Esther 6:1
We are not surprised to read that "on that night could not the king sleep." Not, indeed, that there was anything in Ahasuerus (Xerxes) to make us expect a restless night; he appears to us here, as elsewhere, as a painful illustration of human heartlessness. That many thousands of his subjects were about to be butchered in order that his coffers might be filled should have caused the monarch many a troubled day and many a sleepless night; but such was the character of the man that no one suggests the impending massacre as the explanation of the king's restlessness. He had reached that fearful spiritual condition in which human life was of no account to him so that his power might be continued and his pleasures multiplied or secured. It is a striking instance of Divine providence. He who "holds the king's heart in his hand," who can touch with the finger of his power the secret springs of our thought and feeling, now sent troubled thoughts to this Persian king. That Lord of heaven, Keeper of Israel who slumbers not nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4), now gave a wakeful night to this earthly monarch. He was interposing on behalf of his chosen people. God willed that the sovereign should not slumber in order that he might thus be led to have "the book of records of the chronicles brought and read before the king," and Mordecai's services be thus brought to his royal notice. Little did Ahasuerus, as he tossed his restless head on the pillow, imagine that a Divine hand was laid on his troubled brain. As little do we know when the finger of God is working on us, with us, for us, or mercifully against us. Thinking of the sleepless sons and daughters of men, we may have in view -

I. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE PITY. We do well to pity with heartfelt compassion those who tell us that they ': cannot sleep at night." Scarcely a sentence comes more plaintively from human lips. Well does one of our own poets write -

"Pity! oh, pity the wretches who weep,
For they must be wretched who cannot sleep
When God himself draws the curtain." Whether it be pain, or trouble, or sorrow that causes the sleepless hours, we may pity sincerely and pray earnestly for these.

II. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE ADMIRE. Those who

(1) tenderly nurse the sick through the livelong night, or

(2) sympathetically attend the sorrowful in their sleepless hours, or

(3) are "about the Father's business," seeking the salvation of others.

It is the women who "watch" the best. There were, humanly speaking, at least three women who could have watched that "one hour" (Matthew 26:40), and would not have been found asleep by the agonising Master. Few of the children of men are more worthy of our admiring affection than those self-denying sisters who watch so patiently lest there should be need of the ministering hand or the comforting word.

III. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE ARE OBLIGED TO BLAME. There are those in every city who cannot sleep because they cannot forget. They shut their book at night; but have soon to sigh -

"Oh God! could I so close my mind
And clasp it with a clasp." They pay in restless hours the dark penalty of vice or crime; they are pursued and punished by dread of the wrath of God or of the justice of man, or by the rebukings of their own conscience. For such there is no remedy or escape but confession, reparation, forgiveness, human and Divine. "Return on thy way" at once.

IV. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE MUCH WISH TO SERVE. Those who cannot sleep because of "great searchings of heart;" who are asking that old new question, "How shall mortal man be just with God?" who will give themselves no rest till the way of peace is found, till they have "peace with God through Jesus Christ." There are none anywhere so deserving and demanding, so certain to receive, the tender sympathy and delicate help of those who minister in the gospel of the Saviour.

V. THE SLEEPLESS WHOM WE HOPE TO JOIN. On the other side of the river of death is a land where that which has been will not be, where we shall change this "body of our humiliation," and shall be clothed upon with the "body of his glory." There will be no sleeplessness like that of which we have spoken; no weary tossing, no heart-ache, no distress, no agitation. But there will be sleeplessness of another kind, for there will be no more need of long periods of unconsciousness and inactivity there. There will be "no more fatigue, no more distress," no more exhaustion; and therefore "there will be no night there," and no sleep, but ceaseless, tireless, unexausting energy; there they serve him "day without night." These we hope one day to join. Let us live "in Christ;" then shall we "fall asleep in him," and then shall we awake in the morning of an everlasting day where the shadows never fall, a land full of light because full of the near presence and the glory of the Lord. - C.







On that night could not the king sleep.
— A trifling circumstance to record. Ah! how important are little things: the unnoticed things are the life-blood of the world. In a great palace we think of the marble and the stone, the cedar and the iron, but who thinks of the mortar and the nails? And yet, in the architecture, mortar and nails are as important as pillars and columns and beams. Thus in the architecture of the world, and in the conduct of its moral affairs, trifles are the mortar and the nails.

I. The first thing I see here is A WONDERFUL LESSON IN THE ILLIMITABLE PLAN OF PROVIDENCE. How events ripen to the close! How crime matures itself to its doom! Amazing is the work of providence. You see two distinct sets of actions progressing at the same moment. The election of Esther, the choice of a merely capricious king; the elevation to dignity: the integrity of Mordecai; the ambition of Haman: the desire to crush the Jews; the yearning desire to save them. All these things are working together. You remember "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." And "all things work together for good to them that love God." Calmly and surely proceeds the Divine plan, and, unaware of the Divine idea, proceeds the infernal plan. See how triumphantly Haman looks at the letters of persecution signed with the signet of the king: and see how he gloats as the morning sun shines over the black gallows-tree, and never for a moment suspects it to be his own. The poor blind fool checkmated by himself! ingeniously rearing his own scaffold, and twisting the rope for his own neck. You will perhaps say to me, And the answer perhaps only pushes the inquiry farther back. "Why did He allow Haman to be near the court at all?" The answer must be, that God and providence are not the capricious and intermeddling agencies you have sometimes supposed: they prosecute their own path, and Satan and sin prosecute their path too. On they hasten, every step hastens to judgment; every movement winds the entangling coil of circumstances more irretrievably around them.

II. HOW, FROM THE WIDE SWEEP OF IMMENSE PROVIDENCES WE DESCEND TO TRIFLES! How the scheme of providence includes and encloses the small details of human affairs! I will extract three other lessons —

1. How remote, and yet how distinct and minute, are the operations of God's providence! Here was a circumstance connected with the history of the Church, with the preservation of God's people, and with the conservation of Divine truth, and the advent of the Messiah. How small a place is Shushan and the whole of Media and Ahasuerus!

2. See the perfect compatibility, nay, unity, of prayer with the plans of providence. The prayers of Mordecai, the mournings of the Jews, they are the operating causes round the sleepless couch. The prayer so troubled the couch, that the king could not sleep.

3. May I not apply it yet once more, and ask you the meaning of some sleepless nights, some troubled days?

(E. P. Hood.)

Homilist.
1. Who is the sleepless monarch on this night?

2. What was the book he read that night?

3. What was the discovery he made that night?

4. What was the result of the discovery that night?Two things, at least, came out from the king's sleeplessness this night.

(1)The preservation and exaltation of Mordecai.

(2)The frustration of enormous wickedness, and the salvation of the whole Jewish people.Truly, this was a memorable night, From this subject we may learn a few lessons in connection with God's government of the world.

I. HE OFTEN WORKS OUT HIS PURPOSE THROUGH THE FREE WORKINGS OF DEPRAVED MINDS, UNCONSCIOUS OF HIS INFLUENCE. The brethren of Joseph, prompted by evil passions, sell him to the Ishmaelites, and he is borne a slave into Egypt. They are free in their wicked counsels and deed; but, unconsciously to themselves, all the while they are carrying out the purposes of Heaven. The same with Vespasian and Titus in their destruction of Jerusalem. Though a spirit most fiendish moved and directed these bloodthirsty and ambitious pagans, yet they wrought out almost with letter minuteness the long-threatened judgment of Heaven. As nature moves on to the magnificence of summer, as well through cloudy skies and thunderstorms as sunshine and serenity, so providence advances its purposes, as well through such a mind as that of Ahasuerus as that of Peter, or of Paul.

II. HE ALWAYS OVERRULES THE CONDUCT OF SINNERS FOE THE OVERTHROW OF THEIR OWN PLANS. The very destruction which Haman and his accomplices plotted for Mordecai and the whole Jewish people came upon themselves. On the lofty gallows that Haman had raised for another, he was hanged himself. Thus it ever is. The men of Babel build a tower in order to be kept in close social combination; but that structure leads to their confusion and separation. The Egyptians rush into the Red Sea in. order to wreak vengeance on the fleeing Israelites; but the channel in which they sought to bury their enemies became their own grave. It is the very nature of sin to confound itself. Its struggles for pleasure will lead to misery; for honour, will lead to degradation. Sin always conducts the sinner to a result never sought, never intended. What sinner aims, as an intelligent purpose, at the blasting of all his hopes, the loss of all his friendships, the everlasting ruin of his soul? Yet to these every sin he commits is conducting him. Like Haman, every sinner is building his own gallows. Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

III. HE SOMETIMES WORKS OUT HIS PURPOSES BY MEANS APPARENTLY MOST INSIGNIFICANT.

(Homilist.)

I. HOW GOD OPERATES TO MIGHTY ENDS THROUGH INCONSIDERABLE AGENCIES. We are apt to measure God by standards established between man and man. The Divine greatness is regarded as that of some very eminent king: what would be inconsistent with the dignity of the potentate is regarded as inconsistent with the dignity of God; and what seems to us to contribute to that dignity is carried up to the heavenly courts, or supposed exist there in the highest perfection. But we should gain a grander and juster idea of our Maker by considering in what He differs from men, than by ascribing to Him, only in an infinite degree, what is found amongst ourselves. It is not by putting unbounded resources at the disposal of God and representing Him as working through stupendous instrumentality that we frame the highest notions of Him as a sovereign and ruler. There is something sublimer and more over-whelming in those sayings of Scripture, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength," "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty," than in the most magnificent and gorgeous descriptions of dominion and strength. Christianity, for example, diffused through the instrumentality of twelve legions of angels would have been immeasurably inferior, as a trophy of Omnipotence, to Christianity diffused through the instrumentality of twelve fishermen. When I survey the heavens, with their glorious troop of stars, and am told that the Almighty employs them to His own majestic ends, I seem to feel as though they were worthy of being employed by the Creator. But show me a tiny insect, just floating in the breeze, and tell me that, by and through that insect, God will carry forward the largest and most stupendous of His purposes, and I am indeed filled with amazement. And is there anything strained or incorrect in associating with an insect the redemption of the world? Nay, not so. In saving the race whence Messiah was to spring, God worked through the disturbed sleep of the Persian monarch, and the buzz of an inconsiderable insect might have sufficed to break that monarch's repose. When God interfered on behalf of His people groaning under the bondage of Pharaoh, it was with miracle and prodigy, with a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm; but I fall before Him as yet more amazing in wisdom and power, when I find the bloody purpose of Haman defeated through such instrumentality as this: "The king could not sleep," etc.

II. THE SETTING UNDER A RIGHT POINT OF VIEW OF THE UTILITY OF PRAYER. It is often objected against prayer that it seeks for miracles and expects God to interrupt at our call the established course of things. It may be that when the Jews betook themselves to prayer, that they looked for visible and miraculous interference, as in other emergencies when God bared His arm in defence of His people. Although I thoroughly believe that were a case to arise in which nothing short of a miracle would meet the circumstances of a servant of God, the miracle would not be withheld; yet I am satisfied that it is not required that there should be miracles in order to our prayers being granted, neither does the granting them suppose that God is variable or changes in His purposes. There was no miracle in His causing Ahasuerus to pass a sleepless night: a little heat in the atmosphere, or the buzzing of an insect, might have produced the result; and philosophy, with all its sagacity, could not have detected any interruption of the known laws of nature. Neither were God's purposes variable, though it may have actually depended on the importunity of prayer, whether or not the people should be delivered. God's purpose may have been that He would break the king's sleep if prayer reached a certain intenseness; that He would not break it if it came below that intenseness; and surely this would accord equally with two propositions —

1. That the Divine purposes are fixed and immutable.

2. That notwithstanding this fixedness and immutability, they may be affected by human petitions, and therefore leave room for importunate prayer. Comparatively I should not be encouraged, were I told that what disquieted the monarch was the standing of a spectre by his bedside in an unearthly form, which in unearthly accents upbraided him for leaving Mordecai unrequited. But when I observe that the king's rest was disturbed without anything supernatural; that all which God had to do in order to arrange a great deliverance for His people was to cause a sleepless night, but so to cause it, that no one could discern His interference, then indeed I learn that I may not be asking what the world counts miracle, though I ask what transcends all power but Divine. There is something encouraging in this to all who feel their insignificance. If the registered deliverances, vouchsafed to the Church, were all deliverances which had been effected through miracles, we might question whether they formed any precedent on which creatures like ourselves could justly rest hope. We dare not think that for us armed squadrons will be seen in the heavens, or the earth be convulsed, or the waters turned into blood. But look from Israel delivered from Pharaoh to Israel delivered from Haman, and we are encouraged to believe that God will not fail even us in our extremity, seeing that He could save the people through such a simple and unsuspected process as this: "On that night could not the king sleep, and he commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles."

(H. Melvill, B. D.)

There may have been three or four reasons for this restlessness.

1. The care of his kingdom.

2. The revolving of ambitious schemes.

3. His raging passions. His passions often showed themselves in a ridiculous way. When he came back from his Grecian expedition he was so mad at the river Hellespont for breaking up his bridge of boats, that he ordered his servants to whip that river with three hundred lashes.

4. A troubled conscience. There is nothing like an aroused conscience to keep a man awake when he wants to sleep. There was a ruler who one morning was found with his sword cutting a nest of swallows to pieces. Somebody came up and said, "Why do you cut that nest of swallows to pieces?" "Why," he replied, "those swallows keep saying that I murdered my father." The fact was, that the man had committed the crime, and his conscience, by Divine ventriloquism, was speaking out of that birds' nest. No, Ahasuerus could not sleep. The more he tried to sleep, the wider he got awake. All around about his pillow the past came. There, in the darkness, stood Vashti, wan and wasted in banishment. There stood the princes whom he had despoiled by his evil example. There were the representatives of the homes he had blasted by his infamous demand that the brightest be sent to his palace; broken-hearted parents crying, "Give me back my child, thou vulturous soul!" The outrages of the past flitting along the wall', swinging from the tassels, crouching in the corner, groaning under the pillow, setting their heels on his consuming brain, and crying, "Get up! This is the verge of hell! No sleep! No sleep!"

(T. De Witt Talmage.)

How many different causes or occasions there may be of the sleepless night! Some cannot sleep in the remembrance of recent sin. Some are kept waking by great sorrow. Some by brain excitement. Some in very weariness of overwork.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Without it human life would soon come to an end. It would burn rapidly away.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Kings have no specific to secure healthful rest; rather they are apt to miss the best specific, hard work and a good conscience.

(A. M. Symington, B. A.)

A good book is a better resource in sleeplessness than drugs.

(A. M. Symington, B. A.)

I. NOTE THE MINUTE UNIVERSALITY OF GOD'S SUPERVISION AND CONTROL. The notion of many is that providence is concerned only with great matters. But those who so believe forget that perfection in anything cannot be secured without attention to details, and that great issues often hinge on apparently very trifling affairs. A sleepless night is in itself no very important thing. Again, it is a matter of little moment what a man shall do to fill in the hours of sleepless ness and keep himself from ennui; but if Xerxes had adopted any other plan than that which he followed, or if the attendant had chosen to read from any other section of the chronicles of the kingdom than that which he selected, there would have been nothing to recall Mordecai's services to the king's remembrance. Once more: if Haman had not come to the court at the time he did, and been introduced into the presence at the precise moment when the mind of the king was pondering the question what honour should be conferred on Mordecai, then the first word might have been his, and so the fiat might have gone out for the consigning of Mordecai to the gallows, even at the moment when the monarch was thinking about doing him honour. Now, this history is not exceptional in any respect. It certainly is not exceptional in this particular. You see the same supervision of the most apparently trifling things by God in the biography of Joseph, and there are many striking illustrations of it in secular history. A change of wind from west to east is not s great matter, and yet on such a change as that, at a particular hour of a particular day, the history of Great Britain turned; for thereby the fleet of William of Orange was wafted to Torbay, while that of James II. was by the same means prevented from putting out to sea to intercept its progress.

II. But note THAT WE HAVE HERE NO INTERFERENCE WITH THE OPERATION OF THE LAWS OF NATURE, AND NO INFRINGEMENT OF THE LIBERTY OF MORAL AGENTS. We have no record of any miracle in this case. There is nothing supernatural in a man's having a sleepless night, or in his fixing on a certain part of his chronicles to read, or in the coming in of another person upon him at a particular juncture; and no single one of the actors in the case was working under compulsion — each one knew at the moment that he was following his own bent. But it was not less the work of God, or less glorifying to God. Now this non-miraculous providence, if I may so call it, is a greater and grander and more glorious achievement of God's than it would have been if the same results had been accomplished through the direct forth putting of His own omnipotence. Now, if what I have advanced on this important matter be true, it may cast some light on the way in which God answers His people's prayers. There are those who affirm that to ask God to confer on us a physical blessing is to ask Him to work a miracle in our behalf. Even if I believed that, I would still ask Him for what I need, because He has commanded me to do so, and I would trustfully leave the method of His answer in His own hands. But I do not believe that to ask a physical blessing from God is to ask Him to work a miracle in our behalf, and such a history as this of Esther confirms me in that non-belief. Then, finally, here, if what I have advanced in this connection be correct, it may tend to reconcile us to the minor inconveniences that come upon us in life. What an amount of fretting we do over little things! We go off our sleep, or we miss a train, or we have to wait for some tedious hours at a railroad station, or we approach the harbour in a fog and have to lie outside for a long while, so near our homes and yet so far from them, or a friend disappoints us and our plans are deranged. Yet why should we be impatient if it be true that even these little things are taken cognisance of by God, and woven by Him for His glory and our good into the fabric of our lives? If we could but pause a moment and say within ourselves, "This is all in the plan of God concerning us," we should at once have self-control. Lessons —

1. Think how valuable God's commonest gifts are. Keep your conscience clean, that nothing of guilt may put thorns into your pillow. Take no ambitious schemes with you to your couch, lest you should be constrained to lie awake in the attempt to work them out. Finish each day's business in its own day, that there may be no nervous anxiety in your mind about the morrow. Watch over your table, and take nothing there that will make you restless. Think more of this common blessing of sleep, and see in that one of the richest tokens of the Divine goodness which is not to be trifled with, but to be valued and enjoyed.

2. And this leads me, by a very natural transition, to ask whether you have ever reviewed your obligations to God for all that He has done for you? Xerxes utilised his sleepless hours in discovering wherein he had failed to meet his obligations to his benefactors. But what a benefactor you have had in God! He gave His only Son for your salvation. Xerxes' indebtedness to Mordecai was nothing in comparison to your obligation to Jehovah. Now let me ask, What have you done to Him for that?

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

There is no reason assigned for this. The king was not afflicted with illness, he was not suddenly seized with any disease to cause this wakefulness, nor was it occasioned by any intelligence of a distressing character, such as that formidable enemies had made their appearance before Shushan, or that grievous misfortunes had happened to any one dear to him. No; but the matter was entirely of the Lord. God has employed sleep for weighty purposes, in various ages of the world. It was while Adam was in "deep sleep" that "one of his ribs was taken," and made a living being and an help meet for him. It was while Jacob was asleep that he was favoured with that wonderful vision, in which he beheld a ladder set upon the earth, whose top reached to heaven — a striking representation of God's providential care for His people, and likewise of that Redeemer who is the way to the Father — a way in which whosoever walketh the angels of glory continually afford him their friendly ministrations. It was when Joseph was asleep that he was directed from heaven to take Mary for his wife, because that which had been conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost. But here God carries His purposes into execution by means of the absence of sleep. He is never at a loss to bring His designs to pass.

(J. Hughes.)

Had Ahasuerus been a pious man, and acquainted with the Word of God, he would have filled up She watches of the night with religious meditations, or called for the book of the law of the Lord, in which he would have found both instruction and entertainment.

(T. McCrie, D. D.)

Nor was the custom wholly confined to the East. The "Chronicles of the Cid," William of Malmesbury's "Chronicles of the Kings of England," the six old English Chronicles, viz., Asser's Life of Alfred, and Chronicles of Eldred, Ethelred, Nennius, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and of Richard, and "The Chronicles of the Crusaders," of Robert of Gloucester, and Ossian, and the famous Spanish and English ballads, are a part and parcel of the history and literature of our own day.

(W. A. Scott, D. D.)

In one of the dungeons of the fortress of Glatz lay a Prussian nobleman. King Frederick William III. had confined him there for treason. He had been long a prisoner, and there was no hope that he would ever be released. His only company was a Bible — the book he hated, and never read. But suffering and solitude wore upon his spirit, and he did read at last — till there rose in his soul some sense of a just God, who punishes those that forsake Him. He had forsaken Him — and now he repented of it. One night, by the dim light of his dungeon lamp, he was turning the leaves of the Bible for consolation, when his eyes fell on Psalm 50:15, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." Then, for the first time since childhood, the proud man knelt and prayed, and the peace of God came into his heart and dwelt there. That same night King Frederick in his palace, like King Ahasuerus, could not sleep. Worn out, he begged the Lord to give him one hour of rest from pain; and his prayer was granted. He awoke refreshed and grateful, and said to his wife, "Who in all my kingdom has wronged me most? I will forgive him." Said Queen Louise, "It is the Count M — in the prison of Glatz." "Send orders to release him at once," commanded the king. And in a few days the prisoner was a free man, glorifying God for both spiritual and temporal deliverance.

When Ahasuerus read in the book of the records of the chronicles, and there found how Mordecai had discovered a plot of treason against his person, he did not lay the book aside, and slightly pass by such a piece of service, but inquires what honour and what dignity had been done to Mordecai. It seems if the king had thought on, or read of him sooner, he had rewarded him sooner: but God hath ever in His eye all the records and chronicles of His people's actions; He reads their journals every day.

(J.Spencer.)

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