Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
mutual relations of those two peoples. In the first instance the people who had been exalted are cast down; and the people who had been cast down, lifted up. But this was a little matter compared with the consequence immediately resulting, and which showed so prominently to view; namely, a most significant and determined alteration of the attitude of the one to the other. The lessons suggested by this passage, whatever they may be, offer themselves on the scale of national magnitude. We are reminded -
I. OF THE ANTAGONISMS TO WHICH NATIONAL LIFE OFFERS OPPORTUNITY - an opportunity which the world's history shows to have been ever lamentably improved. The antagonism of the individual is reproduced on a more terrible scale, and with consequences inconceivably disastrous. It must he noted that this spirit of national antagonism bears not only the reproach of the direct sin and miseries, of which war is the declared manifestation; it is an enemy, the indirect ravages of which add up to a fearful amount. This may be seen from observing in the place of what it is, that it so often stands.
1. It is antagonism usurping the place of natural and sympathetic love.
2. It is antagonism turning out healthy emulation, and stimulating rivalry.
3. It is antagonism hindering to an amazing degree that plenty, and wealth, and cheapness which come of mutual sustentation, of inter-trading, of each nationality, according to its physical advantages and its genius, pursuing its own bent, to share the abundance of its consequent production with other nations.
II. OF THE INSUFFICIENT CAUSES OF THE ANTAGONISMS TO WHICH NATIONAL LIFE IS EXPOSED.
1. They emphatically do not lie in any international necessity of nature. They mean always fault and sin at some door. They cannot be justified by any supposed likeness to the natural storms of our earth and skies, though these may frame into an unhappy analogy with them.
2. They do not reside in any international necessity of trade or other interest.
3. They are rarely enough owing to the determined will or fitful passion of the great body of the people. These will adopt them, it is true, and will soon be heated by false sense of national glory; but they do not originate them.
4. They are rarely enough due to fault on one side alone.
5. Even when mingled with some just occasion, they are rarely enough what could not be averted by the wise treatment of those in high authority.
6. They strongly resemble the antagonisms and antipathies of private individuals in these two respects - that they arise from the smallest matters, and take occasion from temper and pride.
III. OF THE MULTIPLIED RESPONSIBILITY AND IMPORTANCE WHICH NATIONAL LIFE THROWS UPON INDIVIDUALS. It is easy to see that nations the largest, the mightiest, the most complex are but made up of individuals. But it is not so easy to believe, it is not so welcome to the mind to remember at all times, how the greatest events, for good or for ill, depend very largely on the character and conduct of individuals. Thus national life immensely increases the importance of the individual. It is the highest in an ascending series of terms. For instance -
1. There is the intrinsic importance of individual life to each man.
2. There is the importance that inevitably attaches to the head-of-family life.
3. There is the importance that belongs to all public life, in all the varying and numerous places of Church and of State.
4. There is he importance which is inseparable from the place of the governing, the highest places in the state. This, though strictly comprehended in the foregoing head, demands to be classified separately, because of its highest significance, its superlatively critical issues. Haman had done a world of mischief. To human eye it can scarcely be said that Mordecai had recovered the balance. The one caused the intensest hatred of "the enemies of the Jews" to blaze up, to the unmeasured misery of the Jews. And when things were reversed, and "it was turned to the contrary," though a lesson of terrible retribution was displayed, and though justice should seem to have another sacrifice offered at her shrine, yet love is left as far in the rear as ever. The whole family of envy, jealousy, malice, cruelty have it too much their own way - so far as our human point of view can see or calculate.
IV. OF THE WONDERFUL ROOM FOR DISPLAY OF THE OVERRULING PROVIDENCE OF GOD WHICH NATIONAL LIFE PRESENTS. Two centuries before the history contained in this narrative, the prophet had said, "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." There are given to us all the quiet, urgent, infinitely numerous lessons of providence in our individual lives. How are they unobserved, lost, smothered in the thoughtless course, the hurried rate of our lives! They look in vain into our very eyes; they whisper in vain in our very ears; they knock in vain at our very doors; they plead in vain with our reason, our self-interest, our conscience. But with overwhelming effect come at times national providences. These speak sometimes as with the voice of thunder, and they are seen sometimes with the vividness of the lightning's flash by hundreds of thousands at one and the same moment. The great subject suggested by our present history, then, demands the attention of statesmen, of legislators, of all public men in their degree, and may obtain many a valuable cross light from the subject already considered of patriotism. - B.
I. FOOLISH LAWS BRING ABOUT REIGNS OF TERROR. The foolish consent of the king became law, and then by another absurd law it could not be changed or checked.
II. IN REIGNS OF TERROR THE INNOCENT HAVE TO SUFFER WITH THE GUILTY.
III. IN REIGNS OF TERROR THE GOOD MUST STAND TOGETHER. In the world there is a great fight for goodness, truth, and Christ to be still waged. Anarchy suits the prince of darkness. The Christian is in ever)- sense the friend of order, good government, and righteousness. - H.
I. THAT THE OCCASION BE ONE OF UNDOUBTED NECESSITY. In the present instance the whole number of the Jews scattered throughout the 127 provinces now subject to Ahasuerus had been threatened with extermination. There could be no doubt of their imminent danger, and of their helplessness. When Esther (Esther 8:5) supplicated the king "to reverse the letters devised by Haman... which he wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king's provinces," the king met the difficulty of his former irreversible decree and irreversible letters by giving authority to the threatened Jews "to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy... all the power of the people and province that would assault them" (Esther 8:11). He cannot reverse his own former decree literally, but by a fiction he does so very really, very effectually. Esther and Mordecai would at that time have been gladly content to have simply removed from their own race the decree that doomed them, but from the time that this way of putting the matter was revealed by the king, and the whole responsibility of saving themselves was thrown so far on their own efforts, the occasion became one of undoubted necessity. It was not war, it was not murder, it was not gratuitous massacre - it was a case of self-defence.
II. THAT THERE BE THE LEAST SACRIFICE OF LIFE THAT WOULD ATTAIN THE NEEDFUL END. It is remarkable that the exact number should be so carefully given of the two slaughters in Shushan (vers. 6, 15), and of the aggregate of that (ver. 16) which took effect through the "king's provinces." That Esther asked for another day's opportunity of taking the lives of the enemies of her people in Shushan (vers. 13-15) may safely be understood to be owing to special necessities not given in detail. It need not for one moment indicate any wish that one life more should be sacrificed than should be necessary for the safety of the Jews. Now when the sum-total of the slain are added, amounting to 75,800, first, the number, large as it seems, probably does not reach the number of the Jews who were to have been exterminated; secondly, it is certain there was no comparison between the numbers relatively - for in the case of the Jews the slaughter was to have been of all, while 75,800 were but a small proportion of the entire population not Jews; and thirdly, there not only is no evidence of there having been any indiscriminate slaughter on the part of the Jews, but presumably none were slain except such as rose up to slay. This self-defence, therefore, on the part of the Jews probably left more living men than would have been left under the circumstances if the Jews had suffered their own lives to be unresistingly taken.
III. THAT THE LEAST POSSIBLE GAIN OUTSIDE OF THE ONE GAIN OF LIFE, THE SUPREME OBJECT SOUGHT, BE TAKEN BY THE ACT OF SELF-DEFENCE. In the decree granted by King Ahasuerus special provision was spontaneously made that the Jews should appropriate the spoil on their successful resistance of the enemy. Nevertheless, when the time came they refused to do so. And evidently much significance attached to this conduct. It is repeated as many as three times in this chapter. On every occasion on which a victory on their part is announced, this is added-that instead of laying hands on the prey, they emphatically refrained from doing so. This differences self-defence, and the taking of life in self-defence, very greatly from other occasions in which life is taken.
IV. THAT REVENGE BE THE LEAST POSSIBLE ELEMENT IN IT. In cases of sudden need of self-defence there will be no room for the feeling of revenge. Self-defence, however, will by no means be requisite only in such cases. Where there is long delay it is impossible to predicate that none of the spirit of revenge may enter into the hearts of some out of the many; but there is no need to suppose that now there was any in the hearts of the principals. Esther and Mordecai desired one thing - the safety of their people. They wished for "rest from their enemies." They probably felt that they were the ministers of righteous retribution. They desired that Haman's ten sons "hanged on the gallows" should still drive home on an impressed populace the sense and conviction of what a force righteous retribution was, and how much men ought "to stand in awe" because of it; but there is no proof whatever that in all the relief to the bitterness of their soul revenge played any part. The lessons of this portion of the narrative are not needed for the pulpit on every Lord's day certainly, but it may be they are provided here, in the universality of the use of the Divine book, for some special and solemn crises. - B.
I. REST. All the Jews in the empire, except those in Shushan, rested on the 14th of Adar. The Jews in Shushan, after their two days' conflict, rested on the 15th of Adar. Then all had rest. So utterly broken was the power of their enemies that they had rest not only from a past fear, but from anxiety as to the future. How sweet is rest after the agitation of a long-threatened peril - to the soldier when the battle is fought and won; to the nation when the foes who sought to destroy it are bereft of power. The soul-rest of a victory over sin and death is the gift of Christ to those who follow hint (Matthew 11:28-30; John 14:27); and when all the conflicts of earth are over, "there remaineth a rest to the people of God," an eternal heaven (Hebrews 4:9-11).
II. Joy. It is natural that joy in its inward emotion and outward manifestations should be proportionate to the benefit that has occasioned it. The wonderful deliverance of the Jews filled them with a wonderful joy; their hearts ran over with gladness. So also to the man who appropriates Christ and his redemption there is a "joy of salvation," "a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). John the Baptist's "joy was fulfilled" at the hearing of "the Bridegroom's voice" (John 3:29). Jesus explained his object, in teaching his disciples the truth, as being "that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). The religion of God is a religion of joy. It slays fear and banishes gloom. It turns all things into channels of a joy that is heaven-born. Sackcloth may be the symbolic garb of the penitent, but robes washed white and shining are the symbolic clothing of the true believer. "Songs of deliverance" encompass the saved (Psalm 32:7; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16).
III. UNITY. Common trials and common triumphs have great power in binding men together. Both in their grief and in their joy the Jews became as one family. Heart flowed into heart, and all stood up and drew close in compact oneness. The deliverance would add immensely to the sense of brotherhood which the common terror had excited. In presence of such experiences minor differences in opinion and practice vanish. The more that Christians realise their own need, and God's mercy in Christ, the more readily will they regard each other as brethren of the "household of faith." The history of the Church of God shows in a signal way how God often sends alternate tribulations and triumphs just to bring his people closer to himself, and thereby closer to each other against their common foes.
IV. LARGE-HEARTEDNESS. A true joy enlarges the heart; a sense of goodness received excites a desire to do good. Grace is communicative. If we love Christ, we shall love all whom Christ loves. If we have joy in God, we shall long to impart that joy to others. The gladness of a God-saved soul diffuses itself like the light. This effect of deliverance was shown by the Jews in three ways: -
1. In their "feasting" together. Social gatherings in connection with great events or interests, when wisely conducted, afford a good opportunity for mutual encouragement and edification.
2. In their "sending portions one to another." Not content with words or messages, they exchanged presents, as tokens of thankful congratulation and sympathy. A sense of the Divine favour should make the heart generous and liberal.
3. In their presenting "gifts to the poor." It was remembered that there were many who had not the means of celebrating the common deliverance; so the poor received gifts, that all might rejoice together. "Freely ye have received, freely give" (1 John 3:17). Memorials: -
1. A written record. "Mordecai wrote these things" (ver. 20). Some have inferred from this sentence that Mordecai was the author of the Book of Esther. It is as likely, however, that the book was composed by another from writings left by Mordecai. In any case, a suitable record of the events in which the Jew played so important a part was made to become, through its insertion in the sacred canon, the best and most enduring monument of the deliverance of Israel from the wiles of Haman.
2. An annual festival. Esther and Mordecai ordained that the Jews everywhere should celebrate yearly the victory over Haman by a three days' feast. From that day to this the feast of Pur, or Purim, has held its place among the other established festivals of Israel. At the present time its observance is attended by much excess. Memorial institutions have a great evidential value. Just as the Lord's Supper and the Lord's day at once commemorate and attest the facts of our Lord's death and resurrection, so the feast of Purim is a testimony to the truth of the narrative contained in the Book of Esther. Memorials of past deliverances should -
(1) Keep alive our sense of gratitude.
(2) Teach us our dependence on God.
(3) Strengthen our faith in God.
(4) Warn us against the temptations and dangers of sin, and constrain us to lead a holy and God-fearing life.
To have our "names written In heaven" is a better memorial than any that could be fashioned on earth. - D.
Nehemiah 8:10), however, what comes verbally much nearer our present passage. A day of deep feeling and special cause of joy was to be observed as a day of feasting, and of sending "portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared." There can be no question that we have here a portion of the genuine history of the human heart. We seem to hear some of the better and simpler utterances of human nature. The joy of the saved people of God is before us. And whatever other marks it may have, it certainly has those which make it a type of Christian joy on earth. In this light principally we may now regard it. We notice here -
I. A GENERAL AND SIMULTANEOUS JOY. It was not in every respect equal. But in one respect it was equal, in that wherever it spread it was the joy of life, of life rescued from the brink of destruction. Joy need not be equal all round a family; nor all round the world's family; for there are in hearts exceedingly various degrees of susceptibility, and these by themselves are sure to govern largely the exact amount of what can be called happiness or joy. All that is necessary to the one largest, purest, most loving heart in the whole circle is, that all others be blessed and happy at the same time, and according to the full measure of their capacity. But a joy that is not general, that is exposed to overhearing the sounds of complaining, or the sighs of those who mourn alone, or the echoes of the outcry of pain, is deeply felt to be imperfect.
II. A JOY FULL OF MUTUAL KINDNESS. Quite independently of the differences in human life that show one man rich and possessing all things, and another poor and needy, there are differences within a far less range of compass, and yet innumerable. These do not show the extremes of condition; and by Divine wisdom they do make the room for all the play of sympathy, for all the works of mutual kindness. These save hearts from stagnation, and make the healthful ripples and movement after movement of life, stirring the affections within. Were all this at an end, the dead level of human life and feeling would be appalling indeed. The joy that does not find this room for mutual service, for "readiness to good works," for interchange of the offices of affection and friendship, if general, would nevertheless be selfish to the last degree. How happy that short reign of community of goods in the early apostolic history, when all "of them that believed were of one heart and one soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." And that would be inferior to the conscious pleasure of a constant exchange of the tokens of sympathy and of the deeds of kindness. In the joy that should shut out the prizes of mutual service it would be felt that there was something wanting.
III. A JOY FULL OF CHARITABLE KINDNESS. There can be no doubt that the kindness of charity is in reality an easier exercise and a less rare grace than that of a perfect mutual kindness. Yet we know the special honour put upon poverty both by the life and the lip of Jesus. And we know the abounding promises that his word makes to those who pity and give to the poor. There is indeed a certain subtle danger that may lurk in the perpetual exercise of charitable kindness. The giver can almost always reckon on the exaltation of position which belongs to the patron. He may be injured by what underlies the beautiful and ever-welcome words of the regretful Job: "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me." Nevertheless, men little need at present to be warned of the danger; they seldom come near enough to this temptation. And, meantime, must not the joy that knows not the spirit of charity to the poor fatally want? There must be something different from vacant want indeed, bad as that should be. That joy must feel itself "a guilty thing." But now in this typical joy of God's suddenly-rescued people in the days of Esther all these elements were present. The people had all been in one danger, had all enjoyed one deliverance, and they all experience one general pervading joy. Common suffering while it lasts draws us near to one another by a proverb; it is rather the index of cowardice of heart. But when the return of common mercy finds us drawing near to one another in the works of practical fellowship, and showing compassion to the poor in the works of charity, then a happiness is kindled of the best that earth knows. The companions in danger and in rescue are found still companions in prosperity. In woe and in weal they have learned to be one. The common escape from danger quickens a sincere compassion. And this history cannot be judged to fall short of portraying the one danger of the whole race of mankind, the one rescue open to them, and the one united life of joy, of love, of charity that Christians ought to live here on earth. - B.
I. A LEADING INSTANCE OF NATIONAL GRATITUDE. There is great danger of the fit occasions of national gratitude passing by unimproved. This may often arise simply from the fact that "what is every one's business is no one's." The danger needs to be counteracted, and sometimes it is effectually counteracted. Three conditions present, will exhibit, the fair and happy display of national gratitude.
1. The benefit must be in its character such as reaches the heart. Whether cheap bread, cheap health, or cheap Bible; whether free laws, free knowledge, or free conscience, it must be what is adapted to all, and can be appreciated by all. The blessing called life had perhaps never been considered in this light by the Jews till they were so near to losing it. But it was what every one of them, young and old, and of every class, appreciated.
2. The benefit must be such as has reached, either directly or indirectly, every class of the people. In highly-developed communities it should form part of the self-imposed work of all kinds of public and religious teachers to show the value of benefits which may be only indirect, and how they claim gratitude. In the present instance, the benefit for which such gladness and joy had sprung up had penetrated not only to every class, but to every individual.
3. The call to celebrate the benefit must be made so as to win the hearty approval and co-operation of the people. The moral influence of Mordecai and Esther was evidently very great. Their own example, their own deep interest in the course suggested, was contagious. The urgency with which they wrote helped to throw conviction of duty and enthusiasm toward its performance into the hearts of all the people. God never loves a cheerful giver more than when the cheerful giving is in very simple matters - that of thanks, or praise, or grateful adoration presented to himself.
II. A SOLEMN RESOLUTION FOR THE PERPETUATION OF NATIONAL GRATITUDE. Much kindly feeling passes away for want of embodiment. It dies down within, and there comes "no second spring" for it. Certainly gratitude is liable soon to die away. The most solemn claim of affection that the world knows is couched in the language of the claim of gratitude: "Do this in remembrance of me." In this perpetuation of national thanksgiving we may notice -
1. The wise method by which it was obtained.
(1) The happy moment was seized by the moral leaders of the people for giving a religious character to the joy that already possessed them. Mordecai made use of the excited state of feeling to say, Let it take the direction of thanksgiving.
(2) The right moment was seized, when the "willing mind" of a whole people would be inclined to make a day into an anniversary ever to be observed. After the people had once pronounced assent, as it were with one voice, and their chief men had put their hand to the engagement, they would not be likely to turn back. The resolution of that critical time has lasted and has borne fruit now over twenty-three centuries.
2. The good ends which it would serve. Love and thankfulness, and praise and gratitude, are all alike in one respect, that they ask no utilitarian questions. Their motive lies in themselves. And probably it was never more so than in this history. Yet we are permitted to observe the many directions in which they bear good fruit. The perpetuation of national thanksgiving on the right occasion - that is to say, not after every bloody battle, to which the Lord never sent forth his people; and in the right method - i.e. not in such a way as will gratuitously wound the feeling of another nation, - is adapted to produce great and good results.
(1) The acknowledgment is a direct act of glorifying God.
(2) It keeps him in the memory of the people as the Giver of all good, as the Sovereign Ruler and the beneficent Friend.
(3) It reminds again and again of the need once felt so keenly, of the poverty once so trying, of the exceeding peril which once threatened, of the boundless relief once experienced. God's people were bidden to remember how "they were bondsmen in Egypt," to "look to the rock whence they were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence they were digged." And these are the memories that chastise the pride of the human heart, and raise the tone and level of the character, and lead gradually nearer real safety and real prosperity. They are also the memories which for the future guide to the right source of confidence and of help. Of whatever advantage we know these things to be in any individual life, the advantage is one immensely multiplied in the case of a nation - multiplied, that is, by the whole number of those who go together to compose it. - B.
I. The memorial feast was in recognition of a great DELIVERANCE. The deliverance effected by Mordecai and Esther for the Jews, hints at that effected for us by Jesus. There are points of great similarity. The Lord's Supper is not only a feast of love, but in memory of our great deliverance from sin and death.
II. The memorial was ordained READILY. Gratitude led to this. A further object was a desire to stimulate to similar faith in God in further circumstances of trial.
III. The memorial was to be PERPETUAL. How faithfully have the Jews of every age kept that which was "ordained." We should keep that which Jesus instituted. Parents may lay upon their children certain moral obligations, but not now ceremonial burdens. That which they enjoin should be first observed by "themselves." - H.
tone, has no mention of the name of God, and no recognition in the Gospels or Epistles; still it is of great value.
I. It gives A VALUABLE PICTURE OF LIFE at a certain period of the world's history. The luxury of an Oriental court, the tyranny of rulers, the emptiness of regal pomp, the danger from conspiracies, the plottings of politicians, and misery of oppressed peoples, are well depicted in this book. Hints are given of the means provided for dissipating ennui by reading (Esther 6:1), of the correct recording of public events (Esther 9:32), and of the facilities provided for rapid communication (Esther 8:10-14).
II. It gives A CLEAR INDICATION OF THE WORKING OF GOD IN THE INTERESTS OF MEN.
1. In a nation outside the pale of the covenant people.
2. In preserving at a most critical period the nation selected by himself to be the means of keeping up a knowledge of the unity of the Godhead and the hope of a Messiah. Hence, if God's name is not mentioned, his working is seen. As the name of the Queen of England is not written in full on all the ships, forts, guns, carriages, etc., but only a V. R. or the broad arrow, so the name of God may not be mentioned in the whole Book of Esther, yet his cipher is in every chapter, verse, and word. The shady parts of the Bible are to be studied as well as the bright; its valleys are to be explored as well as its heights to be scaled. - H.