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AHASUERUS, BEING WAKEFUL DURING THE NIGHT, HAS THE BOOK OF THE CHRONICLES READ TO HIM, AND FINDS THAT MORDECAI HAS RECEIVED NO REWARD. HE MAKES HAMAN NAME A FITTING REWARD, AND THEN DEPUTES HIM TO CONFER IT ON MORDECAI (Esther 6:1-11). It is among the objects of the writer of Esther to show how the smallest circumstances of life, those most generally regarded as left to chance, work together for good to such as deserve well, and for evil to such as deserve evil. He now notes that the turning-point in Haman's and Mordecai's fortunes was the apparently trivial circumstance of Ahasuerus on a particular night being troubled with sleeplessness. This led to his having the book of the chronicles read to him (verse 1). Another seeming chance caused the reader to include in what he read the account of Bigthan's and Teresh's conspiracy (verse 2). This brought Mordecai's name before the king, and induced him to ask the question, "What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?" The question could only be answered in one way—"There is nothing done for him" (verse 3). Such neglect being a gross breach of Persian law, and a great dishonour to the king who had allowed it, Ahasuerus naturally takes the matter up with earnestness. Something must be done at once to remedy the neglect, some agent must be found to set it right, and so the king asks, "Who is in the court?" Morning has probably arrived during the reading, and Haman, impatient to get the king's consent to Mordecai's execution, has come with the dawn to prefer his request. The king is told that Haman waits without, and sending for him, anticipates the business that his minister had intended to lay before him by the sudden question, asked the moment he has entered, "What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour?" It was natural that Haman, after the favour shown him on the preceding day, should imagine himself the person aimed at, and should therefore fix upon the very highest honour that was within the range of his conceptions (verses 8, 9). He thus became the suggester of honours for Mordecai which might otherwise not have occurred to any one. Ahasuerus, full of the idea of his own neglect, and ready to make any reparation, consents to all that is proposed, and, unaware that there is any unpleasantness between Haman and Mordecai, bids his minister confer the honours which he has suggested (verse 10). The royal command cannot be disputed or evaded, and so Mordecai is escorted through the city by his enemy, who had expected about that very time to be superintending his impalement (verse 11).
The book of records of the chronicles. Compare Esther 2:23, where the title is given more briefly, as "the book of the chronicles." See also Esther 10:2. The character of the book has been already explained (see comment on Esther 2:23). They were read. Either because the king could not read himself, or because the sound of a man's voice might (it was thought) induce drowsiness.
It was found written. See the last words of Esther 2:1-23. Bigthana. "Bigthan" in Esther 2:21; "Bigtha" in Esther 1:10. The Persian name would be best represented by the fullest form of the three.
The king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? The discoverer of a conspiracy against the life of the king would in any country have been regarded as entitled to some reward. In Persia, where "royal benefactors" formed a distinct class, and had their names inscribed on a special list (Herod; 8.85), it was especially incumbent on the monarch to see that every such person received a return proportioned to the value of his service. Ahasuerus seems to have supposed that some honour or dignity must have been conferred upon Mordecai, though he could not recollect what it was; and it is difficult to understand how the omission to reward him had occurred, unless there was a prejudice against him among the high court officials, who may have known that he was a Jew, though his fellow-servants did not (Esther 3:4).
The king said, Who is in the court? Probably some high officer of state was required to be always in attendance upon the monarch, to take his orders at any moment. Now Haman was come. Early morning is a common time for the transaction of business at an Eastern court. Haman was so anxious to get the business on which he was bent despatched, that he had come perhaps even before daybreak, and was waiting in the outer court, to get, if possible, the first audience. This haste of his to effect Mordecai's destruction led to his being the person deputed to do him the highest honour.
And the king's servants said unto him, Behold, Haman standeth in the court. The servants looked into the court, and seeing, somewhat to their surprise, Haman there, mentioned him to the king. They would naturally mention the highest official whom they saw in attendance.
Haman thought in his heart. Literally, "said in his heart" i.e. "thought."
Let the royal apparel be brought. To wear a dress previously worn by the king was, under ordinary circumstances, a breach of Persian law (Plut; 'Vit. Artax.,' 5); but the king might allow it (Herod; 7.17) or condone it (Plut; 1. s.c.). The horse that the king rideth upon. Rather, "a horse that the king hath ridden." And the crown royal which is set upon his head. Rather, "and that hath a crown royal set on his head." Some peculiar ornament by which the royal steed was made conspicuous is intended, not his own crown, which even Xerxes would scarcely have allowed another to wear. See Esther 6:9 and Esther 6:11, where the dress and the horse are referred to, but the crown, as an adjunct of the horse, not particularised.
Bring him on horseback through the city, and proclaim before him. Compare the honours given to Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 41:43).
Make haste. The king will have no more delay in a matter which has been delayed far too long. Haman is to "hasten, and confer the honour at once. Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth in the king's gate. Mordecai's nationality and his employment were probably mentioned in the book of the chronicles. From these the king has learnt them, and he uses probably the very phrase of the records. Let nothing fail. Observe every particular of honour that you have mentioned; let there be no omission of one jot or tittle.
Then took Haman the apparel. It was impossible for Haman to excuse himself; there was no ground on which he could decline the office thrust upon him. Reluctantly, without a word, he performed the king's bidding.
HAMAN RETURNS HOME. DESPONDENCY OF HIMSELF AND HIS FRIENDS (Esther 6:12-14). There was as yet no real reason for Haman to feel depressed, or to regard himself as having lost favour with the king. He had been made an instrument in another man's honour, and had suffered a disappointment; but otherwise he was situated as on the day preceding, when he "went forth" from the palace "joyful and with a glad heart" (Esther 5:9). But he seems to have had a presentiment of impending calamity. All had as yet gone so well with him that the first vexation seemed like a turn in the tide, ominous of coming evil. And the fear of his own heart found an echo in the hearts of his wife and friends. Among the last were some who had the reputation of being "wise men"—perhaps Magians, acquainted with arts from which it was supposed they could divine the future. These persons ventured on a prediction. "If Mordecai, before whom thou hast begun to fall, be of the seed of the Jews, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely (or utterly) fall before him." With this evil presage ringing in his ears, Haman quitted his house, and accompanied the palace eunuchs who had been sent to conduct him to Esther's second banquet.
And Mordecai came again to the king's gate. Returned, i.e; to his former condition and employment. The high honour done him was regarded as sufficient reward. Having his head covered. Like David when he fled from Absalom (2 Samuel 15:30; comp. Psalms 44:15).
His wise men. Magians, perhaps, whom he was in the habit of consulting concerning the future. On the supposed prophetic powers of the Magians see Herod; 1:107, 120; 7:19; Duris, Fr. 7, etc. If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews. It is difficult to understand how this could any longer be regarded as doubtful. His fellow servants knew it (Esther 3:4); Haman knew it (ibid. Esther 6:6); Ahasuerus knew it (supra, Esther 6:10). The "wise men" profess to regard it as uncertain, perhaps to give their words a more oracular character. Thou shalt surely fall. Rather, "thou shalt utterly fall."
Came the king's chamberlains, and hasted to bring Haman. This is a custom not elsewhere mentioned as Persian, but quite in accordance with Oriental ideas. The polite host sends his servants to escort guests of importance from their own homes to the place of entertainment.
A wakeful and eventful night.
There is something dramatic in this remarkable story. The movement is so regular and orderly, the plot unfolds itself so effectively, the crisis is reached so opportunely, that the story might be taken for a consummate work of art. In reality it is a work in which nature, or rather Providence, is signally conspicuous. This verse introduces the second part of the narrative. Hitherto Mordecai has been depressed, and Haman has been exalted. But the tide has now turned. From this point pride is to fall, and humility is to be raised.
I. A KING CANNOT COMPEL SLEEP. Sleep is one of the best, most precious gifts of God to man. "He giveth his beloved sleep." The cares of business, of state, of pastoral life, may sometimes banish slumber, of which it is well said—
"The wretched he forsakes,
Swift upon downy pinions flies from grief,
And lights on lids unsullied with a tear."
It is not every statesman who, like Lord Burleigh, can take off his gown and say, Lie there, Lord Treasurer; or who, like Lord Liverpool, can draw off the cares of a kingdom with his stockings. Ruminating upon the affairs of his empire, his ambitious projects, Ahasuerus could not sleep.
II. A SEEMINGLY SLIGHT INCIDENT MAY INVOLVE GREAT, MOMENTOUS ISSUES. Often may sleep have gone from the king's eyes and nothing of consequence have followed. But that night was memorable, for that night's sleeplessness was the occasion of the salvation of Mordecai, and perhaps of Israel. In the providence of God, as though to rebuke men's self-confidence, little things are sent on high errands. Solomon speaks of small things which are yet exceeding great.
III. RECORDS PROVE SERVICEABLE TO KINGS AND TO KINGDOMS. Books record what men forget. We know, not only from sacred, but also from profane history, that the Persian kings kept chronicles of all the important transactions of their reigns. It is believed that these great kings were unable to read themselves, and that there were educated attendants whose business it was to read aloud, in the hearing of the monarch, frog, the state records preserved in manuscript. Thus, on this occasion, the services of Mordecai were, so to speak, disinterred and brought to light.
IV. AN AROUSED CONSCIENCE REPROACHES FOR FORGETFULNESS AND INGRATITUDE. How easy it is for the great to overlook benefits they have received, to take them as matters of course! But the inquiry Ahasuerus made shows that he was not altogether insensible to the claims which the Jew had upon his memory and his gratitude. It was late, but not too late, to make some recompense for a neglected and forgotten service.
V. Thus SELF-INDULGENCE IS AROUSED TO ACT WITH JUSTICE AND GENEROSITY. The king had slept long enough; it was time to awake and to act. And this night's vigil prompted him to a day's justice.
1. Let waking hours of night be spent in profitable thoughts.
2. Let us be convinced of the overruling providence of God.
3. Let us remember that "man's extremity is God's opportunity."
The awakening conscience of Ahasuerus deserves our attention.
I. HE IS SENSIBLE THAT HIS PRESERVER DESERVED "HONOUR AND DIGNITY." The king had rewarded a worthless favourite with wealth and power; but, as he now learned, a man who had preserved his life had been passed over unnoticed and unrewarded. It was discreditable in the sight of the nation and before his own judgment that it should have been so.
II. HE IS SURPRISED AT HIMSELF UPON LEARNING THAT NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE FOR HIM. How this could have happened we do not know. It was customary for "royal benefactors" to be lavishly rewarded with riches, jewels, offices, or favour. But Mordecai had been left at the gate of the palace, as though he had done nothing but porter's work, as though the king had not been indebted to him for his life.
III. HE AWAKES TO SELF-REPROACH AND TO A PURPOSE OF RECOMPENSING THE NEGLECTED. It is tOO customary for the great to take all services as a matter of course. Well is it when such a mood gives place to a juster view and endeavour—
"Sweet music's melting fall, but sweeter far
The still, small voice of gratitude."
1. Gratitude is a duty and a virtue. Nothing is baser than ingratitude. Those who have served us should never be forgotten by us, and when opportunity occurs we should testify our gratitude by deeds.
2. As we owe more to God than to our fellow-men, to be ungrateful towards him is to be insensible of the highest benefits, is to incur the sharpest condemnation. "Forget not all his benefits." And show forth his praise not only by your lips, but by your lives.
Whom the king delighteth to honour.
It does not seem that Ahasuerus had any intention at this time to humiliate Haman. His whole mind was set upon restitution and compensation to Mordecai, whom he had so long neglected. As he had no knowledge of his favourite's dislike to the Jew, his only motive in requiring Haman to lead Mordecai through the city was to show his gratitude to his humble friend and benefactor. The honour which Mordecai received was indeed, in its circumstances, very unusual, yet perhaps not unparalleled. Doubtless the minister thought he was preparing honour for himself when he was really unconsciously arranging a triumph for the man whom he hated, and whose death he was compassing. The magnificence, the royal splendour of the Jew's progress through the city afforded satisfaction to the king's heart, whilst they were as gall and wormwood to Haman. For Mordecai was "the man whom the king delighted to honour." God, having reconciled and pardoned the penitent sinner through Jesus Christ, the Mediator, takes pleasure in putting upon the accepted and beloved all the honour he can bestow and we can receive.
I. THE HONOUR GOD PUTS UPON HIS PEOPLE IS HEIGHTENED BY THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THEIR FORMER AND THEIR PRESENT STATE. The change between Mordecai in sackcloth and ashes, uttering a loud and bitter cry, and Mordecai upon the king's horse, and arrayed in royal robes, is as nothing compared with the contrast between the impenitent and unforgiven sinner and the justified and rejoicing believer in Christ.
II. CHRISTIANS ARE HONOURED IN BEING MADE "KINGS AND PRIESTS UNTO GOD." The Jewish exile clad in regal attire may be a figure of the Christian whom God crowns and honours, whom he exalts to his favour and unites to his Son.
III. CHRISTIANS ARE ADOPTED INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD—ARE MADE HIS SONS. IV. CHRISTIANS ENJOY THE ATTENDANCE AND MINISTRY OF GLORIOUS ANGELS. Mordecai was led through Shushan by "the first minister of the crown." For the children of God are provided the ministrations of the angels, who "are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation."
V. CHRISTIANS SHALL BE BROUGHT, SHARING THE NATURE OF GOD, TO SHARE ALSO HIS ETERNAL HOME. As Mordecai came to take his place in the palace, at the door of which he had sat, and to wield power over the empire, so those whom the heavenly King delighteth to honour shall enter his presence, share his joy, and sit with his Son upon the throne of dominion.
Glory exchanged for woe. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," says the wise man, "for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Yesterday Haman was full of exultation and of boasting; his place was by the throne; his enemy was at his feet. This morning that enemy is in favour; his own position is imperilled; his vaunting seems vain; his prospects gloomy. As Haman goes to his house, after executing the king's behest, his heart is filled with apprehensions.
I. HIS MALICE IS DISAPPOINTED AND DEFEATED.
II. HIS JOY IS EXCHANGED FOR MOURNING.
III. HIS GLORYING IS SUCCEEDED BY SHAME.
He covers his head, as not daring to look any one in the face, as fearing that disgrace and disaster are at hand.
1. Remember the vicissitudes of human affairs.
2. "Put not your trust in princess" or "in the son of man, in whom is no help."
3. "Humble yourselves before the mighty hand of God." It is better to come before him in lowliness and contrition now than to appear before him in shame hereafter.
Forebodings of ruin.
Bad counsellors are poor comforters. Haman had recourse to his wife, the wise men, and his friends, only yesterday; and they advised that a gallows should be reared, and that the king should be petitioned that Mordecai might there be hanged. To-day Haman comes to the same circle of his intimates, tells what has befallen, and unfolds his fears. They do but predict his speedy ruin. He might well have used the language of Job—"Miserable comforters are ye all!" They foretell—
I. THE GOOD FORTUNE OF MORDECAI, CONTRASTING WITH HAMAN'S ILL FORTUNE. "Thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him." The rise and fall of favourites at court was a familiar spectacle. That Mordecai should displace Haman in royal favour seemed, after the events of the day, probable enough.
II. THE FAILURE OF HAMAN'S PROJECT, CONTRASTING WITH THE ADVANCEMENT AND SECURITY OF THE JEWS. The plot and decree against the captive Hebrews were well known; and it was well known that Haman was the origin of these nefarious designs. Now those who had aided and abetted the unprincipled favourite foresee that he will be disgraced, and that his devices will all be brought to nothing. Application:—
1. Let persecutors tremble. All things are not in their power. When they rage and imagine a vain thing, he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh. The day of their downfall and defeat is near at hand.
2. Let the persecuted take heart. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation." The enemies of the righteous man shall "surely fall before him."
"God on his saints looks watchful down,
His ear attends their cry.
The wicked sink beneath his frown,
Their very name shall die;
But he, at length, the just will crown
With victory and joy!"
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
We are not surprised to read that "on that night could not the king sleep." Not, indeed, that there was anything in Ahasuerus (Xerxes) to make us expect a restless night; he appears to us here, as elsewhere, as a painful illustration of human heartlessness. That many thousands of his subjects were about to be butchered in order that his coffers might be filled should have caused the monarch many a troubled day and many a sleepless night; but such was the character of the man that no one suggests the impending massacre as the explanation of the king's restlessness. He had reached that fearful spiritual condition in which human life was of no account to him so that his power might be continued and his pleasures multiplied or secured. It is a striking instance of Divine providence. He who "holds the king's heart in his hand," who can touch with the finger of his power the secret springs of our thought and feeling, now sent troubled thoughts to this Persian king. That Lord of heaven, Keeper of Israel who slumbers not nor sleeps (Psalms 121:4), now gave a wakeful night to this earthly monarch. He was interposing on behalf of his chosen people. God willed that the sovereign should not slumber in order that he might thus be led to have "the book of records of the chronicles brought and read before the king," and Mordecai's services be thus brought to his royal notice. Little did Ahasuerus, as he tossed his restless head on the pillow, imagine that a Divine hand was laid on his troubled brain. As little do we know when the finger of God is working on us, with us, for us, or mercifully against us. Thinking of the sleepless sons and daughters of men, we may have in view—
I. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE PITY. We do well to pity with heartfelt compassion those who tell us that they ': cannot sleep at night." Scarcely a sentence comes more plaintively from human lips. Well does one of our own poets write—
"Pity! oh, pity the wretches who weep,
For they must be wretched who cannot sleep
When God himself draws the curtain."
Whether it be pain, or trouble, or sorrow that causes the sleepless hours, we may pity sincerely and pray earnestly for these.
II. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE ADMIRE. Those who
(1) tenderly nurse the sick through the livelong night, or
(2) sympathetically attend the sorrowful in their sleepless hours, or
(3) are "about the Father's business," seeking the salvation of others.
It is the women who "watch" the best. There were, humanly speaking, at least three women who could have watched that "one hour" (Matthew 26:40), and would not have been found asleep by the agonising Master. Few of the children of men are more worthy of our admiring affection than those self-denying sisters who watch so patiently lest there should be need of the ministering hand or the comforting word.
III. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE ARE OBLIGED TO BLAME. There are those in every city who cannot sleep because they cannot forget. They shut their book at night; but have soon to sigh—
"Oh God! could I so close my mind
And clasp it with a clasp."
They pay in restless hours the dark penalty of vice or crime; they are pursued and punished by dread of the wrath of God or of the justice of man, or by the rebukings of their own conscience. For such there is no remedy or escape but confession, reparation, forgiveness, human and Divine. "Return on thy way" at once.
IV. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE MUCH WISH TO SERVE. Those who cannot sleep because of "great searchings of heart;" who are asking that old new question, "How shall mortal man be just with God?" who will give themselves no rest till the way of peace is found, till they have "peace with God through Jesus Christ." There are none anywhere so deserving and demanding, so certain to receive, the tender sympathy and delicate help of those who minister in the gospel of the Saviour.
V. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE HOPE TO JOIN. On the other side of the river of death is a land where that which has been will not be, where we shall change this "body of our humiliation," and shall be clothed upon with the "body of his glory." There will be no sleeplessness like that of which we have spoken; no weary tossing, no heart-ache, no distress, no agitation. But there will be sleeplessness of another kind, for there will be no more need of long periods of unconsciousness and inactivity there. There will be "no more fatigue, no more distress," no more exhaustion; and therefore "there will be no night there," and no sleep, but ceaseless, tireless, unexausting energy; there they serve him "day without night." These we hope one day to join. Let us live "in Christ;" then shall we "fall asleep in him," and then shall we awake in the morning of an everlasting day where the shadows never fall, a land full of light because full of the near presence and the glory of the Lord.—C.
The honour that cometh from man.
Unable to sleep, the king calls for something to beguile the weary hours; he has the chronicles of his reign read to him; he is struck with the fact of his own life having been saved by Mordecai, inquires what has been the reward given to this dutiful subject, discovers that nothing whatever has been done for him, and calls for Haman to ask his counsel. Haman is at hand, full of his murderous design against Mordecai. We picture to ourselves his impatience as the king broaches another subject; his secret exultation as Ahasuerus proposes to do honour to some favourite, and as he himself suggests that which would feed his own vanity. We see his astonishment and chagrin as he finds that it is none other than the hated Jew himself who is to be honoured. We mark his prolonged and intolerable vexation as he acts as the agent in carrying out the king's commandment. Concerning the honour that comes from man, we learn here—
I. THE RIGHTNESS OF PAYING THAT WHICH IS DUE AND OF ACCEPTING THAT WHICH IS EARNED (Esther 6:10, Esther 6:11). Mordecai, who evidently and commendably made much of self-respect, did not think it wrong to accept the honour the king now laid upon him. He suffered himself to be arrayed in the "royal apparel," he mounted the "horse that the king rode upon," and was led with acclamation through the streets (Esther 6:8-11). He may have enjoyed it; it was in accordance with Eastern tastes and habits, and he had fairly earned it. It is lawful in God's sight to enter upon and enjoy the fruits of our own exertions; "the labourer is worthy of his hire." Among the rewards that men give their fellows is that of honour. And rightly so. Adulation or flattery is, on the part of those who pay it, simply contemptible, and on the part of those who receive it both childish and injurious; it is a thing to be unsparingly condemned in others, and religiously avoided in ourselves. But to congratulate on hard-won success, to praise the meritorious product of toil and skill, to pay honour to those who have lavished their energies or risked their lives to serve their fellows, this is right and good. And to receive such honours from the lips or the hands of men—if they be meekly and gratefully taken—this tea is right. "If there be any … praise," we are to "think on" and to practise it. We should praise the praiseworthy as well as condemn the faulty. The approval of the wise and good has had much to do with building up fine characters, and bringing forth the best actions of noble lives.
II. THE VANITY OF RECKONING ON THE HONOUR OF THE GREAT (Esther 6:6, Esther 6:10, Esther 6:13). Haman had risen to high dignity; he enjoyed much of royal favour; he now felt that he might certainly reckon on being the chief recipient of the most signal honour the sovereign could pay. But God has said, "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, that maketh flesh his arm;" "Put not your trust in man, nor in the son of man;" "Put not your trust in princes." Their favour is fickle; their countenance is changeful; their hand may caress to-day and crush to-morrow. To his unspeakable chagrin, Haman found that the royal hand was about to distribute favour to his bitterest foe, and thus pierce his soul by kindness to another. Covetousness of human honour is a sin and a mistake; it ends in disappointment, sooner or later, as the records of every kingdom, ancient or modern, Eastern or Western, will prove abundantly. It injures the soul also, for it begets a selfishness which finds a horrible satisfaction in others' humiliation, and keeps from a generous joy in others' preferment. Honour "from man only" is good in a low degree. It must not be eagerly coveted as the chief prize, or heavily leant upon as the chief staff of life. "Seek it not, nor shun it."
III. THE WISDOM OF SEEKING THE HONOUR THAT IS OF GOD (Esther 6:3). "What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?" "There is nothing done for him." Five years had passed, and Mordecai had found his reward in his own sense of doing his duty, and in the approval of the God be served. Apart from the praise and recompense of man, it is worth while to do right, to act faithfully; for there is one Sovereign that does not overlook, and is sure to bless in his own time and way. "Them that honour me I will honour," he says. This honouring of God may be either
(1) that which he causes men to give us, or
(2) his own Divine approval.
This latter is the better of the two, for it
(a) is intrinsically the more worth having;
(b) loads to no disappointment;
(c) "sanctifies and satisfies" the heart; and
(d) is consistent with the enjoyment of the same thing by every one else, and even prompts us to strive to make others possessors of it.
It is not the seed of selfishness, but the germ of generosity.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
A forgotten service brought to mind.
I. GRANDEUR OF OUTWARD CONDITION DOES NOT PROTECT MIND OR BODY AGAINST ORDINARY INFIRMITIES. The king of Persia could not at will command sleep. The loss of the power to sleep is not confined to any position, though it is perhaps more common amongst the rich than the poor. The humble labourer may find sounder and sweeter sleep on his hard couch than a mighty and luxurious king on his bed of down.
II. How TO SPEND SLEEPLESS HOURS BECOMES AN IMPORTANT QUESTION TO MANY. The nervous, the heart-burdened, and the invalided often sigh in vain for sleep, and many are the devices contrived to relieve the monotony of wakefulness. Some resort to anodynes which enforce sleep, but at the same time destroy vitality, and subject their victims to a terrible bondage. Others seek help from the reading of sensational or impure books, which defiles the heart and weakens the conscience. The king might have done worse than call for the chronicles of his reign. It is good to review the past. Nor could there be a better time for looking back at what is gone and done than in the still solemnity of the night watches. A man is unjust to himself, and incurs great loss, who cannot devote occasional hours to retrospection. Many a godly man has found sweet profit in following David's method of occupying a sleepless mind (Psalms 4:4; Psalms 63:5, Psalms 63:6).
III. A REVIEW OF THE PAST WILL IN EVERY CASE RECALL THE MEMORY OF MERCIES RECEIVED AND OF DUTIES UNDONE. The king had not listened long to the reading before he heard the record of the conspiracy of the two chamberlains against his life, and of his deliverance from it through the faithfulness of Mordecai. Arrested by this, there rose in his mind, in connection with it, not the thought of the suitable reward which had been bestowed on his deliverer, but the question whether any reward had been bestowed at all. He soon found that the great service of Mordecai had been unacknowledged. In the record of every man's life there are notes of thoughtlessness, ingratitude, and wrong-doing. None of us can look back without being convicted of many sins and neglects. This thought should keep us humble, and lead us to seek the Divine mercy and help. Past failures should be as "stepping-stones to higher things."
IV. REPARABLE OMISSIONS OR INJURIES DONE IN THE PAST SHOULD BE REPAIRED. Here the king sets us a lesson. If we can now pay in full creditors whose bygone claims we failed to meet, it is our duty to do so. It is not enough to express sorrow for any evil we have done if we can in any measure make amends for it. Deeds in such a case are better than words. Zaccheus (Luke 19:8).
V. A WORK OF REPARATION SHOULD BE DONE AT ONCE. There is no time unfit to begin it. The king, while still in bed, in the early morning, bestirred himself without a moment's delay to discharge his neglected duty. He remembered his former good intentions, and the forgetfulness that followed delay. Unfulfilled obligations are often the result of a disposition to put off. Happy the man who has the will to obey at once every clear sense of duty. He will save himself and others from much suffering. How many lose themselves by putting off decision for Christ (Psalms 90:12; 2 Corinthians 6:2).—D.
Esther 6:4, Esther 6:14
Exaltation and humiliation.
I. HASTE. Having seen the gallows prepared for Mordecai over-night, Haman was early astir next morning. He was in the court of the palace while the king was yet having the chronicles read to him, resolved to seize the first moment to get permission to hang the Jew. His plan of revenge was to be executed and done with long before the hour of the queen's banquet (Proverbs 1:16). "The children of this world are wiser," because more diligent, "in their generation than the children of light." If the self-denial and earnestness with which men pursue evil and worldly things were equally exhibited by all the righteous in pursuit of the things of Christ, the world itself would soon be brought to the feet of God.
II. COINCIDENCE. When the king wanted an adviser at that early hour, Haman happened to be in the court. The thoughts of both the king and his favourite happened to be occupied and excited by the same man. The haste of Haman to get Mordecai hanged happened to meet the haste of the king to get him rewarded. Faith can often discern the marks of a Divine providence in what men call accidents or coincidences. Belief in a living God is inconsistent with belief in any "fortuitous concourse."
III. ERROR. The question put by the king to Haman at once led him astray. Whose honour would the king delight to promote if not that of the man on whom he had already bestowed such unusual distinction? His vain heart betrayed him. How greedy is vanity. How selfish are the slaves of sin. The answer of Haman was shaped by his own desires. The honour he suggested would have been foolish and worthless as given to any other person than himself. But the only thing left for his ambition to aspire to was such a public and resplendent exhibition of the royal delight in him as that which he described. A man of evil does not easily suspect good feeling or good purpose in any associate. He projects himself into his judgment of others. Thus he is very liable to make mistakes. His whole life is a mistake—an error from beginning to end.
IV. DISAPPOINTMENT. When the king commanded Haman to do unto Mordecai every whit of what he had recommended, the blow that fell on the astonished favourite must have been heavy. That the man for whom he had made a gallows should receive the honour which he had proposed for himself! what a reversing of things. There are many disappointments and reverses which attract our entire sympathy, but we can only rejoice when the expectation of the wicked is cut short. It was a fit measure of justice that Haman should have proposed the honour which Mordecai was to wear. Judgment pursues the evil-doer. In the end all his hopes will be disappointed.
V. HUMILIATION. Haman had not only to see done, but to do, what the king commanded. He was the "one of the king's most noble princes" who had to array Mordecai in royal apparel, and place him on a horse, and lead him through the city, and proclaim before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour." And all this he did to the man whom he most hated, and for whom he had erected a gallows. It was a bitter humiliation, but there was no escape from it. Those who climb to worldly greatness by wrong ways have to eat much dirt. They sharpen the knife that will sooner or later enter their soul.
VI. EXALTATION. Mordecai yielded himself up to the king's mode of honouring him. He put himself in the hands of Haman, and went quietly through the whole process. It was a triumph that might be justly enjoyed, and one too that promised greater things. God was manifestly with his servant. Unseen influences were at work. The attempt to deliver Israel was prospering. This public honour would strengthen Esther, and have some effect on the king. The bad man who led the Jew's horse and proclaimed his favour with the king was declining in power, and the desired redemption of a devoted people was drawing near. Thus God encourages those who trust him. He makes their enemies serve them. Amidst much darkness and fear he causes his light to shine, and gives his servants bright indications of a coming victory.
VII. HUMILITY. A Haman would have been intoxicated by such an honour as was conferred on his enemy. To Mordecai the parade through the city was but an empty pageant, except in so far as it might contribute to his purpose of saving Israel. Hence we find him, after putting Off the royal robes, returning to his post at the king's gate. The passing honours of the world make no change in those who are weighted with the pursuit of honours which the world cannot give. Their chief desire is to be at their post and do the work given them by a higher than an earthly master—"to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God" (Micah 6:8). It required no effort for Mordecai to descend from his momentary exaltation to his humble position as a palace servitor. His duty was in the king's gate. How blessed to be able to subordinate all merely personal or earthly things to the service of God.
VIII. OMENS. The result of that morning's proceedings was depressing to Haman. He retired to his home again to consult his wife and friends. How different his tale now from that which had inspired him and them the night before. The tall gallows in the courtyard was a gaunt mockery. The shame that had so unaccountably overtaken its lord laid a cold hand on the hearts of all his household. The fear of Israel, that strange people who trusted in a God of gods, entered strongly into their thoughts, and made their words ominous. The conviction was felt and expressed by them that if Mordecai were a Jew, Haman had already begun to fall, and that a disastrous end was inevitable. History affords many instances of the power of omens to destroy the happiness and hope of bad men. The silent workings of Divine providence have their effect on the wicked as well as on the good. In the one they inspire a fear which saps energy and skill; in the other they work a faith which gives strength and light. King Saul is not the only one whose heart and hand have been paralysed by superstitious fears arising from a rebellion against Divine rule. In the path of the wicked speetres of a holy and avenging power are ever rising up to throw blight on their aims and hopes. There is judgment even in this world. God reigns.—D.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
A sleepless monarch and a wakeful Providence.
The place of this verse fully vindicated by its contents. When its position is observed in the original it is found to be very nearly the bisection of the book. Certainly it is the critical point, the hinge on which the deep moral and religious interest of the history turns. There is a sense in which it might seem that up to this point the reader has but groped his way. He has asked for a little more distinctly religious light and speech. He craves to see a Divine presence, and to hear the accents of a Diviner voice than have been hitherto vouchsafed. Perhaps these are still withheld in their fullest manifestation, but it can no longer be felt that any vital element of evidence is absent. The night in question was the night between the two banquets of Esther, the night before the almost certainly foregone conclusion of permission to hang Mordecai on the new-made gallows of Haman. Everybody was not in the secret. Neither Esther, nor Mordecai, nor the king himself knew of the project. Yet from a merely human point of view it was all but certain. How the night passed for Esther and for Mordecai we know not. Both had to acknowledge distinguishing mercies which the preceding day bad brought. But they both knew that one crisis happily passed did but usher in another, and if this should not issue as favourably, vain were the promise of the day before. Likely enough, then, the solemn hours of that night were counted by them with wakeful anxiousness. For what issues of life or death hung upon the next day. Haman's night invites not a solitary sympathy. This much we may surmise about it, that it was disturbed by the noise of those who "made the gallows" (Esther 5:14; Esther 6:4; Esther 7:9), and that its length was not prolonged over-far into the morning. But the storm-centre travels toward the night of Ahasuerus, and there very soon it threateningly hangs. Ahasuerus was not a good man; he was not a good king. How otherwise could he have permitted an insufferably vain, self-seeking minion like Haman to be such a we]come and close companion? How could he have committed to such a subject an authority so dangerously approaching his own? Yet, as we have before seen (Esther 1:4), there was a certain large lavish way about Ahasuerus—the outside of a certain kindliness, impulsiveness, unthinking trustingness within, which proved a heart not callous. These qualities did indeed harmonise well with what we read elsewhere of Xerxes, and how his feelings so overcame him when, from his throne of marble, he reviewed his innumerable troops crossing the Hellespont, and reflected upon human mortality. Ahasuerus was thoughtless and rash—the very things that cannot be defended in either king or man—but he was not yet abandoned of every higher presence; he was not yet "let alone." As the word of God here detains us to make special remark on the sleepless night of this king, and exhibits it as the very crisis of the providential history under relation, let us note—
I. SOME OF THE SIGNIFICANT FACTS GATHERING ROUND IT AS THE EXPERIENCE OF THE KING.
1. We observe, and with some surprise, that there seems not the slightest disposition on the part of the king, or of any one else, to attribute it to a physical cause, nor to minister to it any physical antidote. Neither the soporific of a drug or of drinking, nor the soothing of music, nor any diversion are offered to it. Nor is it possible to suppose—as will hereafter appear—that "the book of records of the chronicles" was sent for under the expectation that it would serve simply to amuse, or to dissipate thought and kill time.
2. However harassing it may have been, it seems to have been endured till morning. The brief description which follows the statement, that "the king's sleep fled that night," argues that what ensued happened all in close connection, and so as to end with an hour that found men gathered in their usual way in the gate, and Haman arrived (doubtless not late) in the court. This would give time for thought's growth into determination.
3. Whether the sleeplessness of the night was occasioned by any moral thoughtfulness or not, it was in this direction that the mind of Ahasuerus ran. Sleepless hours are often enough weary hours, yet perhaps more than we think they open opportunity and offer choice to us. They ripen the thought of iniquity, as they were at this very time doing for Haman; or they are precipitating thought of good quality and beneficent result, as they were now doing for Ahasuerus. Either, then, the sleeplessness of Ahasuerus was occasioned by a moral movement of things within, or it turned to that use. In either alternative there was a moral strangeness and significance about it. The dark and imperfect religiousness, which was all that can be claimed for it in and of itself, does in some senses add to its interest.
4. The thoughts of that sleepless night did not die away. Generally, how soon they do pass away, like the dreams of deep sleep. They are "like the morning cloud and the early dew; as the chaff that is driven of the whirlwind out of the floor, and as the smoke out of the chimney." Nature's darkness, human stillness, even the body's attitude of repose, all favour highly-stimulated forms of thought. The sleepless night is often memory's field-day. Regrets and new resolutions meet together; repentance and remorse alternate; the thoughts of happier days and the projects of more innocent ones crowd the mental rendezvous—but with dawn they have trooped away. But now not so with the. thoughts of the sleepless night of the King Ahasuerus. They last, and they lead on to action. Purpose and determination do not die away. They live, and to good purpose. In his own way, and for once true to his light, though a light that burned lurid and low, he will hearken to his "law and testimony," if haply they have anything to say to him.
II. SOME OF THE SIGNIFICANT SUGGESTIONS ARISING OUT OF IT IN EVIDENCE OF AN EVER-WAKEFUL PROVIDENCE.
1. The evidence of the simple facts of this night is in favour of the interference of some external cause. It is not straining facts to take this view of them, it would be restraining their legitimate force not to do so. There is no known cause for the restlessness, but it is decided. The two things that might have been expected to constitute a cause evidently exert no influence. The proximate effect, for all that, nevertheless looks in that direction.
2. The kind of use to which the sleeplessness is turned argues not only external interference, but the external interference of One above. This man, a most extremely unpromising subject on whom to work, is wrought upon practically to religious purpose. Thought, and reading, and listening, and question, and action follow one another in quick, orderly, Divine kind of succession.
3. The means employed are like those of Divine operation, very simple, awhile mistakable for most natural events.
4. The beneficent nature of the results of that night—opportune, to the exact moment of time—and the exceeding greatness of them evidence together a merciful wakeful Providence. That Providence is ever wakeful when men are most deep asleep, but is not then least wakeful when sometimes it bids us wake and keeps us sleepless.—B.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
"Now Haman thought in," etc. It sometimes seems as though the satire of circumstance and human event could go no further. But the fact in such case is, that nothing can surpass the exactness of the Divine aim for the mark which it is intended to reach, and for the moment at which it reaches it. The present point of the history shows a conjunction of four events, which, so far as all human design went, might certainly have been the last to meet together. But they produce a brilliant effect. Four moments meet, and their work is the work of years of preparation, and of consequences never to be forgotten. A humble and good man, but one dishonoured, is in supreme danger. The very acme of the iniquitous purpose of a revengeful heart, surfeited with self and vanity, is touched. An arbitrary despot suddenly remembers an omission on his part, and resolves upon making a profuse compensation for it. And lastly arrives on the scene the form of Divine retribution. Of these four there can be no doubt which was the dominant fact. The rest were accurately timed to it. One led the way; the rest were irresistibly, if unconsciously, attracted to it. This verse gives us what purports to be a statement or description of a "thought in the heart." It may be called the natural history of a "thought in the heart;" not, indeed, of any or every such thought, but of one that once literally was, and which may have had many like it. We may notice—
I. ON WHAT AUTHORITY THIS DESCRIPTION RESTS. For the history is not of a flattering kind. In all its brevity it is of an exceedingly cutting nature. It is of the nature of a stricture, and a severe one. It is a keen incisive thrust into an individual character. In every such case it behoves us to be more than ever careful "not to judge, lest we be judged," and to scrutinise narrowly the authority on which they speak when others pronounce judgment in our heating. For if the judgment of what is in the depth of another's heart be not absolutely true, it is essentially unjust and uncharitable. Our own superficial criticisms often err. They carry on their face their condemnation, and but for this would be more reprehensible and more disastrous than they are. But what we have before us is no superficial critique, it is the pronouncement of the authoritative Spirit of all truth himself. The scalpel of the inspired anatomist cuts deep, and as trenchantly as deep. We are glad to recollect whose is the responsibility; and when we recollect we think with firmer thought and tread with surer step.
II. WHAT WAS THE NATURE OF THE THOUGHT IT REVEALED. It was a thought of self, and of what was supposed to be self's glory and advancement. There are times for all when it is tight and needful to think of self, and to act for what shall seem, on the whole, the best for self. There are other times when it is the greatest mistake to think of self. The occasion in question was one of this kind. It is an occasion in itself far from destitute of its own proper honour.
1. Haman is called in as a counsellor, and a counsellor of his king.
2. He is appealed to for something beyond advice. With him lies the determining of a certain case laid before him. To be the dispenser of dignities and rewards is to sit upon a throne very near royalty itself.
3. The occasion is not a mere formality, to be guided only by precedents, and requiring a musty search to find them.
4. The recipient of the distinction, whoever he might be, would also be ever beholden in some sort to the word that should drop from Haman's lip. The occasion, therefore, was one which especially begged for a single eye, a clear judgment, transparency of motive. But, in fact, self blocks up the whole prospect. The thought in the heart of the king's counsellor at that moment was this: "To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?" Among all unjust and partial judges, was there ever any more unjust?
III. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE MORE CONDEMNING OR AGGRAVATING SYMPTOMS OF THE THOUGHT ITSELF.
1. It was not only self, but self in the shape of insufferable vanity. It mounted to the pitch of morbid vanity. Some are hurried on by selfishness headlong. But it is a sleek, a smiling, a self-garlanded victim we have here. To the dignity of position already belonging to him fuller gratification (as has been seen) is offered; but it is not honour that his eye can see, that his mind can appreciate. The grace and the force of his honoured position weigh nothing with him. But the most egotistic vanity shuts out, and at a most critical moment, the very idea of the barest possibility of a worthy competitor with himself! He cannot credit the notion of a fellow-creature to compare with himself. Alas, from "flattering lips and double tongue" he had neither prayed nor striven to be saved; but least of all from those flattering lips, above all measure the worst, which first belong to self and then flatter the vanity of self.
2. It was not only self, but self in the shape of an un-chastised, unmortified haughtiness of heart. How exquisitely beautiful the reverse of this. How plaintive the honest and deeply-felt disowning, of it: "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child" (Psalms 131:1, Psalms 131:2). Turn from David in this psalm to Haman, and how is one revolted! The thoughts of yesterday afternoon and last night, which saw such an amazing fitness in a "gallows fifty cubits high" for the obscure and sorrowful and stung man Mordecai, who did not so much as turn round upon him like the trodden worm, but who only could not bring himself "to rise nor move to him"—these were the "imaginations and the high things" which, because he had not mortified them nor cast them down, were now going to mortify him to the quick, and to cast him down for ever. He had schooled himself to "refrain himself"—no, not to refrain himself, but only for a short while, for policy's sake (Esther 5:10), the manifestations of self.
IV. TO WHAT THIS "THOUGHT IN THE HEART" LED. It is to be remarked, and with the seriousness that belongs to a moral phenomenon and fact in our life, with what unerring certainty, with what unpitying pace, the moment travels on which shall prove the fatal, because unguarded, moment for those who knowingly and continuously "regard iniquity in their heart." It may linger, but it is on the move. It may not be seen, yet it is only just out of sight. Till that which is snatched at, as the crowning moment of choicest opportunity of all the life, proves that which peremptorily seals the man's fate. Never with surer conviction, never with more intuitive perception, never with more ill-concealed self-gratulation, never with glibber tongue, had moment come to Haman than that which sounded for him the knell of death itself, and left him to the company of stricken amazement for ever. And though as yet no one uttered a whisper of this to Haman, and he bowed his neck to the yoke and did the day's dread task to the minutest point, "letting nothing fail," Haman knew it all. Then wife and friends confirmed it. And for the first time this many a day he saw himself and his position when "he hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered." How strange the contrast to the Haman who the morning of that day "thought in his heart," etc.—B.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
"And Haman told Zeresh his wife." The first indication of Haman's falling from power was when he was commanded by the king to array Mordecai in the royal robes and lead him through the city. His mortification was great. Directly he could escape from his hateful duty he hastened home and told his wife.
I. THERE SHOULD BE NO SECRETS BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE. Where there are secrets there is always a danger of an outbreak of passion or jealousy. Happiness is endangered.
II. HAMAN TOLD OF HIS CHECKS AS WELL AS HIS ADVANCES; HIS DISAPPOINTMENTS AS WELL AS HONOURS. Sometimes men tell their good fortune and hide the bad; and, on the other hand, some husbands make their wives miserable from fear of approaching disaster.
III. HUMAN HAD A FAITHFUL WARNING, BUT LITTLE CONSOLATION, IN HIS CONJUGAL CONFIDENCE. Zeresh told him that "if Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him," etc. She was a candid friend and a true prophet. Wives should, however, seek to comfort the bread-winner under his trials.
IV. HAMAN HAD TO INVOLVE HIS WIFE IN HIS OVERTHROW, AND RIGHTLY LETS HER KNOW ALL THAT BEFALLS HIM. No man can suffer alone. As Achan "perished not alone in his iniquity," so Haman. His bitterest regrets must have been that he had to involve wife and family in ruin.—H.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24