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HAMAN'S HOUSE GIVEN TO ESTHER, AND THE KING'S SIGNET MADE OVER.TO MORDECAI (Esther 8:1, Esther 8:2). Two consequences followed immediately on Haman's execution. His property escheating to the crown, Ahasuerus made the whole of it over to Esther, either simply as a sign of favour, or in compensation of the alarm and suffering which Haman had caused her. Further, Haman's office being vacant, and Mordecai's close relationship to Esther having become known to the king, he transferred to Mordecai the confidence which he had been wont to repose in Haman, and gave him the custody of the royal signet. Under these circumstances Esther placed Mordecai in charge of the house which had been Haman's, as a suitable abode for a minister.
On that day did the king … give the house of Haman. When a criminal was executed, everything that belonged to him became the property of the crown, and was disposed of according to the king's pleasure. It pleased Ahasuerus to make over to Esther the house of Haman, with, no doubt, all its content, attendants, furniture, and treasure. The Jews' enemy. This now becomes Haman's ordinary designation (see Esther 9:10, Esther 9:24). Traditional practices have in many places kept up his memory as one of the most hated adversaries of the nation. And Mordecai came before the king. Mordecai became a high official—one of those in constant attendance on the king. For Esther had told what he was to her. i.e. had revealed his relationship, had told that he was her cousin. Mordecai having been recognised as a "king's benefactor" (Esther 6:3-11), and Esther having been forced to confess herself a Jewess in order to save her nation (Esther 7:3, Esther 7:4), there was no object in any further concealment.
And the king took off his ring. The king's signet would, as a matter of course, be taken from Haman before his execution and restored to Ahasuerus, who now once more wore it himself. Business, however, was irksome to him, and, having resolved to make Mordecai minister in Haman's room, he very soon took the signet off again, and made it over to the new vizier. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman. It would not have been seemly for Esther to give away what she had received as a gift from the king. She was therefore unable to make Mordecai a present of the house. But she did what was equivalent—she set him over it, made him practically its master. Thus he was provided with a residence suitable to his new dignity.
AT ESTHER'S REQUEST AHASUERUS ALLOWS THE ISSUE OF A SECOND EDICT, PERMITTING THE JEWS TO RESIST ANY WHO SHOULD ATTACK THEM, TO KILL THEM IN THEIR OWN DEFENCE, AND TO TAKE POSSESSION OF THEIR GOODS (Esther 8:3-14). The execution of Haman, the confiscation of his property, the advancement of Mordecai into his place, though of favourable omen, as showing the present temper and inclination of Abasuerus, left the Jews in as great danger as before. In most countries there would neither have been delay nor difficulty. The edict which went forth on the 13th of Nisan (Esther 3:12), and which could not be executed till the 13th of Adar, would have been cancelled, revoked, recalled. But in Persia this could not be done; or at any rate it could not be done without breaking one of the first principles of Persian law, the principle that "the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse" (Esther 8:8). It was therefore necessary to devise a mode whereby the desired escape of the Jews might practically be obtained, and yet the edict remain unrevoked, and the king's honour be saved. At first Mordecai and Esther do not appear to have seen this, and Esther asked openly for the reversal of the decree, only representing it as the writing of Haman, and not the writing of the king (verse 5). But Ahasuerus pointed out that this could not be done. Anything short of a reversal, any new decree, he would sanction; but he could do no more—he could not revoke his own word (verse 8). The course actually followed was then devised, probably by Mordecai. The old decree was allowed to stand; but a new decree was issued and signed in the usual way, whereby the Jews were allowed and encouraged to resist those who should attack them,—to "gather themselves together, and to stand for their life; to destroy, slay, and cause to perish all the power of the people of the province that would assault them,"—and were further permitted to "take the spoil of them for a prey," or, in other words, to seize the property of all whom they should slay (verse 11). The royal posts carried out this decree (verse 14), as they had the former one; and it was publicly set forth and proclaimed in every province, that if the Jews were attacked under the terms of the one, they might defend themselves and retaliate on their foes under the terms of the other (verse 13). As the second decree was issued on the 23rd of Sivan, the third month (verse 9), and the day appointed for the attack was the 13th of Adar, the twelfth, there was ample time-above eight months—for the Jews to make preparations, to organise themselves, to collect arms, and to arrange an effective resistance.
Esther spake yet again before the king. It might have seemed to be the business of Mordecai, as the king's chief minister, to advise him in a matter of public policy, and one in which the interests of so many of his subjects were vitally concerned. But the new minister did not perhaps feel sure of his influence, or quite know what to recommend. Esther was therefore again put forward to address the king. Fell down at his feet. Compare 1 Samuel 25:24; 2 Kings 4:37, etc. And besought him … to put away the mischief of Haman. i.e. begged him, first of all, in a vague way, to "cause to pass"—put away, or undo—the mischief of Haman—not suggesting how it was to be done.
Then the king held out the golden sceptre. Either Esther had again intruded on the king uninvited, or there was a double use of the golden sceptre.
1. In the pardon of those who so intruded; and,
2. In the ordinary granting of requests. It was perhaps held out on this occasion simply to express a readiness to do as Esther desired.
If it please the king, etc. The long preface of four clauses, winding up with "If I be pleasing," is indicative of Esther's doubt how the king will receive her suggestion that it should be written to reverse the letters (comp. Esther 3:13) devised by Haman. To ask the king to unsay his own words was impossible. By representing the letters as devised by Haman, and written by Haman, Esther avoids doing so. But she thereby blinks the truth. In excuse she adds the striking distich contained in the next verse—"For how could I endure to see the evil that is coming on my people? or how could I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?"
Esther 8:7, Esther 8:8
Then the king … said unto Esther the queen and unto Mordecai. The king, it would seem, took time to give his answer; and when he gave it, addressed himself to Mordecai, his minister, rather than to Esther, his wife. "See now," he said, "I have done what I could—I have given Esther Haman's house; I have had Haman himself executed because he put forth his hand against the Jews. What yet remains? I am asked to save your countrymen by revoking my late edict. That may not be. The writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's seal, may no man reverse. But, short of this, I give you full liberty of action. Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's ring. Surely you can devise something which will save your people without calling on me to retract my own words, and at the same time break a great principle of Persian law."
Then were the king's scribes called. The king had said enough. Mordecai saw a means of reconciling the king's scruple with the safety—or if not with the absolute safety, yet with the escape and triumph—of his people. The Jews should be allowed to stand on their defence, should be encouraged to do so, when the time came should be supported in their resistance by the whole power of the government (Esther 9:3). A new decree must issue at once giving the requisite permission, and copies must be at once distributed, that there might be no mistake or misunderstanding. So the "king's scribes" were summoned and set to work. In the third month, the month Sivan. This is another Babylonian name. The month was sacred to the moon-god, Sin, and its name may be connected with his. It corresponded with the latter part of our May and the early part of June. To the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers. Compare Esther 3:12, where the same three classes of rulers are mentioned. An hundred twenty and seven. See the comment on Esther 1:1. And to the Jews. Copies of the former edict had not been sent especially to the Jews. They had been left to learn their danger indirectly from the people among whom they dwelt; but Mordecai took care that they should be informed directly of their right of defence.
He wrote in the king's name. As Haman had done (Esther 2:12). And riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries. There is no "and" before "riders" in the original, and the clause is clearly exegetical of the preceding, Neither "mules," nor "camels," nor "young dromedaries" are mentioned in it, and the best translation would seem to be—"the riders on coursers of the royal stud, the offspring of thoroughbreds." It is noticeable that both Herodotus (8:98) and Xenophon ('Cyrop.,' Esther 8:6, § 17) speak of horses as alone employed in carrying the Persian despatches.
Wherein the king granted. Rather, "that the king granted." Mordecai sent "letters," which said "that the king granted to the Jews to gather themselves together," etc. To gather themselves together. Union is strength. If all the Jews of a province were allowed to collect and band themselves together, they would at once be a formidable body. Scattered in the various towns and villages, they might easily have been overpowered. To stand for their life. The Jews have sometimes been spoken of as the aggressors on the actual 13th of Adar, but there is no evidence to support this view. The edict clearly only allowed them to stand on the defensive. Of course, when fighting once began, both sides did their worst. In repelling attack the Jews had the same liberty to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish as their adversaries (Esther 3:13). Little ones. Rather, "families." Take the spoil of them for a prey. i.e. "seize their property." The earlier edict had given the same permission to the Jews' enemies (Esther 3:13).
This verse reproduces Esther 3:14; with a slight modification of the last clause. It is probable that a copy of the decree was originally inserted at the end of the verse.
The posts that rode upon mules and camels. Rather, "that rode on coursers of the stud royal" (see the comment on Esther 8:10). The verse repeats Esther 3:15, with small additions. It appears that the later posts were urged to haste still more strongly than the earlier ones—not that time really pressed, but from superabundant caution—that there might be an opportunity for further communications between the provinces and the court, if doubt was anywhere entertained as to the king's intentions.
MORDECAI'S HONOUR AND THE JEWS' JOY (Esther 8:15-17). Ahasuerus was not content even now with what he had done for Mordecai. Before his minister quitted the presence, the king presented him with a crown of gold, and a robe and vest of honour; and thus arrayed he proceeded into the city of Susa, where the new edict was already known, and had been received with satisfaction (Esther 8:15). The Persians, who formed the predominant element in the population of the town, sympathised with the Jews, and rejoiced in the king's favour towards them; while the Jews of Susa, having passed from despair to confident hope, were full of gladness and thankfulness. In the provinces the decree had a still warmer welcome. Its arrival was celebrated with "a feast" (Esther 8:17) and "a good day." It led also to many of the heathen becoming proselytes to the Jewish religion—some perhaps from conviction, but others because they thought it safer to place themselves manifestly on the Jews' side before the day of the struggle:
Royal apparel of blue and white. The Persian monarch himself wore a purple robe and an inner vest of purple striped with white. The robes of honour which he gave away were of many different colours, but generally of a single tint throughout (Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 8.3, § 3); but the one given to Mordecai seems to have been blue with white stripes. These were the colours of the royal diadem (Q. Curt; 'Vit. Alex.,' 3.3). A great crown of gold. Not a tall crown, like that of the monarch, which is called in Hebrew kether (Greek κίταρις), but 'atarah, a crown of an inferior kind, frequently worn by nobles. And with a garment of fine linen and purple. The "fine linen" was of course white. The real meaning of the word thakrik, translated "garment," is doubtful. Gesenius understands an outer garment' 'the long and flowing robe of an Oriental monarch;" in which case the "apparel" previously mentioned must be the inner vest. Others, as Patrick, make the thakrik to be the inner, and the "apparel" (l'bush) the outer garment. The Septuagint, however, translates thakrik by διάδημα, and its conjunction with the "crown" favours this rendering. The diadem proper of a Persian monarch was a band or fillet encircling the lower part of his crown, and was of blue, spotted or striped with white. Ahasuerus seems to have allowed Mordecai to wear a diadem of white and purple. The city of Shushan rejoiced. As the Susanchites had been "perplexed" at the first edict (Esther 3:15), so were they "rejoiced" at the second. Such of them as were Persians would naturally sympathise with the Jews. Even the others may have disliked Haman's edict, and have been glad to see it, practically, reversed.
The Jews had light. A metaphor for "happiness" (comp. Isaiah 58:8).
A feast and a good day. The provincial Jews made the whole day on which they heard the news into a holiday, and not only rejoiced, but feasted. Many of the people of the land became Jews. Applied for and obtained admission into the Jewish nation as full proselytes (comp. Ezra 6:21, with the comment). The fear of the Jews fell upon them. There was about to be in each great city where there were Jews a day of straggle and bloodshed. The Jews would have authority on their side (Esther 9:3), and might be expected to be victorious. Persons feared lest, when victorious, they might revenge themselves on all who had not taken their part, and thought it safer to become Jews than remain neutral. But it can only have been a small minority of the population in each city that took this view. There was no sudden great increase in the numbers of the Jewish nation.
Esther 8:1, Esther 8:2
The lowly exalted.
In the East, where monarchs are absolute, and where king's favourites are ministers of state, changes of fortune are familiar and proverbial. When one of our statesmen quits office he usually does so in an honourable way, and loses little of consideration by the change. But a vizier when deposed is disgraced, his property is often forfeited, and he himself is often put to a violent death. So was it with Haman. When the king's wrath turned against him he was slain, and his palace and establishment given to the queen, and his office and authority to Mordecai.
I. IN GOD'S PROVIDENCE THE RIGHTEOUS AND LOWLY ARE, EVEN IN THIS WORLD, OFTEN EXALTED TO HONOUR. "The Lord bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dung-hill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory." History records many striking instances of the elevation to high positions in Church and State of those born in poverty, but qualified by natural gifts, by high character, by faithful service, for exalted station. It is a Divine law, and no artificial regulations should interfere with its working. In Scripture we often meet with instances of the younger, the weaker, the despised being raised to honour and power.
II. UNDER GOD'S RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT THE LOWLY AND FAITHFUL ON EARTH SHALL BE RAISED TO HONOUR AND HIGH SERVICE HEREAFTER. If it be asked why so many pure and gentle characters are allowed by Providence to remain through life in positions of obscurity, the true answer is this: They are training for positions of authority and honour in the future life. Those who here are faithful over a few things shall there be made rulers over many things, shall enter into the joy of their Lord. There are mansions for them there to inhabit; there is authority for them there to exercise; there is favour for them there consciously and eternally to enjoy.
Putting away mischief.
There was great wisdom in Esther's application to the king. In appearing before him unbidden she did so, as before, at the risk of her life. But her confidence in the power of her charms over the king was not unwarranted. She was too prudent to ask Ahasuerus to revoke his own decree for the destruction of the Jews. She treated it as the decree of the wicked Haman, and implored him to "put away the mischief of Haman, and the device that he had devised against the Jews." This expression, "putting away mischief," is striking and suggestive.
I. THERE IS SOME MISCHIEF WHICH, ONCE DONE, CANNOT BE UNDONE. Set a huge stone rolling down a mountain's side, and you cannot stop its descent until it reach the lake below the precipice. Open the sluice, or make a breach in the dyke, and you cannot keep out the flood of waters. So if in anger you slay a man, if in lust you ruin a woman, if in wanton wickedness you corrupt and mislead a child, the evil is largely irretrievable. A bad book, once issued, does its deadly work; a false report, once spread, creates misery and distress.
II. THERE ARE CASES IN WHICH MISCHIEF MAY, TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, BE PUT AWAY. A misstatement may be corrected; a calumny may be retracted; an alarm may be contradicted. Restitution may be made for theft; reparation for injury. Governments which have done harm by unjust and unwise enactments may undo something of the harm by repealing bad laws, and replacing them by laws that are righteous. Amendment and reversal are permissible, and are indeed morally obligatory, where evil has been wrought or intended.
III. THE WISDOM OF GOD HAS DEVISED A WAY FOR PUTTING AWAY THE MISCHIEF OF SIN IN THE WORLD. A God who is just, and the Justifier of the ungodly who repents and believes in Jesus, is a Being who demands our grateful and lowly adoration. In Christ Jesus he "reconciles the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
1. The consideration of the difficulty there is in undoing mischief should make us cautious, and watchful, and prayerful that no evil in society may originate in us.
2. Yet this difficulty should not deter us from making strenuous effort to repair mischief when mischief has been done. Esther and Mordecai were, with God's blessing, successful in their efforts, partially at all events, to undo Haman's mischief. Let their example stimulate and encourage us in every benevolent task and undertaking.
Esther's life was now safe, and probably her cousin's too. But that was not enough. Her nation was still in danger. The royal decree had delivered the Jews throughout the empire into the hands of their enemies. In a few months, unless measures were meantime taken to check and hinder the malice of their foes, thousands of Israelites might be exposed to violence, pillage, and massacre. The thought was to Esther cruel beyond bearing. "How," said she, "can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people, the destruction of my kindred?" This was patriotism indeed.
I. PATRIOTISM IMPLIES A SENTIMENT OF SYMPATHY. Esther felt for her people, her kindred. Every lover of his country will not only rejoice in its prosperity, cherish a glow of pride and satisfaction in any great deeds of his countrymen, but will grieve over national calamities and mourn over national sins; will "sigh and cry for the abominations that are done in the land."
II. PATRIOTISM DETERS MEN FROM DOING ANYTHING THAT CAN INJURE THEIR COUNTRY. If personal advantage can be secured by any harm to his country, the patriot will spurn the thought of so profiting himself at the expense of the nation. As a citizen, whose life must have some influence, he will refrain from conduct by which his countrymen might suffer.
III. TRUE PATRIOTISM WILL LEAD MEN TO SEEK NOT ONLY THE MATERIAL PROSPERITY, BUT THE REAL AND MORAL GREATNESS OF THEIR COMMON COUNTRY. They cannot contemplate uninterested, unmoved, a state of society
"Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."
The progress of knowledge, of virtue, of true religion amongst their kindred will be sought with ardour and zeal.
IV. PATRIOTISM WILL LEAD TO PRACTICAL EFFORT TO AVOID THREATENING DANGERS. The patriot is unwilling to contemplate, to anticipate evil. But mere sentiment is insufficient, and he will exert himself to avert the evil he dreads. Especially will he use any influence he possesses with those who have the means, the power, the opportunity of assisting to secure the safety and welfare of the country. The examples of Ezra and of Nehemiah, among the children of the captivity, show us what true patriotism will lead men to undertake and do and bear. But the supreme example, alike of patriotism and of philanthropy, is to be beheld in Jesus Christ, who wept over Jerusalem as well as over the world, and who would fain have averted ruin from the city he favoured with his teaching and ministry, and in which he shed his precious blood.
The permission of Ahasuerus appears to us singular almost to madness. Indeed, it could only have been such a character as we know Xerxes to have been that could have coolly contemplated plunging every province and every city of his empire into the horrors of civil war. However, it seemed better to him to grant permission to the Jews to arm and to defend themselves than to reverse formally the decree he bad already issued for their destruction. So first the despot commands the enemies to arm against the Jews, and then commands the Jews to arm themselves against their enemies.
I. SELF-DEFENCE IS, WITHIN LIMITS, A NATURAL RIGHT. What is the alternative? In the case of an individual it may be a violent death; in the case of a nation it may be either subjection or annihilation. Thus, civilisation may be replaced by barbarism, and Christianity by idolatry or fetishism.
II. SELF-DEFENCE IS A LEGAL RIGHT. Here the Jews were expressly directed to defend and deliver themselves. And there are cases where the law justifies the putting forth of force in defence of life and property, and he who smites his assailant is held guiltless. Great defenders of their country are enshrined in a nation's memory.
III. SELF-DEFENCE IS SOMETIMES PUT FORWARD AS A HYPOCRITICAL PRETENCE. It has often happened that an aggressive, ambitious nation has endeavoured to persuade itself, to impose upon its neighbours, to believe that its action is merely defensive in mustering armaments, enlisting warriors, and making war. All the while designs of empire, of spoliation, of subjugation may be before the nation's mind.
IV. SELF-DEFENCE IS A SPIRITUAL LAW. If we are anxious to defend ourselves, our property, our families from violence and theft, how anxious should we be to secure ourselves against the assaults of the devil. Every Church should be a confederation for common protection against the inroads of error and of sin.
A city's joy.
It is observable that the inhabitants of Susa are represented, in more than one place in this book, as entering into the circumstances and sharing the emotions of their Hebrew neighbours. It is believed by eminent scholars that the educated Persians had strong sympathies with the religious beliefs and practices of the Jews. Thus they wept with them in their fears and griefs; they rejoiced with them in their deliverance and happiness.
I. THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CIVIC LIFE. Not only an individual, but a city, a nation, has a character, a unity, a life of its own. As in our own country Manchester and Birmingham have a distinctive life, as in France Paris has a remarkable individuality, as in the middle ages the Italian cities had each its own corporate, intellectual, and social individuality; so it is reasonable to look for the evidences of such civic life wherever a community has existed for several generations, and traditions, memories, sympathies have grown up and prevailed.
II. COMMUNITIES ARE CAPABLE OF IMPULSES AND MOVEMENTS DISTINCTIVE OF THEMSELVES. When London turned out to welcome Garibaldi, it was a remarkable instance of the way in which a population is moved as with the stirring of one mighty impulse. There is something terribly grand in the spectacle of a vast city moved with one mighty wave of emotion. Such a wave passed over London upon the occasion of the death and burial of the great Duke of Wellington.
III. THE SPONTANEOUS MANIFESTATION OF A POPULAR SENTIMENT IN A CITY HAS SOMETIMES GREAT MORAL SIGNIFICANCE. Indignation, grief, sympathy, relief, gladness, may all find a voice in the cry that rises from the bosom of a vast population. Often the popular instinct is unmistakably right. Vox populi, vox Dei. So in the case before us, when "the city of Shushan rejoiced, and was glad."
Esther 8:16, Esther 8:17
A nation's relief and gladness.
God often interposed on behalf of his chosen people the Jews, but never more signally than on this occasion. No wonder that far and wide throughout the Persian empire the Israelites put forth signs of salvation and of rejoicing.
I. WHY THE JEWS REJOICED.
1. In the downfall of their enemy. Haman was hated with an especial hatred. "Cursed be Haman!" was their cry, when, in Purim, they celebrated the day when the Lord delivered them out of the hand of the enemy.
2. In their patronage by a queen of their own blood and nation. A Jewess upon the throne was the agent in bringing to the Jews security and prosperity.
3. In their countryman Mordecai being exalted to be a chief minister of state. This happened often during the captivity. Daniel especially is an instance of a Jew exalted to high rank and power in a heathen empire.
4. In the favour towards them of the great king. From being their adversary and oppressor, Ahasuerus was turned to be their friend.
5. For permission to defend themselves. If the decree against them could not he reversed, it was matter for rejoicing that a decree of the same authority warranted them in standing upon their defence.
6. In their consequent delivery from the fear of massacre. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." And now life was secure; and they rejoiced as those raised from the brink of death.
II. HOW THE JEWS REJOICED. We have in these verses a bright and vivid picture of the gladness that diffused itself throughout the empire on the occasion of the deliverance.
1. Light and gladness.
2. Feasting and a good day.
3. The adhesion of many to their religion and their fellowship.
4. The sympathy of many who respected and esteemed them, their character, and their religion.
A good day.
This expression is probably figurative. The time of relief, and thanksgiving, and confidence, and hope is viewed as a day having a character of its own. And no wonder that, so viewed, it should be called here "a good day."
I. IT WAS GOOD IN ITS RETROSPECT. A day of evil had been dreaded and looked forward to with justice, and it had been converted into a day of peace. A day of Divine interposition summoned all to admire the unexpected interposition of Divine providence which had taken place.
II. IT WAS GOOD IN ITS REALISATION. It was a good day for the rescued and saved, for the agents who had effected the deliverance, for the people among whom they dwelt, and even for the king, whose reign and reputation were saved from a stain both black and bloody.
III. IT WAS GOOD IN ITS ANTICIPATION. Some months were yet to elapse before all danger was past. Yet, in the changed prospect, how could the Jews do other than give thanks, rejoice, and triumph? Let this "good day" serve to us as an emblem of the day of Divine visitation and human privilege. "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation."
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Esther felt that her work was not yet done. An overconfident and sanguine disposition might have taken for granted, as we do in the mere retrospect, that all else which was requisite would follow as matter of course. She had met as yet no rebuff, had suffered no failure. Each move, well considered beforehand, had been crowned with success, surpassing the utmost that she or Mordecai had dared to imagine. In the flush of personal success, and of joy because of the safety and great promotion of Mordecai, she does not forget the larger family of her "people" and "kindred." The fearful decree is not reversed. It still overhangs the heads of thousands upon thousands. Esther feels that her mission will not be fulfilled until she has obtained the abrogation of the decree, and secured the lives of her people. In all the methods she had employed hitherto a remarkable calmness and circumspection are observable. But now a change is visible in favour of a demonstrativeness which it must have required very strong effort to keep up to this time in such restraint. Esther "fell down at the feet of the king, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman, and his device that he had devised against the Jews (verse 3). This change is interesting to observe, as occurring at the time when thought and affection left self and home for the scattered kindred of a hundred and twenty-seven provinces. This verse is the irrepressible outcry of true patriotism. It is the expostulation of vivid and tender sympathy. It is the argument of a forcible principle of our nature, which oversteps the boundaries of the personal and the domestic in order to travel much farther, and to embrace the national. It mounts by the stepping-stones of self-love and sacred family love to the love of vast numbers of those never seen nor personally known, yet in some special sense related. The passage suggests, by a leading illustration, the general subject of patriotism; and we may notice—
I. WHAT TRUE PATRIOTISM IS.
1. It is evidently an original and ultimate principle. As soon as ever it was possible it showed its existence The fact of its presence, and operative presence, has been visible in all ages, traceable in all kinds and degrees of civilisation—among the barbarous, and among the most advanced and elevated nationalities.
2. It is a principle of a high moral kind. A form of love above the sympathy which is between individual and individual, above that which lies between those born of the same parents, and, on the other hand, falling short of that universal love of man, as such, which is one of the very highest teachings of Christianity.
3. It is a somewhat quickened regard for those united to us by community of race. A stronger interest in their welfare and advantage is marked by it, while divested as far as possible of any conscious reflex action or benefit to self. This affection was no doubt exceedingly strong in the Jewish race, was at Esther's time greatly intensified by adversity and persecution and natural causes, but owed its most determined hold to distinctly Divine purpose.
II. THE USE OF PATRIOTISM IN THE INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER.
1. It must be enlarging to the heart. It must expand the affections in their outlook, which then seek the various and the distant instead of ever keeping at home. It must give greater and freer exercise to the more important moral elements of our nature.
2. It must operate ever as a distinct corrective to some portion of the dangers of selfishness. There is much selfishness in our self-love; there is often not a little even in the family and domestic circle; sympathies may run round indeed, but in too narrow a circle. But the circle is immensely widened by this community of interest, while yet kept within a manageable area.
3. It is able to give enough natural motive to the awakening of moral energies, which without it would have found no sufficient appeal. In point of fact, some of the grandest displays of human force, and among them that of the present history, have been due to it.
III. ITS USEFULNESS TO PUBLIC SOCIETY. There will be a vast amount of this necessarily entailed indirectly and unconsciously, as arising from the previous considerations; but, in addition, manifest practical use on a large scale will also result.
1. It secures the prospect of bringing together to one point a great aggregate of force in emergency. It is like public opinion in action, seasoned by genuine affection.
2. It is equal also to the converse of this, spreading, as in Esther's example, the willing benefit, the critical advantage of opportunity, of one loving, praying heart, over a vast area.
3. Pervading the whole mass of mankind, it so divides it up and so allots it, that in place of unwieldiness a well-knit-together organisation is found. Thus it offers a strong and very traceable analogy to the body with its members.
IV. THAT IN PATRIOTISM WE HAVE ANOTHER EVIDENCE OF DIVINE DESIGN IN THE STRUCTURE OF HUMAN SOCIETY. For—
1. It cannot possibly be attributed to mere human arrangement or compact.
2. It does not at all really contravene either the descent of all from one head, or the fact that "God has made of one blood all nations of the earth."
3. Its operation is not malevolent, setting "nation against nation." It is beneficent, and is ever growing to show itself more and more so, leading up to mutual service, mutual dependence, and mutual love, to the attainment of which it were very hard to see any other way so compact, so sure.—B.
A type of universal joy.
This passage tells the tale of great joy. The question of the prophet Isaiah, "Shall a nation be born at once?" asked now nearly two centuries ago, is answered in an unexpected way, and in something superior to mere literal sense. New life is a great thing, and the sensations of young life have much joy in them. But in the same kind of sense in which the father rejoiced over the prodigal son on his return with livelier and more demonstrative joy than over the obedient son who never went astray, and in the same kind of sense in which it is said that "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance," is it true that there is more joy in life rescued from the doom of death than in life just fresh, though it be fresh from the Creator's hand. Yes, there is more joy therein, both for those who are chiefly concerned, and for those who look on. And was it not thus in the best sense that a nation was now "born at once" when darkness, exceeding distress, and the anguish of apparent helplessness all dropped off in a moment, and "the Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour,… and a feast and a good day in every province, and in every city"? Evidently some special stress is laid upon the description of the gladness of the Jews. We cannot for a moment wonder at their gladness, that is one thing. But the detailed and full announcement of it on an inspired page is another thing, and leads us to expect that there are some facts about it which should invite notice and will reward more careful thought.
I. IT WAS THE GLADNESS OF A VAST NUMBER OF PEOPLE. A great philosopher of British name and reputation has remarked two things, and very truly, on this subject. First, how much less disposed, comparatively speaking, men are to sympathise with the manifestations of joy than with those of genuine sorrow. To the best of human nature it is easier to weep with those who weep than to laugh with those who laugh. This is a just discernment, and gives the balance of goodness to the intrinsic quality of unfallen human nature, where it may get a possibility of betraying its native worth. Secondly, that this is especially true when it is the joy of an individual that is ostentatiously paraded. Here the case is the opposite. The joy is the joy of all and of each. Gratitude and thankfulness were the spring of it, and there was no need to moderate either itself or its expression, because it was general and universal. There were none (at all events none entitled to consideration) on whom it would jar, or whose finer susceptibilities would suffer. On the contrary, the only discordant element would be produced by him who made himself the exception or offered to stand aloof. Note, that such real general joy is a very rare phenomenon on earth.
II. IT WAS THE GLADNESS OF EVERY CLASS AND KIND OF THE PEOPLE. Old men "little children and women" (Esther 3:13), young men and maidens, rich and poor, strong and weak, all these could participate in it. Our human joys are often spoilt, are often much diminished to the best of persons, by the inevitable memory of those who are without what gladdens us. Think how a victorious army may rejoice, and generals and leaders be glad; but what of the hundreds of families of every class over the kingdom who have lost husbands, brothers, sons? Or think how the great body of a nation may rejoice because of the victories of its armies; but at what havoc of untold sorrow and misery of numberless others belonging to conquering or the conquered. Think how rare is the occasion of any national joy which really reaches and touches the heart of all kinds and ages of the people.
III. IT WAS A GLADNESS WHICH HAD SEVERAL ELEMENTS IN ITS COMPOSITION. The fourfold analysis of it cannot be condemned for mere surplusage of language as it lies on the page of Scripture. And these are the four elements—"light," "gladness," deep "joy," "honour." Each of these elements is a good one. The first and last speak for themselves. Let us interpret the second as the gladness of the young hearts and of manifestation, and the third as the deeper-sinking joy of the old, and those who felt and thought more than they showed or spoke.
IV. IT WAS THE GLADNESS OF A REACTION. The reaction was just. It would have argued callousness, an insensate heart indeed, if it were not felt, and very powerfully felt. To have great mercies is a common thing, to respond to them far too uncommon. The contrast of "the horrible pit and the miry clay" with the "rock and the established going" of the pilgrim is one which should waken deepest joy. It is light, joy, honour all in one.
V. IT WAS GLADNESS IN ANSWER TO A DELIVERANCE WHICH WAS NOT ONLY VERY GREAT AND VERY UNEXPECTED, BUT WHICH WAS THE RESULT OF A MARVELLOUS INTERPOSITION OF PROVIDENCE, wrought by one feeble woman, and prepared for by a most extraordinary series of precisely-adapted events. And all this was "prepared for God's people." Through much tribulation, indeed, through darkness, cruel oppression, patient endurance on the very border of despair, they had been wonderfully brought out to the light, joy, honour of that time.
VI. IT WAS A GLADNESS WHICH MAKES US THINK OF ANOTHER. It makes us feel for another, long for another. That was of a nature that must be rare in occurrence, nor would we wish it other. And, after all, the duration of it could only be temporary. But it may well bear our thought onward and upward. The gladness of the people of God in heaven will fill out every part of the description of this gladness. It will fill out every part of it worthily. There all will be glad. There all varieties of purified spirits will be glad. There the light and gladness and joy and honour will all be to perfection. How glorious the reaction that will then be felt for us, with the doom, and the law's decree, and the despair, and the sorrow, and the tear all and for ever gone. And when we shall all admit to what it is owing—to the most marvellous interposition of all; and to whom it is owing—to him who "with strong groaning and tears" pleaded for us and saved us.—B.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
"Let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman."
I. WHAT A LEGACY OF EVIL IS LEFT BY THE WICKED. e.g. By Voltaire, Paine, Napoleon I; and others.
II. WHAT EFFORTS ARE NECESSARY TO REPAIR EVIL ONCE WROUGHT. It is SO much easier to destroy than to build up.
III. GREAT EVILS MAY BE REMOVED, OR AT LEAST OVERRULED, BY PROVIDENCE. If this were not believed, the arm of the Christian would be paralysed. We have to beware of that phase of belief which would lead to the postponement of spiritual effort because Christ is to come again. We must not let it be supposed that the work of Christ, the word of God, and the gift of the Spirit are all failures. The mischief wrought by evil is to be repaired by Christ's gospel and healed by his love.
1. What are we doing to repair the mischief others have wrought? What are we doing to undo our own wrong-doing?—H.
Esther 8:16, Esther 8:17
"And the Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour," etc. 'When the tide of evil turned, great advantages flowed to the Jews. So when a man forsakes his evil way he will find certain results follow.
I. LIGHT. He will see the meaning of God's word and of life.
II. GLADNESS. He will not be afraid to rejoice, but will see that the Christian has the truest right to be glad, seeing he is delivered from the bondage of sin and death.
III. HONOUR. People respect a true Christian, bat they despise the hypocrite. Every man's character is rendered of greater worth by his Christianity.
IV. USEFULNESS. Others will be won to the same good way. "Many of the people of the land became Jews." Influence will constantly spread.
V. SAFETY. The former enemies of the Jews were afraid to touch them or speak against them. The evil powers that oppose man's spiritual welfare will not be able to injure him, because God will protect, and the habit of watchfulness will be fixed.—H.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Consecration, kindred, law, and folly.
In these words we have—
I. THE MANIFOLDNESS OF HUMAN CONSECRATION. "And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears," etc. (verse 3). Emboldened by her first success, Esther goes in again to the king, again endangering her own position, and, indeed, her own life, on behalf of her people. The former time she may have been influenced by Mordecai's reminder that her own death was determined by the king's decree. Now, however, she had no reason to be apprehensive on that ground. Her second act of intercession was purely unselfish. It is a beautiful instance of goodness. The lovely queen risking her dignity, her wealth, her happiness, her very life on behalf of others; pleading with the capricious and uncertain sovereign; shedding for others, as she had not for herself, tears of tender compassion; bringing her beauty and her charms wherewith to insure the safety of the people of God. In how many ways may we serve the cause of goodness and of God. What varied offerings may we lay on the altar of the Lord! Each man must consecrate his best: the learned man can bring his knowledge, the wise his sagacity, the rich his wealth, the titled his rank, the fearless his courage, the energetic his vigour; the engaging woman can bring her charms, the loving her affection, the beautiful her beauty. Our God "has commanded our strength" (Psalms 68:28). It is true that he requires of us "according to that we have, not according to that we have not" (2 Corinthians 8:12); but he asks of each of us the best we have to bring, and of what he has given us freely to give him and his.
II. THE SPECIAL LOVE WE OWE TO OUR OWN PEOPLE. "How can I endure to see the evil that shall come upon my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" (verse 6). Our Lord had on more than one occasion to teach that the affection of ordinary human friendship toward himself must give place to a purely spiritual attachment. In him we form and cultivate and magnify these spiritual affinities and relationships. Yet they are not inconsistent with special interest in those to whom the bonds of nature bind us. We know how intensely strong was the feeling of the Apostle Paul toward "his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3). If we do not wish to endure the intolerable pain of witnessing the "evil" and destruction of our own kindred, but wish for the joy of seeing them "walking in the truth," we must bring all our influence to bear on their hearts in the time when we can teach them, touch them, lead them.
III. THE FRAILITY OF HUMAN LAW, and, we might add, the presumption of human legislators. The decree which this great "king of kings" had just issued was no sooner published than he wanted to reverse it. He and his brother kings, indeed, professed that the law of the Medes and Persians altered not (Esther 1:19), and when Esther came with her petition, Ahasuerus declared that what was "written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse" (verse 8). Technically and formally it was so; in part it was so truly. But in substance this was but a vain pretence. Measures were instantly taken to reduce the former decree to a nullity. Much of the most beneficent legislation of later years has been the undoing of what former acts had done, the repealing of old and evil laws. Solemnly and with all the forms of state we enact, and then, a few years on, with the same solemnity we repeal. Such are the laws of man.
IV. THE IRREPARABLENESS OF HUMAN FOLLY (verses 9-14). King Ahasuerus might hang Haman with great promptitude; a word from him, and the executioners were ready with willing hands; but he could not easily undo the evil work of his favourite. That bad man's work left dark shadows behind. He himself was disposed of, but what of the decree he had been the means of passing? That could not be quickly reversed, or its effects removed. The custom, if not the constitution, admitted of no formal repeal. Consequently the most energetic measures had to be taken to prevent a general massacre. The king's scribes had to be called together (verse 9); letters had to be written in every language and sent to every province in the empire (verse 9); horses had to be pressed into the service (verse 10); and then all that could be done was to sanction and encourage a stout resistance on the part of the Jews when they were attacked: they were "to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay," etc. (verse 11). This, no doubt, led to severe and fatal strife in some, if not in many, places. In truth, the king could not wholly undo what his thoughtless folly and excessive confidence had done. We never can wholly wipe out the evil consequences of our folly and our sin. We may do much to counteract, but we cannot wholly remove. Godlessness, selfishness, worldliness, vice, error, in former years, these have left their traces on our hearts and lives, and on those of others also, and all the waters of all the seas cannot wash them out. Sin may be forgiven, folly may be pardoned, but their miserable consequences flow on—who shall say how far?—in a polluting stream. It does not take a royal hand to do what is irreparable. The hand of a little child is strong enough for that.—C.
We have in this passage—
I. A FLASH OF HONOUR TO AN INDIVIDUAL (Esther 8:15). Mordecai goes forth, grandly attired, coronet on head, the recipient of highest royal favour, receiving also the honour of the acclaiming populace. He would not have been human if he had not enjoyed his triumph. Perhaps Oriental human nature counted such a public ceremony dearer than English nature would. But this was only a flash of enjoyment, very soon gone. "What is wanted here?" said one proud spectator to another at a Roman triumph. "Permanence," said the other. One hour, audit would be over. We learn that
(1) there is a place in our life for such brief enjoyments. We need not refuse them because they are of the world; coming to us in the course of faithful service, they may be regarded as sent of God to brighten and to cheer us. But we must remember that
(2) it is only a small place they must be allowed to occupy. They must be counted as the small dust of the balance, not the solid weight in the scale. Our strong temptation is to make far too much of them; to rate them far above their true value; to give to their acquisition a measure of time and energy which they do not deserve; to sacrifice more precious things, even sacred principles themselves, in order to obtain them. Then they break under our hand and bruise us, and we know how foolish and wrong we have been. But Mordecai had more reason to rejoice in—
II. THE SATISFACTION OF THE CITY. "The city of Susa rejoiced and was glad" (Esther 8:15). It is much for one man to give satisfaction to a whole metropolis, especially if, as here, the gladness is due to real patriotism, and is a tribute to substantial worth. Men may give lightness of heart to the populace by very questionable and even unworthy means: by indiscriminate bounty, by pretentious charlatanism, by empty oratory. But to do what Mordecai now did,—to give joy to the city because all men felt that they were in the hands of an honest and capable administrator, who would seek their interest, and not his own at their expense,—this is not unworthy the ambition of a Christian man. It may be that this is beyond our reach, but we may learn from it to indulge an honourable aspiration. We are filling some post in the world, and probably in the Church. We should aspire to be such workmen in the narrower sphere we thus occupy that, when the hour of promotion comes to us, that will give satisfaction to our fellows, and we shall receive their congratulations. Excellency may sometimes escape the notice it deserves; yet, as a rule, men mark the faithful and devoted servant, and they rejoice when he "goes up higher." But Mordecai witnessed that which still more gladdened his heart—
III. THE JOY OF AN ENTIRE PEOPLE. "The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour," etc. (Esther 8:16, Esther 8:17). The keenest physical gratification (it is said) is found in the sudden cessation of acute pain, in the sense of great relief. All Jewry, throughout the whole of Persia, now felt the keen delight of being relieved from their terrible fears. It is to render the truest and most appreciated service to relieve men's soul of great fear and dread. To give temporal, and, still more, spiritual, relief is to confer the most valuable boon. Happy is he who, like Mordecai, has the means of doing this on a large scale; he will earn the blessing, deep and fervent, of many souls. But, here again, if we cannot achieve the greater things we must attempt the smaller ones. There are anxious cares we can remove from some mind; there is a heavy spiritual burden we can help to lift from some heart. The blessing of one soul "ready to perish" is well worth our winning, cost what pains it may. The brightest feature in the whole scene is the—
IV. CONVERSION TO THE TRUE FAITH. "Many of the people of the land became Jews," etc. (Esther 8:17). The "fear of the Jews" may have been in part the high regard felt for them, perhaps not unmixed with some hope and apprehension. So great was this regard that their Persian neighbours even adopted their faith and worshipped the true and living God. Thus the conquered became the conquerors; thus the captives led captive. We learn here—
1. How God overrules, making his Church the stronger for the very designs which were intended to despoil and even to extinguish.
2. How we may prevail, even in humble positions winning to our side, and so to his cause, them that are "our masters according to the flesh." The little maid in the Syrian general's service caused the living God to be honoured in Damascus (2 Kings 5:1-27.); the captive Jews in Persia led many around them to adopt their purer faith; those among us who are "in service," who are "under authority," may live lives of such attractive worth that they will win those who rule to the service of the Divine Master.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
I. THE CHANGES IN HUMAN LIFE ARE OFTEN WONDERFUL. They startle us—
1. By their suddenness. An empire, a city, a house, a reputation, or a power which it has taken long to build up may fall in a day.
2. By their completeness. What may have seemed durable as time itself passes away and leaves no memorial. "Like the baseless fabric of a vision," magnificent empires have perished, and left "not a wrack behind" (Psalms 9:6).
3. By the rapid succession of events which lead up to them. Our narrative includes in the history of one day the king's sleeplessness, the reading of the chronicle, the adoption of Haman's device, the honouring of Mordecai, the humiliation of Haman, Esther's banquet, the accusation, conviction, and death of Haman, the bestowal of Haman's wealth on the queen, the promotion of Mordecai to Haman's place, and the successful intercession on behalf of the Jews. God may bear long and patiently with the wicked, but when his time arrives, "then sudden destruction cometh upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
II. IT IS PLEASANT TO BESTOW AND RECEIVE JUST REWARDS. When the king gave to Esther "the house," or rather the possessions, of Haman, he expressed thereby his sense of the danger and anxiety to which his folly had exposed her; his sense too of the faithful and wise manner in which she had delivered himself from the toils of a guileful and presumptuous man. There was an evident stroke of justice in the awarding to Esther the wealth of the man who had promised to the king the wealth of the Jews as the price of their blood. Justice never sleeps.
III. GRATITUDE IS THE SIGN OF A TRUE HEART. Some easily forget benefits received. A change of position or a lapse of time will often cause the remembrance of past favours to fade. But Esther never forgot what she owed to Mordecai, and now she told the king "what he was to her;" how much he had been and still was to her! The very simplicity of these words gives them a peculiar depth and tenderness of meaning. The queen's gratitude to Mordecai was shown—
1. In explaining her own indebtedness to him.
2. In describing him as the real instrument of securing the exposure of Haman and the present felicity.
3. In winning for him favour and promotion.
4. In setting him, as her manager, over the house of Haman. She could not do too much for the man who had done so much for her. The gratitude which lives unfadingly in the heart, and is ever prompt to show itself in action, is a beautiful feature of character. What gratitude is due to God l How should we remember and esteem him who "loved us and gave himself for us!" "What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits?"(Psalms 116:12-14).
IV. HOW SWEET THE FREEDOM WHICH PERMITS A TRUE HEART TO POUR ITS CONFIDENCES INTO THE EAR OF AFFECTION! Till now Esther feared the king, and dared not give him her confidence. She bad secrets in her breast which oppressed her, but which she could not divulge. But the removal of Haman, the enemy and obstacle, brought her near to the king, and she felt free to tell him all that was in her heart. The benefit and happiness of the marriage tie are sadly marred by the possession of secrets on either side, or by the want of a free, full, and loving confidence. The charm of friendship too is in proportion to the freedom it gives to the opening of the heart. There is no enemy on the part of our God and King to shut his heart against us. All enemies have been destroyed in Jesus Christ. It is because we will not, if we have not the freedom of intercourse with God which belong to children—"the glorious liberty of the sons of God."
V. THE PROMOTION OF THE WISE AND GOOD TO POWER IS A BLESSING TO THE WORLD. The king gave the seal which he had taken from Haman to Mordecai. Henceforth the sagacious and capable Jew was to occupy the place of grand vizier, or chief friend and counsellor. Here again justice notched a conspicuous mark. The humble and heroic man for whom Haman had erected a gallows was put in the wicked favourite's place—made second to the king. From that time the monarch and his empire had some real ground of prosperity and peace. Mordecai's influence grew and extended until it became a paramount power and blessing in all the hundred and twenty and seven provinces. Happy the monarch and nation that are under the guidance of a wisdom that is simple-hearted, clear-sighted, experienced, and godly. How many examples have we in the history of the world of the benefit conferred on nations by the promotion of the wise and good to offices of power, and of the misery and ruin effected by the promotion of the wicked!
VI. THE BENEFITS RECEIVED BY A TRUE HEART WILL ENLARGE ITS SYMPATHIES FOR OTHERS WHO ARE IN SUFFERING AND NEED. There is a joy over obtained good which is utterly selfish. It is self-absorbed, and has no consideration for the effect it may have on others. It may be natural enough, yet nothing is more hateful. The true godly soul will long to share its own joys with those whom it loves. Beyond that, its own sense of joy will quicken its sympathy with all the distressed, and its desire to bring the light of its joy into the regions of darkness and death. Hence Esther was not content with her own happiness. She could not feel happy until she had emancipated her people from the doom that threatened them. Her own deliverance from the enemy stimulated her to work out that of Israel. So long as the edict against the Jews was in force, the purpose for which she had ventured all was unaccomplished, It is only when our Lord shall have redeemed all his people and brought them to everlasting honour that he shall "see the travail of his soul and be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11).—D.
An effective advocate.
A second time Esther entered into the king's presence unbidden. A second time the king's sceptre was extended to her. Her own safety and queenly state had been secured, but her people were still exposed to the murderous decree which Haman had beguiled the king to seal and promulgate. She now appeared as an advocate for Israel. Learn here—
I. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE CLEAR AS TO ITS GROUNDS. The grounds on which Esther pleaded were such as the following:—
1. That the edict of extermination was the device of the enemy Haman. The wicked man himself having been exposed and punished, his evil design should be countermanded.
2. That all her people throughout the empire were as innocent, and therefore as unworthy of death, as herself. Justice and mercy combined in calling for a reversal of the cruel edict.
3. That the destruction of a numerous people scattered through the empire would create universal alarm and confusion, and inflict irreparable loss on the king's estate. Esther's grounds of appeal were clear and strong. She had a good case.
II. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE DISINTERESTED. The queen had gained much by the death of Haman and the restored affection of the king, but she was willing to sacrifice all on the altar of her people's deliverance. Personal honour and wealth were as nothing to her so long as Israel was trembling under the uplifted sword. She presents us with a type of Christ, who "emptied himself of his glory" and offered up his life on the cross for the salvation of a condemned world. Advocacy, to be effective, must have no back-look on self.
III. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE EARNEST AND PERSUASIVE. The body in all its expressions is responsive to the soul that animates it. Cold feeling will be content with cold words and impassive features; but when the heart is swayed by strong emotion the whole outward frame will yield itself to the power of the inward force. Words, looks, movements, gesticulations, tears will all unite in expressing a desire that commands the spirit. Thus Esther, when, against the law, she again entered uninvited into the king's presence, "fell at his feet and besought him with tears." Earnestness makes short work with restrictive formalities. A full heart when once unlocked cannot but be persuasive. The whole attitude of Esther was eloquent. Such advocacy could not fail to move even an Ahasuerus. We are reminded by it of Christ's sweet, yearning, solemn prayer in behalf of his disciples as given in John 17:1-26.
IV. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE IN FULL SYMPATHY WITH THE CAUSE IN WHICH IT IS EMPLOYED. No advocate can be perfectly effective unless he can put himself in the place of those for whom he is pleading, and can plead for them as if he were pleading for himself. Listen to Esther:—"How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" She thus identified herself with her people and kindred. If they suffered, she would suffer; if they were destroyed, how could she live? The queen took on herself the burden of her nation. Again we think of Christ, the Divine Advocate. He became "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh," "took on himself our likeness,'' that he might enter into our experiences, and bear our burden before God, and become an effective and prevailing Advocate. Hence his sympathy, his "fellow-feeling," his oneness, and his all-powerful intercession (Hebrews 2:17, Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15, Hebrews 4:16).
V. THAT ADVOCACY FOR THE SUFFERING AND PERISHING IS THE DUTY AND PRIVILEGE OF THE GODLY. History affords many examples of noble advocacy in behalf of the justly doomed and the unjustly oppressed. Such Bible instances as Abraham's pleading for the cities of the plain, Moses' intercession for rebellious Israel, and Paul's willingness to lose himself for the sake of his unbelieving kindred, readily occur. In modern times the long and arduous advocacy of the emancipation of the slave has become memorable. To the Christian, as to his Master, Christ, "the field is the world." Men are "perishing for lack of knowledge." Multitudes everywhere are in bondage to sin and death. It should be our part to do what we can to bring "deliverance to the captives," and to "save them who are appointed to die;" and with our labours we should unite the earnest prayer of the advocate. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16-20).—D.
HOMILIES BY D. ROWLANDS
Persecution always defeats its own object. Viewed as mere policy, it is the worst that can be employed. Persecute error, and it will spread tenfold; persecute truth, and it will spread a hundredfold. Unless, therefore, you wish the principles you hate to gain ground, persecute not at all. Haman, while he brought utter ruin upon himself by his cruel attempt to exterminate the Jews, raised the latter into an incomparably better position than they occupied before. The Jews in their triumph were likely to adopt the same persecuting policy as had been exercised against themselves. It would have been simply the natural result of the treatment they had received. The Romish persecution of Protestants in our own country led Protestants in their turn to persecute the Romanists. The people of the land were, therefore, not without reason, in mortal fear; and many of them through fear became proselytes to the Jewish religion. But a profession of faith made under such circumstances was about the most worthless that could be imagined. The Church of God has had a most chequered history. Sometimes, like the noonday sun, it has shone with unrivalled splendour; sometimes, like the cloud-wrapped moon, its light has been lost in darkness. In the captivity of Egypt it was trodden down by its oppressors; under the leadership of Moses it struggled again into freedom. In the reign of Solomon a temple was built to Jehovah; in the reign of Jeroboam, son of Nebat, the calves were worshipped at Bethel and Dan. And we may add that under the new dispensation, even as under the old, its fortunes have been variable to the last degree. The text contains a graphic description of THE CHURCH IN PROSPERITY. In times of religious depression it is customary with good people to pray for better things—a revival of the religious spirit, an outpouring of the Holy Ghost, an increase of godly enthusiasm. But frequently, when this takes place, those who desire it most are greatly disappointed, just because the form it takes is contrary to their expectation. For ages the Jews longed for the advent of the Messiah, but when he came they put him to death. It is important, therefore, that in seeking religious prosperity our minds should be free from misconceptions. This leads us to notice—
I. THE NATURE OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. It implies—
1. An increase of spirituality among professing Christians. Beware of supposing that the success of a Church is identical with increased membership. This is a fatal mistake, and has led to the most lamentable consequences. True religion consists in spiritual-mindedness. It is the result of a change of heart produced by the Spirit of God. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." It follows that a Christian is separate from the world. He views everything in the light of the world to come. He rejoices to suffer affliction with the people of God, for he has respect unto the recompense of the reward. No genuine revival can take place apart from increased purity and unworldliness.
2. An increase of good works among professing Christians. Good works are the necessary concomitants of spiritual-mindedness. "Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit." The first proof that a man is born again is the earnestness with which he inquires what he must do. Instances—the multitude on the day of Pentecost, the jailer at Philippi, Saul of Tarsus. The Church is described as a vineyard, for which God hires labourers, whom he rewards according to their services. The absence of works is therefore a sure sign of the absence of spiritual life. What the Spirit said to each of the Churches of Asia was, "I know thy works." No real prosperity can co-exist with indifference and indolence.
3. An increase of sinners saved. "Many of the people of the land became Jews." A most conclusive evidence of their thriving condition. A spiritual, working Church exerts a power which attracts outsiders into its ranks. At the beginning of the apostolic age, when the disciples were in the fervour of their first love, it is recorded that "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." It is the business of a Church to seek the lost. This duty it owes to itself no less than to the world. Without converts it must gradually decay, and ultimately die. It enjoys the highest success, therefore, only when multitudes of the perishing flock within its gates.
II. THE CAUSES OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. When possessed, to what is it due? When lost, how can it be recovered?
1. It is in one sense the work of God. It was God who laid down the foundation of the Church. "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." And not a single stone has been subsequently placed in the spiritual edifice without his co-operation. "Without me ye can do nothing." "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it." If we would have a revival, we must pray God to send down the Comforter to "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
2. It is in another sense the work of man. The grandest triumphs of the gospel have been achieved by means of human instrumentality. The Protestant reformation, the Methodist revival, the evangelisation of Madagascar. Many ask, "What have we to do?" The answer depends upon the special circumstances of the inquirers. Some are able to preach the word, some to teach the young, some to visit the poor. If your Church be languishing, seek the cause among yourselves. Are you slumbering, inactive, prayerless?
III. THE EFFECTS OF RELIGIOUS PROSPERITY. These are represented here as threefold.
1. Joy. "The Jews had joy and gladness." This is invariably the case; and what more natural? The released captive is glad, the victorious army is jubilant, the flourishing city is full of glee, and shall the Church be different? "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." It is said of the first disciples, after they had witnessed our Lord's ascension, which was to them an earnest of the coming of his kingdom, that they "returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God."
2. Contentment. "A feast and a good day." With the luxuries they enjoyed they were abundantly satisfied. In religious revivals the means of grace, the services of the sanctuary, the ordinances of religion, are thoroughly appreciated. Duties which in stagnant seasons are a burden become a pleasure. Of the man who is "like a tree planted by the rivers of water," the Psalmist saith, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night." The prevalence of bitterness, strife, and unrest is a sign of spiritual poverty. Cattle bred in the fertile plains are generally in good condition; cattle bred on the barren hills are not only lean, but grow immense horns.
3. Influence. "The fear of the Jews fell upon them." The power of the Jews was felt in the land, and they were respected accordingly. The world admires power; it is the weak, the puny, the pretentious that are held in contempt. When religion is despised, and its professors treated with scorn, it is time to inquire into the reason. May it not be due to the sentimental, emasculated caricature of godliness that is too frequently set up for the reality? Strong, robust Christian manliness commands the homage even of opponents. When the Church appears in her proper character—a pure, living, active Church—an astonished world asks, "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"—R.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany