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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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THE Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther was the same sovereign as the Xerxes of Herodotus and Plutarch and Thirlwall and Grote. The Ahasuerus of Holy Scripture was the Xerxes who, after he had subdued Egypt, set out to invade Greece with an army and a navy of absolutely fabulous size and strength. He was the madman who beheaded his chief military engineers, and bastinadoed the Hellespont, and laid fetters of iron upon its waves, because a terrible storm had risen on its waters and had destroyed his great bridge of pontoon boats. He was that incubus of carnage who seated himself on a throne of gold on a hill-top of Greece to see his vast fleet of ships sweep off the sea the sea-forces of Athens.

A king sat un a rocky brow,
Which looks o'er sea-born Salamis:
And ships by thousands lay below,
And men in nations all were his.
He counted them at break of day,
But when the sun set, where were they?

'That Ahasuerus,' says an old Hebrew treatise called the Second Targum on Esther, 'whose counsels were perverse, and whose orders were not right: who commanded Queen Vashti to appear unveiled before him, but she would not appear. That Ahasuerus in whose time the house of Israel was sold for nought, and in whose time Israel's face became black like the side of a pot. That Ahasuerus in whose days was fulfilled the threatening that in the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were evening! and in the evening, Would God it were morning!'

The sacred writer makes us respect Queen Vashti amid all her disgusting surroundings. Whether or no the drunken despot actually sent to her the whole cruel order that the Targumist reports, the sacred writer does not in as many words say. But, whatever the royal order that came to her out of the banqueting-hall exactly was, the brave queen refused to obey it. Her beauty was her own and her husband's; it was not for open show among hundreds of half-drunk men. And in the long-run, the result of that night's evil work was that Vashti was dismissed into disgrace and banishment, and Esther, the Hebrew orphan, was promoted into her place. The whole story of Vashti's fall and Esther's rise would take us into too many miry places for us tonight to wade through. I shall leave this part of the unsavoury story veiled up in all the restrained and dignified language of the sacred writer. Only, let us take heed to note that the sacred writer's whole point is this, that the Divine Hand was, all the time, overruling Ahasuerus's brutality, and Vashti's brave womanliness, and Esther's beauty, and her elevation into Vashti's vacant seat, all this, and more than all this, to work together for the deliverance and the well-being of the remnant of Israel that still lay dispersed in the vast empire of Persia.

Mordecai was the uncle and the foster-father of the orphaned Esther. He had brought Esther up, and his one love in his whole life, after his love for Israel and for the God of Israel, was his love for his little adopted daughter. You may be sure that the devout old man had many thoughts in his heart that he could not get to the bottom of, as he stood by and watched his sister's child lifted up in a moment from her exile and poverty, and actually made the queen of the greatest empire then standing on the face of the earth; and, what was to him still more full of faith, and hope, and love, the favourite queen of the absolute earthly master of all Mordecai's brethren of the house of Israel both at home in Jerusalem, and still scattered abroad over the whole of the Persian empire. I leave you to imagine what were the prayers and psalms that Mordecai offered up with his window open towards Jerusalem, as he saw all Esther's election, and promotion, and coronation, and all her splendour and all her power. And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her.

You would need to transport yourselves away east to the Constantinople of our day at all to understand Haman, and all his diabolical plots against Esther, and against Mordecai, and against all the people of Israel. Diabolically wicked as our own hearts often are with jealousy and with revenge, at the same time, our hearts are so held down and covered over by religion and civilisation that we do not know ourselves. There is no difference, says Paul. All vices are in us all, says Seneca; only, all vices are not equally extant in us all. But you will see all but all the vices extant in Haman, the favourite, for the time, of Ahasuerus. How Haman rose, and how he fell: how his seat was set above all the other princes of the empire at the beginning, and how his face was covered at the end; how he and Ahasuerus arranged it between themselves that Israel should be exterminated on a set day by a universal slaughter: how Haman had a gallows of fifty cubits high built for Mordecai yesterday, only to be hanged himself on that same gallows today: how Israel was sold to Haman by the seal of Ahasuerus, and was delivered by the perilous but successful interposition of Esther, all that is told as only a sacred writer could tell it. He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it. And he that rolleth a stone, it shall return upon his own head.

Such, then, was Esther's circle, so to call it. But what, exactly, was her opportunity? What was Esther's great opportunity that put her watchful uncle Mordecai into such sleepless anxiety lest she should either miss it, or betray it? Esther's splendid opportunity rose out of that extraordinary combination and concentration of circumstances in the very heart of which she had been so providentially placed. Haman, as we have seen, was the very devil himself. Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, was seven devils rolled into one. He was a very devil of pride, and of jealousy, and of revenge, and of an insatiable thirst for Hebrew blood. How almighty God should have let so many devils loose in one devil-possessed man is another mystery of His power, and wisdom, and judgment, and love. But there it is, as plain as inspired words can write it. Only, when the end comes, we see that all the time the God of righteousness had His rope round Haman's neck. And when Haman got to the end of his rope, God said over Haman also: Hitherto thou shalt go in thy diabolical wickedness, but no farther. And, then, as another stepping-stone up to Esther's incomparable opportunity, Ahasuerus, Haman's master, was a fit master, as we have seen, for such a servant of Satan as Haman was. Till, between them, the children of Israel of that day were on the very point of being exterminated all over the land by a universal and prearranged assassination. But, as God's providence would have it, step after step, Esther was on the throne, and was in all the fulness of her first influence with Ahasuerus just at that critical moment for the Church of God in the empire of Persia. The great war with Greece; the great national feast consequent on that great war; the absolute intoxication of the king's mind with pride, and with ambition, and with wine; the brutal summons to Vashti; her brave refusal of her master's brutal demand; her fall and her banishment; the election and elevation of Esther, and her immense influence with the despot; all these things were so many stepping-stones on which Esther had so providentially risen to her splendid opportunity. And, then, to complete and finish it all, there was added to it all, Mordecai's so watchful solicitude over the wickedness of Haman, and over the caprice of Ahasuerus, and over the safety of Israel, and over the miraculous opportunity of Esther. What a long, and complex, and shining chain, link after link, till Mordecai fashioned its last link and bound it with his strong but tender hands upon both the imagination, and the conscience, and the heart of Esther in these noble words: 'Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but both thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed; and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?' Then Esther bade them return to Mordecai this answer: 'I will go in unto the king, and if I perish, I perish.' But she did not perish. For she obtained favour in the sight of the king; and the king held out to her the golden sceptre that was in his hand, and said to her, 'What wilt thou, Queen Esther? And what is thy request? For it shall be given thee to the half of the kingdom.' And the end was that Haman and all his murderous plots fell, and Mordecai was promoted to sit in Haman's seat, and Israel was saved. And all because, under God, Esther had her opportunity pointed out to her till she saw it and seized it.

The Book of Esther is surely a very clear prophecy and a very impressive parable of the plots, and the persecutions, and the politics of our own day. Armenia under the Sultan is Israel over again under Haman and Ahasuerus. Western Christendom, and England especially, is Esther with her opportunity and her responsibility over again, and the voice of warning by whomsoever spoken is the summons of Mordecai to Esther over again. It is three hundred years of God's long-suffering since Bacon wrote his Holy War. 'There cannot but ensue a dissolution of the State of the Turk,' said Bacon, 'whereof the time seemeth to approach. The events of the times do seem to invite Christian kings to a war in respect of the great corruption and relaxation of discipline in the empire of the enemy of Christendom.' So wrote Bacon in 1622. But our Christian kings, if not our Christian people, are still, at the end of the nineteenth century, keeping Haman in his seat, and holding up his hands. In a very fine sermon on my present text, Mr. Spurgeon, in the very spirit and power of Mordecai, has warned England that the God of all the earth has raised her up to her supreme position among the nations of the earth, not for her own aggrandisement, and power, and glory-but for the glory of God, and for the good of mankind. And, that there is no respect or immunity of nations, any more than of men, with the Judge of all the earth. And that if England, for fear, or for favour, or for ease, or for herself only, flinches and fails God and man in the hour of her opportunity, deliverance will come somehow to the cause of God and man; and,-one holds back his tongue from saying it, and his pen from writing it-'Thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed.' As I read Captain Mahan's masterly and noble Life of Nelson the other day with Esther in my mind, I could not but mark such things as these in that great sea-captain who had such a hand in setting England up on her high opportunity. 'Opportunity,' says the excellent biographer, 'flitted by, but Nelson was always ready and grasped it.' Again, and again, and again the same thing is said of Nelson. Till it shines out above all his other great gifts, and becomes the best description of his great genius. Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity! And, again, 'duty, not ease; honour, not gain; the ideal, not the material-such, not indeed without frailty and blemish, were ever Nelson's motives.' This new Nelson is a noble book for sailors and for all men to read. It is a noble book to be written and read at any time, but especially at this present time of gain with dishonour, and of ease at the sacrifice of duty.

But we are not great queens like Esther, with the deliverance of Israel in our hands; nor are we great sea-captains like Lord Nelson, with the making of modern England in our hands. No. But we are what we are; and what God has made us to be and to do. We all have our own circle set round us of God, and out of our own circle our own opportunities continually arise. Our opportunities may not be so far-reaching or so high-sounding as some other men's are; but they are our opportunities, and they are far-reaching enough for us. Our opportunities are life or death to us and to others; they are salvation or condemnation to our immortal souls; and is that not circle and opportunity enough? We are all tempted every day to say: If I only were Esther! If I only had a great opportunity, would I not rise to it! Would I not speak out at any risk! Would I not do a work, and win a name, and deliver Israel, and glorify God! Did you ever read of Clemens, and Fervidus, and Eugenia, and their imaginary piety? Clemens had his head full of all manner of hypothetical liberalities. He kept proposing to himself continually what he would do if he only had a great estate. Come to thy senses, Clemens. Do not talk what thou wouldst be sure to do if thou wast an angel, but think what thou canst do as a man. Remember what the poor widow did with her two mites, and go and do likewise. Fervidus, again, is only sorry he is not a minister. What a reformation he would have worked in his own life by this time, and in his whole parish, if only God had made him a minister! He would have saved his own soul, and the souls of his people, in season and out of season. Do not believe yourself, Fervidus. You are deceiving yourself. You hire a cabman to drive you to church, and he sits in the wet street waiting for you, and you never ask him how he manages to live with no Sabbath. It is not asked of you, Fervidus, to live and die a martyr; but just to visit your cabman's wife and children, and have family worship with them on a Sabbath night as you would have done if you had been a minister. Eugenia, again, is a young lady full of the most devout dispositions. If she ever has a family she will let you see family religion. She is more scandalised than she can tell you at the way that some of her school-fellows have married heathens, and at the life they lead without God's worship in their newly-married houses. But, Eugenia, you may never be married so as to show married people how to live. At the same time, you have a maid already, all to yourself. She dresses you for church, and then you leave her to have as little religion as a Hottentot. You turn her away when she displeases you, and you hire another, and so on, till you will die unmarried, and without a godly household, and your circle will be dissolved and your opportunity for ever lost. Your maid, and her sister, and her widowed mother, and her ill-doing brother, and her lover, all are your circle at present, and your opportunity is fast flitting by; and, because it is so near you every day, you do not discover it. Oh, Eugenia, full to the eyes of so many vain imaginations!

You never heard of Eugenia, and Fervidus, and Clemens before, and do not know where to find them. But, no matter. You and I are Fervidus and Eugenia ourselves. You and I are Mordecai and Esther ourselves. We are in that circle, and we are amid those opportunities, the very best that all the power, and all the wisdom, and all the love of God can provide for us. If it had been better for you and me that we had been born in Jerusalem, and had been exiles in Shushan, and subjects of King Ahasuerus, instead of the free-men of Queen Victoria, Almighty God could as easily have ordered it so when He was ordering all such matters. But, according to His best judgment, you are in the very best place for you in all the world. He could as easily have made you rich as poor. He could have made you successful in life, and married, and at the head of a house of your own, as easily as He has made you what you are. He could have made you a captain as easily as a common sailor. A queen, also, is as easy to God as a kitchen-maid. But we are all talented of God, each according to our several ability. And the servant-maid has as good an opportunity, in the long-run, as her mistress. And the cabin-boy as the captain. A cabin-boy saved Nelson's life at Teneriffe, and thus won the Nile, and Copenhagen, and Trafalgar, for England. And he who with love and prayer and sweet civility keeps a door in God's house, has a far easier and a far safer life of it; he has his salvation at far less risk than he who has to work out his own salvation, and the salvation of so many others, on the slippery floor of a popular pulpit. All God's very best wisdom, and all His very deepest counsel, and all His very greatest love, have all been laid out in collecting and concentrating our circle round us, and in evoking our opportunities out of our surroundings, and we pay Him back with grumblings, and with neglect, and with the loss of our own souls and the souls of all who have anything to do with us.

Only open your eyes, and you will see all around you your circle set of God, and all dazzling you with its endless and splendid opportunities. Your most commonplace, most monotonous, most uninteresting, and most every-day circle so shines, if you only saw it aright. What a magnificent and unparalleled opportunity-you dare not deny it-is yours, for your self-control, for the reducing of your pride, for the extermination of your temper, for your humility and your patience, for the forgiving of your injuries, and for hiding your hungry, broken, bleeding heart with God I And what more would you have? Yours is a circle with opportunities in it that an elect angel might well envy. Look, O my soul! how many, and what manner of people, are in thy very family and all around thee, and every one in his evil, even more than in his good, a divine stepping-stone laid there of God for thee whereon to climb up to the place that He has prepared for thee in His heavenly kingdom. What an antipathy you feel, and cannot get over, at that pestilential man. What an ever-gnawing envy at that other man. What an everlasting resentment and retaliation at such and such a man. What a genius has that fourth man for finding out for you the most corrupt places in your so corrupt and so deceitful heart. And so on, till there is nobody on earth, or in hell, like you. What a circle for a soul like your soul to be set in! What a sin-discovering and sin-exasperating circle! What a seven-fold furnace you walk in every day! There is nobody like you. There never was. O, man, what a chance you have! They know nothing about it sitting there in their soft seats. But what is the chaff to the wheat, if only you will let God cleanse you? These are they-the elders in heaven look down and say over you-who come up hither out of great tribulation! The chaff think that I am describing a monstrosity and an impossibility in my poor description of you. Never mind them. They and their thoughts are nothing to you. You know that the half of your temptations, and exasperations, and mortifications, and humiliations, and harassments of God, and men, and devils, has not been told. There is no tongue to tell it in, and no ear on earth to hear it with. Never mind them. All the deeper, then, is God's so deep plot for thee. All the more secret and unfathomable are His judgments for thee. All the richer set about thee is thy circle. All the more a miracle of grace are thy endless opportunities. All the more incomparable will be thy salvation, and all the more lustrous and weighty thy crown. Let neither man nor devil take it. Have it on thy head, all shining with pearls out of thy seas of sorrow, to cast at thy Saviour's feet on that day.

There is just one circle in the whole universe better than yours for a sinful man's most superb sanctification and salvation, and that is the pulpit, and the pastorate round about the pulpit. I do not wonder that Fervidus never forgave his father for not having made him a minister. For the divine subtlety has surpassed itself in the circle and in the opportunity it has set round every pulpit. O, all you who are our very best young men, all you, our ablest, foremost at college, most gifted, most many-sided, most original, most speculative, most intellectually pioneering and enterprising young men, I beseech you with all my might, do not miss the magnificent opportunity that the pulpit offers to him who can fill it as you could. Even we who will never now fill it-unless it is with tears and prayers night and day-we see, when it is too late, the incomparable life it at one time held out to us, and now holds out to you. There is no circle anywhere under heaven for individual interest; for all kinds of influence, the most immediate and the most lasting; and for the ever-deepening discipline of your own mind, and heart, and life, like the evangelical pulpit. O young men of Scotland, our choicest and our best young men, why stand ye so long hesitating? Open your eyes. Look around. Look within. Look at the church. Look at the world. Look forward to death and to the last day. And then look at the everlasting reward. They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. Then Esther bade them return to Mordecai this answer: Fast ye, and pray for me, and so will I go in unto the king.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Esther'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​e/esther.html. 1901.
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