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RESULT OF THE SECOND EDICT' THE JEWS RESIST THEIR ENEMIES, AND EFFECT A GREAT SLAUGHTER OF THEM, BUT DO NOT LAY HAND ON THEIR GOODS (Esther 9:1-16). The Jews of all the provinces, having had ample time to prepare themselves, "gathered themselves together in their cities," as the day fixed by the first edict approached (Esther 9:2), and made their arrangements. Their "enemies" no doubt did the same, and for some time before the 13th of Adar two hostile camps stood facing each other in each of the great towns throughout the empire. Mordecai's position at the capital being known, and his power evidently established, the Persian governors of all grades understood it to be their duty to throw their weight into the scale on behalf of the Jews, and lend them whatever help they could (Esther 9:3). At last the day arrived, and the struggle took place. The Jews everywhere got the better of their adversaries. In "Shushan the palace" as it was called, or the upper town, of which the palace formed a part, they killed 500 of them (Esther 9:6). In the rest of the empire, if we accept the numbers of the present Hebrew text, as many as 75,000 (Esther 9:16). The Septuagint translators, however, who would have no reason for falsifying the text, give the number as 15,000, which seems to be intrinsically more probable. They also, on the ensuing day, the 14th of Adar, by special permission of Ahasuerus, contended with their adversaries in Shnshan a second time, and slew on this occasion 300 (Esther 9:15). Among the killed, the only persons mentioned by name are ten sons of Haman, who were slain in "Shushan the palace" on the first day, while on the second day permission was given to expose their bodies on crosses (Esther 9:14). A remarkable feature of the struggle, and one which is noticed three several times (Esther 9:10, Esther 9:15, Esther 9:16), was, that, notwithstanding the clause in the edict which allowed the Jews "to take the spoil of their enemies for a prey" (Esther 8:11), neither in the capital nor in the provinces did the triumphant Israelites touch the property of those opposed to them. There was an evident wish to show that they were not actuated by greed, but simply desirous of securing themselves from future molestation.
To have power over them. Or, "to get the mastery over them" (comp. Daniel 6:24, where the same word is used). Had rule. Or, "had the mastery."
The Jews gathered themselves together. Acting on the first clause of the edict (Esther 8:11). In their cities. By "their cities" the writer means not cities exclusively Jewish, but cities where Jews formed an element in the population, as Susa, Babylon, Damascus—perhaps Rhages and Ecbatana—and no doubt many others. Cities exclusively Jewish, like Nearda, in later times (Joseph; 'Ant. Jud.,' 18:9, § 1), scarcely existed as yet out of Palestine. To lay hand on such as sought their hurt. The defensive character of the Jews' action is again noted. Only if their hurt was sought (comp. Psalms 71:13, Psalms 71:24) did they lay hand on any; only against those who sought their hurt did they lift a finger. The fear of them. Not now such fear as is mentioned in Esther 8:17, ad fin; but a downright coward fear of their prowess. Fell upon all people. Rather, "all the people," i.e. all the many subject nations of the Persian empire among which the Jews were scattered.
All the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies. Compare Esther 3:12 and Esther 8:9, where the same enumeration is made, though not quite in the same order. And officers of the king. Literally, "they who did the work of the king." The Septuagint renders by βασιλικοὶ γραμματεῖς, "royal scribes;" but officials of all classes seem to be intended. Helped the Jews. Rather, "upheld, supported" Active physical help does not seem to be meant, but rather the moral aid and support that a government easily gives to the side which it favours in a civil disturbance. The fear of Mordecai fell upon them. It would give the sense better to translate "had fallen."
Mordecai was great. Compare Esther 8:2, Esther 8:15 and Esther 10:3.
In Shushan the palace. i.e. the upper city, where the palace was. The area of the hill is above a hundred acres, and there are many remains of residences on it besides the palace. It was probably densely peopled.
And Parshandatha. Haman's ten sons have unmistakably Persian names, so that no countenance is given by them to the theory that he was a foreigner. Formerly it was customary that they should be written in each MS. of the Book of Esther in three perpendicular lines, to signify (as it was said) that they were hanged on three parallel cords. In reading them the ten names were uttered in one breath, in memory of the supposed fact that they all died in one instant. It would be wrong, however, to attach credit to these traditions, which simply show the persistent hatred with which the Jews regarded their great enemy. Slew they. With the sword, probably (see verse 5), and in fair fight.
The number … was brought before the king. It was customary in all wars for the number of the slain to be carefully made out and recorded. In the Babylonian transcript of the Behistun Inscription the numbers are given with extreme exactness—e.g. 546, 2024, 4203, etc. On this occasion it would seem that only a rough calculation was made. Still the king took care to be informed on the subject, and the Jews, aware of this, were not left absolutely uncontrolled.
What have they done in the rest of the king's provinces? Not an inquiry, but an exclamation. How many must they not have killed in the whole empire if they have slain 500 in Susa alone! Now, what is thy petition? Still, if this is not enough, if anything more is needed for the Jews' security, ask it, and "it shall be done."
Esther's request for a second day of slaughter has a bloodthirsty appearance; but, without a more complete knowledge of the facts than we possess, we cannot say that it was unjustifiable. It would seem that the Jews in Susa gathered themselves in the upper town on the appointed day, and were engaged there the whole day with their enemies. Esther asks that they may be allowed a second day—either in the upper or the lower town, it is not clear which to complete their work, and free themselves from all danger of further persecution from their foes. She is not likely to have made this request unless prompted to make it by Mordecai, who must have had means of knowing how matters really stood, and, as the chief minister over the whole nation, is likely to have been actuated rather by general views of policy than by a blind spirit of revenge. Still it must be granted that there is something essentially Jewish in Esther's request, and indeed in the tone of the entire book which bears her name
They hanged the ten sons of Haman. Exposure on a cross was regarded as a deep disgrace, and was a punishment often inflicted by the Persians on persons killed in some other way (see Herod; 3:125; 7:238; Xen; 'Anab.,' 3. 1, § 17; Pint; 'Vit. Artax.,' § 17).
For the Jews. Rather, "and the Jews," or "so the Jews." The Hebrew has the vau conjunctive, which is here certainly expressive of a sequence, or consequence.
Gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives. i.e. did as the edict directed them (Esther 8:11). And had rest from their enemies. The idea of "rest" seems out of place when the subject of the narrative is slaughter, and the number of the slain has still to be told. Some suspect corruption, others an interpolation. And slew of their foes seventy and five thousand. The LXX. had in their copies fifteen for seventy-five, or one-fifth of the received number. The smaller number is more in harmony with the 500 killed at Susa than the larger one.
FESTIVAL HELD, AND FEAST OF PURIM INSTITUTED (Esther 9:17-32). A natural instinct led the Jews, so soon as their triumph was accomplished, to indulge themselves in a day of rest and rejoicing (Esther 9:17). After toil there is need of repose; and escape from a great danger is followed, almost of necessity, by "gladness." The writer of the Book of Esther, practising his usual reticence, says nothing of the character of the "gladness;" but we can scarcely be wrong in believing it to have been, in the main, religious, and to have included gratitude to God for their deliverance, the ascription of praise to his name, and an outpouring of the heart before him in earnest and prolonged thanksgiving. The circumstances of the struggle caused a difference, with regard to the date of the day of rejoicing, between the Jews of the capital and those of the provinces. The metropolitical Jews had two days of struggle, and could not "rest" until the third day, which was the 15th of Adar (verse 18); the provincial Jews began and ended their work in one day, the 13th, and so their thanksgiving-day was the 14th, and not the 15th of the month (verse 17). The consequence was, that when Mordecai and Esther determined on commemorating the wonderful deliverance of their time by an annual festival, analogous to that of the passover, to be celebrated by all Jews everywhere throughout all future ages, some hesitation naturally arose as to the proper day to be kept holy. If the 14th were kept, the provincial Jews would be satisfied, but those of Susa would have cause of complaint; if the 15th were the day selected, the two parties would simply exchange feelings. Under these circumstances it was wisely resolved to keep both days (verse 21). Nothing seems to have been determined as to the mode of keeping the feast, except that both days were to be "days of feasting and joy," and days upon which the richer members of the community should send "portions" and "gifts" to the poorer ones (verse 22). The name, "feast of Purina," was at once attached to the festival, in memory of Haman's consultation of the lot, the word "Pur" meaning "lot" in Persian (verse 24). The festival became a national institution by the general consent of the Jews everywhere (verse 27), and has remained to the present day among the most cherished of their usages, it falls in early spring, a month before the passover, and occupies two days, which are still those fixed by Mordecai and Esther, the 14th and 15th of Adar. The day preceding the feast is observed as a fast day, in commemoration of Esther's fast before going in uninvited to the king (Esther 4:16).
The Jews which were at Shushan assembled together. i.e. "gathered themselves together to bathe." The verb is the same as that used in Esther 9:16 of this chapter; and in Esther 8:11; Esther 9:2.
The Jews of the villages, that dwelt in the unwalled towns. Rather, "the Jews of the country, who dwelt in the country towns." There are places where the word translated "unwalled" connotes that idea—e.g. Ezekiel 38:11; Zechariah 2:8; but the main notion which it expresses is always that of a "country region." Here walls are not at all in the thought of the writer, who intends a contrast between the Jews of the metropolis and those of the provinces. Ecbatana and Babylon are "country towns" to a Jew of Susa, such as the writer. A good day. Compare Esther 8:17, with the comment. Sending portions one to another. Compare Nehemiah 8:10; and for the precept on which the practice was founded see Deuteronomy 16:14. In modern times the Jews keep up the practice, and on the 15th of Adar both interchange gifts, chiefly sweetmeats, and make liberal offerings for the poor (comp. Deuteronomy 16:22, ad fin.).
Mordecai wrote these things. Mordecai seems, in the first instance, to have written to the provincial Jews, suggesting to them the future observance of two days of Purim instead of one, and explaining the grounds of his proposition, but without venturing to issue any order. When he found his proposition well received (Esther 9:23, Esther 9:27) he sent out a second letter, "with all authority" (Esther 9:29), enjoining the observance.
To stablish. i.e. "with a view to establishing"—not actually doing so.
The month which was turned unto them from sorrow to joy. This was the key-note of Purina, the dominant idea, to which all else was secondary and sub-ordinate—sorrow turned into joy, "mourning into dancing," utter destruction into a signal triumph. Psalms 30:1-12. might well have been written at this time.
The Jews undertook to do as they had begun. i.e. "to observe the 14th day." And as Mordecai had written to them. i.e. "and to observe also the 15th."
But when Esther came before the king. Rather, "when the matter came before the king." It is impossible to supply a proper name which has not occurred once in the last eleven verses. We must suppose the feminine suffix attached to the verb bo, "came," to be superfluous, as it is in Ezekiel 33:33. His wicked device should return upon his own head. Compare Psalms 7:16. The device of Haman to massacre all the Jews turned to the destruction of the Jews' chief enemies, and of Haman himself and his sons among them.
Wherefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur. They took the Persian word, that is, and gave it a Hebrew plural, either because the Persian method of casting involved the use of several lots, or because Haman cast "Pur" several times (Esther 3:7). For all the words of this letter. i.e. "on account of what was said in Mordecai's letter to them" (Esther 9:20). And of that which they had seen, etc. "And on account of what they had themselves seen anti suffered." Mordecai's arguments were backed up by their own personal experience, and the recollection of what "had come to them,"
All such as joined themselves to them. i.e. "all who should become proselytes to their faith" (see above, Esther 8:17). According to their writing. According to the writing concerning the days which they had received from Mordecai (Esther 9:20).
That these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, etc. The universal adoption of the Purina feast by the Jewish nation, originating as it did at Susa, among the Persian Jews, never a very important part of the nation, is a curious fact, and is certainly not satisfactorily accounted for by the beauty and popularity of the Book of Esther (Ewald), nor by the dignity and power of Mordecai. Mordecai had no ecclesiastical authority; and it might have been expected that the Jews of Jerusalem would have demurred to the imposition of a fresh religious obligation upon them by a Jew of the Dispersion, who was neither a prophet, nor a priest, nor even a Levite. The Jews of Jerusalem, in their strongly-situated city, which was wholly theirs, and with their temple-fortress complete (Ezra 6:15), can scarcely have felt themselves in much danger from an attack which was to have begun and ended in a day. But Joiakim, the high priest of the time (Nehemiah 12:10-12), to whom, as we have seen ('Introduction,' § 3), the Book of Esther was attributed by some, must have given his approval to the feast from the first, and have adopted it into the ceremonial of the nation, or it would scarcely have become universal. Hooker ('Eccl. Pol.,' 5.71, § 6) rightly makes the establishment of the feast an argument in favour of the Church's power to prescribe festival days; and it must certainly have been by ecclesiastical, and not by civil, command that it became obligatory. That these days … should not fail,… nor the memorial of them perish. As a commemoration of human, and not of Divine, appointment, the feast of Purim was liable to abrogation or discontinuance. The Jews of the time resolved that the observance should be perpetual; and in point of fact the feast has continued up to the present date, and is likely to continue, though they could not bind their successors.
Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail,… wrote. The unusual designation of Esther as "daughter of Abihail" can only be accounted for by her having so designated herself in the letter. With all authority. Rather, "with all earnestness," or "impressiveness." Literally, the word used means "strength." To confirm this second letter of Purina. The first letter is the one which is mentioned in verses 20 and 26. That letter having elicited the favourable reply contained in verses 26-28, a "second letter of Purina" was now issued, "confirming" and establishing the observance. It went forth not as an edict, or in the king's name, but as a letter, and in the names of Esther and Mordecai.
And he sent the letters. Rather, "he sent letters." In addition to the formal "letter of Purina," which was of the nature of an ordinance, though not of legal force, Mordecai sent informal letters, which embraced other topics besides the Purim feast, as, for instance, words of salutation, and perhaps a reference to the keeping of a fast before the two Purina days (Esther 9:31). These he sent to all Jews throughout the whole empire, inclosing with them the formal "letter of Purim." With words of peace and truth. Perhaps beginning thus: "Peace and truth be with you"—a modification of the usual, "Peace," etc. (Ezra 4:17), or, "All peace" (Ezra 5:7), with which letters ordinarily began.
As they had decreed for themselves and their seed. "As they—i.e. the Jews generally—had decreed" (see Esther 9:27). The matters of the fastings and their cry. These words stand in no clear grammatical relation to the preceding, and are otherwise very difficult to explain. They are thought to allude to the establishment by the provincial Jews, apart from Mordecai and Esther, of the 13th of Adar as a day of fasting and wailing; but if so, it is strange that nothing has been previously said of this ordinance. The plural form of the word for "fastings" is also suspicious, since it does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament. Altogether, it is perhaps most probable that the words were originally the gloss of a commentator, written in the margin, and that they have been accidentally transferred to the text. They do not occur in the Septuagint.
The decree of Esther. Rather, "a commandment of Esther." Some fresh act seems to be intended—something beyond the joint letter of Esther and Mordecai; though why it was needed, or what additional authority it could give, is not apparent. And it was written in the book. i.e. "this commandment of Esther was inserted in the book of the chronicles," where the writer probably found it. No other book being mentioned in Esther but this, "the book'' can have no other meaning (see Esther 2:23; Esther 6:1; Esther 10:2).
Deliverance and victory.
The history of "the chosen nation" is full of Divine deliverances. The present is only one of the many instances in which, by faith, the Israelites "escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."
I. THE MEANS of the deliverance and victory here related. Royal authority primarily accounts for it. Only by the sanction of the king could the Jews dare to draw the sword and withstand their foes. Ministerial encouragement supported this sanction. It was known that Mordecai, the chief minister of Ahasuerus, was thoroughly earnest in the matter, and would countenance his countrymen in their proceedings. Official help was given. Probably the enemies of the Jews were among the idolatrous tribes, and the Persian officers and rulers were instructed to favour the Jews against their heathen foes. National courage explains the valiant stand which was made by the children of the captivity. "A good cause, a good conscience, and a good courage" secured the victory.
II. THE COMPLETENESS of the deliverance and victory. Fear, panic, dread of the Jews seized their enemies, and the oppressed "had rule over" the oppressors. The enemies were slain in great numbers wherever an encounter took place. Mordecai and his party triumphed over their foes in the public hanging on the gibbet of the dead bodies of Haman's ten sons. The magnanimity of the victorious was shown in their not laying hand upon the spoil, which was wise, inasmuch as it was thus made apparent that their only aim was security, and that they sought not plunder, and also that they did not wish to avail themselves of the king's generosity, but to replenish his treasury rather than their own.
III. THE MARVEL of the deliverance and victory. How contrary to the designs of Haman, the most powerful personage in the realm! How contrary to the expectations of the Jews themselves, who were naturally enough oppressed with the sense of their danger, and the prospect of their extermination! How contrary to the forebodings of the neighbours of the Jews, who had joined in their distress and lamentations with true and friendly sympathy. "God's ways are not as our ways, neither our thoughts as his thoughts." This is the appropriate benediction which the reader of the Megillah, at the feast of Purim, pronounces at its close: "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast contended our contest, judged our cause, hast avenged our wrongs, requited all the enemies of our souls, and hast delivered us from our oppressors. Blessed art thou, who hast delivered thy people from all their oppressors, thou Lord of salvation."
The feast of Purim.
Other Jewish festivals, as the passover and tabernacles, were instituted by express Divine authority. The feast of Purim was instituted by the authority of Mordecai and Esther. Yet its observance was undoubtedly sanctioned by the God whose merciful interposition it commemorated. The festival has been observed by the Jews from that day to this; the observance consisting of a preliminary fast; of a sacred assembly in the synagogue, when the Megillah (or roll) of the Book of Esther, is unfolded and solemnly read aloud; and of a repast at home, followed by merry-making, and the sending of presents. The feast of Purim was, and is—
I. A REMINDER OF AN ERA OF CAPTIVITY. The Jews are put in memory of the fact that a large portion of their nation was once in exile in Persia, and that, although their captivity must be regarded as a sign of their sin and of God's displeasure, yet they had not been as a nation forsaken, but had been spared and recalled to the land of promise.
II. A MEMORIAL BOTH OF THE ENEMIES AND OF THE FRIENDS OF THE NATION. When, in the reading, Haman's name is mentioned, the synagogue is filled with the noise of stamping and rattling, and with shouts of "Cursed be Haman! may his name perish!" At the same time the memory of the great benefactors of Israel, Esther and Mordecai, is cherished with gratitude and warmth.
III. A COMMEMORATION OF A DIVINE DELIVERANCE. The name "Purim" means "lots," because Haman cast lots for a lucky day for the execution of his malignant project. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the disposal thereof is of the Lord." No wonder that the joy of salvation was too great to find expression in one celebration. It was felt that one generation might well speak God's praises to another, and declare his mighty works. Purim may serve as an emblem of the deliverance which the God of all grace has wrought on behalf not of Israel only, but of all mankind. He is, in Christ Jesus, a God "mighty to save."
Sending portions and gifts.
This usage is quite a carrying out of the principle of the Divine law, which prescribed remembrance of the widow and fatherless upon those who were prosperous in Israel. We find an interesting parallel to the present passage in Nehemiah: when the law had been read and expounded in the hearing of the people, they "went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth." These presents were sent by the people to one another in friendship and courtesy; to the poor in charity. It is a usage which, though it may be carried too far and abused, has yet its advantages.
I. IT TENDS TO CEMENT THE BONDS OF SOCIETY BY DISPOSING TO KINDLY THOUGHTS AND REGARDS. A neighbourly gift is, in some cases, better than a mere message of inquiry, or congratulation, or condolence.
II. IT AFFORDS A PURE PLEASURE TO THE GIVER. To share the gifts of Providence with the less fortunate opens the heart and enlarges its sympathies. It is a check to natural selfishness.
III. IT IS BENEFICIAL TO THE RECEIVER. A friend's gift is a token of that friend's remembrance and love. And many a poor household is, at Christmas-tide, made bright by the presents thought appropriate to the season. Children especially are pleased with such gifts, and their pleasure is worth our consideration.
IV. GIFTS RESEMBLE, IN OUR POOR WAY, THE BENEFACTIONS OF PROVIDENCE, AND THE BENEFICENT MIRACLES OF OUR SAVIOUR. "He openeth his hand, and supplieth the wants of every living tiling." Christ gave bread to the hungry, and turned water into wine for the enjoyment of the guests at a wedding-feast.
V. THE PRACTICE IS A RECOGNITION OF OUR COMMON DEPENDENCE UPON HEAVEN: AND OUR MUTUAL BROTHERHOOD. HOW much better to carry out such usages upon the suggestion of Christian motive, and in connection with Christian fellowship, than for worldly display, or policy, or from ordinary good-nature!
A holy memorial.
Memory is a Divine gift, to be used for the glory of the Giver. Every individual has his memories; for his past life has been marked by events important to himself, and worthy of being now and again recalled to awaken gratitude, humility, confidence. Every family has its memories; and domestic anniversaries may be observed with advantage, especially to the young. Every nation has its memories—of great reigns, great deliverances, great conquests, etc. Every religion has its memories—of its founder, its fundamental facts, its triumphs. The Jews had reason to remember Purim.
I. WHAT IS SPECIALLY WORTHY TO BE REMEMBERED? Our deliverances. God's mercies.
II. WHY SHOULD SUCH THINGS BE REMEMBERED? To encourage us to the exercise of devout gratitude. To foster our trust and faith in him whose mercies we call to mind. To honour God. "Forget not all his benefits."
III. How SHOULD HOLY MEMORIALS BE OBSERVED?
1. With sacrifices of praise. "Let us exalt his name together." "The Lord bath done great things for us, whereof we are glad."
2. With gatherings of fellowship. Where mercies have been experienced in common they should be acknowledged in common. There is something inspiring and elevating in the celebration, by a multitude, of a great event, a signal mercy. So with the observance of the Lord's Supper.
3. With tokens of practical kindness. Festivals are holy in proportion as those who take part in them are unselfish, disinterested, and kind.
4. With especial reference to the young. In youth public observances impress themselves upon the memory. The Jews took pains to instruct their children in the meaning of the passover and the other national festivals. Thus the perpetuity of the memorial is secured. We should celebrate God's loving-kindness, and "tell it to the generation following."
Words of peace and truth.
Words are of inestimable weight, for evil or for good. Human words move men mightily; and of Christ's words we know that they shall "never pass away." This description of the message which Mordecai and Esther sent to their countrymen throughout the empire is very significant. It consisted of words which, whilst they were words of truth, concealing nothing, declaring all, were yet words of peace, speaking peace unto Israel.
I. WORDS CAN REVEAL TRUTH. The speech uttered is the expression of the inner, the mental, speech.
1. This should be the case in all instruction. Teachers should make it their first concern that their words should be words of truth. Especially should this be so in all religious instruction given and received.
2. This is the case in the best and highest literature. We value language for its beauty; but its highest interest and charm lies in its power to embody truth.
3. This is the case with Divine revelation, which is the truth of God, made known to us in him who is the Word, and in all inspired words.
II. WORDS CAN DIFFUSE AND RESTORE PEACE. They may do this by—
1. Assuring the endangered of protection, as was the case in the narrative before us.
2. Removing suspicion and fear, as friendly and gracious words have often power to do.
3. Assuring offenders of reconciliation and favour. It is in this manner that the words of Christ's gospel are emphatically "words of peace."
III. WORDS OF TRUTH ARE THE SUREST FOUNDATION FOR WORDS OF PEACE. The peace brought about by false words is hollow, temporary only, and vain. But the full truth being declared, a sound and lasting peace may follow, heralded and assured by appropriate words. The Christian revelation exactly agrees with the description of these words; it brings truth to our understanding and peace to heart and life.
Fasting and crying remembered amidst feasting and singing.
It is not good to banish from the mind perils and sorrows through which we have passed, and from which we have been delivered. In times of prosperity and rejoicing it is well to keep before us the mutability of all earthly things. Life is a chequered scene, a changing landscape. To-day is unlike yesterday, and unlike to-morrow. Undue elation and undue depression are alike unworthy of the Christian. By remembering past griefs, troubles, and dangers—
I. WE DISPOSE OURSELVES TO HUMILITY. Such was our lot, such our position, such our apprehensions and alarms but a short time since. Let us not then be puffed up with self-satisfaction because the cloud has blown over and the sky is blue again.
II. WE ENCOURAGE GRATITUDE. Who has turned fasting to feasting, and crying to songs? God is our deliverer; he has "turned again our captivity." To him be praise.
III. WE SEASON AND BRIGHTEN OUR JOYS. It is pleasant to look back upon the shipwreck from which we have been rescued, the battle out of which we have come unscathed; it gives a zest to the enjoyments of to-day when we remember the bitterness and the anguish of days gone by.
IV. WE FOSTER A SPIRIT OF DEPENDENCE AND CONFIDENCE IN GOD. Unmixed prosperity is not favourable to spiritual life. "Sweet are the uses of adversity." Remember your complaints and prayers, and how they were heard and answered from above. "He drew you out of many waters." So shall your trust be steadfast and sustaining.
V. WE ENJOY A FORETASTE OF SOME OF THE JOYS OF HEAVEN. When we come to the rest above, we shall look back wonderingly, gratefully, upon the scene of conflict from which we shall then be delivered; it will seem perhaps largely a scene of fasting and of crying. And the retrospect will surely enhance the "pleasures which are for evermore."
Written in the book.
Tradition is the simplest mode of transmitting what is memorable from generation to generation. Ordinances, festivals, celebrations, are a kind of acted tradition, and have always been in use among nations and religious communities. But there are certain respects in which literature is preferable to either oral tradition or commemorative festival, and certainly these receive force and point and power from what is written in their explanation. The origin of the feast of Purim was committed to the form and keeping of literature. Whether the reference is to the Book of Esther, or to the chronicles of the Persian kingdom, or to some other document, is matter of dispute. In any case, the story was "written in a book"—in a scroll of manuscript, from which copies were made for use and information of those interested in the events recorded. This literary document—
I. SECURED AN ACCURATE RECORD. Tradition is proverbially untrustworthy. The only thoroughly trustworthy evidence for the historian is that furnished by contemporary documents.
II. DIFFUSED GOOD TIDINGS. Copies were multiplied, and wherever people of Hebrew race were found, there this delightful story pursued them.
III. PERPETUATED LASTING MEMORY, AND INSURED UNIVERSAL CELEBRATION. As a matter of fact, the record has assisted towards these ends. The roll of Esther is unfolded, and the story read, even to this day, in the Jewish synagogues throughout the world.
IV. AWAKENED UNFAILING GRATITUDE. The book does not contain the name of God, but God himself is apparent on every page, and its reading cannot fail to stimulate thanksgiving and praise. How grateful should we be that the great facts of the gospel have been committed to writing, and that we possess in the Scriptures the means of verifying our most sacred beliefs!
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
A reign of terror.
"The Jews gathered themselves together in their cities," etc. There were many greedy to possess the property of the Jews, and such as cherished spite against them, who were glad of the permission to slay and plunder, which Haman's letters gave. When the king's letters which reached the Jews gave them permission to withstand those who opposed, there must have been great perplexity in many minds and fear in many hearts.
I. FOOLISH LAWS BRING ABOUT REIGNS OF TERROR. The foolish consent of the king became law, and then by another absurd law it could not be changed or checked.
II. IN REIGNS OF TERROR THE INNOCENT HAVE TO SUFFER WITH THE GUILTY.
III. IN REIGNS OF TERROR THE GOOD MUST STAND TOGETHER. In the world there is a great fight for goodness, truth, and Christ to be still waged. Anarchy suits the prince of darkness. The Christian is in ever)- sense the friend of order, good government, and righteousness.—H.
Esther 9:27, Esther 9:28
A memorial feast.
"And the Jews ordained and took upon them … that these days should be remembered."
I. The memorial feast was in recognition of a great DELIVERANCE. The deliverance effected by Mordecai and Esther for the Jews, hints at that effected for us by Jesus. There are points of great similarity. The Lord's Supper is not only a feast of love, but in memory of our great deliverance from sin and death.
II. The memorial was ordained READILY. Gratitude led to this. A further object was a desire to stimulate to similar faith in God in further circumstances of trial.
III. The memorial was to be PERPETUAL. How faithfully have the Jews of every age kept that which was "ordained." We should keep that which Jesus instituted. Parents may lay upon their children certain moral obligations, but not now ceremonial burdens. That which they enjoin should be first observed by "themselves."—H.
Valuable lessons from unpromising materials.
"The book." The Book of Esther is secular in its tone, has no mention of the name of God, and no recognition in the Gospels or Epistles; still it is of great value.
I. It gives A VALUABLE PICTURE OF LIFE at a certain period of the world's history. The luxury of an Oriental court, the tyranny of rulers, the emptiness of regal pomp, the danger from conspiracies, the plottings of politicians, and misery of oppressed peoples, are well depicted in this book. Hints are given of the means provided for dissipating ennui by reading (Esther 6:1), of the correct recording of public events (Esther 9:32), and of the facilities provided for rapid communication (Esther 8:10-14).
II. It gives A CLEAR INDICATION OF THE WORKING OF GOD IN THE INTERESTS OF MEN.
1. In a nation outside the pale of the covenant people.
2. In preserving at a most critical period the nation selected by himself to be the means of keeping up a knowledge of the unity of the Godhead and the hope of a Messiah. Hence, if God's name is not mentioned, his working is seen. As the name of the Queen of England is not written in full on all the ships, forts, guns, carriages, etc; but only a V. R. or the broad arrow, so the name of God may not be mentioned in the whole Book of Esther, yet his cipher is in every chapter, verse, and word. The shady parts of the Bible are to be studied as well as the bright; its valleys are to be explored as well as its heights to be scaled.—H.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The antagonisms of nations.
"In the day that the enemies of the Jews hoped to have power over them. Though it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over them that hated them." This passage tells a history of vicissitude doubly remarkable. It may be put thus: there was, in the first instance, a great reverse of fortune in the experience of each of two nationalities. But this did not end all. At the same time it constituted a striking reversal of the mutual relations of those two peoples. In the first instance the people who had been exalted are cast down; and the people who had been cast down, lifted up. But this was a little matter compared with the consequence immediately resulting, and which showed so prominently to view; namely, a most significant and determined alteration of the attitude of the one to the other. The lessons suggested by this passage, whatever they may be, offer themselves on the scale of national magnitude. We are reminded—
I. OF THE ANTAGONISMS TO WHICH NATIONAL LIFE OFFERS OPPORTUNITY—an opportunity which the world's history shows to have been ever lamentably improved. The antagonism of the individual is reproduced on a more terrible scale, and with consequences inconceivably disastrous. It must he noted that this spirit of national antagonism bears not only the reproach of the direct sin and miseries, of which war is the declared manifestation; it is an enemy, the indirect ravages of which add up to a fearful amount. This may be seen from observing in the place of what it is, that it so often stands.
1. It is antagonism usurping the place of natural and sympathetic love.
2. It is antagonism turning out healthy emulation, and stimulating rivalry.
3. It is antagonism hindering to an amazing degree that plenty, and wealth, and cheapness which come of mutual sustentation, of inter-trading, of each nationality, according to its physical advantages and its genius, pursuing its own bent, to share the abundance of its consequent production with other nations.
II. OF THE INSUFFICIENT CAUSES OF THE ANTAGONISMS TO WHICH NATIONAL LIFE IS EXPOSED.
1. They emphatically do not lie in any international necessity of nature. They mean always fault and sin at some door. They cannot be justified by any supposed likeness to the natural storms of our earth and skies, though these may frame into an unhappy analogy with them.
2. They do not reside in any international necessity of trade or other interest.
3. They are rarely enough owing to the determined will or fitful passion of the great body of the people. These will adopt them, it is true, and will soon be heated by false sense of national glory; but they do not originate them.
4. They are rarely enough due to fault on one side alone.
5. Even when mingled with some just occasion, they are rarely enough what could not be averted by the wise treatment of those in high authority.
6. They strongly resemble the antagonisms and antipathies of private individuals in these two respects—that they arise from the smallest matters, and take occasion from temper and pride.
III. OF THE MULTIPLIED RESPONSIBILITY AND IMPORTANCE WHICH NATIONAL LIFE THROWS UPON INDIVIDUALS. It is easy to see that nations the largest, the mightiest, the most complex are but made up of individuals. But it is not so easy to believe, it is not so welcome to the mind to remember at all times, how the greatest events, for good or for ill, depend very largely on the character and conduct of individuals. Thus national life immensely increases the importance of the individual. It is the highest in an ascending series of terms. For instance—
1. There is the intrinsic importance of individual life to each man.
2. There is the importance that inevitably attaches to the head-of-family life.
3. There is the importance that belongs to all public life, in all the varying and numerous places of Church and of State.
4. There is he importance which is inseparable from the place of the governing, the highest places in the state. This, though strictly comprehended in the foregoing head, demands to be classified separately, because of its highest significance, its superlatively critical issues. Haman had done a world of mischief. To human eye it can scarcely be said that Mordecai had recovered the balance. The one caused the intensest hatred of "the enemies of the Jews" to blaze up, to the unmeasured misery of the Jews. And when things were reversed, and "it was turned to the contrary," though a lesson of terrible retribution was displayed, and though justice should seem to have another sacrifice offered at her shrine, yet love is left as far in the rear as ever. The whole family of envy, jealousy, malice, cruelty have it too much their own way—so far as our human point of view can see or calculate.
IV. OF THE WONDERFUL ROOM FOR DISPLAY OF THE OVERRULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD WHICH NATIONAL LIFE PRESENTS. Two centuries before the history contained in this narrative, the prophet had said, "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." There are given to us all the quiet, urgent, infinitely numerous lessons of providence in our individual lives. How are they unobserved, lost, smothered in the thoughtless course, the hurried rate of our lives! They look in vain into our very eyes; they whisper in vain in our very ears; they knock in vain at our very doors; they plead in vain with our reason, our self-interest, our conscience. But with overwhelming effect come at times national providences. These speak sometimes as with the voice of thunder, and they are seen sometimes with the vividness of the lightning's flash by hundreds of thousands at one and the same moment. The great subject suggested by our present history, then, demands the attention of statesmen, of legislators, of all public men in their degree, and may obtain many a valuable cross light from the subject already considered of patriotism.—B.
The law of national self-preservation.
This passage, with two somewhat similar passages preceding it, may read at first like the narration of sanguinary cruelty, and the indefensible havoc of human life. Our strongest sympathies were but very lately with the Jews, for whom fearful destruction was devised without the slightest shadow of justifiable provocation. We rejoiced with them when the cloud that overhung burst, and they seemed to be delivered from their former terrible outlook. But already we begin perhaps to repent, and to feel that neither our sympathy nor our gratulation were well merited. Though the destruction that threatened the Jews, and with such aggravating circumstances, is averted, it is little (even though it be true that they were not the side originally in fault), if all that is gained is, that the hands that shed blood are changed from the one side to the other. If no slaughter is spared, if for pity's sake human life be not saved, if those who were the unjustly doomed become in the hour of their own mercy the first to doom others, even though they may do so with tenfold provocation and with some rough sort of justice, we may be inclined to feel for a moment that there was after all not so very much to choose between the two. A little closer study of the context, however, will suffice to show that such is not a fair description of the case. The subject suggests rather the statement of the law of self-preservation, not of the individual, but of the nation. Again, therefore, we have a .question of great interest offering itself on the scale of national magnitude. This circumstance will facilitate the consideration of it under conditions in some respects more favourable. When treated as a question affecting the individual, it has often been entangled by casuistry; but when considered in the unusual proportions here presenting themselves, its broader, bolder outlines will perhaps come out to view more plainly. The right of taking life for the sake of self-preservation, or in self-defence, may be sufficiently sketched out of the material of the present narrative. If that right is to be fairly allowed for, and at the same time limited as exactly as may be, it may be said to postulate the following conditions:—
I. THAT THE OCCASION BE ONE OF UNDOUBTED NECESSITY. In the present instance the whole number of the Jews scattered throughout the 127 provinces now subject to Ahasuerus had been threatened with extermination. There could be no doubt of their imminent danger, and of their helplessness. When Esther (Esther 8:5) supplicated the king "to reverse the letters devised by Haman … which he wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king's provinces," the king met the difficulty of his former irreversible decree and irreversible letters by giving authority to the threatened Jews "to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy … all the power of the people and province that would assault them" (Esther 8:11). He cannot reverse his own former decree literally, but by a fiction he does so very really, very effectually. Esther and Mordecai would at that time have been gladly content to have simply removed from their own race the decree that doomed them, but from the time that this way of putting the matter was revealed by the king, and the whole responsibility of saving themselves was thrown so far on their own efforts, the occasion became one of undoubted necessity. It was not war, it was not murder, it was not gratuitous massacre—it was a case of self-defence.
II. THAT THERE BE THE LEAST SACRIFICE OF LIFE THAT WOULD ATTAIN THE NEEDFUL END. It is remarkable that the exact number should be so carefully given of the two slaughters in Shushan (verses 6, 15), and of the aggregate of that (verse 16) which took effect through the "king's provinces." That Esther asked for another day's opportunity of taking the lives of the enemies of her people in Shushan (verses 13-15) may safely be understood to be owing to special necessities not given in detail. It need not for one moment indicate any wish that one life more should be sacrificed than should be necessary for the safety of the Jews. Now when the sum-total of the slain are added, amounting to 75,800, first, the number, large as it seems, probably does not reach the number of the Jews who were to have been exterminated; secondly, it is certain there was no comparison between the numbers relatively—for in the case of the Jews the slaughter was to have been of all, while 75,800 were but a small proportion of the entire population not Jews; and thirdly, there not only is no evidence of there having been any indiscriminate slaughter on the part of the Jews, but presumably none were slain except such as rose up to slay. This self-defence, therefore, on the part of the Jews probably left more living men than would have been left under the circumstances if the Jews had suffered their own lives to be unresistingly taken.
III. THAT THE LEAST POSSIBLE GAIN OUTSIDE OF THE ONE GAIN OF LIFE, THE SUPREME OBJECT SOUGHT, BE TAKEN BY THE ACT OF SELF-DEFENCE. In the decree granted by King Ahasuerus special provision was spontaneously made that the Jews should appropriate the spoil on their successful resistance of the enemy. Nevertheless, when the time came they refused to do so. And evidently much significance attached to this conduct. It is repeated as many as three times in this chapter. On every occasion on which a victory on their part is announced, this is added-that instead of laying hands on the prey, they emphatically refrained from doing so. This differences self-defence, and the taking of life in self-defence, very greatly from other occasions in which life is taken.
IV. THAT REVENGE BE THE LEAST POSSIBLE ELEMENT IN IT. In cases of sudden need of self-defence there will be no room for the feeling of revenge. Self-defence, however, will by no means be requisite only in such cases. Where there is long delay it is impossible to predicate that none of the spirit of revenge may enter into the hearts of some out of the many; but there is no need to suppose that now there was any in the hearts of the principals. Esther and Mordecai desired one thing—the safety of their people. They wished for "rest from their enemies." They probably felt that they were the ministers of righteous retribution. They desired that Haman's ten sons "hanged on the gallows" should still drive home on an impressed populace the sense and conviction of what a force righteous retribution was, and how much men ought "to stand in awe" because of it; but there is no proof whatever that in all the relief to the bitterness of their soul revenge played any part. The lessons of this portion of the narrative are not needed for the pulpit on every Lord's day certainly, but it may be they are provided here, in the universality of the use of the Divine book, for some special and solemn crises.—B.
Esther 9:19, Esther 9:22
The elements of perfect joy.
"A good day, and of sending portions one to another:.; days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor." Twice then, among the other particulars of the people's glad celebration of their deliverance from a savage massacre, is this detail included, that they sent "portions one to another;" and once it is added that they sent "gifts to the poor." This was no ancient prescription of the law, so far as literal command is concerned. But the spirit of it is no doubt to be detected even there, especially in those passages which urge the principle of taking care that days of general joy should be felt in their warming influence by "the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow." In the same spirit we read in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:10), however, what comes verbally much nearer our present passage. A day of deep feeling and special cause of joy was to be observed as a day of feasting, and of sending "portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared." There can be no question that we have here a portion of the genuine history of the human heart. We seem to hear some of the better and simpler utterances of human nature. The joy of the saved people of God is before us. And whatever other marks it may have, it certainly has those which make it a type of Christian joy on earth. In this light principally we may now regard it. We notice here—
I. A GENERAL AND SIMULTANEOUS JOY. It was not in every respect equal. But in one respect it was equal, in that wherever it spread it was the joy of life, of life rescued from the brink of destruction. Joy need not be equal all round a family; nor all round the world's family; for there are in hearts exceedingly various degrees of susceptibility, and these by themselves are sure to govern largely the exact amount of what can be called happiness or joy. All that is necessary to the one largest, purest, most loving heart in the whole circle is, that all others be blessed and happy at the same time, and according to the full measure of their capacity. But a joy that is not general, that is exposed to overhearing the sounds of complaining, or the sighs of those who mourn alone, or the echoes of the outcry of pain, is deeply felt to be imperfect.
II. A JOY FULL OF MUTUAL KINDNESS. Quite independently of the differences in human life that show one man rich and possessing all things, and another poor and needy, there are differences within a far less range of compass, and yet innumerable. These do not show the extremes of condition; and by Divine wisdom they do make the room for all the play of sympathy, for all the works of mutual kindness. These save hearts from stagnation, and make the healthful ripples and movement after movement of life, stirring the affections within. Were all this at an end, the dead level of human life and feeling would be appalling indeed. The joy that does not find this room for mutual service, for "readiness to good works," for interchange of the offices of affection and friendship, if general, would nevertheless be selfish to the last degree. How happy that short reign of community of goods in the early apostolic history, when all "of them that believed were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." And that would be inferior to the conscious pleasure of a constant exchange of the tokens of sympathy and of the deeds of kindness. In the joy that should shut out the prizes of mutual service it would be felt that there was something wanting.
III. A JOY FULL OF CHARITABLE KINDNESS. There can be no doubt that the kindness of charity is in reality an easier exercise and a less rare grace than that of a perfect mutual kindness. Yet we know the special honour put upon poverty both by the life and the lip of Jesus. And we know the abounding promises that his word makes to those who pity and give to the poor. There is indeed a certain subtle danger that may lurk in the perpetual exercise of charitable kindness. The giver can almost always reckon on the exaltation of position which belongs to the patron. He may be injured by what underlies the beautiful and ever-welcome words of the regretful Job: "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me." Nevertheless, men little need at present to be warned of the danger; they seldom come near enough to this temptation. And, meantime, must not the joy that knows not the spirit of charity to the poor fatally want? There must be something different from vacant want indeed, bad as that should be. That joy must feel itself "a guilty thing." But now in this typical joy of God's suddenly-rescued people in the days of Esther all these elements were present. The people had all been in one danger, had all enjoyed one deliverance, and they all experience one general pervading joy. Common suffering while it lasts draws us near to one another by a proverb; it is rather the index of cowardice of heart. But when the return of common mercy finds us drawing near to one another in the works of practical fellowship, and showing compassion to the poor in the works of charity, then a happiness is kindled of the best that earth knows. The companions in danger and in rescue are found still companions in prosperity. In woe and in weal they have learned to be one. The common escape from danger quickens a sincere compassion. And this history cannot be judged to fall short of portraying the one danger of the whole race of mankind, the one rescue open to them, and the one united life of joy, of love, of charity that Christians ought to live here on earth.—B.
Esther 9:21, Esther 9:27, Esther 9:28, Esther 9:31
The religion of national gratitude.
Mordecai and Esther were not the people to receive great blessings and then at once to forget them. We not unfrequently see those who have had hair-breadth escapes from the worst of calamities recover in a moment their previous light and jaunty spirits. They seem insensible to the risk which had so imperilled them, and certainly are not grateful for the mercy which had rescued them. They do not return either to give thanks to man or glory to God. It is far otherwise now with Mordecai, with Esther, and, at their initiative, with the mass of the people. Wherever Mordecai had sent to his people the messages of relief and the warrants to resist, there he now sends proposals which, if acceded to, will insure the perpetual memory of their deliverance, and will suggest ever new gratefulness for it. Esther joins heart and hand in the same, and the people themselves warmly approve the suggestion. They solemnly and enthusiastically adopt the proposal. They "undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written to them." The method of observing an anniversary to all generations is accepted as the means by which "the memorial" of their deliverance "shall never perish" from them or "their seed." It is evident that a deep religious interest was thrown into this matter, and the account of it is repeated as many as four times, and with minuteness of detail. The example is good for individuals. The precedent is good for nations. We have here—
I. A LEADING INSTANCE OF NATIONAL GRATITUDE. There is great danger of the fit occasions of national gratitude passing by unimproved. This may often arise simply from the fact that "what is every one's business is no one's." The danger needs to be counteracted, and sometimes it is effectually counteracted. Three conditions present, will exhibit, the fair and happy display of national gratitude.
1. The benefit must be in its character such as reaches the heart. Whether cheap bread, cheap health, or cheap Bible; whether free laws, free knowledge, or free conscience, it must be what is adapted to all, and can be appreciated by all. The blessing called life had perhaps never been considered in this light by the Jews till they were so near to losing it. But it was what every one of them, young and old, and of every class, appreciated.
2. The benefit must be such as has reached, either directly or indirectly, every class of the people. In highly-developed communities it should form part of the self-imposed work of all kinds of public and religious teachers to show the value of benefits which may be only indirect, and how they claim gratitude. In the present instance, the benefit for which such gladness and joy had sprung up had penetrated not only to every class, but to every individual.
3. The call to celebrate the benefit must be made so as to win the hearty approval and co-operation of the people. The moral influence of Mordecai and Esther was evidently very great. Their own example, their own deep interest in the course suggested, was contagious. The urgency with which they wrote helped to throw conviction of duty and enthusiasm toward its performance into the hearts of all the people. God never loves a cheerful giver more than when the cheerful giving is in very simple matters—that of thanks, or praise, or grateful adoration presented to himself.
II. A SOLEMN RESOLUTION FOR THE PERPETUATION OF NATIONAL GRATITUDE. Much kindly feeling passes away for want of embodiment. It dies down within, and there comes "no second spring" for it. Certainly gratitude is liable soon to die away. The most solemn claim of affection that the world knows is couched in the language of the claim of gratitude: "Do this in remembrance of me." In this perpetuation of national thanksgiving we may notice—
1. The wise method by which it was obtained.
(1) The happy moment was seized by the moral leaders of the people for giving a religious character to the joy that already possessed them. Mordecai made use of the excited state of feeling to say, Let it take the direction of thanksgiving.
(2) The right moment was seized, when the "willing mind" of a whole people would be inclined to make a day into an anniversary ever to be observed. After the people had once pronounced assent, as it were with one voice, and their chief men had put their hand to the engagement, they would not be likely to turn back. The resolution of that critical time has lasted and has borne fruit now over twenty-three centuries.
2. The good ends which it would serve. Love and thankfulness, and praise and gratitude, are all alike in one respect, that they ask no utilitarian questions. Their motive lies in themselves. And probably it was never more so than in this history. Yet we are permitted to observe the many directions in which they bear good fruit. The perpetuation of national thanksgiving on the right occasion—that is to say, not after every bloody battle, to which the Lord never sent forth his people; and in the right method—i.e. not in such a way as will gratuitously wound the feeling of another nation,—is adapted to produce great and good results.
(1) The acknowledgment is a direct act of glorifying God.
(2) It keeps him in the memory of the people as the Giver of all good, as the Sovereign Ruler and the beneficent Friend.
(3) It reminds again and again of the need once felt so keenly, of the poverty once so trying, of the exceeding peril which once threatened, of the boundless relief once experienced. God's people were bidden to remember how "they were bondsmen in Egypt," to "look to the rock whence they were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence they were digged." And these are the memories that chastise the pride of the human heart, and raise the tone and level of the character, and lead gradually nearer real safety and real prosperity. They are also the memories which for the future guide to the right source of confidence and of help. Of whatever advantage we know these things to be in any individual life, the advantage is one immensely multiplied in the case of a nation—multiplied, that is, by the whole number of those who go together to compose it.—B.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
The effects of deliverance.
Our narrative closes with a bright picture, in which all clouds are scattered; it is as sunshine after rain. Among the results of Israel's triumph we notice—
I. REST. All the Jews in the empire, except those in Shushan, rested on the 14th of Adar. The Jews in Shushan, after their two days' conflict, rested on the 15th of Adar. Then all had rest. So utterly broken was the power of their enemies that they had rest not only from a past fear, but from anxiety as to the future. How sweet is rest after the agitation of a long-threatened peril—to the soldier when the battle is fought and won; to the nation when the foes who sought to destroy it are bereft of power. The soul-rest of a victory over sin and death is the gift of Christ to those who follow hint (Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:27); and when all the conflicts of earth are over, "there remaineth a rest to the people of God," an eternal heaven (Hebrews 4:9-11).
II. Joy. It is natural that joy in its inward emotion and outward manifestations should be proportionate to the benefit that has occasioned it. The wonderful deliverance of the Jews filled them with a wonderful joy; their hearts ran over with gladness. So also to the man who appropriates Christ and his redemption there is a "joy of salvation," "a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). John the Baptist's "joy was fulfilled" at the hearing of "the Bridegroom's voice" (John 3:29). Jesus explained his object, in teaching his disciples the truth, as being "that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). The religion of God is a religion of joy. It slays fear and banishes gloom. It turns all things into channels of a joy that is heaven-born. Sackcloth may be the symbolic garb of the penitent, but robes washed white and shining are the symbolic clothing of the true believer. "Songs of deliverance" encompass the saved (Psalms 32:7; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16).
III. UNITY. Common trials and common triumphs have great power in binding men together. Both in their grief and in their joy the Jews became as one family. Heart flowed into heart, and all stood up and drew close in compact oneness. The deliverance would add immensely to the sense of brotherhood which the common terror had excited. In presence of such experiences minor differences in opinion and practice vanish. The more that Christians realise their own need, and God's mercy in Christ, the more readily will they regard each other as brethren of the "household of faith." The history of the Church of God shows in a signal way how God often sends alternate tribulations and triumphs just to bring his people closer to himself, and thereby closer to each other against their common foes.
IV. LARGE-HEARTEDNESS. A true joy enlarges the heart; a sense of goodness received excites a desire to do good. Grace is communicative. If we love Christ, we shall love all whom Christ loves. If we have joy in God, we shall long to impart that joy to others. The gladness of a God-saved soul diffuses itself like the light. This effect of deliverance was shown by the Jews in three ways:—
1. In their "feasting'' together. Social gatherings in connection with great events or interests, when wisely conducted, afford a good opportunity for mutual encouragement and edification.
2. In their "sending portions one to another." Not content with words or messages, they exchanged presents, as tokens of thankful congratulation and sympathy. A sense of the Divine favour should make the heart generous and liberal.
3. In their presenting "gifts to the poor." It was remembered that there were many who had not the means of celebrating the common deliverance; so the poor received gifts, that all might rejoice together. "Freely ye have received, freely give" (1 John 3:17).
1. A written record. "Mordecai wrote these things" (Esther 9:20). Some have inferred from this sentence that Mordecai was the author of the Book of Esther. It is as likely, however, that the book was composed by another from writings left by Mordecai. In any case, a suitable record of the events in which the Jew played so important a part was made to become, through its insertion in the sacred canon, the best and most enduring monument of the deliverance of Israel from the wiles of Haman.
2. An annual festival. Esther and Mordecai ordained that the Jews everywhere should celebrate yearly the victory over Haman by a three days' feast. From that day to this the feast of Pur, or Purim, has held its place among the other established festivals of Israel. At the present time its observance is attended by much excess. Memorial institutions have a great evidential value. Just as the Lord's Supper and the Lord's day at once commemorate and attest the facts of our Lord's death and resurrection, so the feast of Purim is a testimony to the truth of the narrative contained in the Book of Esther. Memorials of past deliverances should—
(1) Keep alive our sense of gratitude.
(2) Teach us our dependence on God.
(3) Strengthen our faith in God.
(4) Warn us against the temptations and dangers of sin, and constrain us to lead a holy and God-fearing life.
To have our "names written In heaven" is a better memorial than any that could be fashioned on earth.—D.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter