Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king.VI.
(1) Could not the king sleep.—Literally, the king's sleep fled away. Here, in the most striking way in the whole book, the workings of God’s providence on behalf of His people are shown. “God Himself is here, though His name be absent.” The king’s sleepless night falls after the day when Haman has resolved to ask on the morrow for Mordecai’s execution, a foretaste of the richer vengeance he hopes to wreak on the whole nation of the Jews. It is by a mere chance, one would say, looking at the matter simply in its human aspect, that the king should call for the book of the royal chronicles, and not for music. It was by a mere chance too. it might seem, that the reader should happen to light upon the record of Mordecai’s services; and yet when all these apparent accidents are wrought up into the coincidence they make, how completely is the providence visible, the power that will use men as the instruments of its work, whether they know it, or know it not, whether they be willing or unwilling, whether the glory of God is to be manifested in and by and through them, or manifested on them only.
They were read before the king.—Canon Rawlinson remarks that there is reason to think that the Persian kings were in most cases unable to read.
And it was found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on the king Ahasuerus.(2) It was found written.—See Esther 2:21-23.
And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king's servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him.(3) What honour and dignity hath been done.—The names of those who were thought worthy of being accounted “royal benefactors” were enrolled on a special list, and they were supposed to be suitably rewarded, though not necessarily at the time. The reward however was. in theory at any rate, a thing to which the “benefactor” had a distinct claim, and an almost legal right.
And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king's house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.(4) Haman was come.—It being at length morning, Haman had come to the palace in due course, and was waiting in the outer court till the king should call for him. The king in the inner court ponders what recompense to bestow upon Mordecai, Haman in the outer court stands ready primed with a request that he may be hanged.
So Haman came in. And the king said unto him, What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour? Now Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?(6) Whom the king delighteth . . .—Literally, in whose honour the hing delighteth.
Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head:(8) Let the royal apparel be brought . . .—These exceedingly great distinctions Haman suggests, thinking with unaccountable vanity (for nothing is said or implied as to any service rendered by him to the king) that the king must necessarily have been referring to him, and in a moment he is irretrievably committed. Whether Hainan’s character had at its best estate much discretion, or whether he rose to his high position, not by the qualities that should commend a statesman to a king, but, like many another Eastern Vizier, had by flattery and base arts gained the royal favour, we cannot say; here he shows the lack of the most ordinary discretion, his vanity is so inordinate that he cannot see the possibility of any one’s merits save his own. The request which Haman made may be illustrated by the permission granted by Xerxes to his uncle Artabanus to put on the royal robes and sleep in the royal bed at Susa (Herod, vii. 15-17).
The horse that the king rideth upon.—Thus Pharaoh, desiring-to honour Joseph, made him ride in his own chariot (Genesis 41:43): David, wishing to show that Solomon had really become king in his father’s lifetime, commands that he should ride on the king’s mule (1Kings 1:33; 1Kings 1:44).
And the crown royal which is set upon his head.—If we take the Hebrew here quite literally, the meaning must be and on whose (i.e., the horse’s) head a royal crown is set. The only objection to this view is, that there appears to be no evidence of such a custom among the Persians. Some render, and that a (or the: the Hebrew is necessarily ambiguous in such a case) royal crown be set, but this we consider does violence to the Hebrew. It must be noted that both the king in his reply, and the writer in describing what actually took place, make no mention of a crown as worn by Mordecai, nor does Haman in the following verse.
And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.(9) Noble.—See above, Esther 1:3, Note.
Street.—See above, Esther 4:6, Note.
Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken.(10) The Jew.—Mordecai’s nationality would doubtless be given in the book of records. Thus Esther, in urging her petition by-and-by, has already on her side the king’s good-will to one prominent member of the proscribed race.
Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and brought him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him, Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour.(11) Then took Haman . . .—It would be a grim and curious study to analyse Hainan’s feelings at this juncture. Various thoughts were mingled there. Self-reproach, perhaps, that he had so thoughtlessly been the cause of the present display, bitter hatred of his rival now multiplied a thousandfold, and the evident knowledge that the game was played out, and that he was ruined. The more subtle the brain, the more truly must he have known this.
And Mordecai came again to the king's gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered.(12) Mordecai came again to the king’s gate.—He had received his reward, and to the Eastern, who sees continually the Vizier and the poor man exchange places, there would be nothing startling in this resumption of the former humble post.
His head covered.—In token of mourning.
And Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him, If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him.(13) Told.—The same word as on a former occasion. Esther 5:11. Then the tale was one of boastful pride in what he had, and no less boastful pride in what he hoped to be; now it is of bitter disappointment and bitter anticipation, not brightened by any of the thoughts which blunt the keenness of many a sorrow, as when men have nobly done their duty, though it is not God’s will that their efforts should succeed for the time, and when the hope could be cherished that a brighter time must dawn before long. Nothing of this comfort could be Hainan’s. He had’ not failed in an honest discharge of his duty, but in a cruel and unjust scheme (not that the king can be called a whit better in this matter); he knew the usages of his country far too well to suppose for a moment that, after having made such an attempt, and having failed, he would be allowed to try a second time.
If Mordecai . . . before whom thou hast begun . . .—Poor comfort does the unfortunate schemer get from his household; he knew too well already that he had begun to fall, his heart must have told him all too truly that it was but the beginning: what then could he expect from this communication to his family? Had he been the representative of a fallen cause, fallen but not discredited, despairing even of his cause, yet not ashamed of the course that had resulted thus, he might have been helped with counsel and cheering and sympathy. Contrast Zeresh’s perhaps last words to her husband with those, for example, of the wife of good John Rogers, or of Rowland Taylor, on their way. to the stake, in the days of the Marian persecution.