On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews' enemy unto Esther the queen.I. We see how, IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD, THE WEALTH WHICH WORLDLY MEN WOULD USE IN OPPOSITION TO THE INTERESTS OF GOD'S CAUSE AND PEOPLE MAY BE WRESTED FROM THEM, AND MADE AVAILABLE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF THESE INTERESTS. The conclusion which we draw from all this is, that the best and happiest arrangement which a man can make with respect to the good things which have been bestowed upon him is that in his lifetime he seek to be personally the dispenser of good to others. If he lives and acts in this spirit, then he will have the less anxiety as to the disposal of what he may be able to leave behind him.
II. The peculiar providence which we see exercised in the case of Mordecai teaches us THAT MEN MAY BE WELL CONTENT TO WAIT, WHILE THEY ARE IN THE WAY OF WELL-DOING, UNTIL THEY RECEIVE THEIR RECOMPENSE. Worth and faithfulness and humility, after they have been long neglected, are brought into the light, and are honoured in proportion to the neglect which they formerly experienced.
III. FROM ESTHER'S LOVE FOR HER PEOPLE WE TAKE A LESSON. Then should not this be an example to those among us, who themselves have had their souls gladdened by the grace of God, to be mindful of others who have not been visited so graciously?
IV. THE LESSON WHICH IS TO BE DRAWN FROM THE CONDUCT OF THE KING AS IT IS HERE EXHIBITED. If one man, for example, has injured another, and knows it, but is too proud to acknowledge it, then he is destitute of the true spirit of Christianity. If a man is engaged in a wrong course of action, and is sensible of it, but will put his soul in peril rather than yield to the remonstrances of his friends, then his pride will certainly prove the ruin of his soul. There is, perhaps, more real heroism in confessing and correcting errors and weaknesses than there is in boldly contending for truth, when we are conscious that we have it on our side. Many voices will cheer us onward in the defence of principles which we defend at some risk. The courage that suffers in a good cause will always get applause. But when I have done wrong, and make confession of the wrong, the men of the world do not sympathise.
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
And the king took off his ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it unto Mordecai.
1. In his case we first see this fidelity for a period exceedingly tried and hopeless.
2. We see this faithfulness in duty brought to extreme danger. Not only was Mordecai unrewarded, but he was condemned to an appointed destruction.
3. We see this fidelity in duty completely rescued and delivered.
4. We see this fidelity in duty proportionably exalted.
5. We see this fidelity in duty abundantly rewarded in outward, earthly things.
6. We see this fidelity in duty not only rewarded in itself, and in the person and condition of the man who is distinguished by it, but crowned with eminent usefulness to others.
(S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman.
I. EVIL OUTLIVES ITS FIRST CONTRIVERS.
1. Haman is dead, but the mischief he devised still hangs over the Jews. A passing stranger may loosen a stone in an embankment, and go on his way; but a whole province will bewail his folly. An infidel father trains most carefully an infidel son; the son becomes an eminent writer and spreads through a whole generation the poison he imbibed on his father's knee. An English colonist, filled with pity for the Caribbaeans, introduces slavery into the West Indies — doing evil that good may come — and for centuries those fair islands are cursed by his device.
2. Evil tends to permanency.
(1) (2) II. EVIL YIELDS BEFORE HOLY SELF-SACRIFICE. Esther was — 1. Intensely solicitous. 2. Persistent. 3. Boldly self-sacrificing. 4. Successful. III. EVIL CRUSHED BUT NOT KILLED. IV. PRACTICAL LESSONS. 1. The folly of infallibility. 2. The power of intercession. 3. The awful nature of sin. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
(2) II. EVIL YIELDS BEFORE HOLY SELF-SACRIFICE. Esther was — 1. Intensely solicitous. 2. Persistent. 3. Boldly self-sacrificing. 4. Successful. III. EVIL CRUSHED BUT NOT KILLED. IV. PRACTICAL LESSONS. 1. The folly of infallibility. 2. The power of intercession. 3. The awful nature of sin. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
II. EVIL YIELDS BEFORE HOLY SELF-SACRIFICE. Esther was —
1. Intensely solicitous.
3. Boldly self-sacrificing.
III. EVIL CRUSHED BUT NOT KILLED.
IV. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. The folly of infallibility.
2. The power of intercession.
3. The awful nature of sin.
(W. Burrows, B. A.)
For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people.: —The world is full of changes. There are no elements of stability belonging to it. When all appears fair and promising, some unlooked-for event takes place, to darken the prospect, and to render it cheerless and gloomy. And, on the other hand, when the atmosphere forbodes great storms, a gale arises unexpectedly, to chase away the clouds, and to pour liveliness on all around us. We find these statements strikingly verified in this chapter.
1. Haman's prosperity vanished away suddenly, and the objects of his deadly enmity rose to power and happiness. "On that day" (in which Haman was executed) "did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman, the Jews' enemy, unto Esther the queen." Here she, who had been doomed to an untimely death by a wicked man, is enriched with his estates. How true the declaration of the psalmist, "Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them"!
2. Esther was not the only one that profited by Haman's doom. Mordecai also was advanced by it. How could he advance a more deserving character, one who had been more faithful in every duty? Were things properly conducted, such would always be the case. Worthlessness of character would ever act as an hindrance to power, and a life conducted on the principles of integrity and faithfulness would lead to preferment and honour. Such will be the case on a future day. The good and faithful servant shall enter into the joy of his Lord. Esther likewise behaved well on this occasion. She did not forget Mordecai's kindness to her when she was destitute and in trying circumstances. There is a perpetuity in holy affection and friendship which you look for in vain in the children of this world. These may for a season be loud in their professions of attachment; but when it suits their purpose they find it convenient to forget those professions, and allow their attachments to degenerate into neglect and oblivion. But Christian friendship, based on permanent principles, is permanent in duration. The sweet friendship between Jonathan and David nothing could extinguish, no reverse of fortune could even cool. But there is no friend equal to Jesus! the acts of His friendship are unceasing. He is, what every friend ought to be, "a friend that loveth at all times."
3. The Jews also derived great advantage from the death of Haman, for his edict contemplated their destruction. Esther interceded for them, and as far as circumstances permitted, prevailed. She approaches the king again, uncalled, in the humblest manner, and with abundant tears in his eyes. It is a good sign when we feel an interest in the welfare of those related to us, and when we can with importunity invoke the blessings of God upon them. Thus did Esther. She was not more earnest for herself than for her people. Thus felt Jesus. "When He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it." Thus felt St. Paul. He poured out his very soul for his people, the Jews, though they persecuted him, and tried to effect his destruction. He tells us that he "had great heaviness, and continual sorrow in his heart" at their folly and wickedness in rejecting Christ, and that his "heart's desire and prayer unto God for them was, that they might be saved." Are we thus minded? Esther fell down at the king's feet for her people. Have you done so for your relatives and friends? "Oh that" my children "might live before Thee!"
4. Esther interceded not in vain: for the king took immediate steps to avert, at least in some degree, the storm which had long been gathering over their heads. The unchangeableness of the Persian laws was deeply to be regretted, and caused much injustice and cruelty. The law of God is indeed unchangeable, and properly — necessarily so. His commands are based on immutable foundations, and therefore they must be eternally the same. How strangely was this kingdom managed! Here are two different and contrary laws — authorising civil war from the one end of the realm to the other — one decree authorising the Persians to attack the Jews, the other authorising the Jews to defend themselves, and to slay the Persians. Let us bless God for more rational and equitable enactments in our kingdom. We owe this altogether to Hie goodness in giving us the Scriptures; for our civil as well as religious light are derived from their sacred page.
5. If such anxiety was manifested for this newly-enacted law to be known throughout the empire, how much more anxious should we be to circulate the Word of God throughout the world! And if it was deemed of such moment that the decree should be "written unto every people, after their language," how should we rejoice that the great charter of salvation has been translated into so many of the languages of the earth, and that a copy of the Scriptures goeth forth into distant parts of the world for every moment that passeth away! The speed with which the decree in favour of the Jews was to be made known to them deserves our attention. "The posts that rode upon mules and camels went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king's commandment — that the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies." Was preservation from temporal death of such consequence to the Jews that all this expedition was enjoined that they might obtain it? Of how much greater consequence is preservation from everlasting death.
6. Mordecai, being now chief minister of state, went forth arrayed, according to the dignity of his office, and the people rejoiced at beholding power conferred on one who would use it beneficially. "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn." Their weeping endured for a night, and there was joy in the morning. "A good day!" yes! a day of everlasting sunshine, awaits holy mourners, in a future world. "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
I. THE SCENE THAT PRESENTED ITSELF TO ESTHER'S FEELING HEART. What patriotic Christian can contemplate the condition of large masses of our people without being moved to sympathy and confession?
1. Their poverty and privations.
2. Their want of moral and religious influence.
3. Their spiritual wants.
II. THE EFFORT SHE USED UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH SHE WAS PLACED.
1. She addressed herself in earnest prayer to the king in behalf of her countrymen. Let us arise and plead their cause with the King of kings who are the willing captives of sin and Satan.
2. She was active in the use of proper and legitimate means to accomplish her heart's desire. "Prayer without works is enthusiasm, and works without prayer presumption."
3. She did all in deep humility (ver. 5).
III. ENCOURAGEMENTS TO CHRISTIAN EXERTION.
1. The times are favourable.
2. The gospel is admirably adapted to meet the wants of people everywhere.
3. The example of pious characters in all ages from the time of Christ down to our own time, who have felt it their duty and privilege to propagate the gospel.
4. "The value of the soul."
I. ESTHER'S DEEP AFFECTION FOR HER KINDRED.
II. THE CHARACTER OF HER INTERCESSION ON THEIR BEHALF. She had singular advantages and great opportunities, and she turned them to the best purpose.
III. SHE USED HER ADVANTAGES WITH EARNEST ANY PERSEVERING IMPORTUNITY. Conclusion: There are two points of difference between Esther's intercession with Ahasuerus and ours with the Lord Jesus.
1. She went into the king's presence uncalled and unbidden; we are urgently invited and commanded to make our requests known unto God.
2. Esther had reason to fear a repulse; we are positively assured of a welcome.
(R. Glover, D. D.)
Atlantic was wrecked some years ago on the Banks of Nova Scotia, a gentleman from Chicago was reported among the lost. Then came the telegram "Saved," and his name under it. His business partner had it framed and hung up in the store. If the members of a family really felt the true condition of every one in it who is not a Christian, they would never rest until all were safe. But the true condition is not realised. A mother will say, "My boy is steady, industrious, no bad habits, stays at home, is kind and good." All well Many a son is the opposite, disgraces his family and breaks his parents' hearts. But is your son a Christian? Is he saved? It would be a pity that a good boy should be lost. When one of the family is lying on the brink, what a concentration of effort is put forth to rescue him from the grave. The ventilation, temperature, quiet of the house; the exclusion of all excitement, consultation of physicians, all the ordering of household affairs to one end. Then in convalescence moving from one place to another. Oh, if the same care and skill and devotion were employed to save the soul as is put forth to save the body, how many holy, happy Christian homes there would be — father and mother, son and daughter, all one in Christ!
(G. H. Smyth, D. D.)
2 Samuel 18:33). A boy was once lost in a storm at sea. His mother went to learn the sad story from the captain of the vessel, who barely escaped with his life. Among other inquiries she asked, "Did you see my boy at the time he met his sad fate?" The captain replied, "Yes, he was clinging to a piece of broken spar that hung over the side of the ship a short time before she sank." "Did he speak to you or say anything about his father or me?" The captain said yes, and then a long pause was broken by the weeping mother impatiently saying, "Oh, tell me what he said, one word of my dear boy will bring me comfort." The captain still tried to avoid tolling her, but she insisted. "Well, then," replied the weather-beaten seaman, "your boy looked despairingly at me and said, ' My parents never prepared me for a moment like this!' Then a huge wave washed him from my sight."
(G. H. Smyth, D. D.)
Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen.
I. A WEAK MAN'S SELF-DEFENCE. "I have given Esther the house of Haman," etc. He had given what cost him nothing. With a maudlin tenderness, like that of a drunken man, while Esther is inspired with an almost Divine passion of patriotism, he pleads his affection for her person. A small propitiation for a great wickedness. As if the hero of one hundred swindles flung a copper to a beggar; as if a cowardly murderer gave a crust to his victim's orphan; as if a life-long sinner offered to God the compensation of a Sunday prayer; so Ahasuerus hopes that Haman's death will make Esther unmindful of the wickedness devised against her kindred.
II. A WEAK MAN'S "NON-POSSUMUS."
III. A WEAK MAN'S REFUSAL OF RESPONSIBILITY.
(W. Burrows, B. A.)
May no man reverse1. There is something in all human action unrepealable. But the only way of making quite sure that we shall obviate or nullify the consequences of an evil action or an evil course of conduct (if one may express the thing in a strong solecism) is — not to do the action; not to follow the course of conduct. Few things are more melancholy and affecting than the deep concern and trouble of aroused consciences in view of things deeply regretted, but seen to be beyond recall, and, in a large degree, intractable to modification and management. It is easy to touch a spring in a piece of complex machinery where there is force of water or steam pent up and ready to play; but if you don't know all the consequences, you had better not touch the spring. We must not take a morbid view, and afflict ourselves with imaginary fears, and think of this great machine we call providence as if it were full of lurking mischiefs ready to break out at the slightest touch. We are responsible chiefly, almost exclusively, for this — the action in itself, the course of conduct in itself. We cannot control the consequences, and we shall not be accountable for them except in so fax as they are the direct and proper fruit of the action. If we do what is right, and wise, and for good reasons, we have nothing to fear. If we do wilfully or carelessly what we know to be wrong, we have every reason to look for the evil consequences, and every reason to judge that we are responsible for them as far as personal responsibility goes in such a case.
2. This narrative may teach us farther that in the darkest and most unpromising circumstances there is nearly always some way of relief and improvement. How seldom are things so in human life that literally nothing can be done! There is something unrepealable in all important human action. But there is also much that may be practically repealed. I think we may say that never, at any one time, in the history of a nation, never in the life of an individual, are things so dark and bad that nothing can be done to amend and lighten them. If this were not so, the world would soon be full of the most pitiable spectacles that could be conceived; communities and individuals sitting hopelessly amid the gloom of their own failures. But who knows not, also, that calamities and misfortunes are retrieved, that injuries are redressed, that mistakes are rectified? As Esther set her single will against the deadly edict, and drew from it, as far as her people were concerned, its deadliness, so a single will is often set against a whole system of evil, and by vigorous and persevering assaults it is brought to an end.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
: —The word ones spoken cannot be recalled. The deed once done cannot be undone. The book once issued begins to exercise an influence which cannot be bottled up again, but which must go on operative for evermore. The man who in youth sowed "wild oats" cannot stop the production of the harvest which has sprung from his folly. The hasty-tempered one, whose words sank into the heart of a friend and stabbed him with something keener than a poniard, cannot undo the mischief he has wrought. The author of a vile book may see his folly and lament it, but he cannot catch and confine the influence it exerted, even supposing every copy were to be recalled. You cannot stop the ball after it has left the gun. If you shake the dewdrop from a flower you cannot put it back again. "Don't write there, sir," said a newsboy to a young dandy in the waiting-room of an English railway station, when he saw him take off his ring and begin with the diamond in it to scratch some words upon the surface of the mirror. "Don't write there, sir." "Why not?" "Because you can't rub it out."
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
And to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay
The Jews had light, and gladness, and Joy, and honour.
1. In the first place, the conduct of Mordecai under the strange revolution which had been wrought in his condition and prospects is full of practical instruction to us. The lesson is this, that advancement in worldly honour and prosperity should be turned to account, by being made conducive to the promotion of the interests of the Church of Christ and to the good of His people. It reflects high honour upon Mordecai, that the first act of authority which he performed in the exalted position to which he had been raised was one which secured the enlargement of the Church and the safety of his brethren. In other hands the king's signet had been more frequently employed to give effect to decrees of violence and cruelty; but no sooner does it pass into his hands than it is used in behalf of the oppressed. Worldly honour and dignity in his case were invested with a value which does not intrinsically belong to them, and which never can belong to them, except when they are made subservient to such ends as he sought to promote by means of them. Now we say that all who have been blessed with wealth and influence may well look to this example and learn from it. The natural selfishness of the human heart prompts men to overlook the miseries of others, when they have gathered about them all that is needful for their own comfort. If they can but obtain the luxuries which gratify the senses, they care not what amount of woe and wretchedness may be experienced by those who live almost at their door. They waste not a thought upon the sad condition of the victims of spiritual darkness. We would remind them, therefore, that there is a luxury, the sweetest and best which wealth can purchase, and which lies fully within their reach — the luxury of doing good.
2. In the second place, the account given in the text of the feelings of the Jews when the edict was issued for their deliverance, suggests some profitable reflections to us. It caused them light, and gladness, and joy; and the day of its publication was a day of feasting to them, and a good day. But our thoughts are directed by the description to a still higher theme. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth." All mere temporal deliverances sink into insignificance when contrasted with this which the prophet celebrates. The sentence of doom under which we all naturally lie, as transgressors of God's covenant, has been followed by a message of pardon and life through Jesus Christ to all who will accept God's gracious offer. Surely, then, we are warranted to ask, What has been the effect of this message upon you who have so often heard it? Now, according to the views of some, where spiritual joy and gladness are awanting, spiritual life must be awanting also. But to this "opinion we cannot give our assent. Various causes there may be for the obscuration of the light of Divine joy in the soul, while there is no good reason for supposing that the soul is still dead in sin. No one who has had experience of the conflicts of the life of faith, and of the power of temptation, will require any formal reasoning in proof of the fact that there may be spiritual life without joy, or at least with not a little darkness and disquietude. Yet, it is unquestionably the duty of all Christ's followers to rejoice in His salvation.
3. In the third place, we may take a lesson from what is said in the text respecting the readiness which was shown by multitudes to join themselves to the Jews, when the king's edict in their favour was published. It may be believed that in some instances those of the people of the land who professed the Jewish religion were influenced by right motives, and forsook their heathenism because they felt that Jehovah, the God of the Jews, was the true God. Zechariah had foretold such event (Zechariah 8:23). It is very manifest, from the language used in the text, that such was not the generally prevalent feeling. "Many became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them." The sunshine of the royal favour was now resting upon the seed of Abraham. They were a numerous body of themselves; and now, when they had liberty of action, by their wealth they could bring over to their side those who would protect them. It was good policy, therefore, to profess to be friendly toward them. And so not the fear of God, but the fear of the Jews, moved many to renounce heathenism, and acknowledge submission to the law of Moses. The Church was in one of her prosperous periods, and hence there were strong inducements to the worldly-minded to enrol themselves among her members. Now this is no isolated case. Such things have often occurred, although by no means tending to the advancement of vital religion. For example, it must have often struck the reflective readers of history, as a subject rather of painful than of pleasant contemplation, that the progress of the Reformation in many countries should have been so intimately connected with and dependent upon the belief and practice of the ruling powers. The flowing and ebbing of the tide of religious profession might be calculated too surely from the prevailing sentiments of the court. Thus, for instance, how sudden were the changes which the aspect of the Church in England presented during the reigns of three successive sovereigns. In the brief time of the Sixth Edward, when his counsellors were Protestant, and Popery was disallowed, how fast did the principles of Protestantism spread through the kingdom! Then Popery became rampant again, and the majority were glad to seem to be upon its side. And no less remarkable was the revival of Protestantism during the reign of Mary's successor, Elizabeth. The nation appeared to be born in a day; and again multitudes who had joined in the celebration of the Mass cried, "Away with it!" and became the friends and promoters of the purer faith. And thus, from regard to character, and with a view to maintain respectability and to forward worldly interests, very many join themselves to the Church of Christ without being influenced at all by the love of Christ. Now, if we examine all the circumstances carefully, we shall perceive that we have as little reason to take comfort to ourselves from the external state of religion among us as the Jews had from the apparent respect which was shown for their religion in the days of Mordecai, or as the conflicting parties had which alternately sunk or prevailed in many countries at the period of the Reformation. The worldly and selfish element — the fear of man, and not the fear of God — has ever been too prevalent in moulding religious profession; the fires of persecution being sometimes employed to compel, and the attractions of self-interest at other times to draw men to confess with the mouth what they did not believe in their heart. And thus it is that the numerical force of Christianity, if I may so speak, is so different a thing from the vital power of it. A profession of Christianity, with some show of reverence for its ordinances, will not carry you to heaven. It will not even abide the trouble of a sifting-time on earth, if such time should overtake you. It will not give you solid comfort when you come, as soon you must come, to pass through the dark valley of the shadow of death. Nothing will avail but the faith which rests on Christ, and which, being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, makes the possession of heaven sure, by the present foretaste of it with which it feasts the soul.
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
I. THE GOLLY OF CLAIMING HUMAN INFALLIBILITY. Think of what the king had here to do. His law "might no man reverse." To save the doomed Jews the king was reduced to the absurd necessity, as Matthew Henry pithily puts it, "of enacting a civil war in his own dominions between the Jews and their enemies, so that both sides took up arms by his authority and yet against his authority." What is not claimed by our sovereigns or legislators is claimed, in matters of religion, by the Roman Pontiff. As a general belief it may be held by Roman Catholics. But in what one law has this personal infallibility been exercised? In the end it must be a manifest failure in religion, as it has been in politics.
II. INTO ALL THE LANGUAGES OF PERSIA WAS THE NEW DECREE TRANSLATED. Thus with man's law. Thus too it should be with God's law. Happy day for any nation when in its own language it comes into possession of the Bible, the good news from God.
III. THE PROMPTITUDE IN THE COMMUNICATION OF GOOD NEWS. Wonderful the promptitude that marks the postal service of to-day! It may bring its burden to some, but it is a ministry of consolation to the many. It brings the distant nigh. It revives with oil of love the lamp of life.
IV. THE TEMPORAL SALVATION OF THE JEWS WAS BUT A FAINT SHADOW OF THE GOOD THINGS TO COME IN THE GREAT SPIRITUAL SALVATION WROUGHT BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
(G. F. Coster.)
I. Now the first thing to be noticed in this story is, THE SECRET OF ISRAEL'S DANGER. It arose from the fact that Israel had an enemy at court — "that wicked Haman," who was, in the first place, moved by bitter hatred against the person of Mordecai, but who extended his antipathy to the whole nation to which the object of his hatred belonged. Observe, however, that the strength of the enemy's position rested upon a more valid basis than his own personal hatred. In urging this case against them, he was able to appeal to the laws of the king's realm, and that "it was not for the king's profit to suffer them." We need to point out where the analogy fails, as well as where it becomes instructive. There is no kind of moral resemblance between the Christian's God, and this half-barbarous monarch, Ahasuerus. This man was a capricious and licentious Oriental tyrant, utterly selfish; while righteousness and mercy are blended in wondrous harmony with the attributes of Him whom we acknowledge as King of kings, and who holds our lives and our destinies in His hands. Once again, these Jews were harmless folk, and the charge brought against them, though plausible, was destitute of any such foundation in fact as could have justified severe measures against them. We may despise the moral character of this Oriental despot, and yet the attitude which he, as a king, assumed towards the Jews may well serve to illustrate the attitude which the King of kings is constrained to assume towards those who disobey His laws. Further, though the Jewish people were innocent of any moral or serious political offence, yet at the same time, the fact that they had laws and institutions of their own and that these laws and institutions were diverse from those of other nations, and in particular did not wholly accord with the laws of the Medes and the Persians, placed them in a position of apparent sedition against the ruling power. Here, then, first we have a striking illustration of the relations between the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His rebel creature man. In virtue of the sovereign position which He occupies in His universe, He cannot tolerate anything like deviation from those eternal statutes of righteousness which He Himself has laid down for His creatures; and, on the other hand, it cannot be denied that the sinner does break the King's laws, and set His authority at defiance. We also have a determined and malignant foe, "the accuser of the brethren," who first lays himself out to induce us to sin against these eternal edicts, and to form habits of life which are altogether at variance with the Divine mind, and who then turns round upon his victims and next accuses us to the Divine Being as persons whose very existence in the universe is a source of danger, moral disorder, and general peril to the stability of the kingdom over which the King of kings holds sway. He presses upon the notice of the Supreme Ruler the fact that it is not for His profit to allow us to go on as we are doing. Between the case of Haman against the Jews, however, and Satan's ease against us, there is this wide difference — that the charge brought by the enemy of the Jews was morally a plausible pretext, a trumped-up accusation; whereas in the case of the sinner the charge is only too true. If there is one single person whose heart has not been surrendered to God, and whose will is not yet wholly yielded to Him, then of such an one the accusation is true, terribly true, "It is not for the King's profit to suffer him." Let me ask you, then, Have you yielded yourself to God? For observe that if God were to allow men to go on from age to age, defying and disregarding His Divine will and law, He would be permitting His own rule to be overthrown, and would be virtually abdicating the throne of the universe, and giving all over to general anarchy and disorder. Nay, God can never lay aside His claims, and therefore it is not for the King's profit to suffer those who reject or ignore Him. "Has it been for the King's profit that thou hast lived?" If you were eliminated from human society to-day, would it be a gain instead of a loss to the world in which you have lived? You may reply, "I have affections as well as other people. There are many whom I love, and who love me, and whose hearts would bleed if I were taken away; how, then, could the world be anything but a loser by my removal?" Stay, let me ask you, What is the character of your influence and the effect of your example upon those very persons whose affections you have won? Are you doing them harm or good? What fruit does your life bear from day to day? Father, might it not be better for your sons' spiritual and eternal well-being if you were taken away from them? Mother, might it not be better for your daughters, better for your household, if your baneful influence were removed? And you, young man! who are the ringleader of a little band of friends, let me ask, Whither are you leading those young companions of yours? Is your fatal influence dragging them down to ever-deepening depths of moral degradation and sin? Ah! if that be thy case, if thy very friendship is a source of danger to those who are its objects, surely it is not for the King's profit to suffer you. Well, you say, or some one says, "Why does He suffer me, then?" Ah, here is a point to which we can find nothing to answer in the analogy. Let St. Paul explain why God suffers you, "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Such is the secret of our danger; and now, turning again to our illustration, let us observe the sequel. There goes forth as the result of all this, a terrible edict against these unfortunate Jews, no less than an edict of utter destruction. Just let us picture to ourselves what effects must have been produced wherever the proclamation came. Yonder comes the royal herald into a large provincial town; he blows his trumpet and proceeds at once to nail up his proclamation at the gate of the city, or in the crowded marketplace. The news spreads like wildfire, and soon it reaches the Jewish quarter of a city. See the terrified inhabitants rushing about from house to house, and at last collecting in a crowd around the fatal parchment, eager to know the worst. One in a clear voice begins to read the dreadful paragraphs amidst a silence still as death. As he proceeds, strong men begin to weep like children, mothers clasp their children to their hearts in an agony of despair, till by and by, as with one voice, all break forth into a cry of lamentation; they rend their garments and grovel in the dust, utterly overwhelmed by a misfortune so unlooked-for and so inevitable. It is easy to account for their consternation, but it is much more difficult to explain the stolid equanimity with which sinners listen to the terrible threats against them of a proclamation more appalling than that which caused such terror to Israel of old. The dread and righteous decree which must expel the sinner from the Divine presence, and consign him to the darkness of death, may not be carried into effect at once; no more was the decree of Ahasuerus; but, remember, the command has gone forth, the sword of judgment is drawn, and under that most dread edict the sinner is condemned already. "The wages of sin is death." Oh, if there was weeping and wailing throughout the provinces of Persia when that ancient proclamation was read, no less is there horror and fear in the heart of the sinner when, his conscience being roused, he at last becomes aware of his actual state, and of his terrible danger. Too many, indeed, are so absorbed with the passing nothings of this world, that they endeavour to evade all serious thought, and to forget the real perils of their present condition. But, thank God, it is not so with all. See that terrified jailer of Philippi. Why does he exclaim with such undisguised trepidation, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Surely it was because in his own conscience he had discovered the proclamation. Remember that nothing is gained by shutting our eyes to facts.
II. THE SECRET OF ISRAEL'S SAFETY; for saved, eventually, they were in spite of the foe and the terrible edict of the king. How were they saved? As their danger was due to the presence of an enemy at court, so their safety was due to the fact that they also had a faithful friend at court.
1. Let us consider their deliverer; and the first thing that strikes us about her is the fact that she was connected by a double relationship with each of the parties concerned. On the one hand she was related to the doomed race; she was one of them — a Jewess, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh; while, on the other hand, she was also closely related to the monarch. She was his wife. Thus she stands, then, between the two — the monarch and the condemned race — and so in her own person effects a reconciliation.
2. Notice, again, that the motive which inspired her to risk her life was love for her people. One angry word, one look, and she and her people were alike lost; but for love of them she was content to risk her all!
3. She stood before King Ahasuerus, not for herself, but as the representative of her people. She approaches him, not in her royal dignity as queen, but as identified with her kindred. For us, too, there is a secret of safety, and blessed are they who are acquainted with it. Let us proceed to consider how this safety has been secured. We, too, have a Friend at Court, and, like Esther, He is possessed of a certain double relationship. On the one hand, He is bound to humanity, for He Himself is man. Voluntarily He took our nature upon Him, "He was made flesh, and tabernacled amongst us." He has identified Himself for ever with mankind; but, on the other hand, He is no less closely bound to the everlasting Father than to us. He is one with the Father from all eternity, the Son of His love, the express image of His Person. Further, observe that it was as the representative of His people that the Lord Jesus Christ undertook to perform the work that had to be done before man could be saved. Queen Esther took her life in her hand and presented herself before the king, in order to save; but our Deliverer has done much more than that — He has not risked, but given His life for the doomed race. Now observe, further, when Queen Esther entered into the presence of King Ahasuerus, we read that she found favour, or grace in his sight; but this favour was shown her on her own account, and not because she was a Jewess. Ahasuerus would scarcely, under the circumstances, have been disposed to listen to such a plea, even when advanced by his wife. What does she do? First she wins the king's favour for herself, and then she is in a position, so to speak, to transfer that favour to those whom she represents. Even so was it with our Great Deliverer when He entered within the veil, with His own blood having perfected the work of filial obedience which He had undertaken on our behalf. He was then most of all the Beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased, but the special favour with which He was then rewarded by the Divine Father was won on our behalf that it might be transferred to us. When the grace of Ahasuerus reached Esther, it reached through her the Jew; and even so when the grace of the Father reaches the Beloved Son as Representative of the human family, it reaches us also through Him. Thus indeed "the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men." You will notice that this grace thus assumes a definite form in a second proclamation made this time in favour of the Jews, whom the former proclamation had given over to death. This second proclamation, observe, does not override or conflict with the first. The law could not be abrogate.d, and yet its fatal operation had to be prevented, its condemning force was to be rendered nugatory. Here again we need to call attention to points of difference as well as points of agreement. The Gospel dispensation was not designed to abrogate but to fulfil the law. The law of God must remain unalterable, not in virtue of an arbitrary decree of Omnipotence, but because it is founded on moral principles of eternal obligation; it is only because Christ is "the end of the law to every one that believeth," that is to say, produces consequences greater and better even than the law was designed to effect, that the dread penalties of the law can be escaped under the new dispensation. Now let us observe more closely the nature of this second proclamation, for we shall find the illustration very suggestive. The first proclamation puts the whole of the Jews into the hands of their enemies, and arrays against them all representatives of the king's authority and of legal justice throughout the land. The second proclamation, on the other hand, has the opposite effect, for it puts the law on the side of the Israelites; it gives them the right to defend themselves. Thus it is that the story of this marvellous deliverance shadows forth ours with strange fidelity. For us, too, there has been issued from the throne of the Eternal Being a second proclamation. It has been nailed to the Cross of Calvary, it has been revealed in the broken body of the Son of God. First, it puts the sinner who avails himself of it right with his God; it arrays all the forces of justice on his side, and enables him find his surest protection in that which but for the work of Christ must have condemned him; and further, it puts him in a position to rise up against the tyrant sins by which he was previously enslaved, and to lead his captivity captive. From the condemnation of the law and from the cruel dominion of sin the believing sinner is equally delivered by the proclamation made from Calvary. The eternal justice of God, which apart from the Cross of Christ must have righteously demanded our punishment, now secures our safety; and we find now that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Many see that God is merciful to forgive us our sin; but how much stronger is our confidence when we see even His eternal justice, that .attribute of His from which we needs must have most to fear, arrayed on our side! And here again I think we may notice, without pressing the illustration unduly, that this second proclamation demanded a certain believing response from the Jews before it could be of any practical utility to them. The favour of the king towards the race was conveyed by the proclamation; but unless the Jews had sufficient faith in the king's word to act upon it, and to arm themselves and issue forth against their enemies, they might still have fallen an easy prey. The proclamation from Calvary is described by St. Paul as "the grace of God which bringeth salvation to every man," but it is not every one that ventures forth upon it, claims justification, and, as it were, takes his spiritual enemies by the throat because that proclamation has delivered them into his hands. Alas I how many are there still who receive the grace of God in vain! But to return to our story, let us follow the second proclamation in its journey forth from the court of King Ahasuerus. In hot haste the heralds speed on their way, for the business is urgent, and the tidings spread from city to city, until they reach the uttermost parts of the great king's dominions. Let us watch this royal messenger as he enters that same provincial town that we were visiting in our thoughts when I was describing the promulgation of that first terrible edict. See, he rides up the street in great haste, he blows his trumpet, and the people begin to gather in a crowd. What is going to happen now? Another proclamation! What is it all about? Some poor trembling Jews venture into the throng in deadly terror, lest it should prove but some fresh aggravation of their woes. "Oh, it's about these Jews again! What more about them? Are they to be given up to us at once instead of our having to wait three or four days longer?" It is in three or four different languages, amongst others in Hebrew, and signed with the king's seal See, there is one of the doomed race. His eyes fall upon the Hebrew; eagerly he begins to read, the colour comes and goes. "God of my fathers!" I fancy I hear him exclaim, "what is this?" Another glance to make sure that his eyes don't deceive him, and then away he hies to the Jewish quarter of the town. "Deliverance!" he cries, "we are delivered, we are saved, God has saved us!" The Jews rush out of their houses, the whole multitude throng to the market-place. Eagerly they listen as one reads aloud; and as sentence after sentence falls from the lips of the reader, sobs of joy and gladness are heard. Ah, that was a day long to be remembered by all. What tears of joy were shed, what songs of rejoicing were raised, what feasts they held! But what shall we say of the joy of the ransomed sinner when the proclamation of life reaches his liberated heart? He has heard the sentence of doom from Sinai, tie has felt his impotence to resist his terrible foes, and has wrung his hands in despair as the iron has entered into his soul. "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" It may be that his misery is so great that he can scarcely attend to his ordinary business, or even find an appetite for his necessary food; and if so, why should we wonder at it? Are you surprised, then, at his joy when first he reads the second proclamation, and discovers that it is really intended for him? Do you blame him for being excited? I'll answer for it, these Jews were excited enough. How could they help it? And how can he? The Jews, we read, had light and gladness, and joy and honour; and such are the blessed privileges still of him who hears the gospel "report," and believes it. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen upon him with healing in His wings — joy within, and gladness without; and honour, for are we not children of the Most High, "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together"? Honour! Yes, for all things are ours, and we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Well, now, that second proclamation has been made to us; the voice from Calvary has been spoken. On the Cross, favour has been secured for a guilty world. Have you received the report? But do you say, "I don't realise it; I am afraid it can't be for me, because I don't feel happy; I don't feel as if I were free from condemnation; I don't feel that I am saved"? Did these Jews of eld know that they were delivered because they felt happy? Or did they feel happy because they knew that they were delivered? Which? Thy happiness is the, effect, not the cause of thy safety. If thou wouldst be happy read the proclamation. Answer all thy inward misgivings by telling thy troubled heart that the good news is for thee. When we really believe a thing, we cease to look for evidence of our believing it in the effect produced in our own experience. Let me put it thus: Suppose we were to visit that Persian city shortly after the proclamation, and find there an aged Israelite of a sorrowful countenance. "Well, sir," we remark, "this, is a day of good tidings: it occurs to us that a more cheerful look might be more in keeping with the occasion." "Ah, sirs," he replies, "this is a sad, sad time with me. I can get no comfort." "Why not, my good friend? Haven't you heard all about the king's decree, and how you Jews are to stand up against your enemies; and don't you know that the king's officers are all going to defend you, and that you are safe?" "Ah!" he replies, with a mournful shake of his head, "that may be all very true, but — but — I don't realise it!" "But what has your realising got to do with it: do tell us, is it true or false? If it is true, your realisings won't make it any truer; and if it be false, your realisings won't make it true; which is it?" "Oh, no doubt it's perfectly true; but still, how can you expect me to be happy when I don't realise it?" Really, if we could have found such a man, don't you think we should have felt something like irrepressible impatience with him?
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Many became Jews, for the fear of the Jews were upon them
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.).