) a vanity which affects the singular,
(4) a desire to show disrespect to others.
Dress in all stations is a visible indication of character. Simplicity is to be studied, but also appropriateness. Women who have the "inward adorning" referred to in 1 Peter 3:3, 1 Peter 3:4 will hardly fail with respect to a suitable "outward adorning."
2. Now she had to consider not herself only, but others. The destiny of Israel seemed to rest on this one act of hers. So she pre- pared herself carefully for it. We are not at liberty to be indifferent to our conduct when the happiness or life of other people may be affected by it. Matters of personal taste or feeling may well be sacrificed for the benefit of those who need our help. Even with respect to conscience we should beware of so narrowing it by prejudice as to cripple our freedom in doing good. What to Esther was a little extra care in the arranging of her apparel, when she had resolved to transgress the king's law, and to risk her own life in her effort to save her people? Some Christians in primitive times could make no concessions to their brethren or to Christian liberty with respect to meats, and drinks, and holy days, and traditional ceremonies; and some now-a-days have the same difficulty. But what are such things compared with the salvation of men? Relatively to the great gospel end, and the spirituality of Christ's kingdom, all things connected with outward rite and arrangement should be esteemed of small value. The action of God in Christ is presented to us in this same light (Romans 8:32).
III. A Good BEGINNING. It was not a, long way from Esther's apartments to the king's throne-room; but there are short journeys—even from room to room—more trying than the traversing of deserts. We have a most pitiful sympathy with Esther when we see her in the inner court adjoining the hall in which the king sat on his throne—royally clad, yet unbidden, and perhaps stared at in silent wonder by the officials; and we are relieved and delighted when we find the king observing her through the door and giving her a sign of welcome. The golden sceptre was held out, and Esther advanced to touch it. Thus the broken law was condoned. The first braving of perilous duty often scatters the fears of anticipation. A happy beginning may not insure a prosperous end, but it stimulates faith and energy, and has, therefore, much influence in shaping things towards the end desired.
IV. A RESTORED FAVOUR. The sight of Esther revived in the king's heart the affection which had been cooled under the influence of the favourite. We must not take the offer of "half of the kingdom" in a literal sense. It was an Eastern phrase which indicated on the part of kings a special favour. So far down as our Lord's time we find Herod making the same promise to the daughter of Herodias. Esther would quite understand its meaning. It expressed affection, and promised a gracious hearing to any request she had to make. This was the second and best encouragement to the self-devoted servant of Israel.
1. A formal sign may conceal thought or feeling, but in words the heart betrays itself. An acute hearer will easily detect sincerity or insincerity in the words of a speaker. Even adepts in dissimulation deceive less than they imagine by false and artful words. Our language should e the true and honest reflex of what is in our hearts. Every species of lying is hateful.
2. A misreckoning of our own influence may lead us to misjudge the feelings of others. A better acquaintance with those whom we think dislike us may show that we have been mistaken. We should be on our guard against harbouring un- grounded prejudices or mistrusts with respect to friends or neighbours. Especially should we avoid misjudging God, or shrinking from his presence when we need help, under mistaken notions and fears as to his character and will.
3. The helps and rewards of duty grow with the faithful discharge of duty. Encouragements rise in the path of the man who faces self-denials and dangers at the call of God or conscience. Every step will disclose new springs of help and hope. "Light is sown for the righteous" (Psalms 97:10, Psalms 97:11).—D.
Prudence versus Guile.
I. EVERYTHING HAS ITS SEASON. Why did not Esther at once lay open her heart to the king? Was she confused by his unexpected kindness, or seized with timidity at the moment of peril? Most likely she was prompted by an intuitive feeling that the time was not fit. She might lose everything by precipitancy. It is wise to study occasion or opportunity. Many failures have resulted solely from want of attention to time and place (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
II. PRUDENCE WORKS PATIENTLY. The invitation to the banquet would provide a better opportunity. Yet Esther again deferred her request, though the king repeated his promise to grant her any boon, to "the half of his kingdom." She was acting now not in the dark, or under impulse, but under a new light and in watchful thought. Her regaining of influence over the king gave her confidence and made her patient. Her woman's instinct told her that by prolonging suspense she would increase her power. The king once hers, she could defy Haman. So she worked and waited. The prudence of the righteous may be more than a match for the guile of the wicked. These sometimes seem to resemble each other; but the distinction between is, that while prudence is honourable in method and pure in motive, guile is impure and unscrupulous. God disciplines his people into patience, and then sends them deliverance through it. It is often harder to wait than to work or to suffer. Patience, therefore, is an excelling grace (Psalms 40:1-4; James 1:3, James 1:4).
III. THE BITTER MINGLES WITH THE SWEET IN THE CUP OF THE WICKED. Haman was a proud man when he went forth from the banquet. To have been alone with the king and queen at their private feast, and to be invited to a similar feast on the next day, was almost too much honour for his vain soul to bear. But he had not gone far when his eye fell on the unbending Mordecai. Then indignation took possession of his heart. What a humbling of pride! what a beclouding of joy! So is it always with the happiness of the wicked. It is ever meeting with signs of menace—a word, a look, an attitude, an enemy—which make it fade. A Mordecai sits at the gate that leads from its feastings. Evil joys are attended by a mocking shade which has only to appear to turn them into wormwood.
IV. HOUSEHOLD SYMPATHIES. It was natural that Haman, on reaching home from the palace, should call his friends around him, and tell them of the double honour he had received. Nothing is pleasanter to behold than a united family in which there is a free sharing of confidences and sympathies, all the members rejoicing in the happiness of each. But if the family be godless and wicked, and bound together by common interests of an evil kind, then all the pleasantness of the picture vanishes. Such was the family of Haman. His wife and friends knew the arts by which he had gained the royal favour, and the terrible revenge he was about to execute on the whole Jewish race for the offence of Mordecai. Yet they flattered him as be flattered the king, and stimulated him in his abounding crimes. Saddest of sights that of a family whose bond is wickedness! Learn, further—
1. How character influences. A man who acquires power draws about him his own circle, and infuses his spirit into all the members of it. Children catch the spirit and habits of their parents. Men are known by the companions that attract them.
2. How pride puffs itself up. It was a glowing story which Haman told of his wealth, and grandeur, and promotions, and of the special honours which even Esther was conferring on him. His vanity plumed itself rarely before his admiring hearers. But to us the exhibition is repugnant. It was a self-feeding of all that was worst in the man, and a kindling of hateful fires in the hearts that were listening. The boaster little suspected what the favour of Esther meant. "Pride goeth before destruction."
3. How pride resents affront. The recital of an ill-gotten glory was ended by a confession that all was dimmed by the remembrance of one man. The higher his advancement to honour, the more deeply did the iron of the Jew's contempt enter into Haman's soul. He described to his home circle his passing of Mordecai at the king's gate, and the difficulty with which he had restrained an outflow of his passion. The self-restraint of evil men in presence of supposed insult is exercised not that they may overlook or forget, but that they may inflict a deadlier vengeance.
4. How the result of consultations will be in accordance with the spirit that governs them. The practical question before Haman and his friends came to be, How should Mordecai be dealt with? There was no thought of pity or forgiveness, or even of silent contempt. The insulted favourite could no longer, even in prospect of the coming slaughter, possess his soul in patience. The conclusion arrived at was consistent with the fierce animosity that had communicated itself to every breast. Justice, compassion, wisdom were swallowed up in the common hatred. Notice—
(1) The proposer of the scheme of punishment. We infer that it was Zeresh, the wife of Haman. She, as his most intimate companion, would be most influenced by his spirit, and would enter most sympathetically into his ambitious projects. The tenderest nature may become brutalised by the dominance of evil.
(2) The nature of the adopted proposal. It consisted of three parts:—
(a) That a gallows fifty cubits high should be constructed for the hanging of Mordecai. The higher the gibbet, the more conspicuous, and therefore the more satisfying the vengeance of the favourite.
(b) That Haman was to get the king's sanction for the hanging of the Jew on the morrow. Having secured a decree for the destruction of all the Jews, it would be an easy matter to obtain the premature sacrifice of this one Jew.
(c) That Haman, having done this business, was to "go in merrily with the king unto the banquet." Merrily! with so much evil in his heart! with so much blood on his head! (Psalms 1:1; Psalms 2:1-4).
V. GOD SENDS BLINDNESS TO THOSE WHOM HE MEANS TO DESTROY. Haman had no perception of any influences that were working against him. So vainly secure was his sense of power with the king, that he took Esther's banquets as intended to confer special honour on himself. God had entered the lists against him. It was God who had given to Mordecai the heroism of faith. It was God who had strengthened the timid Esther, and given her "a mouthpiece and wisdom." And it was God who bad allowed Haman to erect a gallows for himself. How blind we become when we fight against God!—D.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The hour that revealed duty.
This verse speaks of an hour when darkness turned to light, gloomy foreboding to well-grounded hope; and when the anguish of trembling suspense was lifted off many a heart, as an unhealthy vapour lifts itself and vanishes before the growing sun. Though it was most true that many a heart was this hour relieved of its strain of anxiety, and was immensely gladdened, yet, as the immediate task had devolved upon Esther, so no doubt the immediate relief was hers. In her first and chiefly the battle was fought and the victory won. In what she thought, did, and obtained we may find concentrated the important suggestions of the hour in question. Notice three things:—
I. THE UNPROMISING APPEARANCES WHICH THIS HOUR PRESENTED. They were not mere dim, vague impressions which it made, nor were they fancies. These appearances were true for the human point of view, however they might be overruled by Divine power and goodness. For men they were hard facts, with which it was necessary to deal. Thus it was certain that—
1. The hour was one which found incalculable human interests at stake. The blotting out of existence, the swift swallowing up of human lives innumerable, with all their precious freightage of love and joy, of purpose and hope, was no light fancy, no vague fear now. Yet that was the appalling uncertainty beneath the burden of which the solemn hour bended. It was not dull cloudiness of sky alone, and that made worse by unnecessary apprehension and weak fearfulness. It was one defined dark mass of cloud.
2. To all human appearance the question of the hour depended on the caprice of one man. It did not resemble some case of great interest, which was going to have the best attention of a select number of the best of people, and thereupon a deliberate decision be taken. In that hour the momentary whim of a capricious despot would decide the question of life or death, for the innocent Esther first, and after her for a whole race, of which she was then the head and representative. But all the while this is, truly speaking, only a forcible case of a constant phenomenon, a genuine fact of human life. We can see, when shown in the dimensions of the instance before us here, the same thing which, because it is on a lesser scale, eludes both belief and even notice in our ordinary life.
3. The responsibility of doing the best possible, or all that was possible, for that hour rested on one gentle, loving woman. What a disproportion! The case is that of the lives of perhaps a million people. The judge is a sensual, capricious Eastern despot. The advocate and intercessor is Esther. And it may be immediate death to her so much as to stand where she does. The occasion witnesses her not defiant, not overcome. It exhibits her a pattern of human self-forgetfulness—that secret of so much of a soul's highest influence on earth, and of its "power to prevail" with heaven. She has collected most calmly a soul's whole force; strength sufficient to the day is hers; and in her may most truly be seen an example of "strength made perfect in weakness."
II. THE CAREFUL PREPARATIONS MADE FOR THIS HOUR.
1. The crisis had not been recklessly nor negligently met. Deep thought had been spent upon it. Anxious consultation had been held upon it. Loving and mature advice had been offered and accepted regarding it.
2. To meet and counteract the things of sight, and "that do appear," resort had been had to faith. The interposition of the Unseen had been sought in "lastings oft" and long. Esther had sent word to Mordecai (Esther 4:16), "I also and my maidens will fast likewise"
3. In this supplication of Heaven the aid of intercession had not been forgotten. Esther had not overlooked the importance of a general union of her people in religious exercise. She called into vitality and determined activity the whole combined and sympathetic force of multitudes, who at her instance did for three days put away from themselves every other thought, care, hope, that they might be found "watching" as regards the crisis of this hour. What an interesting suggestion arises from the words (Esther 4:17), "So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him." The tender ward has become the strong, firm, religious teacher of her guardian.
III. THE GRAND RESULTS OF THIS HOUR.
1. The event of the hour disappointed all fear, rewarded amply all anxious preparation, fulfilled more than the most that hope had dared contemplate.
2. The event of the hour proved different from all that could be reckoned upon at the hands of mere human goodness. And an impressive lesson of religion was taught: "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord" (Proverbs 21:1). This was what secured the rest. "The king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre."
3. The event of the hour was grander because of its contrasts.
(1) Esther's darkest hour changes to light; Haman's day, ablaze with light and confidence and boasting, is overspread, and goes out in darkness and storm.
(2) The change for Esther and her people themselves is great indeed between the beginning and the end of that hour. Toil brought rest so quickly. Fierce struggle brought peace so sweet. Anguish brought bliss so full. These are the contrasts, as safe, as blessed, as they were sudden.—B.
HAMAN, EXULTING AT THESE SIGNS OF ROYAL FAVOUR, IS THE MORE EXASPERATED AT MORDECAI'S CONTEMPT OF HIM. AT THE BIDDING OF HIS WIFE HE RESOLVES TO IMPALE MORDECAI, AND CAUSES A LOFTY CROSS TO BE ERECTED FOR THE PURPOSE (Esther 5:9-14). The favour shown him by the king and queen in admitting him to the very close intimacy implied in their making him the sole companion of their private hours, produced in Haman a dangerous exaltation of spirit. He seemed to himself to have attained the pinnacle of a subject's greatness. Returning home in this frame of mind, and having to pass through the gate where Mordecai was on duty, he was more vexed than usual with that official's disrespect, which was more pointed and open than it had ever been before (Esther 5:9). However, he took no immediate notice of the porter's conduct (Esther 5:10), but proceeded to his own house, where he assembled his friends, and communicated to them, and at the same time to Zeresh his wife, the circumstances which had so greatly raised his spirits. The climax was that "Esther the queen had let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she had prepared but himself; nay, more, he was again invited on the morrow to banquet with her and the king" (verse 12). He added, however, Mordecai's insult remaining fresh in his recollection, that all his glory, all his honours, availed him nothing—were as nothing in his eyes—so long as he was condemned to see Mordecai the Jew every time that he passed though the palace gate, and to be treated by him with contempt and contumely (verse 13). Upon this Zeresh made, and Haman's friends approved, a proposal that a lofty cross should be at once erected in the court of Haman's house, on which Mordecai should be impaled, with the king's consent, as soon as it was finished. Haman agreed to this, recovered his spirits, and gave orders for the cross to be made (verse 14).
Mordecai … stood not up, nor moved for him. Originally Mordecai bad merely declined to prostrate himself before Haman on religious grounds. Now he looked upon Haman as his personal enemy, and would not even acknowledge his presence. There is nothing more galling than such utter contempt shown openly in the presence of others.
Haman refrained himself. That is to say, so far as speech and act went. He said nothing; he did not strike his insulter; he did not order his servants to drag the fellow outside the gate and give him the bastinado. But he did not "refrain his heart." He allowed the affront that he had received to remain in his mind and rankle there. It poisoned his happiness, marred all his enjoyment, filled him with hatred and rage. When he came home, he sent and called for his friends. It was not so much to be partners in his joy that Haman called his friends around him as to be companions in his grief. It is true that his speech to them was chiefly occupied with boasts; but the true intention of the discourse is seen in its close—"All this availeth me nothing," etc.
The multitude of his children. Literally, "of his sons." Of these we see by Esther 9:7-10 that he had ten. To be the father of many sons was accounted highly honourable by the Persians (Herod; 1:136). How he had advanced him above the princes. See above, Esther 3:1.
All this availeth me nothing. The bitter drop in his cup deprived Haman's life of all sweetness. He had not learned the wisdom of setting pleasure against pain, joy against sorrow, satisfaction against annoyance. Much less had he taught himself to look upon the vexations and trials of life as blessings in disguise. His was a coarse and undisciplined nature, little better than that of a savage, albeit he was the chief minister of the first monarch in the world. So little proof is worldly greatness of either greatness or goodness of soul
Let a gallows be made. Rather, "a pale" or "cross." The Persians did not hang men, as we do, but ordinarily executed them by impalement (see the comment on Esther 2:23). Fifty cubits high. This is a very improbable height, and we may suspect a corruption of the number. It occurs, however, again in Esther 7:9. Speak thou unto the king. Haman's wife and friends assume that so trifling a matter as the immediate execution of one Jew will be of course allowed at the request of the chief minister, who has already obtained an edict for the early destruction of the entire people. It certainly would seem to be highly probable that Xerxes would have granted Haman's petition but for the accident of his sleeplessness, as narrated in the next chapter.
Esther 5:11, Esther 5:12
Prosperity and self-gratulation.
In Oriental courts, where promotion depends upon the favour of the sovereign, it is sometimes as rapid as it is undeserved, and as insecure as it is rapid. So was it with the worthless, vain, arrogant Haman. His career is full of instruction, especially as an instance of the effects and perils of prosperity.
I. Observe THE ELEMENTS of worldly prosperity.
1. Riches. The minister's position gave him the opportunity of acquiring vast wealth, especially by means of extortion, and oppression, and bribes. And the king gave his favourite large sums of money, in that lavish and insane capriciousness which distinguished him.
2. Family. We are told that Haman had ten sons, and we know that a large number of sons was counted in Persia the highest blessing of fortune.
3. Promotion and power. What Haman's origin was we are not told, but that he was raised by royal favour to a station he could never have anticipated is clear enough. He was the first of subjects, and had the car of the king, who delegated to him his authority, handing him his signet to use as he thought fit.
4. Pre-eminence over rivals. This, to such a nature as Haman's, was no mean element in joy and self-gratulation. To pass others in the race, to see them behind him, to have them supplicating his favour and good word with the monarch, all this was very gratifying to the minister of state.
5. Favour with the queen. He only was invited to the banquet given by Esther. True, he misconstrued the motive of the invitation; but, at the time, to himself and to the courtiers this must have been regarded as a proof how high he stood in royal favour.
6. The companionship of the monarch. Haman was evidently admitted to frequent audiences; he had the ear of the king, and was not presuming when he deemed himself "the man whom the king delighted to honour."
II. Observe THE NATURAL EFFECTS Of prosperity. That Haman's "head was turned" by the giddy elevation to which he had climbed is clear enough.
1. Joy and elation.
2. Boasting and self-confidence. So convinced was he that he was secure of favour and power, that he vaunted of his greatness before his family and friends.
3. Contempt of those in adversity. This is ever a proof of a mean, a little mind. Remark, that the higher Haman rose, the more did he despise the lowly.
III. Observe THE DANGERS Of worldly prosperity.
1. There is danger lest men forget the vicissitudes of life. "In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved." "Riches take to themselves wings and flee away." "Man that is in honour continueth not."
2. There is danger lest men forget the approach of death. How often has God said to the prosperous, the boastful, the self-confident, "Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee!"
3. There is danger lest men lose sympathy with those in obscurity or adversity.
4. There is danger lest men forget God. They say, like the great king, "Is not this great Babylon that I have built?" like Israel, "My power, and the might of my hand, hath gotten me this wealth." Let these considerations lead the prosperous to reflection, to trembling, to searching of heart.
A little "screw loose" may spoil the working of a vast and powerful engine. A clot of blood upon the brain may suddenly deprive of life a man seemingly healthy and certainly powerful. A seeming trifle may spoil the content and embitter the life of a prince. And so mean a person as Mordecai, by so insignificant an act of disrespect as is here mentioned, may mar the happiness of a great minister of state like Haman, and may make even his prosperity miserable.
I. Consider THE UNSATISFACTORY NATURE OF ALL EARTHLY HAPPINESS.
1. It is at the mercy of circumstances. Ahab was a powerful and prosperous king; but whilst he could not have Naboth's vineyard for his own pleasure nothing gave him any satisfaction. Place your welfare in worldly good, set your heart upon an earthly object, and something will certainly occur to show you the vanity of such an aim and of such a trust. Whatever Haman gained, it was insufficient to make him happy. A poor Jew would not do him reverence; it was the fly in the apothecary's ointment
2. It is at the mercy of an evil heart. The same circumstances which spoil the pleasure of a worldling have no power to occasion a Christian one moment's distress or anxiety. If Haman had not been a bad, and selfish, and vain man he would never have troubled himself about the conduct of Mordecai. A good conscience and a quiet heart, with the habit of referring to God's judgment rather than to men's, will render you largely independent of common causes of solicitude and vexation.
II. This consideration should lead us to SEEK OUR HAPPINESS THERE WHERE EARTHLY TROUBLES WILL HAVE LITTLE POWER TO MAR IT. Not in outward prosperity, not in the approval or the applause of men, not in pre-eminence and authority, is true happiness to be found. But in the favour, the fellowship, and the approbation of him "who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins of the children of men." They who make this choice choose that good part which shall not be taken away from them.
Malevolent purpose and pleasure.
This one verse contains the record of "a world of iniquity," and shows us to what lengths sinners may proceed in their evil plans. Happily the sequel shows us that there is One who says to the raging sea of human malevolence and impiety, "Hitherto shalt thou go, and no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed!" Follow the clauses of the verse, and behold the progress of atrocious crime.
I. WICKED COUNSELLORS. Wife and friends, instead of expostulating with Haman because of his folly, "fooled him to the top of his bent." They counselled him as they knew he would fain be counselled. It is too generally so with the families and companions of the great. Haman's responsibility was not diminished because his friends were partakers of his sin.
II. UNJUST PROPOSALS. What had Mordecai done that deserved hanging? His offence was trifling, and should have been altogether disregarded. It is a serious thing to take away the life even of a murderer; how much more of an innocent, unoffending man.
III. INFLUENCE ABUSED. The minister could not put the poor Jew to death by his own authority. The plan was to speak to the king, and to get his sanction for the detestable deed. It is well when a sovereign is reluctant to use his prerogative and order the execution of a capital sentence; as the Roman emperor, who in such a ease exclaimed, I would I could not write my name; or as Edward VI, who could hardly be persuaded to sign the order for burning one condemned. There was no apprehension of any difficulty with Artaxerxes; let him but be urged by his favourite, and the deed was done. An awful responsibility, to give such advice.
IV. THE HEART RELIEVED AND REJOICED BY AN UNJUST ACT. As Stephen Gardiner would not dine until the tidings reached him that the Protestant bishops were burnt at Oxford, so Haman could not enjoy the banquet until the order for Mordecai's impalement or crucifixion had been given by the king. They sleep not, except they do evil.
V. PLEASURE IN THE PROSPECT OF SIN. "The thing pleased Haman!" What a "thing!" and what a man to be pleased therewith!
VI. MISCHIEF ANTICIPATED. Already, before the project was sanctioned by the king, the order was given to rear the gallows, that the evil work might be accomplished. Little thought they whose body should be hanged thereon, ere many hours were passed.
Practical lesson:—The heinousness of sin; the need of a Divine remedy; the wisdom and grace of God in the gospel of Christ.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The bathos of confession.
After all necessary allowances and substitutions have been made, it may be very justly said that Shakespeare's Wolsey is essentially dwarfed by Scripture's Haman, and that not the finest of Shakespeare's five act plays—wonderful products of human genius as they are—but must yield to the ten briefer chapters, with their five chief characters, of our Book of Esther. The book is indeed a consummate epic of the human heart. Its photographs are vivid and accurate, but they are not the facsimile of a countenance alone, but of things revealed and laid bare, in the fallen type of man, by the most skilful anatomy. What an extraordinary proclamation it makes, at one and the same time, of the vanity of human greatness and of the greatness of human vanity. How forcibly does it remind us of that Scripture that saith not in vain, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;" and there bids us hold our breath awhile. We can scarcely go on to say, Who can know it?" for we find it manifestly set forth as known by One at all events, whose finger guides us to the observation of it, and whose pencil limns it. Certainly the present passage lays bare such a heart to the core of it, and at the core it is bad. It is of an aggravated type. It reveals a miserable creature on his own showing, judged by his own standard, and at the confession of his own lips. We have no difficulty in understanding the description which Haman gives of himself. But the difficulty would lie in crediting the phenomenon of any man, knowing his own symptoms so well, being ready to speak them so frankly, where they are what they are here. Let us notice—
I. SOME STRIKING AND DISCREDITABLE FACTS WHICH HAMAN'S OWN LANGUAGE REVEALS ABOUT HIMSELF. Haman finds himself in trouble. He analyses it himself, and unhesitatingly publishes the results And in doing so he shows these two things about himself:—
1. He can confess without penitence, without shame. In confession one would have hoped to find a favourable symptom. But it aggravates the case if what in ten thousand other instances would have been some redeeming feature, is none here. His confession proves that his trouble is of the smallest kind, and of the smallest quantity. He is exalted with honour, he is laden with wealth, he is closely surrounded with a profusion of earthly blessings. It is the very point of his own representation that he had touched the summit of success. But there was a humble man, no competitor whatever of his, low down on the rungs of the ladder, nor seeking to climb higher. He did not cross Haman's path, but Haman sometimes crossed his. This man, not for whim, nor to affront, but for his religion's sake, did not make the obeisance which the rest around were making to this rising or risen sun. Haman did not know the loss by feeling it. He did not know it till some one, who owned to the gift of not being able to do anything so well as mischief, informed him of the fact. And on this omission, recurring at a critical moment of Haman's glory, it is that Haman confesses to himself, to his wife, to his friends specially called together, that all his wealth, glory, promotion are "nothing" to him while Mordecai withholds his obeisance. This is the confession he makes without one expression of penitence, without one sign of shame.
2. He is content to have self-knowledge without realising any of the benefits that might accompany it. It is not every one who knows his nature's and his own disease so well. There are few who could speak the plague of their own heart so plainly. There was also, apparently, freedom from that form of deception which in things of high moment must ever be the worst—self-deception. Yet if we want to commend Haman for all this, it is impossible. We have to take away more with our left hand than we give with the right. He is not ignorant of self, yet he has no idea of improving self. He is not self-deceived, yet he is not awake to the enormity of his danger. He describes his own loathsome symptoms, yet loathes them not. He speaks them, to boast them.
II. THE TERRIFIC FORCES OF EVIL WHICH UNDERLAY THOSE FACTS.
1. Immoderate ambition. From the moment that his lip made the confession which it did make, Haman should have seemed to hear it as charging him to come down and "avoid ambition." His confession should have sounded the knell of ambition, since, if not, it were certain to sound another knell.
2. The intense worship of self. Haman must be all, and have all. He cannot let an obscure exile in the land have a thought, a liberty, a conscience, a will of his own. He cannot tolerate the slightest infringement of his own rights.
3. The rankling of unforgivingness. A forgiving spirit would have saved Haman all the destruction that was about to descend upon his head. No wound of any sort whatsoever has such a determined bias towards a fatal result as the wound received and not forgiven. Do whatsoever else you will for that wound, this undone it is almost certain that, if in itself not fatal, it will become so.
4. A greed that had grown with getting, an appetite that increased with feeding, and which was now rapacious as the grave. Haman had everything except one thing which he would never have missed unless he had been told of it. The whole day was bright but one moment of it, and then it was only overcast. The whole sky was fair and shining except one little touch of it. The whole prospect was glorious except for one duller spot. Life was a luxurious banquet, immensely to his taste, and there were no fingers of a hand writing dread things on the wall to spoil, hut it was spoiled. Haman says it was utterly spoiled, profoundly unsatisfactory. One little diminution of dignity, one little drop of incense withheld, one little humble, harmless presence, fascinates him, as a basilisk would, nor releases him till he is lured to his ruin. "Dead flies cause the apothecaries' ointment to stink," says Solomon; and "the buzzing of an insect too near the ear may," says Pascal, "thwart a thought and put back a discovery fifty years; but who can defend the man who says, "I have millions of money, multitudes of titles, honour and glory beyond any one beside, 'yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.'"
1. In the larger, bolder, blacker portrait of Haman is there not some semblance of self, when, amid opportunities and advantages innumerable, comforts and joys innumerable, bright prospects and hopes innumerable, we put them all far from us just because everything conceivable is not to our mind.
2. We are prone to share the perverse nature of Haman when, as mere matter of fact, we overlook a thousand mercies we possess in favour of keenly noticing the absence of one withheld, like Eden's apple, or withdrawn after long enjoyment of it.
3. We are prone to share the unfruitful nature of Haman. No fact has come to be better ascertained in human life than this, that it is not those who have most who give most. The greatest opportunity often witnesses the least improvement of it.—B.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
"Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long," etc. How many look with envy upon Haman as he rides forth. His servants hasten on before him, crying, "Bow the knee, bow the knee." Grateful to him is the reverence he receives. He cares not that it is reverence lacking respect, so long as there is outward obeisance. Such an one is sure to observe the least slight. His temper will not endure to see one erect head among so many bowed backs.
I. THE CAUSE OF A PRIME MINISTER'S DISCONTENT. One day Haman, as he goes forth, cannot help seeing that there is one who bows not before him. He pretends not to see the slight, but with difficulty he refrains from commanding his attendants to inflict summary vengeance on the offender. Mordecai thus treated Haman not only once, but constantly. It has been suggested that as the king claimed in some sense Divine honours, so by his command he intended that Haman should have in some degree Divine honour paid to him. Knowing this, Mordecai dare not bend. Some may have called it obstinacy, but it was in reality consistency. Allurements and threats are tried upon him, but in vain. Now if Mordecai refused honour to whom honour was due, he was in the wrong. None may practise incivility. Religion teaches us that we should "be courteous." After all, what a trifle it was that vexed the mind of this grand vizier! It was the one drop of poison in the cup of his joy. It was the black cloud glooming the sunshine of his prosperity. Although he has attained an elevation that may at one time have seemed far beyond his reach, he finds that thorns bestrew his path, and even leave their sharp points on his pillow.
II. MODERN INSTANCES OF SIMILAR DISCONTENT. Who that looked upon Haman as he rode forth in all the glory of purple and gold, or as he lounged on his divan in the midst of his friends, would have supposed that he had anything to cause him so much annoyance? And yet is it not always so? There is a skeleton in every house, the worm in every rose, sorrow in every heart. Look at that stately mansion; see how richly it is furnished; pictures of the choicest character deck the walls; busts and antiques are here and there; the velvety carpet feels like a mossy bank beneath the feet. Ask the occupants of the mansion if they are content, and perhaps the owner will tell you, "All this availeth me nothing," so long as my neighbour on the hill has a house larger and better furnished. The wife will perhaps tell you that" all this availeth nothing," so long as a Certain family is accounted as higher in the social scale than hers; or because at a dinner-party she noticed with annoyance that some one had taken precedence of herself; or because she had not been invited to some great gathering where certain persons of higher rank were expected. The vexations of the weak-minded and exclusive are more than equal to those of the excluded. The petty social, fanciful annoyances oft make all comforts and possessions to "avail nothing" in the production of real happiness. Enter the shop of that tradesman. What a large business he carries on; yet he in his soul is not happy. He is envious. He will confess to himself, if not to you, "All this availeth me nothing," so long as a certain competitor in the same business can buy cheaper, or make money more rapidly. Go along a country road, and note some pretty homestead nestling among the trees; surely that must be the abode of content and peace! You approach it. Meeting the occupant thereof, you congratulate him on the beauty of his dwelling-place and on the charm of the surrounding hills; he, haggard and worn, only replies, "All this availeth me nothing." Look at my neighbour's barn, how much larger, and his crops, how much finer than mine. So the warrior or statesman, the preacher and the potentate, are often alike discontented. They are dissatisfied, successful men. The blessings and privileges they possess are nothing; the trifling lack or annoyance is everything. Their state is as sinful as it is miserable. They are lineal descendants of Haman the Agagite. All the joys, honours, comforts of the world are after all only "as a lamp that goeth out, leaving a disagreeable smell; whereas the peace which flows from an eternal God is like a sun which shineth more and more to the perfect day." To prefer the world to heavenly and spiritual delights is to act according to the folly of one who, being heir. to a kingdom, should yet prefer some map or model to the kingdom itself. How easily might the map be torn or the model be broken! The possession of the kingdom of heaven in the heart can never be destroyed. Those who possess it will not make Haman's confession, "All this availeth me nothing." They will say rather, "Seeking first the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, all other things are added thereunto."—H.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany