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AT THE SECOND BANQUET ESTHER DENOUNCES HAMAN, AND THE KING CONDEMNS HIM TO BE IMPALED ON THE CROSS PREPARED FOR HAMAN (Esther 7:1-10). Esther had promised to make her true petition at the second banquet (Esther 5:12), and now kept her word. When the king for the third time put the question, "What is thy petition, queen Esther? and what is thy request? It shall be performed, even to the half of the kingdom," she opened all her mind. "If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it seem good to the king, let my life be given to me at my petition, and my people at my request" (verse 3). My supplication is for my own life and for that of my people—no less a danger than this has moved me. "We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, slain, made to perish." Had it been anything less than this, had we been merely sentenced to be sold as slaves, I had kept my peace (verse 4); but that did not content "the enemy"—we are, one and all, to suffer death. Esther's answer must have made all clear to the king—that his wife was a Jewess; that her life was forfeit, like those of her countrymen, by the terms of the decree; that Haman was "the enemy" whom she feared. But he will assume nothing, he will have all clearly set before him, and therefore he asks, "Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to act so?" Then comes Esther's final declaration, clear, direct, unmistakable: "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman" (verse 6), this man here before you, this man who eats our salt, and would take one of our lives. Fiercely angry, but confused and hesitating, the king rises from the banquet, and quits the room, stepping probably through an open door into the palace garden, Now is Haman's last chance. Can he excite the pity of the queen? Can he prevail on her to intercede for him and make his peace with the king? He entreats, he supplicates, he "falls upon the couch" on which Esther reclines, in his eagerness to win her consent (verse 7.) At this moment the king re-enters the room (verse 8), and takes advantage .of Haman's breach of etiquette to accuse him of rudeness to the queen. The attendants see in the accusation a sentence of death, and "cover Haman's face" (verse 8). Then one of the eunuchs, who knows all the circumstances of the case, anxious for that kind of retribution which is known to moderns as "poetic justice," suggests that the cross prepared for Mordecai will serve well for the execution of Haman. The king readily consents to the suggestion (verse 9), and Haman is impaled on the cross which he had erected for his enemy in the court of his own house (verse 10).
The king and Haman came to banquet (marg. drink). In Persian feasts the solid dishes were few, and the time was mainly passed in drinking and eating dessert (Herod; 1:133).
And the king said again. Esther had promised to let her real request be known at this banquet (Esther 5:8). The king therefore once more gives her the opportunity. On the second day. On the second occasion of being entertained by Esther.
Let my life be given me, etc. First of all, I ask at the king's hands my own life, which is threatened (Esther 4:13); secondly, I ask the life of my people, in whose sentence it is that I am involved. Some rhetorical skill is shown in separating the two, so as to make them correspond to the two clauses of the king's address ''What is thy petition?" and "What is thy request?"
For we are sold, I and my people. Haman has paid our price, has given ten thousand talents for us, and you, O king, have sold us to him. The reproach is covert, but clearly contained in the words; and so the king must have understood Esther. To be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. The use of three synonyms for one and the same thing is not mere verbiage, but very expressive. "We are sold, all of us, to be overwhelmed in one universal, promiscuous, unsparing destruction." Although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage. "Although, even in that case, the enemy (Haman) could not (by the payment that he has made) compensate the king for the damage that he would suffer by losing so many subjects." So Gesenius, Rambach, Dathe, and others. But it is simpler, and Perhaps better, to understand the passage as Bertheau does: "for the enemy (Haman) is not worthy to vex the king," or "is not worth vexing the king about."
Who is he? Ahasuerus asks the question to "make sure," as we say—not that he could really be in any doubt. That durst presume. Rather, "that hath presumed'' (ὅστις ἐτόλμησε.—LXX.).
The adversary and enemy. Esther adds a second term of reproach—"enemy"—stronger than the one which she had used before (verse 4), to stir up the king to greater anger.
Esther 7:7, Esther 7:8
Ahasuerus rose up from the banquet "in his wrath"—he could no longer remain quiet—and entered the palace garden, on which Esther's apartment probably looked; partly, perhaps, as Bertheau says, to cool the first heat of his fury in the open air; partly to give himself time for reflection, and consider what he would do. Haman also rose from table, and standing near her, began pleading with Esther for his life, which he felt that she, and she alone, could save. Evil, he saw, was determined against him by the king; but a woman's heart might be more tender, and he might perhaps move the queen to allay the storm that she had raised, and induce the king to spare him. He therefore pleaded with all the earnestness in his power, and at last threw himself forward on the couch whore Esther reclined, seeking perhaps to grasp her feet or her garments, as is usual with suppliants in the East. At this crisis the king returned, and misconstruing Haman's action, or pretending to do so, exclaimed aloud, "Will he even force the queen with me in the house?" The terrible charge brought matters to a conclusion—it was taken as a call on the attendants to seize the culprit and execute him. They covered his face, apparently, as that of a condemned man not worthy any more to see the light, according to a practice common among, the Romans (Liv; 1.26; Cic. 'pro Rabir; 4.13) and the Macedonians (Q. Curt; 'Vit. Alex.,' vi. 8), but not elsewhere mentioned as Persian.
Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king. Rather, "Harbonah, one of the chamberlains (eunuchs) that served before the king, said." The "eunuchs that served before the king" were those of the highest grade, as appears from Esther 1:10. Harbonah was one of them. Who had spoken good for the king. Or, "who spake good." The reference is to his detection of the conspiracy (Esther 2:22). In the house of Haman. This had not been mentioned previously. It adds one touch of extra barbarity to Haman's character, that he should have intended the execution to take place within the walls of his own house.
Spare our life!
Was ever so unexpected a request presented as this? When the king in his capricious favour offered his consort whatsoever she desired, even to the half of his kingdom, she asked what might have been naturally enough implored from the royal clemency by some wretched malefactor condemned to expiate his crimes by death. Give us, me and my people, our life! How strange a boon to beg! A queen high in favour, at a royal banquet, to ask that her life should be spared, and her kindred delivered from an unjust and violent end—in fact, a massacre! Thus were the eyes of the king opened to the infamy of his minister, and thus was Esther made the agent in the redemption of Israel. In this petition we have an example of the request which, as suppliant sinners, we are bound to offer before the throne of grace. It implies—
I. A SENSE OF DANGER. It is something to be alive to this. Esther had only lately come to know of the peril in which she and her countrymen and countrywomen stood. Awake to the impending danger, she was emboldened to urge her plea. So with us. A worse enemy than Haman has plotted against the children of men. A worse fate than massacre awaits those who fall into the snare of the foe. The word of God comes to us as a word of warning, urging us to "flee from the wrath to come." Bondage is bad, but death is worse. And "the wages of sin is death."
II. A HOPE OF DELIVERANCE. Esther had her fears; she had gone in, saying, "If I perish, I perish!" Yet she was encouraged by the gracious demeanour and the generous promise of the king. Therefore she said, "If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king." We have no need of such "ifs" in our approach and our prayer to the King of heaven. He "delighteth in mercy." "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Our hope in Divine mercy is well founded; for it is founded both upon Divine promises and upon the "unspeakable gift," which is both the means and the pledge of the gift of pardon and the gift of life.
III. A DESIRE FOR THE SALVATION OF OTHERS. Esther was not so selfish as to ask that she and her kinsman, Mordecai, might be spared; her desire was that the whole nation of the Jews might be delivered. Similar was the attitude of Paul, who said, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they may be saved!" When we seek salvation through Christ we cannot seek it for ourselves alone; we shall pray for our households, for our nation, for our race.
"Thy light, that on our souls hath shone
Leads us in hope to thee:
Let us not feel its rays alone—
Alone thy people be.
O bring our dearest friends to God;
Remember those we love;
Fit them on earth for thine abode,
Fit them for joys above."
Esther 7:9, Esther 7:10
The oppressed avenged.
This was indeed the hand—as the heathen would have said, of Nemesis—as we Christians say, of a righteous God and Ruler. Upon the tree erected for the impalement of Mordecai, the cruel, bloodthirsty conspirator Haman was sentenced himself to die. "The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make whips to scourge us."
I. OFTEN WE OBSERVE, FOR A WHILE, INNOCENCE SUFFERING AND THREATENED, AND SIN POWERFUL, INSOLENT, AND TRIUMPHANT. Never was a more striking instance of this than was furnished at the court of the Persian king. Yet since the world began similar spectacles have been beheld.
II. A RIGHTEOUS AND ALMIGHTY RULER LOOKS DOWN FROM HIS THRONE AND OBSERVES SUCH SCENES. It is not we only who mark the inequalities and apparent wrongs of human life. An all-seeing Eye is ever upon the prosperous sinner and the afflicted saint. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
III. THE TIME WILL COME WHEN THE OPPRESSOR SHALL BE BROUGHT LOW, AND THE LOWLY AND RIGHTEOUS SHALL BE EXALTED. Perhaps, as in the case before us, in this world; assuredly in the general judgment. "The Lord reigneth;" and though he may have reasons we cannot fully understand for permitting the temporary reign of injustice, the Judge of all the earth shall assuredly do right.
Ahasuerus, unlike Jonah, "did well to be angry." Haman had plotted against the life of his favourite queen, and one of his most serviceable friends, and against an unoffending community. And he had all but usurped the royal authority in causing the gallows to be reared on which be intended that Mordecai should be put to death. A righteous anger led to what would have been deemed in him, an arbitrary sovereign, a just act of retribution. And only when the judicial sentence was carried out against the offender was "the king's wrath pacified."
I. HUMAN ANGER.
1. This is sometimes righteous. "Be ye angry and sin not." Indignation against wrong and wrath with the oppressor are virtues, without which man is scarcely human.
2. Anger is always to be treated with suspicion. We are all prone, like Ahasuerus, to be angry with what hurts ourselves, and our sense of our rights and dignity, rather than with what is evil in the sight of the Lord. Let us ask ourselves whether our anger is justifiable—is sympathy with the Divine righteousness, or is mere selfish passion.
3. Anger should not be confounded with personal revenge. Wrath may be pacified by malevolent action, and then "sin lieth at the door."
II. DIVINE ANGER.
1. God is angry—with the wicked—every day. The Scriptures represent him as regarding the evil-doing of men with displeasure and with wrath.
2. In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy. This is the message of the gospel, which does not conceal God's indignation at sin or his displeasure with the sinner; but shows that he is just, and the Justifier of the believer in Christ. He condemns the sin in pardoning the sinner. "Thou wast angry; but thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst us."
1. Rejoice that God is pacified and reconciled.
2. Accept his offers of mercy.
3. Seek to share his placable and forgiving spirit.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Esther 7:3, Esther 7:4
The effectual prayer of a true priestess.
From the darker side of human nature and its painful suggestions we are glad to come out to the light and air of its more hopeful aspects. We are able to do this now without presumption or incaution. A brittle thread of hope for the very despondent is still a welcome sight to the eyes of those who look on. The plaintive prayer of the oppressed is touching not least to those who may happen to overhear. And the signs of a deep sorrow sinking almost to abject submission, rather than bearing the marks of a healthy resignation, will not fail to wake betimes our tenderest sympathy. These are the more inviting conditions under which the scene now presents itself to us. King Ahasuerus is present, on the grandeur of his throne, and with the dread authority of his golden sceptre. But it is not he who is the central figure. Esther is the central figure. Haman also is there, the would-be destroyer of a scattered nation of people, whose head is already bowed in the clay of punishment. But the eye shuns him, and flees past him to the vista which shows that same people reviving their hope and lifting again the head. And in the background of this scene there is one specially hopeful sign. It is not much that can be said at any time to the honour of Ahasuerus, yet we feel somewhat propitiated towards him when we remember that the arbitrary, imperious monarch has waited, and has even asked three times, for the prayer which Esther is now at last about to offer before him. Upon her he is bending a gracious eye, and to her he is lending an attentive ear. Esther has become awhile the priestess of her people. Let us consider her appearance in this character. We have from her lips—
I. A PRAYER, THE SUBJECT OF WHICH WAS LIFE. The prayer asked for life. It asked the least, for anything less would be of no worth without this being secured first. It asked the least, but what signified everything beside. Esther's prayer told its tale, and told it all, but told it most simply. No general phrases, no hasty sentences; each word had been weighed, not indeed to produce an artificial, but a transparent effect. The skill in it was the skill of sincerity and profound earnestness alone. There was art in it, but the art of artlessness, not of artfulness. This prayer for just life and breath for herself and the congregation of her people breathes a tone of wonderful humility, and has an extraordinary promise of content in it. The voice of it surely must have faltered through falling tears, or been choked in sobs, when, in the name of all that venerable nation, so long lifted above all nations of the earth, Esther adds that if it had been only a question of bondage, and of selling into such bondage of every man and woman of them, it was not her voice that should have been heard to deprecate, nor her lips that should have been parted in prayer to prevent it. But, she says, the case was one of greater, even of supreme extremity. They were sold—to death. They were sold, in the words of the opportunely-quoted "decree," "to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish." Many drops of big tears had those words been to an unumbered multitude of sensitive and high-spirited people; but now were they not for the first time like drops of molten lead to the hearing of Haman? For him they were hot with terror, heavy with doom, while their effect upon Ahasuerus was electric. Who does not feel that a prayer for life must be respectfully listened to, at least?
II. A PRAYER THAT RESTED ON SACRIFICE. Esther does not purport to bring an outer sacrifice. A most real and precious sacrifice she does in fact bring. She was herself the sacrifice, and she knew it full well. Though with modesty, and as mute as could be under the circumstances, she does in a veiled manner utter the fact, and claim the plea. She pleads, as she had been taught and urged by Mordecai to plead, that she had been raised up by Providence for this hour, and "to this end" had been placed where of late she was found. There are many outer forms of sacrifice, but the principle at work here, and but thinly concealed, is the leading principle invoked in them all. So Esther makes this the plea: "If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king." And "if she had found favour," was it not the result of a most real intrinsic sacrifice of self?
III. A PRAYER WHICH HAD FOR ITS CHIEFEST BURDEN INTERCESSION. Esther was as "merciful" a priestess as she was a skilful one. She lets not go of the argument, the plea, the sacrifice which was found in herself; and she keeps this well in the foreground. But our ear can hear well that her prayer is really intercession. It is "my people" she has ever in sight, ever "deep graven on her heart." Her people's name is kept close linked with her own. She had no thought of permitting them to get separated from her. They and she had the prospect of being about to share and share alike the "decree," and she takes care to pray and pray alike. This was necessary with all the old high priests under the law. Only of Christ was it not true, who "needed not to offer a sacrifice first for his own sins, and then for the people's." But this is the language of Esther: "Let my life and my people be given me:… for we are sold, I and my people."
IV. A PRAYER WHICH IN MANY RESPECTS IS A SUBLIME TYPE OF THE SOUL'S PRAYER TO GOD. Within the four corners of Esther's prayer there are some amazing analogies with the prayer of man to God, of the sinner trembling between fear and hope to the Saviour, of the helpless creature stricken with the sense of unparalleled need to the Possessor and Spirit of life. Esther's prayer is indeed horror to our ears to hear, and grates on every highest sensibility of our nature, when (though no fault to her) we think of it as addressed to a fellow-creature. But we may now put this out of sight. The postulates of prayer are here—
1. In the praying disposition of the suppliant. Here are the deep feeling, the just estimate of the critical character of the occasion, the overwhelming sense of the prize of life. There are also to be noticed the natural selection of simplest language, the choice of briefest arguments, and all these held in hand with a self-command almost inconceivable—another touch of a true analogy. All these are the things which characterise heavenward prayer where intense spiritual importunity exists.
2. In the absolute ownership, the omnipotent power, the sovereign sceptre of the being addressed. These do belong to him whom man addresses in prayer when he prays heavenward. And when these two postulates of prayer meet, rare indeed are the exceptions to that result which in one blessed word we call mercy.—B.
A changed attitude.
The priestess has risen from her knees, and appears suddenly transmuted into prosecutrix for herself and her people. The posture of prayer is exchanged for the full-drawn height. The suppliant attitude is replaced in a second by the defiant. Inclining arms, and hands clasped in prayer, are flung wide apart. The extended right hand points a finger of vigorous decision at Haman, that type of monstrous iniquity. The averted eye, shunning him, is to Ahasuerus, the present object of hope and trust. As one looks on from the distance, the tones scarcely heard just now have risen from suppliant earnestness to the pitch of indignant force and unmistaken denunciation. Such the transformation. And one token of genuineness, it was the work of an instant. The explanation of so violent a contrast and so rapid a change is the extreme opposite of any native fickleness, of any tendency to infidelity, of any unreality of heart. The opposed appearances are due to one fixed purpose, one imperious necessity, one unalterable religion. In the midst of most unpromising surroundings we seem to see here the long prostrate image of righteousness upraised again. Truth and goodness, oppressed and down-trodden without mercy, recover their standing. There rises in the centre before our vision what might seem a Divinely-sculptured form, for its beauty, its truth of outline, and its suddenness. Let us note some of its suggestions.
I. IT STANDS FOR THE PRESENT A SOLITARY TESTIMONY TO REBUKE INIQUITY. Such has been almost always at the first, and often for a while, the history of integrity, of truth, of conscience. A unit of these heavenly forms appears. The individual is raised up. Strength is made perfect in the weakness of one. One has to bear, and bears the brunt. One has to do the work, and does it. One has to set the example, and show the way, and leap into the gulf, and unfurl the banner, and uplift the standard. ONE HANGS UPON THE CROSS. And there stands here, in the person of Esther denouncing the "wicked adversary Haman," one figure, absolutely alone, testifying rebuke of sin, and of the sin of the mighty. There are few positions more dangerous to the person who takes it than this. The one rebuker of the iniquity of the many, or of the powerful, needs to be sure of his cause, and supported by an informed conscience; otherwise he has little to expect from those on whom he visits rebuke.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF IT HAS SUCCEEDED IMMEDIATELY TO THAT OF PRAYER. HOW many of the greatest works have, in point of historical fact, grown out of prayer. They have taken form after the silence and meditation of prayer. They have grown out of the strength given in answer to strong supplication and tears. The illustrations which Scripture offers are many, and are the beacons for us. But the illustrations of all history, and of our own lives, far surpass them in number.
III. IT IS OF THE TYPE OF THE GENTLE AND WEAK AND DEPENDENT, THOUGH FOR ITS WORK ONE WOULD HAVE EXPECTED THE CONTRARY. At any time gentleness has its own proper force, tenderness its peculiar strength, and dependence can often summon a far vaster might to its service than any independence possesses of itself. But there are times when the feminine and the tender is manifestly endowed with an unusual force, and then it takes additional advantage from the background of weakness which belongs inherently to it. So now we are the more bound to study the reason of it when we find the eye of this one woman, with an unusual exercise of it, flashing a force of conviction which rends in twain the hard, gnarled courage of one of the worst of hearts, and shivers the flint. Tenderness is one thing, and strength another. Yet here we find the type of the one usurping the prerogative of the other, and to almost unequalled advantage. Not only "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings has God perfected praise;" but often does God choose "the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty." And so he brings it to light that it is not the force of man at all which really wins the victory, but the force of his truth, his goodness, his justice, HIMSELF.
IV. THIS IS A FORM WHICH DIVIDES SO MUCH OF THE WORLD AS IS IN ITS PRESENCE INTO TWO GREAT PARTS. We have here an humble instance of what the cross of Christ did when it stood betwixt the two other crosses. It showed the world divided into the penitent and the impenitent, the believing and the unbelieving. So now the world is forced into one of two classes: there is he who consents to the judgment of Esther and will execute it, and there is he who is convicted and condemned irresistibly by it. The one consents with the deepest emotions, the other suffers conviction with a fear and trembling that positively incapacitate him from governing his actions or taking the most ordinary precaution. When truth and justice are the vision, the background being really nothing else than the sky, then the immediate consequences to all beholders are either those of consenting sympathy, or of stricken amazement and confusion of face. Seldom was the work of severance better done than by Esther now. Her form seems to bring the whole scene to life again, as though we were there. And the more we gaze, the more we justly wonder at the achievement of the moment, which shows Esther with finger pointed at Haman, and saying, "The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman."
V. THIS IS THE FORM OF CONVICTION LEFT MISTRESS OF THE SITUATION. The position is evidently in many respects more impressive than that which found Nathan confronting David, and saying, "Thou art the man." Nathan had a heart not callous, a conscience not lifelong injured, to deal with—those of one man. How different the conditions of Esther's task! What a contrast this moment to the moment when, after the fasting of herself, her maidens, and her people, she presented herself within sight of the despot, nor breathed freely till the golden sceptre was extended to her! Such the change for those who watch and pray, who pray and fight, who know and follow and trust the good that is above. They come to a point sometimes where all seems endangered, but prayer and trust and work convert that very time into the date of an exceeding great moral victory. Up to this time Esther had been a queen but in name; now she was a queen in deed and of a truth. The form of Esther is a very faint type, but a very true prophecy, of that great victory, which is ever drawing nearer, which shall show wickedness prostrate, righteousness supreme.—B.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
Moments that flash.
"And the king arising.; went into the palace garden.'' Esther spoke plainly enough when she turned and charged as her "enemy this wicked Haman." Her words seemed almost incredible to the king. Haman watches to see how they are taken. The king rises in anger from the table and steps out into the garden. Here he paces to and fro meditating. He is wise to have a few quiet moments before deciding as to his action. Perhaps they were only moments of delay before announcing sentence. They were also moments in which would flash upon him—
1. The reckless character of his own dealings with an innocent and captive people.
2. His complicity in the designs of a murderous and greedy wretch.
I. THERE ARE MOMENTS WHICH COME TO US AT DIFFERENT PERIODS WHICH FLASH LIKE THOSE IN THE PALACE GARDEN. We have had some problem to work out; or we have been going through a series of circumstances, the end of which we could not comprehend, when at one point all becomes clear. We are like men on board a vessel when the fog lifts and shows them to be near, unexpectedly, to some well-known headland. Or we have "tracked" through a dense forest, and have come to its edge at last, when a wide view opens out before us. These moments come to the youth when a friend or parent dies; or when he first finds out how faithless is some professed friend. Or they come when, later in life, we listen to some searching sermon; or when affliction falls upon us. To some they come most unexpectedly, when engaged in ordinary affairs. The Holy Spirit uses such moments. Paul knew what such moments meant when, outside Damascus, the light flashed from heaven, and he saw himself in his real state.
II. IT IS WELL TO TAKE TIME FOR MEDITATION AFTER ANY SUDDEN REVELATION. When angry we should pause. He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city. On the meditation of a few moments how much may depend. Here it was the deposition and execution of a prime minister, and the salvation of a whole nation.—H.
The covered countenance.
"As the word went out of the king's mouth they covered Haman's face." A hint is sufficient for the king's servants. It is to them a matter of little import whether they robe Haman for exaltation or cover his face for execution; whether they lead him to a banquet or to a gallows. Their duty is to obey their king. So with the angels; they minister for joy or punishment.
I. TO BE IN DISGRACE WAS TO BE UNWORTHY TO SEE THE KING. Nathaniel Hawthorne represented, in one tale, a man as wearing ever a crape veil, and in death wishing it to be kept over his face, because he felt his own unworthiness.
II. TO BE CONDEMNED OF GOD WOULD RENDER US UNABLE TO SEE HIM. As light dazzles, so God's purity alone would blind us. Our own sin will be the covering. When death shall throw his black pall over us, unless mercy lifts it, our own hands will never tear it away. We should examine our hearts, and see whether there is any cherished sin which may eventually lead to our rejection and condemnation. Let there be no "veil" on our hearts as on those of Israel, that there may be no covering our faces as Haman's was covered.—H.
"Hang him thereon." Short time elapsed between the discovery of Haman's crime and his suffering for it. He had observant enemies around. Those who had been willing to fawn upon him while he was in power are ready to turn against him on his fall. They let the king know of the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. "Hang him thereon," says the king, with respect to the builder.
I. WE CANNOT FAIL TO BE STRUCK WITH THE SUITABILITY OF THE PUNISHMENT TO THE CRIME. Haman "hoisted with his own petard." Into the trap he digged for another he fell. See another fitting illustration of this in Adoni-bezek, who, having disabled seventy-two by the excisions of thumbs and great toes, was himself served in the same way, and confessed, "As I have done, so God hath requited me" (Judges 1:7).
II. IN THE FUTURE THE SUITABILITY OF THE PUNISHMENT TO THE SIN OF THE LIFE WILL BE CLEARLY SEEN. It will be the outgrowth naturally of our sin, and not an arbitrary infliction on the part of God. Despisers of parents, oppressors of the weak, the intemperate and sensual, will find how fitting is the retribution to the sin, and will have to confess, as Haman must have done in his heart, that it is just.—H.
HOMILIES BY D. ROWLANDS
The terrible consummation of a wicked life.
Our first impulse on reading these words is to praise Ahasuerus for his faithful administration of justice; for if ever a man deserved summary vengeance at the hands of the law, it was Haman. But a little reflection must correct our judgment. The whole transaction reveals the fickle, passionate, unscrupulous disposition of the tyrant. Without any apparent reason, or at least without any regard to his merits, he had made a special favourite of Haman, and had lavished upon him all the honours at his command; and now, in a fit of uncontrollable rage, he hurries him, without any pretence of a trial, to a felon's death. Flatterers are the most unreliable of men. Those who lick the dust at your feet in prosperity are the most likely to tread upon your neck in adversity. There is but one step between "Hosanna to the Son of David," and "Away with him! crucify him!" The king's servants, who vied with each other in their obsequiousness to Haman while he enjoyed their master's favour, were now so eager to execute him that they could scarcely wait for the sentence. The text is in many respects one of the most striking in the whole Bible, and is fraught with weighty and permanent lessons. Note—
I. THE TERRIBLE CONSUMMATION OF A WICKED CAREER. It sometimes happens that the ungodly flourish in the world to such an extent that our faith in eternal righteousness is staggered. We could point to men whose road to power was paved with injustice, treachery, and bloodshed. Many an upright heart, crushed for its very uprightness, has poured forth, in contemplating such men, the despairing complaint of the Psalmist, "Verily! have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency." But a careful observation of facts would doubtless show that even in this world excessive wickedness frequently brings about its own requital. Pharaoh perished in the Red Sea; the dogs licked the blood of Ahab in Samaria; Herod was eaten of worms upon his throne. There are circumstances about the case of Haman which separate it from all others, but in its essential features it is but one among thousands. Three elements in Haman's character may be mentioned which, while they contributed to his temporary success, led to his final ruin.
1. Boundless ambition.
2. Boundless pride.
3. Boundless cruelty.
II. THE IGNOMINIOUS EXTINCTION OF AN INFAMOUS RACE. Some think that Haman was an Amalekite; and we are told that the Amalekites, for their hostility to the Israelites, had been singled out for retribution. The Lord said to Moses, "I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." The threat was not carried out at once; for ages the footsteps of justice seemed to linger, and the delay had only intensified their malignity. But here the last of the race dies upon the gallows, for after this they disappear altogether from history. Piety runs in families, and so does wickedness. God's blessing rests upon families, and so does his curse. This is not due to haphazard, caprice, or favouritism; but there is always a definite cause for it. Think of the Stuarts of England, and the Bourbons of France. By trampling upon the rights of the people, and seeking self-aggrandisement at the expense of righteousness, they sinned no less against Heaven than against humanity. But, as if pursued by an inexorable fate, they were hurled from the summit of power to the ignoble obscurity which they so richly deserved. Let us beware of committing "presumptuous sins," lest they should taint our families, and doom them as well as ourselves to eternal disgrace.
III. THE SIGNAL DEFEAT OF A HEARTLESS PURPOSE. The incident before us is one of those incidents which cannot be accounted for except on the supposition of an overruling Providence. We perceive cunning baffled, crime punished, impiousness abashed in such a wonderful way, that to attribute the whole affair to mere chance would be the height of folly.
1. Haman was degraded just when he thought of reaching the goal of his ambition. The highest dignities of the kingdom, next to those enjoyed by the king, were his already. His vanity, his love of authority, his fondness for display had nothing to desire. And now the only annoyance that disturbed him was about to be removed Ñ the people which he hated was about to be annihilated—and he was about to become absolute master of the situation. Henceforth he would be admired, courted, envied by all the world. But, alas, it was not to be. "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." Haman had left that counsel out of his calculation; hence, when he thought of attaining the climax of honour, he was plunged into the abyss of shame. Prosperity is the worst thing that can happen to the wicked man. Adversity may mellow his heart, and produce reflection, repentance, and reformation; but a course of unbroken triumph only hardens his heart, and hastens the inevitable catastrophe. "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape."
2. Haman perished on the very gallows that he had erected for another. This was probably the bitterest ingredient in his cup of woe. Imagine his chagrin, his confusion, his despair, when he found that the huge instrument of death which he had set up at such great expense to punish his unbending antagonist was to be employed for no other purpose than his own execution! And who knows but that Mordecai himself was among the crowd who witnessed the scene? There was an awful fitness about the punishment. After-ages have with one consent pronounced it just. No utterance commends itself to universal approval with greater force than this: "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him." We are reminded here that as virtue is its own reward, so sin is its own punishment, Haman died on a gallows of his own construction; so shall every impenitent sinner perish through his own waywardness. "Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee."—R.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
Accused and convicted.
I. TARNISHED GILT. Haman would hardly go "merrily" to Esther's second banquet. His heart would be heavy with the day s disappointments, and his ears would be haunted with the gloomy vaticinations of his friends. The glory of the honour which had so inflated him was dimmed. Worldly delights that are ardently anticipated may be robbed of their promise even before they are touched.
II. WHETTED CURIOSITY. The king's desire to hear Esther's petition grew with delay. For a third time he asked her to speak, and encouraged her by the largest promise. Idle curiosity is a weakness and a snare. There may be a legitimate and even dutiful curiosity, and that too in connection with individual cases. A loving desire to give help will often justify even a seeming intrusion into the privacy of a friend's sorrow. A sympathetic word may cause a secretly-burdened heart to open and relieve itself, and thus give an opportunity of affording it the benefit of wise counsel and timely succour. Our Saviour has "a fellow-feeling with our infirmities," and desires the full confidence of his people, that he may help them in their "time of need."
III. UNBURDENED DESIRE. The queen knew that the time had come for her to speak. She could no longer delay without injuring her cause. If it is well to know when to be silent, it is also well to know when to speak. It is folly to expose a great matter to a heart that may be cold or hostile. Esther's matter was exceedingly great, and she could not subject it to any needless risk by a premature disclosure. But now the king was so favourable to herself, and so interested in her secret, as to make it plain that she must tell all. So she laid before the king the weighty burden she had been silently carrying. What a relief to open a secret sorrow to those who can feel for us and give us an effective solace! We can at all times speak to God. Whatever barriers of fear and distrust stand between us and him are of our own making. The Redeemer of men is ready to share our every burden and to exceed our largest desires.
IV. POWERFUL PLEADING. Much wisdom and much pathos mark the words in which Esther presented her petition. Observe—
1. How heroically she united herself with her people. It was for her own life and the life of her people that she prayed. That the queen was a Jewess would be startling news to the king and Haman, and would certainly quicken the fears of the latter. Esther calmly elected to be numbered with the Israelites, and to die with them if they were to die. She only cared to live if they were permitted to live. It was a strong way of putting the matter before the king. It is better to suffer with God's people than to share the splendours of their enemies. The example of Moses is suggested (Hebrews 11:24-26). That of Joshua too (Joshua 24:15). Especially that of Christ, who made himself one with us that he might redeem us from evil.
2. How energetically she described the doom contrived for her people. She used the very words of the royal proclamation—"To destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish"—showing the ruthless determination of the enemy. Then there was an indignant allusion to the bribe. "We are sold, I and my people," to be thus destroyed. A further sting to the listening Haman. Hatred of wrong and pity for the oppressed give force to the tongue of the advocate, when it is free to speak. Strong feeling can only express itself in strong words. Direct and plain are the utterances of a heart that is breaking with a desire to save the innocent. Happy are the victims of evil who have an advocate like Esther. She reminds us of the great Advocate, the one Mediator between God and man. Our elder Brother, the vanquisher of the giant oppressors of our race, ever works and pleads for his people (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1).
3. How pathetically she pleaded the submissive spirit of herself and her race. If it bad been only bondage that was threatened she would have been silent. Her scattered people were used to hardships, and bad been trained to quiet submission. Yet, as she gently insinuated, even if the enemy had been content to reduce the Israelites to serfdom and poverty, he would not have saved the king' from damage. A free, orderly, and industrious people was of more value to the state than a race of slaves. This was a far-sighted truth much in advance of her day. Insubordination of peoples has generally been the result of oppressive rule. Nations have been wonderfully patient under all sorts of unjust exactions and crushing burdens; but there is a point beyond which the most patient submission cannot go. All are free in the kingdom of God. No oppressions there. Citizens are sons (John 1:12; Romans 8:14, Romans 8:15, Romans 8:21).
V. RESPONSIVE EMOTION.. The pleading of Esther. instantly roused within the king's mind a turbulence of feeling. "Who or where is the man who durst presume in his heart to do so?" Was he ignorant of the decree against the Jews? Had he sealed it in a careless or drunken moment? Or was he thinking of Haman and his presumption when he cried, "Who or where is the man?" We cannot say. All we know is that he yielded himself up to the power of Esther's words. We learn several things here.
1. That the worst men may retain a certain amount of good which only requires occasion to be inflamed into indignation against heartless sin. There is a point in every heart which the truth may peradventure reach. This should be encouragement to all workers for God.
2. That it is a good thing to be susceptible to the accents of injured innocence. We should cherish sympathy with the weak suffering, and be ever ready to set our faces against injustice and violence.
3. That false friends are worse than avowed enemies. Flatterers like Haman, who use the power they acquire for selfish and pernicious ends, are more to be feared than rebels or conspirators. A smooth tongue may work greater evil than an unsheathed sword.
4. That we should be thankful for awakenings to unconscious peril, even though they cover us with shame. It is less disgraceful to confess our weakness and folly than by persistence in them to allow wickedness to run its course. It may be noble to welcome a light that condemns us, but it can only be despicable and ruinous to close our eyes against the truth in order to shield our pride.
VI. RESISTLESS ACCUSATION. Esther's opportunity had come at last. "Who is the man?" cried the excited king. There is the man, answered the queen, pointing her finger to her second guest. "The adversary and the enemy is this wicked Haman." The charge fell like a thunderbolt on the culprit; a deadly fear seized his heart. There he stood convicted, speechless and trembling. We think of David before God and his prophet Nathan: "Thou art the man" (2 Samuel 12:7). The avenger may wait, but his time will come. God is long-suffering, but even his patience may be exhausted. ― D.
I. A SILENT WRATH. Feeling may be too deep for utterance. The king's silence was ominous. He could not speak for the moment in answer to Esther's charge, but neither could he sit still; and when he rose and went out Haman felt that the king had abandoned him. Whenever God turns from an evildoer, and ceases to speak to him, the end is not far off. It is a solemn thought that God may thus withdraw his mercy, and leave a sinner to himself. That is fatal.
II. A VAIN PRAYER. In the absence of the king Haman besought his life at the hands of Esther. But the queen was now powerless. She could render no help to the intended destroyer of her race. In presence of the Judge prayer will be too late. Vainly shall the impenitent cry to the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from "the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:15-17).
III. A SIGN OF DOOM. On his return from the garden the king saw Haman at the feet of Esther in an agony of imploration. He uttered a harsh word at the sight, and perhaps gave a signal, whereupon his attendants "covered Haman's face." A sign of death I Judgment had been pronounced, and the great man had fallen. In a moment the brilliant fabric which wickedness had reared crumbled into the dust. How many are thus startled by the signs of approaching death! How many will be similarly overtaken in "the day of the Son of man!"
IV. A PITILESS SUGGESTION. Harbonah's name is memorable and blessed among the Jews; but his words seem servile and heartless. He and his companions had probably fawned on the favourite whilst he was in power; but now, in his eagerness to please the wrathful king, he suggests the infliction of a special ignominy. No confidence can be placed in the sycophants of the great. When the wicked fall their friends turn into enemies. The same motives that make men flatter them in prosperity make men insult them in adversity. Nor will the impenitent derive any advantage before the tribunal of God from the things or beings in which they trusted on earth. All refuges will then fail them. Their boasted defences will prove a mockery.
V. AN APPROPRIATE END. When Harbonah spoke of the gallows in Haman's house, the king said, "Hang him on it." And so Haman was hanged on the very gibbet which he had prepared for Mordecai. A most fit yet terrible retribution l The would-be murderer was "hoist with his own petard." Evil contrived against the innocent recoils with deadly force on the contriver. The person who maliciously injures receives more harm than the person on whom he inflicts injury. The wicked themselves fall into the pit which they dig for the righteous (Psalms 7:15, Psalms 7:16).
VI. AN APPEASED WRATH. The execution of Haman gave quiet to the king's mind. Justice had been done, and the way opened up for a great deliverance. The mediation of the queen had been effective. The enemy of Israel had been destroyed. We have little sympathy with the king in connection with the death of Haman; yet his action serves to remind us of the justice and mercy of God. The Bible tells us of a Divine wrath against sin, and of the way in which that wrath satisfied itself. Justice was appeased and sin was punished and slain in the sacrifice of God's Son. On the cross justice and mercy meet in amity. "He who knew no sin was made sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21). "Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18). And now the salvation of a doomed race is heralded by the gospel through- out the earth (Isaiah 55:1; Matthew 11:28, Matthew 11:30; John 3:14-18).—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
A crisis, a plea, and a deliverance.
We have here—
1. A most serious crisis. "So the king and Haman came to banquet with Esther the queen" (verse 1). The culminating point in this great issue is now reached. The lives of the chosen people of God throughout all Persia, in all her provinces, hang on this interview between an arbitrary sovereign, his wife, and his minister. Except the wife shall prevail over the crafty and all-powerful statesman, the race must die by one cruel blow.
2. A powerful plea. At the king's invitation (verse 2) the queen makes her appeal in simple but forcible language. She appealed
(1) to his affection for herself: "Let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request" (verse 3);
(2) to his pity for a suffering people: "We are sold," and sold not even to bitter bondage, but "to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish" (verse 4);
(3) to his sense of what was politic: the loss of so many subjects would be greatly to "the king's damage" (verse 4).
3. A great deliverance (verses 5, 6). Having readily consented to the slaughter of thousands of his subjects, the king with equal readiness consents to their lives being spared. He appears to have been shocked at the idea of what was contemplated; but he had not reckoned on the sanguinary decree including his own wife in its evil range. We learn—
I. THE MYSTERIOUSNESS OF GOD'S GOVERNMENT. Why the Divine Ruler should allow his Church to come into such terrible danger, barely escaping from utter destruction; why he should sometimes permit such fearful atrocities to be inflicted, not interposing, as here, to save them, but allowing the beheadings, burnings, burials alive, imprisonments, etc. on which so many skies have looked down in different centuries; why he should allow a Haman of ancient times, or an Alva or Claverhouse of more recent times, to wreak such cruelties on the people of God, and why he should choose such instruments to avert and overthrow as one woman's beauty—this we cannot tell. God does and suffers many things which we do not understand. He declines to interpose when we should have confidently expected his aid. The truth is that he is too high and too great, and we are too low and too small to understand him. "His way is in the sea, his path in the great waters, and his footsteps are not known." "His ways are past finding out." We are but very little children before him, and must wait awhile; we shall understand hereafter what we know not now (John 13:7).
II. THE GOOD WORK THAT ONE WEAK VOICE MAY DO. Little did Esther think, when she was first accepted as queen, that she would do a good work for her race which should never be forgotten. But the hour came for her to make a great attempt; she made it, and succeeded. Her success was due to her courage and her charms and her address. But these were the outcome of a life of virtue and piety. By the exercise of these she had "bought up the opportunity" (redeemed the time), and "when the occasion came she was equal to the occasion." Wisely use the present, and when the hour of opportunity comes you will be ready to speak, to strike, to suffer, or to save.
III. THE UNENVIABLENESS OF RANK AND POWER WITHOUT WISDOM. Judging from the notion of mere worldliness, we should say that Abasuerus occupied the most enviable position in Persia. As king of that great empire, he held in his hand all that men usually desire. But judging from a distance, impartially, and in the light of God's truth, how little should we care to be such as he was. How unlovely the haste and passion of the man. Hungrily seizing the opportunity of reimbursing his treasury, he makes a decree which would have the effect of slaughtering a race, of ultimately weakening his resources, and of taking the life of his own queen. Happily, but accidentally, in the right mood when the chance is given him of retrieving his error, he turns with characteristic passion and precipitancy on his favourite minister, and wreaks vengeance on his head. Moral littleness in high places is very pitiable.
IV. THE UNSUSPECTED RANGE OF OUR ACTIONS IN THEIR EFFECTS. How amazed was Ahasuerus to find that in striking at the Jews he was aiming a blow at his own wife, and so at himself. All our actions, good and bad, stretch further and come closer home than we realise at the time when we do them.—C.
Esther 7:8-10; Esther 8:1, Esther 8:2
Human life is well likened to the river which glides smoothly and evenly along from the spring where it rises to the sea into which it falls. But it is also well compared to the wheel which takes to the bottom that which was at the top, and to the top that which was at the bottom. There is much of orderly and regular procedure; there is much also of change and reversal. Seldom, indeed, does human life present before our eyes the picture of so signal and complete a reversal as that told in the text. Haman, the favourite, the prime minister of state, the all-powerful courtier, the wealthy and strong noble, hanged on the gallows; Mordecai, the despised Jew, whose life was seriously threatened, and likely to end most ignominiously, promoted to highest favour and greatest influence with the king. These reversals were not mere accidents; they illustrate the truths—
I. THAT, SOONER OR LATER, SUCCESSFUL SIN WILL BE OVERTHROWN (Esther 8:9, Esther 8:10). We all "see the prosperity of the wicked," as the Psalmist did, and, like him, we are grieved and troubled by it. But we must be like the patient patriarch, and wait to see "the end of the Lord." If we wait long enough we shall find that sin meets with its due award. The guilty empire founded in usurpation and bloodshed, and maintained by violence and corruption, goes down and goes out in ignominy and disaster. The guilty adventurer rears his head for many years, but misfortune and misery overtake him in time. Haman goes to the gallows at last.
"The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small;
With patience he stands waiting, but with exactness grinds he all."
The truth is, that sin carries in itself the seeds of its own discomfiture; these must germinate, and grow, and bear fruit in time. "I have seen the wicked in great power," etc.; but wait awhile, and "lo, he is not: he has passed away" (Psalms 37:35).
II. THAT, SOONER OR LATER, PERSECUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL TRIUMPH (Esther 8:1, Esther 8:2). Haman has gone to the gallows, and now Mordecai takes the chief chair of state. Honesty proves the true policy in the end. Purity, uprightness, integrity, kindness—these have in them the power and prophecy of ultimate success. Let the godly man who is oppressed by iniquity bear his burden, and also his testimony; let him patiently pursue his course, looking, up and looking on, and somewhere in the. future the crown of a pure success awaits him—if not here, hereafter. "Weeping may endure for a night"—possibly a long night—but "joy comes in the morning." It may be the morrow of the distant future, but it will then be the beginning of a cloudless and endless day.
III. THAT SIN CONTINUALLY SUFFERS FROM ITS OWN HAND. "They hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai" (Esther 8:10). Into the very trap he laid for another his own foot fails. We learn—
1. That sin frequently brings on itself the very evil it designed for others. A man bent on ruining another (by legal measures, or unfair under-selling, etc.) often impoverishes himself. A man in his wrath goes out to slay, and is himself the slain one. The accuser of others is condemned by others, and suffers general reprobation.
2. That sin invariably suffers as the consequence of the evil which it does. If it does not endure the very evil it designs, it does bear its penalty. No man can hurt another without being hurt himself. The chief victim, the principal sufferer from sin, is the sinner. Every act of evil, every thought of sin, inflicts a damaging wound, more or less obvious, in the breast of the evil-doer, in the heart of the sinner. Contrast with this stern truth the obverse—
IV. THAT GOODNESS ALWAYS BLESSES THE AGENT AS WELL AS THE OBJECT. It is not mercy only, but every kind of work, that "blesses him that gives and him that takes." "Give, and it shall be given unto you." "He that watereth shall himself be watered."—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany