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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Esther 3

 

 

Verses 1-6

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est . After these things] After the events related in the former chapter. The twelfth year of the reign of Ahasuerus, five years after Est 2:16, but here somewhat sooner. "The name Haman is probably the same which is found in the classical writers under the form of Omanes, and which in ancient Persian would have been Umana or Umanish, an exact equivalent of the Greek Eumenes. Hammedatha is perhaps the same as Madata or Mahedata (Madates of Q. Curtius), an old Persian name signifying "given by (or to) the moon."—Rawlinson. The term Agag means "the fiery," and may have been applied to persons without any reference to nationality. It was employed as a general name of dignity by the kings of Amalek. Impossible to determine Haman's nationality. We may perhaps conclude that the epithet "Agagite" is here used symbolically of a heathen enemy of the Jews.

Est . Bowed] A simple inclination of the body as to an equal in courtesy; but reverenced] a complete prostration in Oriental style of homage to a superior. A kind of religious homage. Mordecai's confession that he was a Jew appears to imply that the rules of his religion would not allow him to offer the semblance of Divine honours to a mortal. Mordecai is represented in the apocryphal Esther as praying: "Thou knowest, Lord, that it was neither in contempt nor pride that I did not bow to Haman; for I would have been glad for the salvation of Israel to kiss the soles of his feet. But I did this that I might not glorify man more than God; neither would I worship any, O God, but thee."

Est . Whether Mordecai's matters would stand] Whether the religious scruples of a Jew would be tolerated in opposition to Persian laws and customs.

Est . He thought scorn] Literally, it was contemptible in his eyes.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est ; Est 3:6

THE PROSPEROUS WICKED MAN

MATTHEW HENRY says, "I wonder what the king saw in Haman that was commendable or meritorious; it is plain that he was not a man of honour or justice, of any true courage or steady conduct, but proud, and passionate, and revengeful; yet was he promoted and caressed, and there was none so great as he. Princes' darlings are not always worthies."

I. The wicked man in great prosperity. History, both of nations and of individuals, repeats itself. Both in ancient and in modern times we may see the wicked in great prosperity. Haman is typical. The race is prolific. Haman is the progenitor of a long line that by skilful plotting rise above the heads of superior men. If earthly greatness be a reward, the good are not always rewarded in time. In this world rewards are not rightly administered. Push and tact get the prize. Modest talent may be commended in the song or in the oration, but may be thankful if it does not find itself compelled to enter the workhouse. Goodness in purple and fine linen is commended; but goodness personified in a certain beggar named Lazarus is not an article of modern creeds. We are still too prone to believe that Virtue fares sumptuously every day, and that only Vice is fed with crumbs and has its sores licked by the dogs.

II. The prosperous wicked man is surrounded by fawning sycophants. "All the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him." But a king's commandment is not required to secure outward homage towards those in high places. There is always a sycophantic crew ready to worship earthly greatness. Clothe a man with the outward marks of royal favour, and many are at once prepared to become his blind adulators. Christian England has not improved very much on heathenish Persia. Outward show attracts more admirers than inward worth. Imperialism is glorified in political, literary, and ecclesiastical spheres. Greatness, not goodness, is still a leading virtue in ethical systems. Prowess in arms, push in business, skill in politics, success in literature, and parade in religion are the articles of the creed in which modern society devoutly believes. The wicked Haman so long as he is prime minister must be reverenced.

III. The prosperous wicked man is surrounded by meddling sycophants. Even admirers may be too officious. If Haman had known and seen all he might have prayed, Save me from my friends. The king's servants told Haman that there was a Jew who would not reverence enthroned and bedazzled wickedness. No, they would have told him this had they told him the truth; they might have told him this had they seen Mordecai's nobility. However, their selfish zeal carried them too far. They were undermining Haman's grand position, and frustrating their own purposes of aggrandisement. How often it is that in trying to grasp too much we lose all!

IV. The prosperous wicked man finds that false greatness brings trouble. That greatness is false which is not the outcome of goodness. The course of wicked prosperity cannot run smooth. Haman meets with the checking and detecting Mordecai. Ahab is troubled by Elijah. Nathan said unto David, Thou art the man. Herod beheads John the Baptist, but still he is not free from a reproving spirit. When Mordecai refuses to bow let Haman tremble. We do not attempt to prosecute the difficult inquiry what it was which led Mordecai to refuse to bow to Haman. Much has been said and written, but no satisfactory conclusion has been reached. All that we can say is, that there must have been a strong religious motive working in the mind of Mordecai which induced him to pursue a course which exposed him to the wrath of an Eastern despot. The nobility, the heroism of Mordecai must be admired as he thus braved death itself, and refused to follow the multitude in doing evil. Oh, for more Mordecais; for those who shall dare to be singular; for those who will stand by their convictions. Let great men watch how men of strong convictions deport themselves. There is more wholesome teaching in the silent mood of the strong-minded than in the honeyed words of shallow sycophants.

V. The prosperous wicked man may learn that an unrestrained nature brings trouble. Haman was intoxicated with his greatness, and could not brook it that one poor Jew refused an outward act of homage. Haman was full of wrath, and consequently was full of trouble. Wrath is cruel, both to the subject and the object. A dark cloud gathers on Haman's countenance, for wrath drives away the cheering sunlight, and brings darkness over the whole man. One whispered hiss reaching the great man's ear is sufficient to drown the hosannas of the multitude.

VI. The prosperous wicked man unwittingly plots his own downfall. Haman's wrath led him to dangerous extremes. He vainly fancied that nothing could withstand his greatness; so he determines to take signal vengeance on Mordecai by making his whole nation suffer. It was not sufficient for this great man to touch Mordecai only. He would not demean himself by laying hands on that one dog of a Jew. He must have wholesale slaughter. Wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. Poor Haman! Already we see thee treading on a volcano. Thy hands are digging the pit into which thou shalt fall. Thy minions are already preparing the gallows on which thou thyself shalt be hung.

(a) Prosperity has its drawbacks. This is true of all prosperity, but more especially of the prosperity of the wicked. The triumphing of the wicked shall be short. Greatness purchased by the sacrifice of goodness must bring trouble, to its possessor sooner or later. (b) "Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." Haman and his flatterers were dividing the spoil, but they were not happy. Mordecai was of a humble spirit, and enjoyed peace of mind. (c) That our greatest troubles often spring from our own depraved natures. Haman's depravity worked him misery and ruin in the end.

"Heaven is most just, and of our pleasant vices

Makes instruments to scourge us."

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est ; Est 3:6

We have the picture given us, and are called to study it, of a thoroughly bad man, one of his seed who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.* The greater number of bad men have some redeeming feature in their characters to which we are glad to turn for relief; but you look in vain for any redeeming feature in Haman. He was vain, false, selfish, and not merely cruel in the thoughtless way that all selfish persons are cruel, but vindictive and black-hearted. All was going well with this man. His rivals had been crushed, his seat had been set above the seats of all the noblemen at court, the king had made him his boon companion, and had issued orders that the palace servants should bow before him and do him reverence. He was as nearly happy as a man can be whose ruling passion is vanity; but such men hold their happiness by a very frail tenure. It does not look altogether well that Ahasuerus should have needed to give special orders about his servants bowing to Haman. Darius had not needed to do this in the case of Daniel. Had the favourite been respected and liked, men would have given him all seemly honour unbidden. But this was a very different case. Daniel carried that within himself which secured his peace, even when suddenly flung down from lofty station to the lions' den; but this little-great man was made miserable by discovering that there was a single porter who did not prostrate himself before him. "But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence." It does seem a very small matter, but when such a man as Mordecai attached importance to it, we must pause and consider whether the matter was really so small as it seemed. For it is an unsafe way of reasoning to say about anything, It is only one little act; why scruple over it? If it does no good, it can do no harm; and so forth. By such reasoning habits of untruth and intemperance have many a time been formed, and what was perhaps little in itself, if it had been possible to separate it from all else, has been found to be anything but little in its results. The truth is, we cannot separate any single action from the rest of our lives, so that the importance of an action depends not on its greatness or its littleness, but on many other circumstances, such as, how often we do it, the effect it has on others, particularly its influence on our own consciences. In this case it so happened that what Mordecai did—rather what he determined not to do—proved to be of very great importance to the whole Persian empire; but he could not know that. What he did know was, that if he had once bowed to Haman his conscience would have been defiled, as surely as Daniel's would have been if he had eaten the king's meat; and a polluted conscience is no trifle. A man has to carry it about with him all day, to go to sleep with it if he can, to encounter it again when he awakes, until God purges out the stain.—A. M. Symington, B.A.

True religion does not interfere with the ordinary courtesies of life, nor does it forbid our rendering that honour to rank and station which is their due. But when vice and real infamy are shrouded under high rank, the Christian must beware of acting so as to make it supposed that the rank forms an apology for the vice and infamy, or renders them less hateful than they really are.

It is to be regarded as a kind of retribution, in the case of ungodly and wicked men, that the very irregularity and violence of their passions contains in itself what is sufficient to embitter the whole cup of their enjoyment. This is matter of universal experience. In the instance before us, it is very plain that Mordecai's unbending and contemptuous attitude rendered Haman altogether indifferent to the homage which was rendered to him by others. Formerly he had retired from his attendance upon the king, through the crowd of obsequious and prostrate slaves, with the highest desires of his heart gratified. His greatness was acknowledged. His will was law. There was no man in the kingdom, next to the sovereign himself, to whom such incense was offered by all. He had reached a higher elevation than the greatest nobles of the kingdom occupied. Unbounded power and wealth were within his grasp, and what more could he wish for? But now one incident, in itself so trifling that we wonder it could have even occasioned him pain for a moment, strips his grandeur and power of all their charms. Mordecai will not bow to him, nor do him reverence. The slavish homage of thousands ceases to gratify him because this one man—a Jew—will not recognize his greatness, nor honour him. His feeling is brought out afterwards very graphically in the history when, after recounting to his family and friends all the dignities and advantages which, through the favour of the king, he enjoyed, he says, "All this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."

The wicked always receive part of their punishment in the violence of some unhallowed passion which blinds them to all the real benefits of their lot. Is there not a gnawing disease in the heart of the covetous man, for example, which prevents him from enjoying the good things which are placed within his reach, just because he has not yet acquired all that he wishes to possess? And still, as he gets more and more, is he not as far as ever from being satisfied, since he has not yet reached the point at which he aims? Or, again, look to the man who is the slave of envy, and mark how miserable this base passion makes him. He has ample means of enjoyment which he can call his own, but his neighbour has something which pleases him better, and just because that one thing is awanting to himself, he can find no satisfaction in the varied blessings which a kind Providence has showered upon him. His neighbour's good is to him what Mordecai at the king's gate was to Haman. In like manner, I might advert to the working of the more violent passions of anger and revenge, as a cause of intense torment to those who cherish them, and as altogether preventing them from taking advantage of many sources of happiness which lie open to them on every side. I might also allude to the misery which wounded vanity and affronted pride often bring to those who have high notions of their own importance, as when a trifling word or action will discompose them for many days together, and deprive them of their relish for the things that formerly pleased and made them happy. But enough has been said to show how by a just retribution the ungodly; following out their natural tendencies and passions, work out their own punishment. How different is the picture presented to us where grace reigns in the heart. Although corruption is not altogether eradicated from the spiritual man, yet its power is subdued; the fierce passions are tamed; love takes the place of envy, malignity, and wrath; and the believer, seeking and finding his chief enjoyment in God, remains comparatively unruffled by those incidents which breed so much vexation and disquietude in the breast of the ungodly. The wise man says that "he who is of a merry heart hath a continual feast;" and emphatically it may be said that the heart in which the Spirit of God dwells is a peaceful sanctuary—the seat of pure enjoyment.

Satan is always ready to take advantage of the season when the mind is perturbed by any strong passion, in order to hurry his victims onward to some act of violence from which in other circumstances they would have shrunk. Haman at this time was precisely in such a mood as made him an easy prey to the enemy. His self-importance, his worldly grandeur, the king's favour, all set at nought by Mordecai, aggravated his deadly resentment, and made him seek the destruction of the whole Jewish race. It could not have been but by Satanic influence that a scheme of such vast and daring atrocity was devised. There is nothing said in the history to show that the disposition of Haman was habitually cruel, that he was one who would have taken pleasure in inflicting pain for no reason but to gratify a propensity of his nature. From the brief glances we obtain of his domestic life, he seems to have enjoyed the confidence and affection of his family, as far as was compatible with the usages of the age and country; a circumstance which certainly seems to warrant the conclusion that he was not of a temper unmixedly cruel and tyrannical. But when the master passion of revenge took possession of him, then by working upon it Satan transformed him into a very fiend. And it has always been one of the devices of the enemy to drive men into criminal excesses to their own ruin through the instrumentality of some favourite lust or appetite. It was the covetous spirit of Judas that opened a way to the tempter to hurry him to betray the Saviour. It was an unmanly fear on the part of Pilate, lest he should be misrepresented to the Roman emperor, that the tempter took occasion of to lead him, in opposition to all his convictions, to deliver up Jesus to be crucified. All need to be upon their guard, then, against the wiles of the crafty adversary, and to strive to have their desires and feelings so kept under the control of the Divine law that he may not through their own sinful inadvertence obtain the mastery over them, and lead them captive at his will.—Davidson.

How insatiable is revenge, especially when it is associated with national and religious rancour! Haman learned that Mordecai was a Jew, and he resolves at once on the total extermination of that people. Nero wished that the Romans had but one neck, that he might despatch them at once; Haman resolves by one decree to sweep off "all the Jews which were in all the kingdom of Ahasuerus." That the quarrel was not merely personal, but was inflamed by national hatred, is evident from the designation, "the Jews' enemy," repeatedly given to Haman in this book. The discovery that Mordecai was of Jewish extraction, while it gave a keenness to his insult, added a sweetness to Haman's meditated revenge.—McCrie.

For the king had so commanded concerning him.—And if the king had commanded these servile souls to worship a dog or a cat, as the Egyptians did; a golden image, as Nebuchadnezzar's subjects did; to turn the glory of the incorruptible God into the similitude of a corruptible man, of four-footed beasts or creeping things, they would have done it. Most people are of King Henry's religion, as the proverb is, resolving to do as the most do, though thereby they be undone for ever.

But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.—He did not, he durst not, though pressed to it with greatest importunity. And why? Not because Haman wore a picture openly in his bosom, as the Chaldee paraphrast and Aben-Ezra give the reason; not merely because he was a cursed Amalekite; but because the Persian kings required that themselves and their chief favourites (such as proud Haman was) should be reverenced with a kind of divine honour, more than was due to any man. This the Jews by their law were forbidden to do. It was not, therefore, pride or self-willedness that made Mordecai so stiff in the hams that he would not bend to Haman, but fear of sin, and conscience of duty. He knew that he had better offend all the world than God and his own conscience.

That they told Haman.—Purposely to pick a thank and curry favour. And although it was truth they told Haman, yet because they did it not for any love to the truth, nor for respect to justice, nor for the bettering of either party, but only to undo the one and to incense the other, they were no better than slanderers.

And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai.—He thought it a small matter, saith Josephus, a thing below him, too little for his revenge, which, like fire, burneth all it can lay hold upon, especially when, as here, it ariseth from ambition. Haman thought scorn to foul his fingers with Mordecai alone; the whole nation must perish, and all the children of God that were scattered abroad.—Trapp.

"Why transgressest thou the king's commands?" The servants of the king said to Mordecai, "Why wilt thou refuse to bow before Haman, transgressing thus the wishes of the king? Do we not bow before him?" "Ye are foolish," answered Mordecai; "ay, wanting in reason. Listen to me. Shall a mortal who must return to the dust be glorified? Shall I bow down before one born of woman, whose days are short? When he is small he cries and weeps as a child; when he grows older sorrow and sighing are his portion; his days are full of wrath and anger, and at the end he returns to dust. Shall I bow to one like him? No, I prostrate myself before the eternal God, who lives for ever. He who dwells in heaven and bears the world in the hollow of his hand. His word changes sunlight to darkness, his command illumines the deepest gloom. His wisdom made the world; He placed the boundaries of the mighty sea. The waters are his, the sweet and the salt. To the struggling waves he says, ‘Be still; thus far shalt thou come, no further, that the earth may remain dry for my people.' To him, the great Creator and Ruler of the universe, and to no other, will I bow." Haman was wroth against Mordecai, and said to him, "Why art thou so stiff-necked? Did not thy forefather bow down to mine?" "How?" replied Mordecai; "which of my ancestors bowed before forefather of thine?" Then Haman answered, "Jacob thy forefather bowed down to Esau, his brother, who was my forefather." "Not so," answered Mordecai, "for I am descended from Benjamin, and when Jacob bowed to Esau, Benjamin was not yet born. Benjamin never bowed until his descendants prostrated themselves in the holy temple, when the divinity of God rested within its sacred portals, and all Israel united with him. I will not bow before the wicked Haman."—Talmud.

He hearkened not unto them.—He would not be persuaded from his purpose to remain true to the principles of his religion. His course was dictated not by obstinacy, but by firmness of religious principle. Herodotus relates the case of certain Spartans who visited Shushan in the time of Xerxes, and, when ushered into the royal presence, refused to prostrate themselves and worship before the king, on the ground that it was contrary to their customs to worship a man.

They told Haman.—Until they told him, Haman seems not to have noticed that Mordecai did not bow down to him.—American Commentary.

Haman strove to destroy all the Jews in the whole realm of Ahasuerus, as being of the same mind with Mordecai. In the West such an idea as this would never have occurred to a revengeful man; but in the East it is different. The massacres of a people, a race, a class, have at all times been among the incidents of history, and would naturally present themselves to the mind of a statesman. The Magophonia, or a great massacre of the Magi at the accession of Darius Hystaspis, was an event not fifty years old in the twelfth year of Xerxes, and was commemorated annually. A massacre of the Scythians had occurred about a century previously.—Rawlinson.

God is so great, so sovereign, that if thou pleasest him not he accounts thee an enemy; if thou beest not subject to him thou art a rebel. As kings, yea, favourites, thinking themselves so great, that if any be not wholly theirs, if any man veils not, stoops not, their spirits rise against them as enemies, as Haman's did against Mordecai; and so, in like manner, Art thou not king? says Jezebel to Ahab; and therefore judged it an affront to him to be denied anything. In like manner, Am I not God? says the Lord. If there be any perverseness of spirit shown to kings, it is interpreted enmity, because their greatness expects all should serve and be subject to them. Now the greatness of God is such as it necessarily and justly draws this on with it. Hence the carnal mind is said to be enmity against God.—Goodwin.

The persons with whom Mordecai had to do at the king's gate were, as has been said, probably more curious than malicious in the first instance; but a man is none the better liked for taking up higher ground than that occupied by those about him. The busy-bodies wished to "see whether Mordecai's matters would stand," whether the supreme power would recognize a Jew's conscience, and, if not, what a Jew would then do with his conscience; so they informed Haman. And they did see, plentifully. The first effect was to reveal the paltriness of Haman. He was full of rage where a man of any greatness of soul would have been only amused. "Who would be angry with a Quaker for not taking off his hat when he comes into a room?" But Haman was one of those whom if you strip, seeking to find the greatness beneath their fine clothes, lo! there is nothing! That is, nothing great or good. For there is something bad and ugly—black revenge. Justice is said to blindfold herself that she may hold the scales evenly, not knowing what has been put into each; but revenge shuts both eyes that it may see no scales at all. What monstrous disproportion between the offence and the penalty, to avenge a small personal affront received from one Jew by "causing to perish in one day all Jews, old and young." To account for this we must keep in mind the ancient national feud already explained; and we shall do well to remember that instances are not wanting of the same deadly hatred against the seed of the woman. To say nothing of Nero or Domitian, nor of Radama in Madagascar quite recently, let us recall the well-known case of the massacre of fifty-six thousand Protestants on the eve of St. Bartholomew's day in France.—A. M. Symington, B.A.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3

Est . Look to the end. Thus oft empty vessels swim aloft; rotten posts are gilt with adulterate gold; the worst weeds spring up bravest; and when the twins strive in Rebekah's womb, profane Esau comes forth first, and hath the primogeniture. But whiles they seek the greatest dignities, they mostly meet with the greatest shame; like apes, while they be climbing they the more show their deformities. They are lifted up also that they may come down again with the greater poise. It was, therefore, well and wisely spoken by Alvarez de Luna, when he told them who admired his fortune and favour with the King of Castile, You do wrong to commend the building before it be finished, and until you see how it will stand. Princes' favourites should consider with themselves that honour is but a blast, a magnum nihil, a glorious fancy, a rattle to still men's ambition; and that as the passenger looketh no longer upon the dial than the sun shineth upon it, so it is here.—Trapp.

Est . The sympathetic traveller. Here is something that happened on a railway train somewhere in New England last summer. A woman clad in deep mourning entered the cars at a railway station. She took a seat just in front of an inquisitive-looking, sharp-faced female. The woman in black had not been seated long before she felt a slight tap on the shoulder, and heard her neighbour ask, in a low, sympathetic tone, "Lost anybody?" A silent nod was the response. A slight pause, and then a second question: "Child?" A low shake of the head in the negative. "Parent?" A similar reply. "Husband?" This time the slight nod again. "Life insured?" A nod. "Experienced religion?" A nod. Then: "Well, well, cheer up! Life insured and experienced religion; you're all right, and so's he!" Haman's life was not insured, as the sequel of the history shows. He did not experience the saving power of religion, and therefore a small matter disturbs his happiness. Mordecai's life was insured in the best sense. No weapon formed against the Lord's anointed can prosper until the Lord's time. Those are safely kept who are kept by God.

Est . Good principles. A young man was in a position where his employers required him to make a false statement, by which several hundred pounds would come into their hands which did not belong to them. All depended upon this clerk's serving their purpose. To their great vexation, he utterly refused to do so. He could not be induced to sell his conscience for any one's favour. As the result, he was discharged from the place. Not long after, he applied for a vacant situation, and the gentleman, being pleased with his address, asked him for any good reference he might have. The young man felt that his character was unsullied, and so fearlessly referred him to his last employer. "I have just been dismissed from his employ, and you can inquire of him about me." It was a new fashion of getting a young man's recommendation; but the gentleman called on the firm, and found that he was "too conscientious about trifles." The gentleman had not been troubled by too conscientious employees, and preferred that those intrusted with his money should have a fine sense of truth and honesty, so he engaged the young man, who rose fast in favour, and became at length a partner. "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." Even unscrupulous men know the worth of good principles that cannot be moved. The Emperor Constantius, father to Constantine the Great, once commanded all his Christian servants to offer sacrifices to the gods of Rome. If they refused to obey his command they were to be dismissed from his service. Many of them obeyed; others did not, and accordingly were dismissed. But in a day or two he turned out all those who complied with his orders, and recalled all those whom he had expelled, saying that those would be most faithful to their prince who were most faithful to their God, and that he would not trust men who were false to their religion. Mordecai was conscientious about trifles, and true to his religion. This he was whether he found favour with man or not. He looked for the favour of God. This must be the inspiring motive, for conscientious men do not always succeed, as the world reckons success. The advice of Mr. Carter—a Puritan preacher—to one of his congregation, "You must work hard, and fare hard, and pray hard," was good: but we cannot feel sure about his conclusion—"And then you will be sure to thrive." In these modern times we have certainly known some who have worked hard, and fared hard, and prayed hard all their lives, and at their death have not been able to bequeath a shilling.

Est . Trouble in every house. Talmage says, "I passed down a street of a city with a merchant. He knew all the finest houses on the street. He said, There is something the matter in all these houses. In that one it is conjugal infelicity. In that one, a dissipated son. In that, a dissolute father. In that, an idiot child. In that, the prospect of bankruptcy." In Haman's house there was trouble. Mordecai troubled Haman. The good must ever be troublers to the wicked.

Est . Revenge. The Highland chief lay a-dying in his mountain home, and in his dying heart were hard revengeful thoughts towards an opposing clan. A minister waited at his bedside, and exhorted him to forgive, assuring him of the fact that God will not forgive if we do not. And, said the chief, I will forgive them; but in almost the same breath he said to his son, that he left him a father's curse if he forgave them. Louis XII. said that nothing smells so sweet as the dead body of an enemy. The Christian's code is one of forgiveness—that nothing smells so sweet as the rescued body of an enemy. Well would it have been for Haman—well both temporally and spiritually—had he really forgiven the supposed slight of Mordecai.


Verse 7

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est .] The first month Nisan corresponds nearly with our April. The twelfth month Adar with our March. An interval of eleven months. פּוּור is an old Persian word meaning lot (sors). The words "from day to day, from month to the twelfth month," must not be understood to say that lots were cast day by day, and month by month till the twelfth; but that in the first month lots were at once cast, one after the other, for all the days and months of the year, that a favourable day might be obtained. We do not know the manner in which this was done, "the way of casting lots being unknown to us."—Keil. But Rawlinson says Pur is supposed to be an old Persian word etymologically connected with the Latin pars, and signifying part or lot. In modern Persian parch has that meaning. The recovered fragments of the old language have not, however, yielded any similar root. הפִיל may be regarded as an impersonal verb, and refers to some one whose office it was to cast lots.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

THE BLIND METHOD OF REVENGE

This is curious, that there should be method in madness. Insanity is the result of mere mental confusion or distraction. Sometimes it arises from the preponderance of one idea, and that idea is pursued with marvellous persistence. It has its method, but by being narrow in its vision it becomes blind in its pursuit. Revenge when it becomes a master passion is the worst madness. It has its method, but no wonder that it is blind. It is persistent in seeking to carry out its revengeful project. It is patient until the time has arrived to strike the deadly blow.

I. Revenge is blind in its method. Let the conduct of Haman, as the embodiment of revenge, be our illustration. He caused the lot to be cast in order to find out the favourable day for the accomplishment of his fiendish purpose. We are astonished to find method in him who was "full of wrath;" but we are not astonished to find that he was blind in his proceeding. (a) He was blind to the fact that there is no chance. His course was self-contradictory. He consulted chance in order to make a definite arrangement. A kind of blindness men often display. (b) He was blind to the fact that so-called chance might as easily be against him as for him. He evidently thought himself all-important, and that the paper drawn out of the pitcher would most certainly have written on it the lucky day. Men that trust to chance will in the long run find that they have been fools for their pains. (c) He was blind to the fact that "the lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." It was so here. The lot was disposed to the complete discomfiture and overthrow of revengeful Haman, and to the salvation of Mordecai and his people.

II. Revenge is injurious in its persistence. Haman persisted in his revengeful purpose. The pertinacity of the man is marvellous. What a glorious revolution would soon take place if the good were as persistent in the pursuit of merciful purposes as the bad are in revengeful projects. Every bad passion is injurious in its permanence. More injurious to its subject than to its object. Haman was doing himself more injury and rendering himself more miserable than he could have done or rendered Mordecai even if all his purpose had been accomplished. "Let not the sun go down on your wrath" is a wise lesson. The wise will let their anger cool, but in the bosom of a fool it burns till morning light.

III. Revenge is destructive in its patience. Haman was willing to wait twelve months in order that his revenge might be the more signally marked, and his triumph the greater. But his very patience worked his ruin. We sometimes say time is on the side of him who will but wait. But time asks what is the character of the waiter, and what is the purpose he has in view. Time is not on the side of revengeful waiters. Time holds in its hands no rewards to be presented in the distant future to the wicked. Every man must suffer either here or hereafter who pursues a course of seeking to avenge his wrongs.

Let Haman's followers ponder the telling proverbs—"Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost;" they return, that is, to those from whom they went forth. "Ashes always fly back in the face of him that throws them." "Harm watch, harm catch." "Who sows thorns, let him not walk barefoot." Hear the instructive voice of Paul—"Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good."

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

In the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus.—When Esther had now been queen above four years, and, being greatly beloved, was in a capacity to do her people good. This was a sweet providence; the remedy was ready before the disease broke out. No country hath more venomous creatures than Egypt, none more antidotes. So godliness hath many troubles, and so many helps against trouble.—Trapp.

They cast Pur, that is, the lot.—The Septuagint preserves a clause of this verse which assists to explain its meaning. It thus reads, "They cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman, from day to day, and from month to month (that he might destroy in one day the race of Mordecai, and the lot fell for the fourteenth) of the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar." From this it appears that the lots were cast in order to determine the month and the day of the month which might be most propitious for this barbarous undertaking, or most calamitous for the Jews.—Illustrated Commentary.

The method of procedure seems to have been this, that at the beginning of the first month Haman caused the diviners whom he kept about him to cast the lot to determine what day of the month, and what month of the year, would bring his design to a successful termination. In this manner he learnt that the thirteenth day of the twelfth month would be the propitious day. The interval was long, nearly a whole year; but this was brought about by a special providence, in order that the scheme might be defeated, and the projector of it visited with the punishment he merited. Under all systems of false religion, divination, or the attempt to pry into futurity so as to get light cast upon contingent affairs, has been largely practised. We find reference made to it in the Book of Genesis, as an Egyptian custom, when the cup which was put into Benjamin's sack is called that by which Joseph divined. The Babylonians or Chaldans, however, seem to have been addicted to divination beyond all other nations, and were indeed proverbial for the use of it. There are several references made to this in the prophetic books. The Persians also were addicted to the same practices; and it is said that among that people even at the present day, no one commences a journey, or almost any work the most trifling, without consulting an almanac, or an astrologer, for a fortunate moment. It would seem, indeed, as if there were a natural tendency in the human mind to read futurity by certain devices of its own. We hear sometimes of individuals in our own day who are so weak as to suffer themselves to become the dupes of designing knaves, who for money pretend by certain signs and omens to foretell what will be the result of matters in which they are interested. One could afford to smile at the absurd credulity which thus allows itself to be imposed upon, if it were not that the cherishing the desire to know the future, and having recourse to any such means to have it gratified, is denounced in the Scripture as impiety. The Jewish people were solemnly warned against such procedure, that they might not by means of it degrade and pollute themselves as the heathen did. No rational man will suppose that by casting lots, or by observing the flight of birds, or by inspecting the entrails of an animal slain in sacrifice, or by astrology, or by any of the other methods which were employed to discover what day or hour would be suitable for an undertaking, or what would be the issue of it, a true result could be obtained. Yet, as all these things formed part of the instrumentality by which Satan kept up his dominion over the minds of men, we can conceive that sometimes in the Divine providence they might be permitted to take effect, to punish those who were given over to a blind and reprobate mind, and that, as in the case of Haman's lots, there might be an overruling of human sin and folly to work out the purposes of the Divine government.

It is natural for us to desire to lift up the veil; and sometimes, in pressing emergencies, we would give much to be enabled to do this. But since the word of God tells us that all events are under his control, and that his eye is ever on his people, and all that concerns them, for their good, we may well wait patiently for the evolution of his purposes.—Davidson.

Superstition and imposture have always been ready to lend their aid to the worst and most diabolical deeds. It was customary among the ancients to divide their days into lucky and unlucky, and they were anxious to undertake any great work on a propitious day. Among the various ways to which they had recourse for ascertaining this was the lot, which was used on this occasion by Haman. It is of little importance to ascertain the particular mode of casting the lot, whether it was by means of dice, or other instruments cast into the urn, or by throwing arrows or other missiles, accompanied with certain magical actions.

Observe the overruling providence of God. During an interval of eleven months, Mordecai and Esther had time to use means for defeating the design, and if they proved unsuccessful, the Jews had time to shift for their lives. The hearts of all men are in the hand of the Lord, who can turn them as he pleaseth. Haman was the slave of superstition, which controlled his most violent passions, and by means of it his wrath was restrained, and its intentions brought to nought. "The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth; the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands." "Haman has appealed to the lot, and to the lot he shall go, which, by adjourning the execution, gives judgment against him, and breaks the neck of the plot."—McCrie.

There is a proverb to the effect that the devil limps, and any who look thoughtfully into history or more private affairs will find it confirmed. That is to say, the god of this world betrays himself, and cannot help betraying himself, by leaving some point unguarded, by doing something unwise, even when much power and cunning have been brought into play. Or, to put the same truth in another aspect, when the enemies of God and man are most busy, and seem to be most successful, "he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision." There were blunders in Haman's plot against the people of God which secured its failure. Why did he offer two millions sterling as compensation for the loss of revenue, at the same time that he was telling Ahasuerus it was "not for the king's profit to suffer" the Jews to live? If the king had taken time to think, he would have detected a selfish motive under the inconsistent offer. It did not escape Esther when her time came to speak.—A. M. Symington, B.A.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3

Est . Lot casting. The old interpreter addeth in urnam, into the pitcher. And the new annotations tell us that, about casting lots, there was a pitcher into which papers, with names of the several months written on them, and rolled up, were cast; yea, also papers with the name of every day and of every month were cast in; then one, blindfolded, put in his hand, and pulled out a paper, and according to the marks which they had set down, such a month proved lucky, and such a day in the month; and, by God's providence, it so fell out that their supposed lucky day was on the twelfth month, whereby it came to pass that their plot was defeated before the time of accomplishing thereof.—Trapp.

Est . Deciding by lot. In nearly all cases where reason cannot decide, or where the right of several claimants to one article has to be settled, recourse is had to the lot, which "causeth contentions to cease." In the East a young man is either so accomplished, or so rich, or so respectable, that many fathers aspire to the honour of calling him son-in-law. Their daughters are said to be beautiful, wealthy, and of a good family; what is he to do? The name of each young lady is written on a separate piece of olah, and then all are mixed together. The youth and his friends then go to the front of the temple; and being seated, a person who is passing by at the time is called, and requested to take one of the pieces of olah, on which a lady's name is inscribed, and place it near the anxious candidate. This being done, it is opened, and she whose name is written there becomes his wife.—Oriental Illustrations.

Est . The leech and surgeon. When a surgeon puts a leech upon a patient, his intention is to heal; the leech follows the instincts of its nature, and the two work together to produce the desired result. When Joseph's brethren sold him into Egypt, their intention was to humiliate him and to be rid of him; but it was made to serve God's intention, which was to exalt him. So Haman planned for the destruction of the Jewish people, and delayed his purpose; but it was God's purpose to save. Haman's delay hastened the purpose of God. Should we not rather say that God made use of Haman's delay to bring about his gracious purpose of deliverance to Israel and destruction to their enemies?


Verses 8-11

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est .] The Jews were at this time a people scattered abroad. From the fall of Samaria the tribes of Israel had become more and more dispersed among the people in all the provinces of the East, until their tribe divisions could be now but faintly recognized. Seneca says, "Such power have the customs of this detestable people already gained, that they are introduced into all lands; they the conquered have given laws to their conquerors."

Est .] Ten thousand talents of silver, reckoned according to the Mosaic shekel, are £3,750,000; according to the civil shekel, £1,876,000.—Keil.

Est .] The signets of Persian monarchs were sometimes rings, sometimes cylinders, the latter probably suspended by a string round the wrist. The expression here used might apply to either kind of signet.—Rawlinson. The signet cylinder of Darius Hystaspes bears a trilingual inscription which reads, "Darius the great king," and also a picture of the king hunting lions in a palm grove.

Est .] Some understand this to mean that Ahasuerus refused the silver which Haman had offered to him; but the passage is better explained as a grant to him of all the property of such Jews as should be executed. In the East confiscation follows necessarily upon public execution, the goods of criminals escheating to the crown, which does with them as it chooses.—Rawlinson.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

A FALSE ASPECT OF THE TRUTH

Success begets confidence. It was so in this case. Haman had been successful, and consequently became confident. He knew his present power with the king, and therefore takes his steps accordingly. He lays his plans before he makes his wicked request unto the monarch. But a man may be blindly confident, and his over-confidence may lead to his destruction, as it did in the case of Haman. There may be too much caution. A man may be afraid to take a bold step when boldness is required and is safety. But there may be too little caution. A man, for the want of caution, may take a leap in the dark, and plunge into the abyss of ruin. Here Haman displayed a want of wise caution. He is now taking the dangerous leap. Soon we shall see him plunging in the abyss.

I. A true description. Haman had accurately studied the condition of the Jewish people, and was acquainted with their internal regulations, and he describes them correctly. Our enemies tell us the truth. In one aspect Haman was a truthful delineator. Josephus himself could not have done better than Haman. He describes them—(a) As a scattered people. Throughout the extensive kingdom of Ahasuerus these Jews were scattered, mixing with the people and yet distinct. Wherever they were they preserved their nationality. Wonderful race these Jews! Wonderful in Haman's time, wonderful still in Disraeli's time. A people scattered and peeled through all time, but a people never stripped of that marvellous quality by which they are unique. (b) As a peculiar people. They had laws diverse from all people. These laws were God-given. These laws were the fountain from which has flowed the best judicial streams this world has seen. The ancient Jewish legislator, in the very childhood of the world's history, promulgated a legal code which nineteenth century legislators may still study with profit. No wonder that these laws were diverse from all people. These laws were Divine; other laws are human. These laws, in their leading principles, were cosmopolitan; other laws are local. These laws were intended for the formation of a glorious Divine society. Other laws are for the formation of human societies. These laws are eternal; but other laws, in so far as they are divergent, are temporary. Haman was right, and yet Haman was wrong.

II. A false implication and declaration. It is sometimes said that the tailor makes the man, and so we may say that the speaker makes or unmakes the truth. Truth may be so dressed as to look like and to do the work of falsehood. Haman makes two false implications, and one false declaration. (a) A scattered people, and therefore influential for evil. These Jews are amongst all the people in the provinces of thy kingdom, and therefore consider how much evil they may do. What power for sowing in all directions the seeds of rebellion! (b) A peculiar people, and therefore dangerous. They have laws and opinions of their own. They are likely to think for themselves. A race of thinkers is not promising soil for despots. These Jews were not molluscous animals. Despotism cannot long flourish where backboned and strong-muscled men are permitted. Haman was nearer the truth than he imagined. Here is a false declaration—"neither keep they the king's laws." The laws of God are never opposed to any laws that are for the welfare of a nation. These Jews, in so far as they were God-fearing people, would not refuse to keep any law that was for the good of the kingdom of Ahasuerus. Mordecai was a better keeper of the law than Haman.

III. An unjust inference. "Therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them." Haman's logic would not meet with the approval of Aristotle. His premises did not warrant his conclusion. Defective logic more often arises from badness of heart than from weakness of intellect. The pure in heart will come to right conclusions, though they may not have the power of putting their reasoning into syllogistic form. Oh, if the king had only then turned to the book of the chronicles, and read the record of Mordecai's faithfulness, he would have seen that it was for his profit to suffer this despised race.

IV. An artful petition. Haman artfully keeps his wily and wicked project in the background. Here is—(a) Lying obsequiousness. "If it please the king." Haman is seeking to please himself. Little he cares about the king's pleasure, so that his own revenge is satisfied. (b) Feigned liberality. How wonderfully generous malice can be! A little forgiveness to Mordecai, even if Mordecai had sinned, would have been truer liberality than this magnificent offer of wealth to be poured into the king's treasury. (c) Ostentatious zeal. How zealous people are when there is a wicked motive working. Haman pretends a great deal of zeal for the king, but he has zeal for himself. Oh, how often self creeps in when we pretend to be zealous for the Lord of hosts. Yes, when we have no pretence, when we are trying to be sincere, how much of self in our best works.

V. A weak compliance. The king at once, without inquiry, without exercising his intelligence, gave the needful power into the hands of this wicked Haman. Weak and self-indulgent people do great harm because they will not be at the trouble to think. The ring of royal authority was given to the revengeful favourite. The king was undermining his own power. The nation has indeed reason to mourn when wicked men are exalted. What a satire is the king's declaration to Haman—unconscious it may be, but none the less biting when observed—"The silver is given unto thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee." Little good would Haman do unto the people.

In our utterances let us put the truth in its proper relations, so that a correct impression may be produced, and that no misrepresentation may be the consequence of our declarations. In our hearing of statements let us have no ear for the mere slanderer, let us properly weigh and measure the charges brought forward. Let us see to it that our motives are pure, and then our vision will be clear, our reasoning valid, and our actions honourable.

"A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies;

For a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright,

But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight."

HAMAN'S MURDEROUS PROPOSAL (Est )

Revenge is cruel, but never more cruel than when it has its foundation in mortified pride. In the passage before us it is carried to an almost incredible extent. Haman occupied the highest post of honour, next to the royal family, in the Persian empire. All the subjects in the kingdom bowed down to him. But there was a poor man, one Mordecai, who sat at the king's gate, and consequently was often passed by Haman, who refused to pay him this homage. At this neglect Haman was grievously offended. He deemed it an insufferable insult, which could be expiated only by the death of the offender. On inquiring into Mordecai's habits and connections, Haman found that he was a Jew; and conceiving probably that this contemptuous spirit pervaded that whole nation, and accounting it a small matter to sacrifice the life of one single individual, he determined if possible to destroy the whole nation at once; and accordingly he made this proposal to King Ahasuerus, engaging from his own resources to make up to the king's treasury whatever loss might arise to the revenue from the proposed measure. Now this proposal appearing at first sight so very extraordinary, I will endeavour to set before you—

I. The commonness of it. In every age of the world have God's people been hated, for the very reasons that are here assigned—"Their laws are-diverse from those of all other people, neither keep they the laws of the kingdoms where they dwell." They worship the one true and living God. Of course, whatever laws are inconsistent with the laws of God they disobey. On this account they are hated, reviled, and persecuted. David tells us of confederacies formed to "cut off the Jews from being a nation." So, in the early ages of Christianity, there were not less than ten strenuous efforts made to attain this object. And at different periods since that time has persecution raged to the utmost extent to destroy, if possible, all real piety from the face of the earth. But we need not go back to former ages for an elucidation of this truth. True, the cruelties of martyrdom are stayed; but private animosity is indulged as far as the laws of the land wherein we live will admit, and every person who thoroughly devotes himself to God is made to feel its baneful influence. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Passing over the inhumanity of this proposal, as being too obvious to be insisted on, I proceed to notice—

II. The impiety of it. The very accusation brought against the Jews by Haman shows what is the real ground of enmity against the Lord's people; it is that they serve God, whilst the rest of the world bow down to idols; and that in this determination of theirs they inflexibly adhere to the dictates of their own conscience. This is universal amongst all the people of the Lord. But this preference of God to man is the very thing which gives offence. Look at the prophets and apostles, and see what was the ground of the world's opposition to them. And this leads me to show—

III. The folly of it. Can it, be thought that such feeble worms as we should be able to prevail against Almighty God? Haman, with all his power, could not prevail against the Jews, who yet, in appearance, were altogether in his hands. The whole power of the Roman empire, by whomsoever wielded, could not root out the disciples of the Christian Church, "nor shall the gates of hell ever prevail" against the weakest of God's faithful people.

Address—(a) Those who are the objects of the world's hatred. Realize the promises which God has given, and then say, Shall I be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be as grass, and forget the Lord my maker? (b) Those who are unhappily prejudiced against the Lord's people. If you cannot see with their eyes, do not endeavour to make them see with yours, unless in a way of sober argumentation and of candid reference to the word of God. To have recourse to derision or persecution of any kind will only involve your own souls in yet deeper guilt than you already lie under for rejecting the gospel of Christ. Beware how you imitate the unbelievers of former ages in opposing the work of God in others; for if you do not succeed you only fight against God for nought; and if you do succeed you will perish under the accumulated guilt of destroying the souls of others, for assuredly "their blood will be required at your hands."—Abridged from Simeon's ‘Horæ Homileticæ.'

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

Therefore it is not for the king's profit.—See how this sycophant fills his mouth with arguments, the better to achieve his desire. An elaborate set speech he maketh, neither is there a word in it but what might seem to have weight He pretends the king's profit and the public good, concealing and dissembling his ambition, avarice, envy, malignity, that set him a-work. Politicians when they soar highest are like the eagle, which, whiles aloft, hath her eye still upon the prey, which by this means she spies sooner, and seizes upon better. Haman holds it not fit there should be more religions than one in a kingdom, for preventing of troubles. Nebuchadnezzar was of the same mind when he commanded all men to worship his golden image. But must all, therefore, die that will not do it? and is it for the king's profit that the righteous be rooted out? Is not the holy seed the stay of the state, the beauty and bulwark of the nation?—Trapp.

It is not for the king's profit to suffer them.—Worldly hearts are not led by good or evil, but by profit or loss; neither have they grace to know that nothing is profitable but what is honest, nothing so desperately incommodious as wickedness; they must needs offend by rule, that measure all things by profit, and measure profit by their imagination. How easy is it to suggest strange untruths when there is nobody to make answer! False Haman! how is it not for the king's profit to suffer the Jews? If thou construe this profit for honour, the king's honour is in the multitude of subjects; and what people more numerous than they? if for gain, the king's profit is in the largeness of his tributes; and what people are more deep in their payments? if for service, what people are more officious? How can it stand with the king's profit to bereave himself of subjects, his subjects of their lives, his exchequer of their tributes, his state of their defence? He is a weak politician that knows not to gild over the worst project with a pretence of public utility. No name under heaven hath made so many fools, so many villains, as this of profit.—Bishop Hall.

Along the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris, already renowned for their schools of learning; high up in the mountains of Kurdistan, where perchance their descendants linger still; all the dispersed settlers were included in those words, which might stand as the motto of the larger part of the Jewish race ever since—which might have been said of them by Tacitus in the Roman empire, or by the Arabian or English chroniclers of the middle ages. "The line of beacon-lights kindled from hill to hill along the whole route from Jerusalem to Babylon, from Olivet to Sartaba, from Sartaba to Grophniah, from Grophniah to Haveran, from Haveran to Both-Baltin,—waving the torches upwards and downwards, till the whole country of the captivity appeared a blazing fire,"—was an apt emblem of the sympathetic links Which bound all these settlements together. Of this vast race, for whom so great a destiny was reserved, the Book of Esther recognized as by a prophetic instinct the future importance.—Stanley.

I will pay ten thousand talents of silver.—This was above two millions of our money, which Haman offered to pay into the treasury to indemnify the king for the loss of revenue which he would sustain by the destruction of the Jews. That a foreigner, and probably a captive, was enabled at the Persian court to acquire such wealth as the offer of so enormous a sum implies, makes it less wonderful that Nehemiah was in a condition to sustain the charges of his government from his own resources. It will be recollected that Haman appears to have been the chief minister of the king, and that functionary enjoys peculiar opportunities for the acquisition of wealth. On New Year's Day the king receives the offerings of his princes and nobles. On one such occasion, when Mr. Morier was present, the offering of the person holding this office surpassed every other in value, amounting to about £30,000 in gold coin. Other statements are extant concerning the extraordinary wealth possessed by some of the subjects of the ancient Persian empire. In the reign of Xerxes a noble Lydian named Pythius entertained the whole Persian army—the largest ever assembled—on its march towards Greece; and then freely offered to contribute all his property in gold and silver to the support of the war. It amounted altogether to 2000 talents of silver and four millions (wanting 7000) of gold darics—more than four millions of our money; besides which he had, as he said, estates and slaves which would still afford him a suitable maintenance. This noble offer was declined by the king, as that of Haman was by Ahasuerus.

Sealed with the king's ring.—In the British museum are preserved specimens of Egyptian seals of the ring class. Some of them are finger-seal rings; but the larger are scarabæus or beetle seals. These are all mounted in handles, or rings of metal, in which they revolve on pivots. This was doubtless to render them more portable, while it enabled the face to be turned outward, so as to increase their effect as ornaments, and to enable them to be worn with more convenience—attached, as they probably were, to some part of the person.—Illustrated Family Bible.

So do injured pride, envy, malice, hatred still seek to blast the fairest reputation by baseless calumny. The word of a friend is trusted, and the slander is believed and repeated, and acquires strength from its currency. If we blame Ahasuerus for too readily listening to the invective of Haman, and condemning the Jews unheard and untried, we should be on our guard against committing the same sin, by giving heed to scandal in regard to others without careful personal inquiry and observation, lest we should be only crediting the creations of the worst passions and distempers of our fallen natures. The Saviour was calumniated by his adversaries because he spake the truth. They hated him, and therefore spake against him. And the whole history of the Church of Christ upon earth bears evidence that the policy of our great adversary is to traduce and vilify those whom he desires to ruin. By this means he would break their influence and tare-sow all their good. Let as be on our guard against aiding and abetting him in this matter.

Another artifice of the enemy, which Was also illustrated by Haman, is to assume the air and attitude of apparent disinterestedness. Judas concealed his real feelings and motives when betraying our Lord under the symbol of affection. And Haman sought to insinuate his love of the empire and the stability of the throne as his only motives for the destruction of several millions of unoffending persons, by offering to pay down ten thousand talents of silver. It reminds one of the many specious schemes which are constantly being thrust before the public by designing worldlings—who offer large bonnses with nothing to sustain their magnificent prospects. The projectors of these schemes affect only the public good—the rapid and certain enrichment of those who will give them their confidence and their money; and not until the babble bursts do the poor victims of their deceit apprehend the real motives by which they were influenced. In like manner do early temptations to evil all hold out the promise of present good. Some pleasure to be attained, or advancement reached, or laurel wreath worn. What a piece of disguised disinterestedness was it on the part of Satan when he proposed to give to Christ all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them! Men are not so wise and quick as was our Lord in discovering the real motive of the tempter, and resisting him by a reference to the word of God. They are captivated by the show of disinterestedness, and only come to a knowledge of their mistake in the reaping of its fruits. Meanwhile, it serves the purpose of the enemy by inciting trust, and preventing religious reflection and inquiry, just as Haman's silver talents blinded Ahasuerus to the dark-hearted malignity of their promiser. Let us bring every temptation to the test of an enlightened conscience, and the penetrating, exposing power of God's word; and under the mask of disinterestedness we shall discover the poisoned sting secreted in the suggested sin. "Do as I bid thee, O king; and thou shalt rid the empire of a mighty burden, and secure greater stability and peace for thy throne and government." No; the policy of the arch-fiend, through his agents, is not changed from that which he followed in the garden of Eden. "Am not I your disinterested benefactor?" "Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."—McEwan.

There is a false halo of grandeur shed around the path of the conqueror, and there is not so palpable a connection between his exploits and absolute revolting ferocity, as there is between the decree of Artaxerxes and Haman, and the execution of it But looking from the cruelty which is glossed over by the name of military glory, we even find cool, unmitigated atrocities in the records of civilized nations, which are as disgraceful to humanity as Haman's—yea, which surpass them. Haman was a heathen, a stranger, therefore, to the softening power of religion, and we see in him only an illustration of what human nature is when left to itself, without the control of any pure and heavenly influence. But what shall we say of the indiscriminate massacre of the Protestants (1572) in Paris, and other parts of France, wherein at least 70,000 persons in brief space fell victims to the bigotry and cruelty of the king and his advisers? That was a tragedy contrived in cold blood, and advised by favourites, to glut the revenge of Papal Home. Day and hour were fixed here, as they were by Haman. But, unhappily, day and hour were kept, and the true worshippers of God, the lovers of his truth, the best friends of religion and morality, the excellent of the earth, were massacred because they would pay homage to Christ himself, and not to the Roman Antichrist. And what shall we say of the cruelties,—that is too tame a word,—what shall we say of the horrible barbarities which, by the command of the Romish tyrant, whose hands are red with the blood of the saints, were perpetrated in the valleys of the Waldenses, when not only men, but feeble women and helpless children, were savagely tortured and slain by a brutal soldiery for no other reason than that they would worship God as his word commands? And are not scenes of equal atrocity set before us in the history of our own country, when wholesale murder was authorized by royal edict because our forefathers would not take their religion and forms of worship from the enactments of the civil powers, but would serve God as they believed the Bible required, and as their consciences approved? Haman's character is one of the blackest in history. But on a calm review, and with full allowance for the time and circumstances in which he lived, he is pure as compared with the infamous King of France, who looked from his palace window and enjoyed the scene of slaughter in his capital; with the savages who shed the blood of the noble martyrs in the valleys of the Alps; and with the last monarchs of the Stuart line and their wretched accomplices, who persecuted to the death the resolute defenders of civil and religious freedom. But will not God visit for these things? Nay, should we not rather say, Hath he not visited already? The visitation of Haman we shall soon have before us. Deeply has France already paid for the innocent blood which her rulers shed long ago, and her soil, it is to be feared, is not yet cleansed from the pollution. Other persecutors have had their award also. And the great central persecuting power, Rome herself, will in due time have her foretold destiny fully accomplished. As she hath done it will be done to her. Even if the word of God were silent on the subject, we could not but anticipate that that anti-Christian power, to whose direct influence may be traced persecution and bloodshed such as heathenism never was stained with, will have the measure meted to her which she has meted out to others. But we need not speak doubtfully here. The Divine word has fixed the doom of Papal Rome. And if she seems to be raising herself in our day, it is assuredly only to give the greater impulse to her final ruin, that she may fall from the greater height, when, like the great millstone cast by the angel into the sea, she shall be engulfed in the abyss of the wrath of God.—Davidson.

That believers obey not the laws of the king has always been the chief complaint among the anti-Christian rabble, of which Haman furnishes a copy. The children of God, in their eyes, must ever be insurrectionists, disturbers of the peace, persons subject to no law or order, and by whom the public weal is endangered.—Berlenburg Bible.

Satan, as Christ says, is a liar and a murderer. Hence he is ever busy in persecuting the Church with his lying and murderous designs. You have heard before his lie: The people are using new laws and ceremonies, and they despise the edicts of the king. Now hear his murderous words: If it please thee, decree that this people be destroyed.—Brenz.

A man resigned to the will of God will disregard the laws of man whenever these stand opposed to the will and laws of God, however much he may suffer thereby. When men disobey the laws of man and violate them, it is very soon taken notice of; but if they violate the law of God, then no one seems to observe the fact. We should not make man our idol, nor make flesh our arm. Immoderate ambition generally breaks out into cruelty. The anger of great men is fierce; hence one should have a care not to arouse the same against one's self.—Starke.

When wicked men cannot otherwise persecute the righteous, then his religion and laws must furnish them with a cause and a covering for their evil intentions. In important matters it is not good to render a hasty judgment, it is better to reflect. God permits the wicked to have success beyond their own expectation at times, but afterward destruction will come all the more unexpectedly.—Starke.

The sorrowful condition of the Jews becomes very apparent and plain as here revealed; likewise the just judgment of God is here fulfilled. He says, They would not obey God in their own land, where they enjoyed such great freedom; but now they groan under the severe service that presses upon them, and they are brought into the risk of life itself. They refused to assemble in the sanctuaries of Jerusalem under their own kings; they ran after the golden calves the sacred groves, and idols, and superstitions of the heathen. Now they are placed and scattered under the most tyrannical form of government. They neither can nor dare congregate to offer a service of praise to God.—Fenardent.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3

Est . The laws of the Jews. Prosper's conceit was, that they were called Judæi because they received their laws from God. And, therefore, if Demosthenes could say of laws in general that they were the invention of Almighty God; and if Cicero could say of the laws of the twelve tables in Rome that they far exceeded and excelled all the libraries of all the philosophers, how much more true was all this of the laws of the Jews, given by God, and ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator, Moses! Seneca, though he jeered the Jews for their weekly Sabbath as those that lost the seventh part of their time, yet he could not but say that, being the basest people, they had the best laws, and gave laws unto all the world. Those holy Levites acknowledge, with all thankfulness, that God had given them right judgments, true laws, good statutes and commandments, whereby he severed them from all other people, as his own peculiar; and this was their glory wherever they came, though the sycophant Haman turneth their glory into shame, as one that loveth vanity, and sought after leasing.—Trapp.

Est . Rage. Rage is essentially vulgar, and never vulgarer than when it proceeds from mortified pride, disappointed ambition, or thwarted wilfulness. A baffled despot is the vulgarest of dirty wretches, no matter whether he be the despot of a nation vindicating its rights, or of a donkey sinking under its load.—Hartley Coleridge.

Est . Wrath cured. A valiant knight, named Hildebrand, had been injured and offended by another knight, named Bruno. Anger burned in his heart, and he could hardly wait for the day to take bloody revenge on his enemy. He passed a sleepless night, and at dawn of day he girded on his sword, and sallied forth to meet his antagonist. But as it was early he entered a chapel by the wayside, and sat down and looked on the pictures which were on the walls, lit up by the rays of the morning sun. There were three pictures. The first represented our Saviour in a purple robe of scorn before Pilate and Herod, and bore the inscription, "When he was reviled, he reviled not again." The second picture showed the scourging of Jesus, and under it was written—"Who threatened not, when he suffered." And the third was the crucifixion, with these words—"Father, forgive them." When the knight had seen these words he knelt down and prayed. Then the light of evening was more lovely to the returning knight than the light of morning had been.

Est . The negro and his enemy. A slave who had by the force of his sterling worth risen high in the confidence of his master, saw one day, trembling in the slave-market, a negro, whose grey head and bent form showed him to be in the last weakness of old age. He implored his master to purchase him. He expressed his surprise, but gave his consent. The old man was bought and conveyed to the estate. When there, he who had pleaded for him took him to his own cabin, placed him on his own bed, fed him at his own board, gave him water from his own cup; when he shivered, he carried him into the sunshine; when he drooped in the heat, bore him safely to the shade. What is the meaning of all this? asked a witness. Is he your father? No. Is he your brother? No. Is he your friend? No. He is mine enemy. Years ago he stole me from my native village, and sold me for a slave; and the good Lord has said, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." When put to the test of practice it will be found that very few Christians believe in inspiration. Where is the professed follower of Christ in these days who would think of following the negro's simple acceptance of an inspired injunction.

Est . The man who killed his neighbours. The Americans have a tract on this subject. It contains, in the form of a narrative, many useful practical suggestions on the art of overcoming evil with good. It is with kindness—modest, thoughtful, generous, persevering, unwearied kindness—that the benevolent countryman kills his churlish neighbour; and it is only the old evil man that he kills, leaving the new man to lead a very different life in the same village after the dross has been purged away. If any one desires to try this work, he must bring to it at least these two qualifications—modesty and patience. If he proceed ostentatiously, with an air of superiority, and a consciousness of his own virtue, he will never make one step of progress. But even though the successive acts of kindness should be genuine, the operator must lay his account with a tedious process and many disappointments. Many instances of good rendered for evil may seem to have been thrown away, and no symptom of penitence appear in the countenance or conduct of the evil-doer; but be not weary in this well-doing, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not. Although your enemy has resisted your deeds of kindness even unto seventy times seven, it does not follow that all or that any one of these has been lost.—Arnot.

Est . Clive and his moderation. When our great Eastern conqueror, Clive, was accused in Parliament of having amassed too much during the period of his conquests, he boldly said," Why, when I think of that treasure, and see the hills of gold and silver here, and the jewels there, I declare I am astonished at my own moderation." Haman offered a large sum of money to Ahasuerus—a large sum, whether the 10,000 talents be reckoned according to the Mosaic shekel, £3,750,000, or according to the civil shekel, £1,875,000. But the wealth of the prime minister of that vast country must have been great. Doubtless the Jews then, as now, would be a people given to the accumulation of wealth and property, and he would see that he would be no loser by the bargain. He would confiscate the property of the slaughtered Jews, and thus enrich himself by the transaction. It seemed an opportunity most favourable for wreaking his revenge and enriching himself and the state. Haman's large offer is moderation itself when we think of all the consequences of his proposal. The destruction of a whole people, much trouble in the kingdom, and the confiscation of vast wealth.


Verses 12-14

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est .] The scribes of Xerxes are mentioned more than once by Herodotus. They appear to have been in constant attendance on the monarch, ready to indite his edicts, or to note down any occurrences which he desired to have recorded.—Rawlinson. אַתַשְדַּוְפָנִים and פַחוֹת are here placed together, the satraps of the larger provinces and the rulers among the separate peoples of the provinces. The שָרִים are the native so-called born princes of the different people.

Est .] By the runners, by whom they were sent, are meant the posts, the angari or preasmen, who were posted on the main roads of the empire at definite distances from each other, from four to seven parasangs, and who rapidly expedited the royal (mails) letters or commands. The three verbs—to destroy, to kill, and cause to perish—are combined to give strength to the expression. שְׁלָלָם is their property, which is called spoil because it was delivered up to plunder.

Est .] By the issue of the decree at this time (the first month) the Jews throughout the empire had from nine to eleven months' warning of the peril which threatened them. So long a notice is thought to be "incredible," and the question is asked, Why did they not then quit the kingdom? In reply we may say,

(1) That many of them may have quitted the kingdom; and,

(2) That those who remained may have believed, with Mordecai, that enlargement and deliverance would arise from some quarter or other. As to its being improbable that Haman should give such long notice, we may remark that Haman only wished to be quit of Mordecai, and that the flight of the Jews would hare served his purpose quite as well as their massacre.—Rawlinson.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

FRUITLESS PREPARATIONS

Haman had no regard to the contingency of human affairs. He was blind to the fact that it is not in man's power to control events, and arrange for the future. He had not learnt the wise man's lesson—"Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." To-morrow is a humiliating term often to those who have far-reaching designs. To-morrow never comes when we work under the guidance of human arrogance. It never comes exactly as we purposed. The seed may flourish to-morrow, but the sower has perished; or the seed which he has sown flourishes to his destruction. Enjoy thyself, Haman, to-day, call forth thy scribes, send forth thy bloody edicts, for to-morrow is coming with crushing doom! We all need to look into the future in order to read the lesson of our weakness.

I. Here is unseemly haste. No sooner had Haman received the king's permission than he goes forth to his work of revenge. He is in a hurry to set in operation the plans which should work to the destruction of the despised race. There would have been propriety in Haman pausing and considering well before sending forth the orders which were intended to work such vast mischief. Better still if Haman had said, "This scheme is an unworthy one. I am compromising my dignity and my manhood. I will go back to the king, and undo the evil I have sought to accomplish." Better think twice before committing ourselves to an unworthy action.

II. Here are inconsistent precursory measures. The bad are always inconsistent. Their lives are not harmonious. Wickedness renders a man inconsistent. The good in man, or at least the voice of conscience, works against or speaks against the evil. There would be times when Haman would feel the dreadful nature of the enterprise upon which he had set his heart. Revenge impelled to action, but conscience still spoke in reproving tones. We have pictured Haman as the revengeful man, being willing to wait in order that there might be the more signal display of his malicious power; but here we find him proceeding in regular method, as if to justify his deeds. It may be, however, that Haman was afraid of his own position. If we have given him credit for too much conscientiousness, we cannot easily charge him with too much selfishness. All must be done according to law, that Haman's enemies may not in the future have the power of charging him with open-handed crime. Obedience to the eternal law of right is the only method by which human lives can be rendered consistent and harmonious.

III. Here is a low estimate of human life. This is one of the strange anomalies, that great men, as the world accounts greatness, think so little of human life. Is ambition to be fed?—human lives must be slaughtered. Is revenge to have its way?—human lives must be sacrificed. Kings, conquerors, and statesmen have regarded no life as precious which stood in the way of their ambitious schemes. Haman was bad, but there are more Hamans than we think of in the historical records. The low estimate of life is here shown—(a) In the unmethodical nature of the slaughter designed. The three terms—to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish—may be employed to give intensity to the barbarous decree. But they also set forth the dreadful fact that the poor people were to be killed anyhow. Let the servants of revenge do their work after any fashion, so that it is done effectually, and the hated race are removed from the face of the earth. (b) In the indiscriminate nature of the slaughter designed. "All Jews, both young and old, little children and women." Revenge would glut itself. The young and the fair, the beautiful and the innocent, the wise and the virtuous, must be slain, These bleating lambs, what have they done that the light of life must be quenched in its very dawn? (c) In the rapacity after property. The spoil of the slaughtered is to be taken for a prey. Life versus property. This decree is one of the unwritten decrees of modern civilization. Let the spoil of the slaughtered be taken for a prey. Men and women, fair maids, and even little children are slaughtered in order to increase property.

IV. Here is wickedness bolstered up by human authority. "The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day." Wickedness wears a mask; it shrinks from the exposure of its own deformity. State policy requires the enormous sacrifice. Capital must have its due return. Business is business. The law of supply and demand must have its way, though that may be through human blood. These are some of the flimsy and false excuses with which sin dresses up itself in order to make a respectable appearance.

Great men should try to get a true idea of the importance of life. Such an idea might save them from mad and wicked enterprises. God has crowned life with an excellent glory. To preserve life nature yields her million products, and pours into the lap of man her myriad fruits;—to promote its welfare the sun bathes the world with his influences, and the component parts of the atmosphere are blended together in relative proportions;—and to increase its pleasures the flowers give forth their fragrance and show their beauty, hills and mountains rise in grandeur, sweet dales rest in their encircling embrace; the birds make the air vocal with their songs of praise; and the stars gem the midnight sky, forming a glorious canopy for man. For the development of man's whole life time is not adequate, and eternity is the sphere in which an ever-expanding life shall work on to unknown heights of blessed perfection. Life is great, and high estimates ought to be formed of its worth. Statesmen should remember that the true wealth of a community is its men.

"Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.

Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;

A breath can make them, as a breath has made;

But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,

When once destroyed, can never be supplied."

All ought to remember that life is ignoble when passion is allowed to rule. How many lives are thus rendered inglorious! Lives with fair opportunities for development are blasted by an overmastering passion. Lives with extensive prospects for usefulness are crushed by the influence of ignoble motives. What a position was that to which Haman was raised! How many might have blessed his memory! His name might have been lauded by the national orators, and sung by the national poets. But his name is scouted, and his memory is covered with opprobrium. The name of the wicked shall rot. The memory of the just only is blessed. Let passion then be subordinated to principle. Let the ambition be to be good and to do good. Let the honour that cometh from God be the supreme concern. And then, whether men bow or refuse to bow, the soul will be unruffled.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

The very circumstance which is urged as an objection to the truth of the narrative is rather to be regarded as an evidence of its trustworthiness. The Book of Esther does not contain any record of miraculous events. There are no wonders and prodigies in it, at which infidelity might carp, and with reference to which it might say that the writer must have drawn so largely upon his fancy in some places as to render suspicious what appears to be the record of simple matters of fact. The whole tenor and style of the book indicate that the writer of it acted the part of a historian who was concerned only to relate what actually took place; and if he had been a deceiver he certainly would not have laid himself open to an objection so very palpable as that under review, when it was in his power, by the mere alterations of dates, to make the whole narrative so plausible that not a flaw could be found in it. In a word, I consider the difficulty before us as an argument for the truth of the history. But further, it must be kept in mind that though the king's scribes were called on the thirteenth day of the month to write the decree, it does not follow that the work was finished in a day. King Artaxerxes reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, as we read in the first chapter. Diverse languages and dialects were spoken in many of these provinces. The edict was given forth, we are told, "to the rulers of every people of every province, according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language." The document had to be translated, then, into different languages, and a translation sent with the Persic original; and besides, there would, no doubt, be private communications dictated by Haman to the governors of the different provinces, containing directions as to the manner in which the bloody work was to be executed, and the spoils of the Jews disposed of; so that some considerable time would elapse before the royal decree could be sent out to the provinces. We learn, indeed, from the eighth chapter that it was the twentieth day of the third month before Mordecai obtained permission to counteract the design of Haman; and, making allowance for distance and modes of travelling, we may suppose that the sentence against the Jews had not even reached the more remote parts of the empire when the remission of it was resolved upon. But again, and more particularly, it is very obvious that we have to regard the whole transaction here as overruled in the providence of God for the good of his people and the confusion of their enemies. It is easy to say that there is an air of improbability in the whole story, because, even with a few months' warning, the Jews would have had time to remove from the places where they were doomed to perish. But whither could they have gone? is one question. The Persian empire was so extensive that it would have been difficult for them to escape beyond its bounds and find a refuge elsewhere. Besides, how could they have fled, when no doubt there were orders issued to prevent their flight? We know that in persecuting times in France, and in our own country also, while the victims of persecution were warned that within a certain period no mercy would be shown to them, there were steps taken to prevent their escape; and even the attempt to escape was denounced as criminal. In the case which we have before us in the text the whole matter turns upon this point—that Haman got what he considered the favourable day for his enterprise fixed by a superstitious practice which he revered and believed to be infallible. Then, after this, he felt as if all were secure; and with a recklessness—or, as we might call it, an infatuation—such as there are many examples of in the perpetrators of heinous crimes, he proceeds to accomplish his purpose in a way which one would say was calculated to render it abortive, and to ruin himself.—Davidson.

Multitudes may have been in such a state of bondage as to make it impossible for any great number of them to escape; and as for others, it may have been expected and desired that some of them would leave the kingdom. But such as Mordecai, whom Haman especially wished to destroy, could not leave the kingdom, any more than Nehemiah, without permission from the king. It was also in keeping with Haman's character to cause all the anguish and horror possible to the Jews in anticipation of the dreadful slaughter. Then we must remember that a wise Providence so overruled this whole procedure as to bring to nought the plans of the Jews' enemy, and make his malignant hatred of the Jews the occasion of his ruin.—Whedon's Commentary.

If the chronicles of Persia thus record an intended massacre of the Jews which appals us in its extent and atrocity, the chronicles of Spain, Italy, and France contain records of massacres of Protestants which equal it in unmitigated barbarity. Let us thank God that our lot has been cast in times of comparative quiet, when the spirit of persecution and bloodshed is afraid to manifest itself; and when the exhortation of the apostle is not rendered hard by a "reign of terror"—"Fear God, honour the king."—McEwan.

"Where," one is ready to ask, "will rulers find persons willing to execute such unreasonable and barbarous orders?" Executioners have seldom been wanting. Many are accustomed to do blindly whatever their superiors require, without inquiring whether it be right or wrong. Others act under the influence of fear; while a thousand passions—selfishness, avarice, malice, envy, strife, hatred to godliness, and the innate love of cruelty—take the opportunity of gratifying themselves under the covert of authority, and the pretext of executing its mandates.—McCrie.

Est . The malice of Haman could no more frustrate the ancient oracles relating to the Jews than it could pull the sun out of the firmament, and deprive the world of the light of day. "The sceptre was not to depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh should come." The Shiloh was not yet come. Judah must, therefore, continue a distinct nation, under governors that proceeded from himself. Haman's malice will be so far from finding the means of extirpating Judah, that the glory of that people, though eclipsed, must again shine forth as the morning.

Est . Haman caused the edict against the Jews to be published in the language of every people, that they might all be prepared to bear their part in the destruction of the Jews. But the enemies of Israel had one thing in view, and the God of Israel quite another. Haman intended to make the destruction of Judah as sure as possible, but God intended to make all nations attentive witnesses of his power and wisdom displayed in counteracting the designs of their enemies, and accomplishing their salvation. The effect of such an edict would be the fixing of all men's attention on the event; and the event was to make it evident that there was no God like the God of Israel, nor any people on the earth so much the care of heaven as that nation which was held in abhorrence by Haman.—Lawson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3

Est . The deliverance of Hubert de Burgo. We read in our Chronicles, that when King Henry III. had given commandment for the apprehending of Hubert de Burgo, earl of Kent, he fled into a church in Essex. They to whom the business was committed, finding him upon his knees before the high altar, with the sacrament in one hand, and a cross in the other, carried him away, nevertheless, unto the Tower of London. The bishop, taking this to be a great violence and wrong to the Church, would never leave the king until he had caused the earl to be carried back to the place whence he was fetched. This was done; and although order was taken he should not escape thence, yet it gave the king's wrath a time to cool, and himself leisure to make proof of his innocency; by reason whereof he was afterwards restored to the king's favour, and former places of honour. And the like befell these Jews ere the thirteenth of Adar; but Haman, blinded with pride and superstition, could not foresee it.—Trapp.

Est . Soldiers, not butchers. At the famous Bartholomew's massacre, when the King of France sent his orders to the commanders in the different provinces to massacre the Huguenots, one of them returned him this answer: "In my district your Majesty has many brave soldiers, but no butchers." That virtuous governor never felt any effects of the royal resentment. It is to be feared that few of the Persian governors would have given such proofs of virtuous courage if the king's edict had not been reversed. We find none of all the governors of the provinces of the Babylonian empire that refused to bow their knees to the graven image which Nebuchadnezzar the king set up. The subjects of princes who rule with unlimited dominion are for the most part slaves both in body and in soul. They are taught from their earliest days, by the examples which they see around them, to consider their princes as gods on earth, whose will must not be disputed.—Lawson.

Est . Executioners. There is abundance of evidence that, in the middle ages, the office of public executioner was esteemed highly honourable all over Germany. It still is, in such parts of that country as retain the old custom of execution by stroke of sword, very far from being held discreditable to the extent to which we carry our feelings on the subject, and which exposed the magistrates of a Scotch town,—I rather think no less a one than Glasgow,—to a good deal of ridicule, when they advertised, some few years ago, on the occasion of the death of their hangman, that "none but persons of respectable character" need apply for the vacant situation. At this day, in China, in Persia, and probably in other Oriental kingdoms, the Chief Executioner is one of the great officers of state, and is as proud of the emblem of his fatal duty as any European Lord Chamberlain of his golden key.—Note to Anne of Geierstein.

No doubt very many of the subjects of Ahasuerus would be willing to become executioners, in order to secure the favour of the monarch, and to get a share of the spoil. They would get themselves ready against that day of intended slaughter.


Verse 15

CRITICAL NOTES.]

Est .] נָביֹכָה primarily does not mean that it was distressed by terror or sorrow, but that it was perplexed, did not know what to think of such a terrible command. The remark that "Shushan was perplexed" has been attributed to Jewish conceit, but without reason. Susa was now the capital of Persia, and the main residence of Persians of high rank. These, being attached to the religion of Zoroaster, would naturally sympathize with the Jews, and he disturbed at their threatened destruction. Nay, even apart from this bond of union, the decree was sufficiently strange and ominous to "perplex" thoughtful citizens.—Rawlinson.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Est

THE IRREGULARITIES OF HUMAN CONDITIONS

Swiftly the grim messengers of intended death fly throughout the land. It is the proverbial and figurative statement that these posts flew faster than the cranes. We may picture the post-horses galloping from stage to stage. The post-masters took from the couriers the king's letters which proclaimed death and spoliation to all of Jewish nationality. And very soon throughout the land the sad story of this strange and murderous edict was known. It was known not only in the sorrow-darkened homes of the Jews, but also in the homes of those who were for the present free from the fear caused by such a murderous design. And we may well suppose that there were perplexity and insecurity everywhere. The Jews were sadly troubled. The rest of the people were perplexed and insecure; for if there was no safety for these inoffensive Jews, if for them this wholesale and unrighteous slaughter, what security is there for any other portion of his Majesty's subjects? Yes, and there was perplexity in the breast of Haman, and in the heart of Ahasuerus the king. For evil doers are always evil thinkers. Those who purpose trouble for others will be troubled themselves. Haman and the king might sit down to drink, and try to drown and to forget their perplexity; but the dark shadow of wrongdoing would dog their steps, and render them uncomfortable. Happy is it for us that we live in such a country, and under such a wise government. It has its faults, but they are mere trifles when we consider the faults of Eastern despotism. Let us wisely use our privileges.

I. The inequalities of human conditions. The most striking instance of inequality is that which is illustrated between the condition of the oppressor and the oppressed. We do not believe in the Divine right of kings as advocated and upheld by some in the past, but there is a broad and true sense in which governments are Divine. Fear God. Honour the king. These are two injunctions binding upon men. Wise government tends to the consolidation of human society. It is for the general good that some should rule, and that others—the large majority—should be ruled. There is law in the material world. There are higher and lower in the intellectual world. There is law—the law of love—even in heaven. There must be law on earth. Where there is no law, where there is no rule, there is no liberty worthy of the name. But every blessing, every right and even Divine organization, is capable of being subverted. That which, rightly managed, is for the general good may be rendered productive of manifold evils. A true king should be the father of his people, and the type of God. A despot is the oppressor of the people, the slave-driver of the people, the robber of the people, the scourge of the race, and the type of the devil. A king may be an oppressor without being a hard-hearted monster. He may be weak, effeminate, given up to luxury, and influenced by others more cruel than himself. Such an oppressor was Ahasuerus. Haman was his evil genius. Haman was the vile master spirit in the palace plotting tremendous wrongs. Haman was the cruel serpent fascinating and deluding the weak-minded monarch, and spitting venom upon all the Jews. Here are the oppressors in Shushan the palace, dictating their murderous edicts, and yonder, scattered abroad and dispersed among the people, are the oppressed. Already we seem to hear the cries and to behold the fast-falling tears of such as are oppressed, and they appear to have no comforter. And on the side of the oppressors there is power. Power in Shushan the palace. Weakness among the scattered Jews. Royal despotism has well-nigh been swept away from the face of the earth, but still may we see, if we rightly use our eyes, this inequality of human conditions—the oppressors and the oppressed. The defeat of the South by the North in America has not abolished all slave-driving. In this free and liberty-worshipping country there is still oppression. Oh, the tears of such as are oppressed! How fast they still fall. What an ocean they make! If these tears are kept in Divine bottles, how large and how many the bottles! If these bottled tears are to confront the oppressors, they may well pray for the rocks and mountains to fall upon and hide them from the consequences of their evil doings. Let us see to it that we do the things that are just and equal. The inequality of human conditions is further illustrated by the contrast between the jollity of the palace and the perplexity of the city. How beautifully simple and yet how suggestive the statement: "The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed." Revelry in the palace. Misery in the cottage. The wine of mirth, and jollity, and forgetfulness for the king. The wine of bitterness for his subjects. The music of pipers and harpists, of singing men and singing women, for the court. The sad, discordant notes of wailing for a large portion of the population. The city Shushan was perplexed, and well it might be. The indifference of one class of the community towards another and seemingly less-favoured class is brought to view in this passage. Is a Persian state the only one where this state of things may be witnessed? Are heathen countries the only lands where we may behold this heartless indifference? No; even in Christian states class distinctions are far from being abolished. At this day, and in this country, there are revelry in high places, and want and wretchedness in low places. In this time of commercial depression, the well-to-do classes should ask, Are we only enjoying ourselves while many of our countrymen are in a state of distress? This indifference has its root in and is the outcome of selfishness. What did the king care for the misery of others so long as his own pleasures were not interrupted? It is a relief for us to suppose that the king was not all taken up with self. The after history shows that selfishness had not destroyed all traces of true feeling. But we find very few traces of good in poor Haman. Especially at this time, what did he care so long as revenge was glutted? All that he appeared to mind was his own personal aggrandizement. His revenge would revel in human blood. His avarice would gladly feed upon the spoil of the slaughtered. His ambition would gloat over this dreadful display of his power. Oh, this hateful selfishness! What beauty it spoils! What life it wastes! What goodness it destroys! It is an insatiate deity that requires holocausts to be offered at its shrine, and never cries, It is enough.

II. The mysteries of human conditions. The air is thick with mysteries. We move in a maze. We are lost in bewilderment. And this is one of the mysteries—the king and Haman are enjoying themselves, while there is perplexity in the city of Shushan. One man seems to pass his life in joy, and another in sorrow. Success appears to attend every step which is taken by one man, but defeat and disaster are the portion of another. He is ever struggling against adverse forces, and never appears able to come off conqueror in the contest. This is one of the mysteries that King David sought to know by intense thought. This, too, was a difficulty that beset the Psalmist—the existence of triumphant evil. It was that which vexed him, and he could not put it together. There are swindles that are sovereign, and sovereigns that are swindlers. Base men in the high places of the earth. Haman feasting with the king. Mordecai mourning at the king's gate. "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." Did poor Mordecai feel envious? We cannot be hard upon him if he did. Were the thoughts of Mordecai turned in this direction? Did he, too, try to solve the mystery, and give it up as a hopeless task? Did it tend to deepen his grief and darken his hours of sorrow? And all men and women in suffering must have felt it more or less. The mystery is there; but why let it be a trouble? The mystery is there; but why not try to leave it and get into serener heights?

III. The compensating forces of human conditions. The law of compensation has more extensive ramifications than is dreamt of in the philosophy of narrow thinkers. If there be such a principle in the material world, why not in the moral world, since both are fashioned and governed by the same Author? We know not how far those are correct who tell us that happiness and misery are pretty equally distributed. This, however, is a very comfortable doctrine for those who have happiness enough themselves, and do not care to give themselves the trouble of looking after the welfare of the less fortunate. But there are compensations. The joys of the rich have their drawbacks. The sorrows of the poor are not without their alleviations. The pleasure of Ahasuerus was not a permanent stream. The glory of Haman was soon tarnished. The sorrow of Mordecai was turned into laughter. There may be hunger in the wilderness, but there is manna from heaven. There may be thirst, but there is water from the smitten rock. The waters of Marah may be bitter, but there is close by a God-given tree to sweeten. In the journey there is a Marah, but there is further on an Elim, with its twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees.

IV. The sympathetic element in human conditions. The city Shushan was perplexed. The Jews, we may well imagine, had many sympathizers. Sorrow draws men and women more closely together than joy. It is easier to weep with those that weep than to rejoice with those that rejoice. Self-regarding considerations might cause the citizens of Shushan to be perplexed, and lead the well-disposed of the Persians to sympathize with the Jews. Perhaps even poor Ahasuerus was trying to get away from the working of a sympathetic nature as he sat down to drink. This is a compensating force when sorrow elicits sympathy. Seek to feel with and for others' woes. When one part of a city suffers, the whole of the city should be perplexed.

V. The harmonizing principle for human conditions. What principle is there that is to adjust in fit proportions the various parts and members of human society? What power must be brought to bear so that men and women may neither hurt nor destroy one another? Are communistic doctrines to be promulgated and received? Is there to be a great levelling process in society? Is Haman to be hanged on the gallows? Must Mordecai be made prime minister in his stead? Is Ahasuerus to be dethroned? Or is he to be made merely the mouthpiece and executor of a number of men who shall be supposed to be voted for by the nation in popular assemblies? Something may be done by wise methods of government. Something may be done by placing noble-minded men in high offices of the state. Something may be done by the rich being rich in good works, and being ready to distribute, and by the poor being frugal, contented, and industrious. But the only effective harmonizing principle is the gospel rightly understood, broadly interpreted, and fully received. That gospel which dethrones selfishness, and teaches the true brotherhood of humanity. That gospel which teaches to fear God, to honour the king, and all men to love one another. That gospel which preaches peace to all, both to those that are far off as well as to those that are near.

VI. The true sustaining power for all human conditions. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Let the "perplexed" of every city and of every nation endure as seeing him who is invisible. The true help in life's difficulties is to go into the sanctuary of God. Wherever there is a believing soul, there God makes a little sanctuary of glorious manifestations. By faith and prayer Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews were saved and delivered out of their perplexities. By faith and prayer the world's true heroes have ever conquered. And by the same means must men and women still prevail. Here learn—(a) To keep away from sensuality, which hardens the nature. Haman would keep the king drinking, so that he might be kept callous and indifferent. Strong drink blunts the fine edge of reason, darkens the understanding, and hardens the nature. (b) To cultivate sympathy, which ennobles the nature. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. The law of Christ is the law of love. The fulfilment of that law is man's noblest work. The greatness of Jesus is the greatness of his loving sympathy. (c) To foster firm faith in an over-ruling power, which brightens life. Not faith in the overthrow of the Hamans of time, not faith in the theory that kings will see their folly, but faith in the power of One who is all-wise and all-good. (d) To have respect unto the harmonies of heaven amid the discords of earth. We may not live to see the day when the perplexity of Shushan will be turned into gladness, but every true soul will be ushered into and enjoy the harmonies of that city where the inhabitants are never perplexed.

SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Est

It is a woeful thing to see great ones quaff the tears of the oppressed, and to hear them make music of shrieks.—Bishop Hall.

A prince and an officer who, at the time when the inhabitants of their chief city are in the greatest consternation, when above all an entire people is thrown into mortal fear of their life, can sit down to eat and drink, manifest either an inhumanity which would easily arouse a general revolt, or an evil conscience which already foretells the failure of their plans.—Lange.

So to drown the noise of conscience, and so to nourish their hearts as in a day of slaughter. Thus Joseph's brethren, when they had cast him into the pit, sat down to eat bread, when it had been fitter for them to have wept for their wickedness. So did the Israelites, when they had made them a golden calf. Herod feasteth when he had cast the Baptist into prison. The anti-Christian rout revel and riot when they had slain the two witnesses. The Pope proclaimed a jubilee upon the Parisian massacre. The King of France said that he never smelled anything more sweet than the admiral's carcase, when it stank with long lying. Better is the perplexity of him that suffereth evil than the jollity of him that doeth evil.—Trapp.

It is an absurd and impious thing to indulge ourselves in mirth and pleasure when the Church is in distress and the public are perplexed.—Matthew Henry.

The cruel measure could not but fill all peace-loving citizens with horror and anxiety.—Keil.

Haman gives up himself to pleasure and jollity, in which he had the honour to be companion to the king. He will soon find that the end of this mirth is heaviness. The city Shushan was perplexed when the king and Haman were enjoying this merriment. What heart could be free from perplexity on such an occasion? The Jews were known to be as innocent as their neighbours. Many of them resided in the city of Shushan. The prospect of their miserable and unmerited fate was terrible. Who could tell where such mischiefs were to end? Haman might next day petition his deluded master to compliment him with a like sacrifice of other lives. The people of Shushan at this time would be in much the same state of mind as a Persian minister of state in later times, who said that he never left the king's presence without putting his hand to his head, that he might feel whether it was still standing on his shoulders.—Lawson.

But what must the Jews scattered throughout the provinces of the empire have thought of this strange decree? They were not in the secret of the plot. They knew nothing of Haman's injured pride, and Mordecai's religious opposition to the king's commandment. They would regard it purely as an event in the providence of God. And how inexplicably mysterious must it have seemed to them! In their exile they had been faithful to his word, keeping themselves from the sins of surrounding heathenism, and so preserving themselves in his fear that even Haman the Agagite had nothing of which to accuse them save respect to the laws of their God. Wherefore, then, had he permitted this tremendous calamity to overshadow them? Might they not have doubted his providence? Certainly, as the Jews were at this time circumstanced, their faith in God was put to a severe test, and we may readily conclude that the ordeal through which they were now passing would either find them better or worse—more or less trustful in him who maketh the wrath of men to praise him. The common experience of God's people bears witness to similar mysterious overshadowings. They cannot account for them. When they were most devoted to his service, and most anxiously seeking his favour; when they were most strenuously battling against the world, and endeavouring to bring honour to his name; when they were expecting his blessing, and looking for good from his sovereign hand, it has often been even then that there have come events which it was natural to interpret as signs of his displeasure, tokens of his wrath. But we are wrong interpreters of his providence beforehand, and even afterwards. The sufferer cannot understand his long illness, nor the prosperous man his sudden fall into poverty and reproach, nor the parent the anguish of repeated strokes of bereavement, nor the widow the wisdom and benevolence of her desolation and loneliness. All is dark and mysterious to them, and they may be sorely tempted to discredit the mercifulness of the Divine purpose in Providence. Of such ordeals, too, we can confidently affirm that after having passed through them they will either leave us better or worse. From the history of God's afflictive dealings in the past we may clearly gather one grand lesson—never to doubt his word, and always to have faith in his love. Job, Jacob, Daniel, David, and the Jews in Persia all teach us this lesson. At such times it is most glorifying to him, as well as comforting to ourselves, to trust in him explicitly and fully.—McEwan.

Self-indulgence renders men callous to the distresses and sufferings of their fellow-men. "The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed." Give the votary of sensuality or intemperance the opportunity of gratifying his craving, and he cares not what misery he may occasion to those in whose well-being he is bound to take the deepest interest. Let the sensualist have his will, and it costs him not a thought that he may be destroying the happiness of families, and ruining for time and eternity the victims of his ungodly lust. Strong carnal appetite, when it is excited, sets at defiance the law of nature as well as the law of God. One can scarcely think without shuddering of the conduct of the two men referred to in the text. They had resolved to shed innocent blood without measure; but they could sit down as boon companions to enjoy themselves over their wine, and could contrive to drown any remonstrances of conscience with the flowing goblet. Could there be a more thorough personification of evil in one of its most revolting forms than we have here? And yet, my friends, it finds its counterpart, although on a smaller scale, in the procedure of multitudes who live under the light of the gospel! Is that individual one whit better than the infamous pair referred to in the text who, forgetting the claims of home, and his responsibilities as a father and a husband, spends his earnings in debauchery, and thus reduces what might be a happy family to wretchedness and poverty? While he is enjoying himself with his companions, all reckless of his obligation to protect and provide for his wife and children, they are sitting in absolute want, with no prospect for the morrow but what is still more gloomy than the experience of to-day. Then, if there are any here to whom these remarks are in any respects applicable, let them bethink themselves of their sin and folly; let them judge themselves by the same rule whereby they would judge the king and Haman. Then they will acknowledge that they have been unfaithful to a sacred trust committed to them, and they will endeavour by the help of the grace of God to be no longer the destroyers, but the protectors of those whom they have solemnly vowed to protect. And let me conclude my remarks upon this part of the subject by again saying, that the excessive indulgence of any forbidden appetite makes men selfish, and regardless of the rights of others. So that, as the followers of Christ, we should all strive to keep the desires of our animal natures in subjection, else we forfeit all claim to belong to him with whom the will of his heavenly Father was paramount in everything.—Davidson.

ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3

Est . A love of books and want. In one of our large manufacturing centres a working man, with a love of books, had managed with great economy to collect together so many as 150 volumes; and all these had to be sold to meet the necessities of nature. One volume was highly valued. When he did not want the money he could have sold the book for a sovereign, but when starvation came the precious treasure had to be sold for one shilling. That one book tells a sad tale of suffering to those who can catch its silent message. In contrast, we may read of the eleventh edition of a modern book published at thirty shillings. And what is even this to the large sums spent in splendidly bound and illustrated copies of poets and artists? And what is even this when we hear of a lady of high rank selling a marriage present—consisting of a magnificent tiara of diamonds, which cost £13,000—in order to defray the cost of sinful extravagance, while many of our countrymen are in starvation? "The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed." We are thankful for the displays of liberality in our country; but still too many in this land sit down to drink while a vast multitude are perplexed.

Est . The surgical operation. In one of our London hospitals a poor man was about to undergo a surgical operation. The opiate was administered, but while it rendered him insensible to pain, it did not lessen his power of bearing and observing. Around him were assembled a number of young medical men. One half were opposed to the operation, and said, The man will die in our hands; but the other said, What a stroke of business it will be if the operation is successfully performed; it will make our fortunes! Selfishness ruled; the operation was performed. The poor man heard the pleading of selfishness, and said, It ought not to have been done; I shall never get better; and in a few days he expired. It is most likely the disease would have killed him, but is that any excuse for this stroke of selfish policy? We give all praise to the members of the medical profession, but we must not ignore its defects. But oh, this selfishness is common to all. What waste of precious life has selfishness incurred! Haman is not the only one who drinks at the expense of the suffering of others.

Est . The prosperity of the wicked. Would it not be accounted folly in a man that is heir to many thousands per annum that he should envy a stage-player clothed in the habit of a king, and yet not heir to one foot of land? who, though he have the form, respect, and apparel of a king or nobleman, yet is at the same time a very beggar, and worth nothing. Thus wicked men, though they are arrayed gorgeously, and fare deliciously, wanting nothing, and having more than heart can wish, yet they are but only possessors; the godly Christian is the heir. What good doth all their prosperity do them? It doth but hasten their ruin, not their reward. The labouring ox is longer lived than the ox that is put into the pasture—the very putting of him there doth but hasten his slaughter; and when God puts wicked men into fat pastures, into places of honour and power, it is but to hasten their ruin. Let no man, therefore, fret himself because of evil-doers, nor be envious at the prosperity of the wicked; for the candle of the wicked shall be put out into everlasting darkness, they shall soon be cut off, and wither as a green herb.—Spencer.

Parable of the hog and the horse. "After these events." What events? After God had created the remedy before the infliction of the wound; after Mordecai had saved the king's life before the orders for the destruction of his people were promulgated. After these events the king advanced Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, to an illustrious position in the kingdom. He was raised, however, but to be destroyed. His destiny was like to that of the hog in the parable of the horse, the colt, and the hog. A certain man possessed a horse, a colt, and a hog. For the two former he measured out daily a certain amount of food—so much was their allowance, no more, no less; the hog, however, was allowed to eat according to his own pleasure. Said the colt to the horse, "How is this? Is it just? We work for our food, while the hog is a useless animal; surely we should have as much to eat as is given to him." "Wait," answered the horse, "and you will soon see, in the downfall of the hog, the reason." With the coming of the autumn the hog was killed. "See," said the horse, "they did not give the hog so much to eat for his own benefit, but in order to fatten him for the killing."—Talmud.

Est . Different disposal of blessings. When a prince bids his servants carry such a man down into the cellar, and let him drink of the beer and wine, this is a kindness from so great a personage to be valued highly; but for the prince to set him at his own table, and let him drink of his own wine, this, no doubt, is far more. Thus it is that God gives unto some men great estates, abundance of corn, and wine, and oil; yet, in so doing, he entertains them but in the common cellar. But for his people they have his right-hand blessings; he bestows his graces on them, beautifies them with holiness, makes them to drink of the rivers of his pleasures, and means to set them by him at his own table with himself in heavenly glory.—Spencer.

Est . Ulysses and the Syrens. We may read that Ulysses, when he was to pass the coast of the Syrens, caused his men to stop their ears, that they might not be enchanted by their music to destroy themselves; but for himself he would only be bound to the mast, that though he should hear, yet their musical sounds might not be so strong as to allure him to overthrow himself by leaping into the sea. Thus there are some of God's people that are weak in faith, so that when they see God's outward proceedings of providence seemingly contrary to his promises, they are apt to be charmed from their own steadfastness. It were therefore good for them to stop their ears, and to shut their eyes to the works, and look altogether to the word of God. But for those that are strong, in whom the pulse of faith beats more vigorously, they may look upon the outward proceedings of God; yet let them be sure to bind themselves fast to the mast—the word of God—lest when they see the seeming contrariety of his proceedings to the promise, they be charmed from their own steadfastness, to the wounding of their own most precious souls, and weakening the assurance of their eternal salvation.—Spencer.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Esther 3:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/esther-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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