Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:)Empire Day
Our text is from the first chapter of Esther, part of the sixth verse, 'Red, and blue, and white,' or, in more familiar order, red, white, and blue, those three great colours on the flag which has floated both in England and foreign parts over the whole of the British Empire.
What a strange power colours have in the nation's history! We are familiar with the college colours, the dark blue of Oxford and the light blue of Cambridge; with school colours, the light blue of Eton and the dark blue of Harrow. We are familiar with the thought of the great power that the colours of uniforms have in the nation. We think of the red coats, the colour that Cromwell gave to the British Army, when he first of all clothed it in a special dress. We think of the blue jackets, the colour that you may see in Nelson's coat in the Royal Institute in Whitehall, the first colour that a British sailor ever wore as an official uniform.
Let us take these colours separately.
I. Red.—Red is the Bible colour for war. Red tells of battle; and we never can repeat too often the root-idea which is wrapped up in the present-day attitude of Christianity towards that red—war. It is the attitude of a society which preaches that war is always a crime, is always wrong, but that there come days in the history of a nation when we have to choose between a greater crime and a lesser crime. We have to choose between that great crime, war—and those of us who have seen anything of it know what it means—but we know that great as that crime is, there is a greater crime, and that is, by a life of lazy indulgence to let our country be invaded and exposed to the horrors of a second siege of Jerusalem. It would be a greater crime to let the nation be exposed to the starvation, terribly increasing, that we are seeing about us today than to go to war and commit the lesser crime, crime though it be, of fighting. Let us look at the symbolical teaching of Trafalgar Square in London, an almost sacred spot for us English people. Go to that square. There, facing, fronting London, as it were, is the naval column of Nelson. What is behind? There is the representation first of the British Army; there are the monuments of Gordon, and Havelock, and Napier. Nelson stands in front of them. He keeps the British Navy that must defend the British Army. I look a little further behind and see the National Gallery that tells of Art and peace. What is it that makes the peaceful arts, the business life of the nation, possible? And I answer, If I see the symbolical teaching of Trafalgar Square, I see Nelson in front of all; I see the country in such a state of security as the British Navy alone makes it possible to be in.
II. White.—There is another colour. It is white; and I learn that if the red, war, is indeed to float over England victoriously and successfully, then England's cause must be a white cause. We must fight, not for greed, not for aggrandisement, not merely to increase our foreign possessions, but for a cause that has a clean slate behind it, for a cause that we can write down as the colour of the second colour in the great Union Jack—a white cause.
III. Blue.—Then there is that great colour, blue, our own naval colour. There is an expression which we English people are familiar with in connexion with the colour blue. It is this, 'Be true blue'. Be true blue to your king. There have been times, there have been kings, when, and under whom, it has been difficult for the nation to stand loyally by, to be true blue to; but this is not the case now. On our great throne we have a King whose whole object is to keep the country at the high level at which his ancestors handed it down to him. Be true blue to your country. Be patriots.
IV. There is a Deeper Sense in which red, white, and blue will, I think, teach us all today.
(a) The red, does it not tell of that great rebellion that is so visibly stalking our streets everywhere in the form of sin? What is sin but rebellion; and what have we to do but to enlist under the red banner of Him who was the soldiers' God, and fight sin in whatever form it touches us, either personally or in our country?
(b) Lead, the white life.
(c) Be true to your Christ King.—There is an old toast of the English nation, 'Church and King'. First Church, and all the Church stands for, and then King. First another King, one Jesus. Be loyal to the Christ; fight for Him. Fight the good fight with all thy might, as He fought for you. 'Fight for the right, by day and by night; fight for the red, white, and blue.'
The text is, 'The vessels being diverse one from another'. There is a principle in this statement; let us find that principle, and fear not to apply it. No two men are alike. Yet we speak of men as if they were one. They are one, but not in likeness. The root lies deeper than the appearance; the root is unity, the evolution is variety; but the variety does not destroy the unity. The great thing to be done is to realize unity in diversity, and diversity in unity.
I. There are no two sins alike. No two men sin in just the same way. Wherein is the satisfaction or the subtle delight? It is in this, that I can thank God that I do not sin as my neighbour sins. There is some originality about my iniquity, there is no originality about the other man's iniquity. He who is strong at one point seeks to magnify his strength by comparing it with the weaknesses of other men. We want the inner criticism. No two sins are just alike; they are various in measure if not always various in quality, and are to be judged by the temperament of the men. When all is known much may be forgiven.
II. Men believe in different ways. We are not all equally gifted in faith. 'Him that is weak in the faith receive ye.' You have been made strong that you may help the weakness of other men. Do not boast of your greatness and your orthodoxy, your Pharisaic pride and pomp; but wherein the Spirit of Christ has laid hold on you and made you very strong in faith and mighty in prayer, remember that you are trustees of these abilities and privileges, that you may use them for the sake of the poor, the outcast, and the weak.
III. It is easy to add, but most necessary, that men work in different ways. The vessels of gold are diverse one from the other even in this matter of work. But if you do not work in my way what becomes of you? When will people let other people alone? when will they recognize individuality of conscience? when will they give men credit for doing the very best according to their ability. When will we remember that the vessels of God are diverse the one from the other, that each man must be himself and work in his own way according to his own ability; remembering all the time not to make himself offensive to people who work along other lines and policies?
What a brotherhood there would be amongst us if we all recognized this principle! No two experiences are alike. We are at liberty to talk one to another, but we are not at liberty to judge one another in this matter of spiritual experience.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 223.
References.—I. 7.—A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 98. I. 13-22.—A. D. Davidson, Lectures on Esther, p. 29. II. 1-4.—Ibid. p. 49. II. 1-20.—A. Raleigh, The Book of Esther, p. 48. II. 5-20.—A. D. Davidson, Lectures on Esther, p. 67. II. 21-23; III. 1-5.—Ibid. p. 89. III. 6-11.—Ibid. p. 108.
That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the palace,
In the third year of his reign, he made a feast unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles and princes of the provinces, being before him:
When he shewed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days.
And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace;
Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble.
And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another,) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state of the king.
And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure.
Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus.
On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,
To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on.
But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king's commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.
Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times, (for so was the king's manner toward all that knew law and judgment:
And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king's face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;)
What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?
And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.
For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.
Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king's princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.
If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.
And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire, (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.
And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan:
For he sent letters into all the king's provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people.