Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A UNIVERSAL TAXING. The laying of "a tribute on the land and the isles of the sea" may seem very arbitrary, but it was probably in the manner of a notable reform. It is to be attributed to Mordecai, and is given as a special instance of his wisdom and power. Despots have many ways of extracting money from those whom they govern, but the only proper way of supporting government is through just and systematic taxation. If the satraps or governors of provinces send in abundant supplies, shahs and sultans are content; they pay no heed to the manner in which the supplies have been secured. From this cause corruption and oppression still abound in the East. Mordecai adopted a system of direct taxation which embraced the whole empire, and for this he succeeded in getting the king's sanction. Let us remark -
1. That tribute is necessary. Government cannot be efficiently maintained without adequate support; it is worth paying for.
2. Tribute should only be raised for necessary purposes; not for selfish indulgences or vainglorious conquests, but for the legitimate needs of the state.
3. Tribute should be equitable in its incidence. It should be borne by all, but at the same time it should exhibit a just regard to the varying conditions and abilities of citizens.
4. Tribute should be levied openly, and only through legally-appointed channels. Otherwise injustice and corruption are encouraged.
5. Tribute is most satisfactory when estimated and determined by a people themselves through appointed representatives. Self-government and self-taxation are in all respects better than an irresponsible despotism.
6. Tribute when just or necessary should always be cheerfully given. We have a duty to our rulers. The protection, freedom, and peace secured to us by a good government are cheaply purchased by a taxation that is equally levied on all.
7. Tribute is due to the heavenly King as well as to earthly monarchs and states. Whilst rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's, we should be careful to render to God what is God's (Matthew 22:21).
II. OTHER ACTS OF WISDOM AND GREATNESS. These are only noted, not described They were many and illustrious. But though our narrative passes by these acts with a simple allusion to them, it refers us for detailed and complete information to a good authority - "are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?" No doubt the writer thought that archives of the great empire would outlive his little story.. But where now are they? Where is the empire itself? Where are other empires, greater and more brilliant, that succeeded it as the dominant world-power? All vanished, and their records with them! The only chronicle preserved of Mordecai's doings is that given in the Book of Esther, and its preservation is owing to its having been bound up with the word of God to men. Let us learn -
1. The evanescent character of all worldly things.
III. A PLEASANT RECOGNITION OF HONEST AND HONOURABLE GREATNESS. Mordecai was powerful not only with the king and his heathen subjects, but with "the multitude of his own brethren" throughout the empire. His power, however, was not forced, or grudgingly acknowledged. He was "great among the Jews" because he was "accepted of," or acceptable to them. All power that relies on force and exacts an unwilling submission is bad and precarious; that power only is legitimate and secure which is based on the confidence and affection of a willing people. Mordecai's acceptableness with his brethren of Israel sprang from two things: -
1. He sought their wealth. In other words, he studied their prosperity. All the laws of the empire were so framed as to secure their freedom of industry and commercial intercourse.
2. He spoke peace to them. His acts had the effect of delivering them from the fear of their enemies. He held over them the shield of the king's protection, and enabled them to live and work in quiet contentedness. We have here an emblematic picture of Christ's kingdom. Prosperity and peace are the two great blessings promised to the people of Zion (Psalm 122:6, 7). "Quietness and assurance for ever" is "the effect of righteousness" (Isaiah 32:17, 18). Christ is the "King of glory" and the "Prince of peace." "The good Shepherd" watches, defends, guides, and feeds his sheep; he makes them "lie down in green pastures," and leads them "beside the still waters" (Psalm 23:2). - D.
patriot in the portrait we have of Mordecai. But the honourable summary of this verse reminds us that he had passed the mere politician and patriot. He has won for himself the name of the great and the good statesman. He is "next to Ahasuerus;" and what he did and what he was affected not the Jews only, but the whole empire - all of the various and wide dominion of the king. He is stamped on the sacred page as the type of A BENEFICENT STATESMAN. There have been not a few who have extorted from their own day and generation the title of great statesmen, but the claim has not survived them long.. The number of the really beneficent statesmen is much smaller, but their renown is for ever. In the amazing wealth and variety of Scripture lesson for every need of human life, and of Scripture model for every office of authority and influence in human society, this of the honest and beneficent statesman is not overlooked. Neither must we overlook it, nor omit to notice, as afresh suggested by it, how intrinsic an argument is herein given us for the Divine inspiration of the Bible. Whence but from such an original could have come to us so many, so perfect models? It is doubly important that we should remark how ample a share of these the Book of Esther contains - evidences of inspiration of the highest kind and value. The brief summary of this verse is the more impressive as coming at the very end of the book. But passing by all other suggestions, it speaks of a certain greatness, and a greatness evidently of very comprehensive character. It is the greatness of an emphatically good statesman. Let us take the opportunity suggested by a leading instance of considering -
I. THE STATESMAN'S OFFICE.
1. It is the expression of government. If man were only gregarious, he would need, and undoubtedly be subjected to. government. ALL living things are subject to government, need it, and are rapidly being brought under the rule of man, according to the charter originally given to man.
2. It is the expression of order. Man is emphatically not merely gregarious; he is social. The variety of his sympathies and antipathies is very large, and their range amazing. So much so, that the saying, "The chiefest study of mankind is man," might, if reversed, express to perfection a great truth for some, and read, "The chiefest study of man is mankind."
3. It is the expression of concentrated purpose, of intelligent, united advance. The highest and most beneficent results of SOCIETY would without it he unattainable by the human species. Development of society is always tending toward higher developments of government. And the beneficial reaction is sometimes abundantly evident. Again, the higher-developed form of government is always tending to render possible higher social results.
4. It is in some degree the expression of morality and religion. Where the religious sense is lowest, then it is lowest, and vice versa It has been well said that "the organisation of every human community indicates some sense of a Divine presence, some consciousness of a higher law, some pressure of a solemn necessity." Government (and therefore the chief personage of government) is the outcome of the most elementary necessities of humanity in some of the very highest aspects of that same humanity. From the very first this was testified; and through exceedingly various forms, lower and higher in type, the principle has ever held its ground, and still excites attention and interest second to not one of the profoundest problems.
II. SOME OF THE GENERAL REQUISITES FOR IT.
1. A certain passion for humanity as considered in large masses.
2. A natural gift for discerning the genius of a people.
3. Natural qualifications for exercising rule.
(1) Sympathy strong.
(2) Justice clear and inviolable.
(3) Authority, often indefinable in its elements, but evidencing its own existence conclusively.
(4) Temper and moderation.
4. Carefully-trained ability to calculate the effects of certain legislative treatment on Whole communities of people, and on their mutual adjustments.
5. Favourableness of position, as marked out by Providence.
III. SOME OF THE MORE SPECIALLY MORAL AND BENEFICENT REQUISITES OF IT.
1. The "greatness" which it inevitably marks will he, as far as possible, free from the taint of personal ambition. Surely there was a minimum of this in Mordecai, as there was a loathsome maximum of it in Haman. The very way in which high position is attained will be a happy omen, or the reverse.
2. Its "greatness" will partake largely of the moral element.
(1) It will have ready for the hour of special need of it an inflexible moral courage. What an illustration of this Mordecai gave before he attained high office, and when he would not bow to wrong, and, when wrong became more wrong, still refused to "move," though dread punishment overhung.
(2) The natural temper and gift of authority will more and more become transmuted into moral authority, and become superseded by moral influence. Express mention is made of this in the career of Mordecai. "The fear of him," of the moral power that was behind him, spread over enemy and grew comfortingly in friend.
3. Its greatness will lay itself out in practical devotion to the interests of the crowded multitude. Mordecai "sought the wealth of his people," and it made him "accepted of the multitude of his brethren."
4. Its greatness will speak the things of peace. Special emphasis is laid on the fact that Mordecai "spoke peace to all his seed." The statesman is not to seek to give the impression of caste. He is not to flourish upon war or strife. He is not to propagate the methods and the ideas of the high-handed, but all the contrary. Like the spiritual teacher, he also must not "cry, Peace, peace, when there is no peace;" but he is to make peace as far as may be possible by breathing peace upon all.
IV. SOME OF ITS REWARD. Beside all such as he will have in common with every obscurest fellow-man who is faithful, in the satisfaction of fulfilling duty, in peace of conscience, and in a persuasion of Divine approval, he may reckon upon -
1. The joy of seeing a prospered community, due in some part to his work.
2. The gratitude of a discerning people growing round his accumulating years.
3. An honourable, enduring place on the best of the pages of history. - B.
I. We might remark upon THE WAY IN WHICH HE EARNED HIS ELEVATION. Perhaps as a Jew, he was a little revengeful towards aliens; but he filled well a lowly position, and so was prepared better for a higher. Shall we desire rather to reap rewards than to sow the seed which will produce them?
II. Gather stimulus from THE WAY IN WHICH HE PERFORMED HIS DUTY AND KEPT HIS INTEGRITY. In this he felt that he was already rewarded. And shall we not learn to be patient? Our impatience is our great hindrance. We do not wait, trusting in God, as Mordecai. Yet "he knoweth the way that we take," and in his own time will bring us forth when sufficiently tested.
III. Gather lessons from the fact that HIS PROSPERITY WAS MATERIALLY AIDED BY HIS FAITH AND PRAYER. By his words to Esther we are sure he looked to God for deliverance. When the deliverance came it involved his prosperity as well as that of his people, just as a stranded vessel, when again floating, carries forward not only the captain, but any passengers on board. Mordecai firmly believed that, even though Esther held her peace, "enlargement and deliverance would arise to the Jews from some other place." We can pray to be made faithful, holy, earnest, and in due time the reward will come. It will then be in a sense the result of prayer.
IV. Gather encouragement in seeing HOW HIS ELEVATION CAME WHEN HIS HOPES WERE AT THE LOWEST EBB. See on what a trifle they turned. And thus it is constantly seen in life. Be prepared to seize the trifles, and remember that the darkest night oft ushers in the brightest morning.
V. Gather also instruction in seeing HOW HIS ELEVATION WAS APPROVED BY HIS FELLOW-MEN. We are told he was "accepted of the multitude of his brethren." There was little envy at his rise, because there was much humility in the man. So there are men in whose prosperity we may delight, because, instead of being puffed up, or becoming purse-proud, they maintain their former humility, and practise greater liberality.
VI. Gather guidance from THE WAY IN WHICH MORDECAI USED HIS ELEVATION FOR THE BEST PURPOSES. He sought the welfare of his people, and spoke "peace to all his seed." Not only so, but there is a tradition that many of the Persians, and even the king, believed in God through him. Let us then go through life seeking opportunities to do good, and using those we find. Let us make the motto of Cromwell ours, not only to strike while the iron is hot, "but to make it hot by striking." As Christians, let us seek the welfare and eternal peace of others. We rust, we freeze when we live only for ourselves. We should be like the stream spoken of in a fable, "too active to freeze." "The mill-stream went dashing along, so that the frost could not seize and bind it. The traveller over the Alps in winter was so earnest in striving to save his brother, overcome by cold, that he was himself kept alive by the attempt." Remember that, after all, Mordecai's elevation was but a type of the heavenly honour and glory which awaits all those faithful in spiritual things. The "declaration of his glory" was written side by side with that of the king. He died full of years and of honour. That God who had been his guide in life was his refuge in death. When ushered into heaven, he doubtless felt that he had been, at best, an unprofitable servant. Still, God gave him, doubtless, in that world a position far more elevated, far more lasting, far more satisfactory than that which he, the whilom neglected deliverer, occupied as the prime minister of the Persian king. ? H.
1. Physical endowments. Strength, skill, courage are among these. The athlete, the warrior, the hunter were heroes in ancient times. The deeds of Hercules, Samson, Goliath were celebrated in song.
2. Mental powers. Genius is everywhere admired. Its mighty works are the most precious inheritances of our race. In literature, in science, in art, in the numberless inventions of civilised life, it continues to bless the world.
3. Exalted position. This may be due to mere accident. Kings, princes, noblemen are as a rule born to their high rank. When such is the case they deserve no credit for it. High places are sometimes snatched by the unscrupulous - by men who have no better recommendation than their audacity in the universal scramble for power which goes on round about us. There is no meanness that some will not stoop to, for the sake of the glittering honours of office, or even those petty distinctions which noble minds hold in utter contempt. But distinguished stations are also the rewards of physical endowments and mental powers honourably employed. Then are they to be coveted, to be held in high esteem. The case of Mordecai is a noted example. The text leads us to notice THE TESTS OF MORAL WORTH. Speaking generally, these are 'numerous; but we shall confine ourselves to those suggested here - popularity, unselfishness, peaceableness. Whom shall we consider morally great?
I. THE MAN WHO STANDS WELL WITH THE BEST PORTION OF THE COMMUNITY. "And accepted of the multitude of his brethren." Popularity as such has no intrinsic value, and to seek it for its own sake is degrading to the soul. Let any thoughtful man, while contemplating the quality of the exhibition that attracts the largest crowd, ask himself whether the admiration of such a crowd is really worth obtaining, and his inmost soul will answer, No. Crowds have been so often on the wrong side in great controversies that they have actually lost all claim to respect. They have generally applauded unjust wars; they have persecuted the pioneers of knowledge, both secular and religious; they acquiesced in the death of the Saviour. And yet, though the crowds of one age murder the prophets, the crowds of future ages will always build their sepulchres. History ever does justice to the memory of the martyr, and even he becomes popular when too late. But the Jews in captivity, the "brethren" of Mordecai, were a select community. They possessed a knowledge of things Divine which placed them on an incomparably higher level than the heathen among whom they lived. To be accepted of them, therefore, was a mark of worth. "The multitude of his brethren." A man may be the favourite of a party simply for party considerations. But when the upright among all parties agree to honour him, it must be on account of sterling qualities.
II. THE MAN WHO DEVOTES HIMSELF TO PROMOTE THE GOOD OF OTHERS. "Seeking the wealth of his people." Self-sacrifice was the Divinest quality in the Divinest Man. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Into the kingdom which he came to establish no man can enter without denying himself, taking up his cross, and following him. Fallen man is essentially selfish. Look around you for a single moment, and the proofs of this will crowd upon your view. Most of the evils with which man afflicts his kind are traceable to this source. But look at the grand lives of history - lives which light up the gloom of sin and woe in which the world is enveloped - and what constitutes their glory? They are grand only in so far as they approach the sublime ideal which was fully realised only by One. Take the Apostle Paul. His memorable utterance to the Corinthians was the key-note of his entire life: "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."
III. THE MAN WHO EXERTS HIS INFLUENCE IN THE INTEREST OF PEACE. "And speaking peace to all his seed." The primary reference in these words is probably to the kindness of Mordecai's disposition, but they are capable of a somewhat wider application, so as to include the desire of maintaining harmony, order, peace. It has been said of mankind, with too much reason, that their "state of nature is a state of war." Sin divides men. In private life, in public affairs, in international relations, this is seen daily. Envy, rivalry, strife are found everywhere. Such is the state of things even in this enlightened age, that no nation feels itself safe except it be prepared for the most deadly struggle with its neighbour. The advocate of peace is consequently a benefactor of his kind. The kingdom of God is "peace." The birth of its Founder was heralded by angels who sang of "peace on earth." The most precious legacy which Christ left his people was his "peace." And among the grand utterances of the grandest sermon is found this: "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God." - R.