By order of the king, no limit was placed on the drinking, and every wine steward was to serve each man whatever he desired.
I. THE LAW. It was laid on the officers not to compel or urge any of the guests to take wine. All were to be left free to drink or not drink as they pleased.
II. THE AUTHORITY. It was at the express command of the king that the law was put in force on this occasion. We learn from this
(1) that the royal command was needed, and
(2) that the king, thoughtless as he was in many things, exerted a direct influence on the orderly arrangement and conduct of the banquet. The great lose no dignity by attending personally to little duties. What seems little may contain the seeds of, or have a close connection with, great issues.
III. THE MOTIVES. These are not stated. But the fact that the king issued a special command to enforce a law that was contrary to the usual practice may be taken as proof that he had special reasons for making known his will. The following are suggested: -
1. Self-dignity. Any excess on the part of the citizens would have been unbecoming in his presence, and might have led to the serious humiliation of his imperial majesty.
2. Policy. It would have been an awkward thing if the close of the prolonged and so far triumphant festival had been signalised by a popular riot, whether good-humoured or the reverse. The noise of it would have spread throughout the empire, and its real character might have been lost in the misrepresentations of rumour and report. And such a result was not improbable, supposing that the servants and the mixed multitude had been left guideless as to their obligations in presence of the king and his boundless hospitality.
3. Sympathy. There would be many in such assemblies as now filled the king's tables who were unaccustomed to the use of wine, and more perhaps whose "small" condition would only enable them to use it sparingly. - Young men also would be present to whom the indulgences of the older society about them would be yet strange. It would have been, therefore, a hardship and a wrong, as well as a danger, if the city guests had been allowed to act on the natural belief that at the king's table they were expected to take wine whenever it was presented. Whatever the motive or motives of the king, it goes to his credit that when the young and old, the small and great, were his guests, he enforced a law that favoured temperance. Temperance is not always studied, either on great festive occasions, or in social gatherings of a more private kind. Thus this old Persian law becomes our teacher -
1. As to the relative duties of host and guest. In countries where social life is highly developed, and where the men and women of different families mix much in free and lively intercourse, these duties are of great importance.
(1) The host.
(a) He should be kindly considerate of all whom he invites to share the hospitalities of his house - avoiding all tyrannical rules that make no allowance for differences of age, habit, and taste.
(b) He should invite none whose manners are offensive to the temperate, or whose example and influence would place an undue constraint on the consciences of others.
(c) He should be careful to put no temptations to excess before the weak, and to give no countenance to what may favour intemperate habits.
(2) The guest. While showing a full appreciation of the good intent of his host, and a suitable amiability to his fellow-guests, he should claim and exercise the right to guide himself in the matters of eating and drinking by the dictates of the Christian conscience. Whether he abstain from wine or not, a regard for himself, for his host, and for his companions should bind him to be temperate in all things.
2. As to the duty of all men to the law of moderation. Not long ago, to abstain or even to be temperate at social meetings was considered the mark of a sour and ungenerous nature. But since then a great improvement in manners has taken place. Little courage is now required to abstain altogether from wine. It is said that Queen Victoria sets a good example in this respect. To the expressed desire of a sovereign the authority of a command is attached, and to refuse wine when presented at a sovereign's table is regarded as an act of disobedience. But our queen has abolished this law at her own table, and substituted the law of Ahasuerus at his great banquet - that all guests shall be free to take or refuse wine - that none shall compel. The change for the better in social customs is a matter for thankfulness, but there is still much room for amendment. Let us remember that to indulge in excess is -
(1) A sin against society.
(2) A sin against one's self.
(a) It injures the body
(b) It weakens the mind.
(c) It enervates the will.
(d) It deadens the conscience.
(e) It impoverishes and embitters the life.
(f) It destroys the soul.
(3) A sin against God.
(a) It is a transgression of his law.
(b) It is a despising of his love.
(c) It is opposed to the spirit and example of his Son.
(d) It is a braving of his judgment.
Christian men and women should live under the power of the Christian law, and strive in all things to be "living epistles" of the Master whom they serve. All such will give earnest heed to the injunction of Paul, "Let your moderation be known among all men; the Lord is at hand." - D.
And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
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