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Now it came to pass on the third day, that Esther put on her royal apparel
There is nothing stationary
“Now it came to pass.
” These words call for special notice in a book which strikingly illustrates the providence of God both in regard to nations and individuals. They remind us that there is nothing stationary--that what comes is moving on. Seasons of trial and perplexity would be overwhelming if they had the character of fixedness. It is happily not so. As you have stood gazing on a mountain, bathed in sunlight, you may sometimes have observed a dark shadow creeping along the side of it, as though hastening to accomplish its mission, and quickly gliding away out of sight, leaving the landscape all the more beautiful because of your remembrance of it. So is it with what is painful and sad in providence. Events of this kind have come at intervals, but it was only to pass--not to abide--like the floating of little clouds between us and the sun, and when past, giving to human life, as to nature, a greater richness and variety. Biographies are but commentaries on these familiar words. Indeed, men themselves but come to pass. (T. McEwan.)
Performance must follow resolve
Esther was not one of those who resolve and promise well, but do not perform. (G. Lawson.)
I. We have here an illustration of the fact that when the crisis comes God gives his people grace to meet it. Doubtless Esther looked forward with much trepidation to the moment of her entering in before the king. When the time came she found that the way was clear. This is far from being an uncommon experience with the children of God. That which in the prospect is most formidable turns out to be in the reality most simple. The women at the sepulchre. When God asks us to perform some dangerous duty, we may rely that the way up to the duty will be made open to us, and that strength will be given to us for its discharge. “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” “As thy days so shall thy strength be.” “My grace is sufficient for thee.”’ How often have these promises been made good to Christians in these days. It is a time of extremity; the enemies of truth are bitterly assailing the very citadel of the faith, and now a stand has to be made which shall determine the issue for years. The eyes of all humble Christians are turned to one singularly gifted man; all are saying that, like Esther, he has come to the kingdom for such a time as this. But he is full of anxiety and trepidation. At length he consents to lift the standard and enter on the conflict, and when the time comes he is carried away out of himself, and so sensibly helped by the Spirit of God that he sweeps everything before him on the resistless torrent of his eloquence. Or there is a terrible disease invading the frame; it cannot be cured, and if let alone it will issue in a lingering illness and painful death. There is nothing for it but a critical surgical operation, and yet from that the patient shrinks. At length, however, the consent is given. It is to be performed on a certain day and at a certain hour. The meanwhile is given to prayer, and all the friends and relatives are requested, each in his own closet, to join in the supplication. Then when the hour strikes the diseased one walks with a strength that is not her own into the room, and gives herself into the hands of the surgeons, saying, “Living or dying, I am the Lord’s.” The shrinking is gone, the fear is subdued, and there is nothing but a calm heroism, which is the gift of God for the occasion. Or, yet again, a difficult duty is to be performed--a brother to be expostulated with for some serious sin, or to be warned of some insidious danger. But we do not know how he will take it, and the question comes to be whether our effort to save him may not aggravate the danger to which he is exposed. Who will undertake the task? There is one who, of all others, seems to be the fittest; but the very idea of it fills him with anxiety. How shall he proceed? There is nothing for it but prayer; and in the faith that God will answer he goes forward. He finds the way marvellously opened. He has a most satisfactory interview. All his fears are dispelled--he has saved his brother.
II. When the heart is not right with god a little matter will make a great misery. Happiness does not consist in the bearing of others towards us, but in the relation of our own souls to God. A self-centred heart cannot avoid misery. The one thing needful to happiness is a new heart.
III. When a little matter makes a great misery, that is an evidence that the heart is not right with God.
IV. It is a great misfortune when a man’s worst counsellors are in his own house. A good wife would have turned his thoughts in another direction. Here, then, is a beacon of warning for all wedded wives. Let them beware of adding fuel to a fire already burning far too strongly in their husbands’ hearts, as Zeresh did here. When they see those whom they love best going in the way of envy or passion or revenge, let them exert themselves wisely, yet firmly, to alter their determination. And let those husbands who have wives that are wise enough to see when they are going astray, and brave enough to endeavour to keep them from doing that which is wrong, thank God for them as for the richest blessings of their lives. A wife who is merely the echo of her husband, or who, as in the instance before us, only seconds and supports that which she sees he is determined upon, is no helpmeet for any man. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The glory of intercession
I. The bowed form of the suppliant queen. To bend the knees for others is the noblest attitude possible for the children of men. What shall be said of the selfish pietist who prays, “Forgive us our trespasses,” and gives no heed to the multitudes who lie in darkness and the shadow of death? What shall be said of those Christians who “don’t believe in missions”? When the ship Algona went down and the captain made off with one of the boats, leaving forty-eight passengers to drown, the whole world stood in horror of him. It is far better to sing “Rescue the perishing” than to make too much of “When I can read my title clear.” A glorious award awaits those who in self-forgetfulness have adventured all in behalf of their fellow-men.
II. The outstretched sceptre. It means to us that the great King is ever ready to hear intercessory prayer. In the rabbinical legend of Sandalphon an angel is represented as standing at the uttermost gates of heaven, one foot on a ladder of light. He is listening for a mother’s appeal, the sob of a burdened heart, the cry “God be merciful to him!” On hearing these voices of intercession he bears them aloft, and they turn to garlands as he lays them before the feet of God. It stands in the nature of the case that God should be most willing to hear unselfish prayers.
III. The sequel. The Jews were saved and the Feast of Purim instituted in recognition of this deliverance. The world waits to be won by Christian intercession. When General Grant was languishing on his bed of pain, no message of sympathy touched him more than that from an aged quaker: “Friend Grant, I am a stranger to thee. I would not intrude upon thy suffering, but I am anxious for thy soul. Trust in Jesus; He will not fail thee.” The abundant entrance into heaven is for those who by prayer and its supplementary effort have wrought deliverance for others. At the close of the American Civil War, when Lincoln went down to Richmond, the freedmen loosed the horses from his carriage and dragged it through the streets, shouting, “God bless Massa Lincoln!” He had broken their chains, and this was a slight expression of their gratitude. In the apportionment of the honours of heaven there is nothing comparable with this, “He hath saved a soul from death!” (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The royalty of faith
I. Royal apparel may cover a sad heart.
II. The royalty of faith sustains in sadness. Faith possesses the true alchemy which can transmute the base metal of sadness into the celestial gold of abiding gladness. The sick saint; the imprisoned martyr; the lonely missionary bereft of wife and child on a foreign shore; the pastor labouring amongst an unresponsive people--all acknowledge the sustaining power of faith.
III. The royaly of faith leads to daring ventures. Abraham was ready to offer up his only-begotten son; Esther was ready to offer up herself. Hers was a Divinely inspired faith, worthy of a place among those celebrated in Hebrews.
IV. The royalty of faith is greater than the royalty of mere circumstantials. The Caesars and the Neros do not now rule--the Pauls and the Peters do. Faith is better and mightier than weapons of war, words of wisdom, or the gilded trappings of earthly royalty.
V. The royalty of faith commands success.
VI. The royalty of faith sways the golden sceptre. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
A conquest by feminine beauty
One of the most stirring passages in history with which I am acquainted tells us how Cleopatra, the exiled Queen of Egypt, won the sympathy of Julius Caesar, the conqueror, until he became the bridegroom and she the bride. Driven from her throne, she sailed away on the Mediterranean Sea in a storm, and when the large ship anchored she put out with one womanly friend in a small boat until she arrived at Alexandria, where was Caesar, the great general. Knowing that she would not be permitted to land or pass the guards on the way to Caesar’s palace, she laid upon the bottom of the boat some shawls and scarfs and richly dyed upholstery, and then lay down upon them, and her friend wrapped her in them and she was admitted ashore in this wrapping of goods, which was announced as a present for Caesar. This bundle was permitted to pass the guards of the gates of the palace, and was put down at the feet of the Roman general. When the bundle was unrolled there rose before Caesar one whose courage and beauty and brilliancy are the astonishment of the ages. This exiled Queen of Egypt told the story of her sorrows, and he promised her that she should get back her throne in Egypt and take the throne of wifely dominion in his own heart. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
A queen on the vanity of jewellery
Among the treasures most coveted are jewels, but in the “Diary” of Madame D’Arblay, whose maiden name was Burney, and who was lady-in-waiting on Queen Charlotte, consort of George III., we read: “The queen told ms how well at first she had liked her jewels and ornaments. ‘But how soon,’ cried she, ‘was that over! Believe me, Miss Burney, it is a pleasure of a week--a fortnight at most. The trouble of putting them on, the care they require, and the fear of losing them, made me in a fortnight’s time long for my own earlier dress, and wish never to see them more.’”
The splendour of Esther’s career is seen in the fact that she does not succumb to the luxury of her surroundings. The royal harem among the lily-beds of Shushan is like a palace in the land of the lotus-eaters “where it is always afternoon,” and its inmates in the dreamy indolence are tempted to forget all the obligations and interests beyond the obligations to please the king and their own interests in securing every comfort wealth can lavish upon them. We do not look for a Boadicea in such a hot-house of narcotics. And when we find there a strong, unselfish woman such as Esther conquering almost insuperable temptations to a life of ease, and choosing a course of terrible danger to herself for the sake of her oppressed people, we can echo the admiration of the Jews for their national heroine. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The sight of a face
It is a constant fact in nature that the sight of a face do what nothing else can do in the way of awakening love, touching sympathy, securing trust, evoking help, or, it may be, in the way of provoking and stimulating feelings of a very opposite description. If a purpose be very important and very good, generally it will be better promoted by a personal appearance than by any kind of representation. If I am seeking a good thing, my face ought to be better than the face of another for the getting of it; better, too, than my own letter asking it. If the poor widow had sent letters to the unjust judge, he probably would not have been much discomposed, but by her continual coming she wearied him, and won her quest. When the king saw Esther she obtained favour. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
And the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand.
God grants requests
Did this haughty monarch hold out the sceptre, and say, “What wilt thou, and what is thy request?” and shall not God hear His own elect--His chosen spouse--crying to Him day and night? Esther had to go into the presence of a proud imperious man, we to go into the presence of a God of love and condescension. She was not called; we are invited. She went in against the law; we have both precept and promise in our favour--yea, precept upon precept, and promise upon promise. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” She had no friend at court on whom she could rely, and the great favourite was the accuser of her brethren, the mortal foe of her name and race; we, even when we have sinned, and sinned after light and pardon, have an Advocate with the Father, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased, who also is the propitiation for our sins. Esther was encouraged to ask to the extent of the half of the kingdom of Persia; we are encouraged to ask to the whole of the kingdom of heaven, with a life-rent on earth of all that is needful for us. Ought we not then to “come boldly to the throne of grace”? (T. McCrie.)
The gifts of the heavenly King
1. Ahasuerus held out the sceptre to his queen, who had never offended him, nor been unfaithful to him; but Jehovah holds out His sceptre to the unfaithful.
2. But the king not only bade the queen to his presence, but made her a bountiful offer. “What is thy request? It shall be given thee to the half of my kingdom.” This offer he makes three times over. Surely the Lord wrought marvellously herein, and in His goodness to His people, exceeded their largest expectations. God grants a kingdom to His people, and that an everlasting kingdom--their crowns fade not away, their purses wax not old. Their riches cannot be corrupted by moth and rust, and thieves cannot deprive them of their treasures. Their joy no one taketh from them, and their pleasures are those which are at God’s right hand for evermore. Oh! let us approach the heavenly King in the all-powerful name of the one Mediator, and fervently pray for these imperishable blessings. (J. Hughes.)
Confidence in prayer
The Church is “the Lamb’s wife.” She has free access to the throne of the King of kings. Oh! how timidly and doubtfully do believers sometimes draw near to Him! It is as though they feared His royal sceptre, forgetting that it is the sceptre of mercy; as though they were apprehensive that He had taken away His love from them, forgetting that “having loved His own who were in the world, He loves them unto the end.” He has no half-measures--no half-kingdoms to offer. He promises you the kingdom--wholly, willing, unreservedly--and even chides you for having hitherto asked nothing in His name, and encourages you to “ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” King Ahasuerus could not anticipate the request of Esther; after his own carnal heart he thought that it must be some additional temporal good. But our King knows all beforehand, and has provided for, and is ready to bestow upon us all that we can need upon the earth, and all that we can desire to prepare us for heaven. And surely, if we require to be stirred to earnestness and importunity by the presence of a great cause, we all have it in the condition of our own hearts, the souls of others, and the salvation of the world. (T. McEwan.)
The golden sceptre
In reverence, in submission, and for safety, she touched the top of the sceptre, and then all the power of the empire was between her and harm. We cannot assert that this was meant to be a symbolical act; but certainly it does express in a striking way the method and the result of our coming as sinners to God. The golden sceptre of grace is ever in the King’s hand. Never does He cast one wrathful glance upon any who approach unto Him; He is on the throne of grace, that He may be gracious. When we touch the sceptre we yield submission; we are reconciled, accepted, and protected by all the forces of the universe, and by all the perfections of God. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Touching the sceptre
I. The sceptre in the hands of Christ. We read that He is “head over all things,” and more than this, “head over all things to the Church.” He holds that sceptre for them--for their protection--for their highest and best interests. Christ is on the throne! The steps which lead to that throne ought to assure us what He is, now that He is there. The Cross best explains Christ. His character in all its transparency and purity, its glory and beauty, fitted Him to reign over all. But we want more than a righteous King; more than a true King! Love must be on the throne which is to sway the hearts of men, and “herein is love.”
II. In all appeals to him we touch that sceptre.
1. When we touch that sceptre, we prove that we believe His Word. It is certain that actions bespeak faith more than words. Do we believe in Christ’s purposes of mercy? Do we believe that all the vice, misery, wrong, around us, Christ desires to do away with? that it grieves His heart more than it ever can ours? We must believe this in the light of His Incarnation, coming into this world as He did to seek and to save that which was lost. When we touch His sceptre, we proclaim our belief in His mercy, we come to the King as those who know that He is the same Saviour that walked this world, and went about doing good, and preached deliverance to the captives everywhere.
2. When we touch that sceptre, we bespeak its aid; we imply confidence in its power. We manifest cur consciousness that there is a greater power than that of evil: that Jesus must and will reign. It were sad to live were it otherwise. We who know Christ for ourselves, have confidence in His ability to realise the ideal of the Inspired Word, “Godliness is profitable for all things: having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
3. When we touch that sceptre, we imply our oneness of spirit with Him. Many would like to touch other sceptres, and turn their purposes of success into golden achievements. See how men wait on others. But Christ’s purposes are moral and spiritual purposes. His kingdom is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; and we say by our touch of His sceptre, “Master, we do desire this end; deliver our people from slavery, from the plots of our Hamans, from the desires which would destroy their peace of mind, hinder their happiness, and harm their souls hereafter. Oh! King Jesus, we are one with Thee!”
4. When we touch that sceptre, we imply that Christ loves us. We love Him, and He loves us. We know that the fact of His love to us will make our petitions powerful before Him.
III. The sceptre may be touched by the humblest hand. Yes; and it often is. Poor and humble saints, weak and afflicted saints, that can do little else, can pray. Not through door-keepers, and past stately sentinels, do we reach the Royal Pavilion! No! Esther goes straight in to the king. So may we! The privilege of prayer itself is not more wonderful than the freeness of it. The Heavenly Royalty needs no poor pageantry of outward state. You can touch that sceptre. You can come in, and be face to face with the King.
IV. This sceptre is not swayed by us, but touched by us. Esther touched it! And then the king said unto her, “What wilt thou, Esther?” And thus it is with us. It pleased the king to grant her widest request. But still it was the king’s will. And so it is with us. I would ask this question: Who would dare to touch the sceptre, if the touch was to turn to swaying it? Not I! Not you! No; you know enough of life to wish at all events its government taken out of your hands. We touch the sceptre, but we do not take it. No. That moment an awful consciousness would come over us, and we should flee from mountain to city, to be absolved from the responsibility. We might seem to benefit ourselves, but whom might we not harm? We might seem to gain a transitory good, but what beneficent laws of the universe, working for the common good, might we not endanger? It is a comfortable thing to be able to cast all our care upon Christ.
V. In swaying that sceptre Christ can overcome all the designs of our enemies. The danger seemed great to the company of Jews in the Persian empire, but in one brief hour the darkening cloud had disappeared, and Esther had “come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” (W. M. Statham.)
What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request?--
Prayer should be definite
To make prayer of any value, there must be definite objects for which to plead. We often ramble in our prayers after this, that, and the other, and we get nothing, because in each we do not really desire anything. We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any object. Do you not sometimes fall on your knees without thinking beforehand what you mean to ask God for? You do, as a matter of habit, without any motion of your heart. You are like a man who would go to a shop and not know what articles he would procure. He may, perhaps, make a happy purchase when he is there, but certainly it is not a wise plan to adopt. And so the Christian in prayer may afterwards attain to a real desire, and get his end; but how much better would he speed if, having prepared his soul by consideration and self-examination, he came to God for an object at which he was about to arrive, with a real request. Did we ask an audience at her Majesty’s court, we should not be expected to go into the presence of royalty and then to think of some petition after we came there. Even so with the child of God. He should be able to answer the great question, “What is thy petition? and what is thy request? and it shall be done unto thee.” Imagine an archer shooting with his bow, and not knowing where the mark is! Would he be likely to have success? Conceive a ship, on a voyage of discovery, putting to sea without the captain having any idea of what he was looking for! Would you expect that he would come back heavily laden either with the discoveries of science or with treasures of gold? In everything else you have a plan. You do not go to work without knowing that there is something that you designed to make; how is it that you go to God without knowing what blessing you design to have? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. With respect to the largeness of the offer. “Even to the half of my kingdom,” the king said, “will thy request be granted.” “All things are yours,” it is said to believers; and it may well be said, since Jehovah gives Himself to them as their God, and Christ is theirs, and the Spirit dwells in them.
2. But then as Esther was afraid all at once to ask what she most desired, so God’s people are often slow or afraid to avail themselves to the full of their privilege of asking. Many are contented to live from year to year with little more to uphold them than an indistinct hope that they shall reach heaven at last, when, if they would but take home God’s promises in all their freeness and richness, they might be able to rejoice in Him as their portion. But perhaps it may be that as Esther did not feel herself in a condition all at once to close with the king’s most liberal offer, so some among us, for other reasons than the feeling that it would be presumptuous, may be exercised in the same way with respect to spiritual privileges. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Directions for prayer
I. There must be method in prayer. “What is thy petition?” Self-examination is especially beneficial as we are about to approach God. Prayer with too many is too much like the hurried salute given to a passing friend; or it is like the quick march of an army past the royal standard. It is often little better than counting beads strung on a cord; or as one turning a praying wheel. More strength in prayer would be obtained by more method in prayer.
II. There must be assurance in prayer. Not merely the assurance that God is ready to hear prayer, but the assurance that we “have found favour in the sight of the King.” Esther desired to feel her ground sure here. How shall we know if our heavenly King is favourable to us? By looking to the unspeakable gift. “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.” The gift of Christ implies the gift of all things needful.
III. There may be hesitancy in prayer. Not the hesitancy of doubt, but of deliberation. That is sometimes the truest prayer, when the heart is too full for utterance.
IV. There must be SUBMISSION to the Divine will in prayer. “I will do to-morrow as the king hath said.” (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Let the king and Haman come to the banquet that I shall prepare for them, and I will do to-morrow as the king hath said.
Do not hasten providence
The very persons are here before whom it will be told to-morrow--the king, the queen, Haman! Then why delay? Nine people out of ten would have said, if consulted beforehand, “All, she is losing her case, through fear or through finesse, or by some evil counsel. She is losing the ripe and favourable hour, which will never return. Tomorrow! O Queen, why not to-night?” And so, oftentimes, we would hasten providence in our own affairs, fretting against His wise delays, and laying our poor shoulders to the great wheels of God, as though He were not moving them fast enough, when, in fact, they are going as evenly as the sun, as sublimely as time itself. “The king is here; why not speak?” Yes, he is here, and he is not here. He is not here as he will be to-morrow night. To-night he will be sleepless. To-night he will be reminded, through his sleeplessness, of an act of loyal faithfulness on the part of Mordecai, which has been hitherto unrewarded. To-night the order will be given for the preparation of a gallows. In a word, when the same three meet at to-morrow’s banquet, they will be the same, and yet not the same. They will be really in different relations to each other, and to many beyond. So the banquet is ended, as if by the utterance of the word “wait.” “He that believeth shall not make haste.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Wisdom to act in critical situations
When persons are placed in critical situations, and endeavour to act singly and honestly, wisdom is granted to them to direct their course. Though she had met with a reception equal to her most sanguine expectations, Esther did not immediately present the request which was nearest her heart, but contented herself with begging that the king, accompanied with Haman, would “come to the banquet of wine which she had prepared.” By this she testified her disinterestedness. She was afraid of precipitating the decision, and sought to avail herself of every prudent method for ensuring success. (T. McCrie.)
Then went Haman forth that day joyful
The superficial man
Haman’s gladness. It arose--
1. From a false estimation of himself.
2. From a false estimate of his position.
II. Haman’s use of his eyes. He saw, but not correctly. Pride casts a film over the mental vision. Prejudice lessens the power of vision. Green-eyed jealousy cannot see correctly. He could not see that stubbornness rightly read meant integrity of purpose.
III. Haman’s consequent change of state. A false use of the eyes has its penalties. No faculty can be perverted without bringing retribution.
IV. Haman’s power of self-control. The power of self-control is not to be despised, but the power of self-conquest is a nobler achievement.
V. Haman’s resource in trouble. It is observable how many bad men have attached themselves to wives who have stuck to them in all circumstances. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Joy from meagre sources
There is much joy among the children of men which arises from very meagre sources, much joy the loss of which would be better than its possession. (J. Hughes.)
That day was the last of his gladness; next morning’s sun should not set before all his glory was laid in the dust. Nay, that very day, and that very moment when it was most buoyant, his joy was destined to suffer a dash from which it would never completely recover. (T. McCrie.)
The last tomorrow
Be not so cruel as speak to him of to-morrow! Let the wicked enjoy their bright to-day--it is the only bright to-day which they will ever have. Yes, to-morrow! Let worldly men fear and prepare for their last to.morrow! “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed and that without remedy. (T. McEwan.)
Nevertheless Haman refrained himself.
Haman refrained himself. It is a circumstance not unworthy of notice, that even those persons who are habitually self-willed, and destitute of the power of self-government, can nevertheless, when occasion requires it, exercise a wonderful control over both their speech and their passions. Thus, for example, a man who is addicted to the sin of profane swearing will be found to put such guard upon his words in the presence of a superior who detests that sin, that not one oath will escape from his lips. A man who has no command of his temper at ordinary times will appear smooth and unruffled in his intercourse with those on whom he is dependent, or whose good opinion he desires to gain. A man given to excess in the indulgence of his appetites will be careful not to transgress in company where it would be accounted shameful. Now there is an important principle involved in all this, deeply affecting the moral responsibility of such men for all their conduct. For if they can lay themselves under such restraint--when it serves their purpose--that long-formed habits can be checked and mastered, then we think that even they themselves must admit that they are deprived of all excuse when they suffer themselves to be usually governed by these habits. And if regard for the opinions and feelings of their fellow-men exerts a power over them which the law of God does not possess, then manifestly they are chargeable with the guilt of standing more in awe of men than of God. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
And when he came home.
Home with a bad man
It is not pleasant to go home with Haman; but God thinks it good for us to see the inside of a bad man’s heart. We shall understand the irony of His providence the better. (T. McCrie.)
And Haman told them of the glory of hie riches, and the multitude of his children.
The discontented man as a reckoner
The discontented man is--
I. A good reckoner, up to a certain point. Look at Haman’s statement: Riches--children--position--honour. These represent the ideal of happiness to a large majority of men. The whole is stated correctly, but the result is false.
II. A bad reckoner, because--
1. He places too high an estimate on the mere material.
2. He does not take into account the unknown quantity.
3. He over-estimates his own deserts.
4. He is bad at subtraction. He enumerates his blessings as four, and his drawback as one. He subtracts one from four, and makes nothing the strange result.
5. He is defective in multiplication.
Haman made more of Mordecai’s refusal to render him homage than it deserved. Discontent is always an unreliable multiplication. It makes evils where there are none, and more of existing evils than it ought to do.
III. The discontented man unknowingly makes a good computation.” All is vanity and vexation of spirit” is the statement of those who have taken their fill of this world’s good things, and have forgotten God their maker. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.
Outward prosperity and an evil heart
Haman’s misery sprung from his most prominent vice. The avenger did not so much track his path, like an independent retributive messenger, as that it was secreted in his very sin. It is often so in providence. God does not need to stretch forth His hand against the sinner. It is enough that He allows the working of his sin to overtake him. Had there been no pride in Haman’s heart he could never have been subjected to this soul-torture because of a harmless affront by an inferior in rank; but forasmuch as he had nursed and cherished his pride to an ungovernable extent, the pain and anguish which he had to endure when it was thwarted and injured was crucifying to all his prosperity and joy. He became his own tormentor. The law is universal, giving to all sin its entail of evil. The sinner may suppose that his sin is not known, and, because not known, that it will escape punishment; but the sin will itself find out the man, and the punishment will grow out of it as a poisonous plant from a hidden seed. Sceptics may theoretically deny the Divine government, but practically it is beyond dispute. By an inexorable law “evil pursueth sinners, but to the righteous good shall be repaid.” Intimately connected with this thought there is another of equal importance--that we are not in a position to judge of the relative amount of happiness or unhappiness in the lot of man upon the earth. Surveyed from without there might not appear to be a more enviable man than Haman. If earthly good could make happiness there was no element awanting in his case. There was ostensibly no comparison between his lot and that of some contented poor man, who, besides meanness and obscurity, has to bear the burden of bodily suffering. Nevertheless you might never get from the poor sufferer under the influence of religion the same confession of wasted happiness and blighted peace that we have from this lordly great man in the high day of his abounding prosperity. Let the outward condition be what it may, his spirit--the real man--rises superior so it, and is not touched by it. But in the other case it was the spirit which was diseased, and which, like the scorpion when surrounded by fire, turned its sting in upon itself. So that, before we could estimate relative individual happiness or unhappiness, we would require to go below the surface of things and look upon the heart. Moreover, we cannot fail to notice that outward prosperity in an unsanctified heart renders the man more susceptible to trifling annoyances. He becomes so accustomed to what is highly pleasing that a very small thing occasions great uneasiness. While he looks at his good things through the large end of the telescope, he beholds what is troublesome and vexatious through the small. The world’s broad way is crowded with eager seekers after happiness. “It is here,” cries one, and there is a rush in that direction, only to be followed by disappointed looks and longing hearts. “It is there,” cries another, and there is anxious toiling and plodding for its attainment; but the cisterns are found at last to he broken and empty. In the midst of this thirsting, moiling, weary world, Jesus has caused His voice to be heard, pleading and saying: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” (T. McEwan.)
The servants of God may be sometimes so foolish as to envy the prosperity of the wicked. But a sure result is before the wicked, and in due time their sin finds them out. They are set in slippery places. We see here the most crafty and accomplished wickedness caught in its own snare, and made the instrument of its own punishment. All its schemes of evil are overruled; all its revengeful and hostile purposes are made to bless those against whom they have been prepared.
1. We see every possible advantage of condition and power conceded to him. God allows the cause opposed to Him to have all the means of apparent triumph and success, so that if such opposition may ever prevail, it shall have the fullest opportunity. When He would show us the vanity of the world He allows it to heap up every possible means of gratification and pleasure. When He would show us the security of piety He permits every possible difficulty and objection to be in its way. Haman shall complain of no want on his side of any instrument which might render his triumph certain. And then, in defiance of all his power and his craft, God will overturn all his schemes. Could the wickedness of man ever succeed, it must in circumstances like his. He was rich; unlimited wealth seemed to be in his control. For a single grant of power he offered the king ten thousand talents of silver, nearly twenty millions of dollars. Not only rich, he was highly exalted in station. No subject of the monarch equalled him in rank or in the influence which his station gave. Rich and exalted, he was powerful also. The king had given him his own ring. All the powers of government in the kingdom were thus placed in the hands of Haman. In this high condition he was flattered and honoured by universal homage. “All the king’s servants that were in the king’s gate bowed,” etc. And as we survey his condition we exclaim, “What gratitude such a man must owe to God! What blessings he might bestow upon his fellow-men.” But Haman had no heart for gratitude, no love for mankind. He was an enemy to God, to His people, and to His truth. The controlling spirit of his wicked heart was selfishness. “Though hand join in hand the wicked shall not go unpunished.”
2. We see the small amount of Haman’s alleged deficiencies. “Mordecai bowed not nor did him reverence.” What an illustration of the prosperity of this world. It is impossible that any earthly portion should be free from every cause of complaint. The decay and sorrow which human sin produces must everywhere in some shape be found. It is left as a token of God’s authority, as a test of man’s submission, as a teacher of contentment and humility in the midst of occasions for pride and self-indulgence. There is to every man a Mordecai in the gate, an unbending and unsubmissive difficulty of some kind in human life, to guard the children of God from the ruin which prosperity would bring, and to awaken the sinful to a consciousness of the insufficiency of an earthly portion, and the importance of something higher and something better than earth can give. Less than Haman’s sorrow no living man can have. But this fact of trial in human condition is always a constantly recurring one. It was so here. Day by day Haman must pass the gate, and Mordecai could not be avoided. The sorrow is small, but it is ever present, like a broken tooth, or a missing step in the stairs on which we must habitually pass. It can never be forgotten. A submissive mind receives it as a call for acknowledgment and humility. A rebellious mind makes it an occasion of complaint, and the same annoyance hardens the heart in rebellion and impiety. Let us make a friend and teacher of every Mordecai in our way. We shall never he without him.
3. This leads us to mark the effect of this one exception upon Haman’s feelings and mind. This single deficiency completely destroyed all his enjoyment and peace. To make a man happy whose heart is astray from God is impossible. Whatever of earthly bounties may be given, there is the secret feeling of remorse and consciousness of guilt which nothing can silence or dismiss. The mind is in rebellion against the only power which can give it peace.
4. All these circumstances in Haman’s condition showed how small was his temptation to crime. Haman had no reasonable excuse, no motive but in his own wicked heart, for the course of crime on which he was to enter. It was simply the working of malicious wickedness, his own fretful, hateful temper. Mordecai did him no injury, diminished none of his real advantages or possessions. Such is the process of yielding to the suggestions and claims of a sinful temper. It leads us from one step to another in the course of sin, until the sinner is ensnared in unexpected guilt, and entangled in crimes hideous in their aspect and beyond his power to escape. It may be the appetite for gain, the haste to be rich, which pushes him on to every sacrifice of duty, and through every species of fraud and every scheme of attempted concealment, till God suddenly reveals the whole plot and the man is ruined beyond recovery. Let no young man feel that he is safe from temptation to the worst of crimes in allowing the power for a moment of such a spirit. Watch against its first encroachment. Cultivate, as the rule of life, high and pure motives, habits of self-control, refusal to receive affronts or to take offence at the errors or neglect of others. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Give a whole world of pleasure to a man who loves the world and the things of it, he will soon find that something is wanted, though perhaps he does not know, so well as Haman thought he did, what it is. He finds some gall and wormwood that spread poison over his pleasures. All his abundance cannot compensate for the loss of some one thing or other that he deems essential to his happiness. The fact is that the world cannot give a right constitution to his disordered soul, or be a substitute for that Divine favour in which lies the life of our souls. (G. Lawson.)
On the disorders of the passions
These are the words of one who, though high in station and power, confessed himself to be miserable. His whole soul was shaken with a storm of passion. Wrath, pride, and desire of revenge rose into fury. With difficulty he restrained himself in public; but as soon as he came to his own house he was forced to disclose the agony of his mind.
I. How miserable is vice when one guilty passion is capable of creating so much torment! We might reason from the constitution of the rational frame, where the understanding is appointed to be supreme and the passions to be subordinate, and where, if this due arrangement of its parts be overthrown, misery as necessarily ensues as pain is consequent in the animal frame upon the distortion of its members. Had this been a soliloquy of Haman’s within himself, it would have been a sufficient discovery of his misery. But when we consider it as a confession which he makes to others, it is a proof that his misery was become insupportable. For such agitations of the mind every man strives to conceal, because he knows they dishonour him. Other griefs and sorrows he can with freedom pour out to a confidant. When he suffers from the injustice or malice of the world he is not ashamed to acknowledge. But when his suffering arises from the bad dispositions of his own heart; when, in the height of prosperity, he is rendered miserable solely by disappointed pride, every ordinary motive for communication ceases. Nothing but the violence of anguish can drive him to confess a passion which renders him odious, and a weakness which renders him despicable. To what extremity in particular must he be reduced before he can disclose to his own family the infamous secret of his misery! In the eye of his family every man wishes to appear respectable, and to cover from their knowledge whatever may vilify or degrade him. Attacked or reproached abroad, he consoles himself with his importance at home; and in domestic attachment and respect seeks for some compensation for the injustice of the world. Judge, then, of the degree of torment which Haman endured by its breaking through all these restraints and forcing him to publish his shame before those from whom all men seek most to hide it. How severe must have been the conflict. Assemble all the evils which poverty, disease, or violence can inflict, and their stings will be found by far less pungent than those which such guilty passions dart into the heart. Amidst the ordinary calamities of the world the mind can exert its powers and suggest relief. And the mind is properly the man; the sufferer and his sufferings can be distinguished. But those disorders of passion, by seizing directly on the mind, attack human nature in its stronghold, and cut off its last resource. They penetrate to the very seat of sensation, and convert all the powers of thought into instruments of torture.
1. Let us remark, in the event that is now before us, the awful hand of God, and admire His justice in thus making the sinner’s own wickedness to reprove him, and his backslidings to correct him. Sceptics reason in vain against the reality of Divine government. It is not a subject of dispute It is a fact which carries the evidence of sense and displays itself before our eyes. We see the Almighty manifestly pursuing the sinner with evil.
2. Let us remark also, from this example, how imperfectly we can judge, from external appearances, concerning real happiness or misery. All Persia, it is probable, envied Haman as the happiest person in the empire; while yet, at the moment of which we now treat, there was not, within its bounds, one more thoroughly wretched. Think not, when you behold a pageant of grandeur displayed to public view, that you discern the ensign of certain happiness. In order to form any just conclusion you must follow the great man in the retired apartment, where he lays aside his disguise; you must not only be able to penetrate into the interior of families, but you must have a faculty by which you can look into the inside of hearts.
3. Unjust are our complaints of the promiscuous distribution made by providence of its favours among men. From superficial views such complaints arise. The distribution of the goods of fortune, indeed, may often be promiscuous; that is, disproportioned to the moral characters of men: but the allotment of real happiness is never so. For to the wicked there is no peace. They are like the troubled sea when it cannot rest. They travail with pain all their days. Trouble and anguish prevail against them. Terrors make them afraid on every side.
II. How unavailing worldly prosperity is, since, in the midst of it, a single disappointment is sufficient to embitter all its pleasures. We might at first imagine that the natural effect of prosperity would be to diffuse over the mind a prevailing satisfaction which the lesser evils of life could not ruffle or disturb. We might expect that as one in the full glow of health despises the inclemency of the weather, so one in possession of all the advantages of high power and station should disregard slight injuries, and, at perfect ease with himself, should view in the most favourable light the behaviour of others around him. Such effects would indeed follow if worldly prosperity contained in itself the true principles of human felicity. But as it possesses them not, the very reverse of those consequences generally obtains. Prosperity debilitates instead of strengthening the mind. Its most common effect is to create an extreme sensibility to the slightest wound. It foments impatient desires, and raises expectations which no success can satisfy. It fosters a false delicacy, which sickens in the midst of indulgence. By repeated gratification it blunts the feelings of men to what is pleasing, and leaves them unhappily acute to whatever is uneasy. Hence the gale, which another would scarcely feel, is to the prosperous a rude tempest. Hence the rose-leaf doubled below them on the couch, as it is told of the effeminate Sybarite, breaks their rest. Hence the disrespect shown by Mordecai preyed with such violence on the heart of Haman. Upon no principle of reason can we assign a sufficient cause for all the distress which this incident occasioned to him. The cause lay not in the external incident--it lays within himself; it arose from a mind distempered by prosperity. Let this example correct that blind eagerness with which we rush to the chase of worldly greatness and honours. Let the memorable fate of Haman suggest to us also how often, besides corrupting the mind and engendering internal misery, they lead us among precipices and betray us into ruin. At the moment when fortune seemed to smile upon him with the most serene and settled aspect she was digging in secret the pit for his fail. Prosperity was weaving around his head the web of destruction. Success inflamed his pride; pride increased his thirst of revenge; the revenge which, for the sake of one man, he sought to execute on a whole nation, incensed the queen; and he is doomed to suffer the same death which he had prepared for Mordecai. An extensive contemplation of human affairs will lead us to this conclusion, that among the different conditions and ranks of men the balance of happiness is preserved in a great measure equal; and that the high and the low, the rich and the poor, approach, in point of real enjoyment, much nearer to each other than is commonly imagined. In the lot of man mutual compensations, both of pleasure and of pain, universally take place. Providence never intended that any state here should be either completely happy or entirely miserable. If the feelings of pleasure are more numerous and more lively in the higher departments of life, such also are those of pain. If greatness flatters our vanity, it multiplies our dangers. Ii opulence increases our gratifications, it increases, in the same proportion, our desires and demands. If the poor are confined to a more narrow circle, yet within that circle lie most of those natural satisfactions which, after all the refinements of art, are found to be the most genuine and true.
III. How weak human nature is which, in the absence of real, is thus prone to create to itself imaginary woes. Let it not be thought that troubles of this kind are incident only to the great and the mighty. Though they, perhaps, from the intemperance of their passions, are peculiarly exposed to them, yet the disease itself belongs to human nature, and spreads through all ranks. In the humble and seemingly quiet shade of private life, discontent broods over its imaginary sorrows, preys upon the citizen no less than upon the courtier, and often nourishes passions equally malignant in the cottage and in the palace. Having once seized the mind, it spreads its own gloom over every surrounding object; it everywhere searches out materials for itself, and in no direction more frequently employs its unhappy activity than in creating divisions amongst mankind and in magnifying slight provocations into mortal injuries. Those self-created miseries, imaginary in the cause but real in the suffering, will be found to form a proportion of human evils not inferior, either in severity or in number, to all that we endure from the unavoidable calamities of life. In situations where much comfort might be enjoyed, this man’s superiority, and that man’s neglect, our jealousy of a friend, our hatred of a rival, an imagined affront, or a mistaken point of honour, allow us no repose. Hence discords in families, animosities among friends, and wars among nations. Hence Haman miserable in the midst of all that greatness could bestow. Hence multitudes in the most obscure stations for whom providence seemed to have prepared a quiet life, no less eager in their petty broils, nor less tormented by their passions, than if princely honours were the prize for which they contended. From this train of observation which the text has suggested, can we avoid reflecting upon the disorder in which human nature plainly appears at present to lie? Amidst this wreck of human nature, traces still remain which indicate its Author. Those high powers of conscience and reason, that capacity for happiness, that ardour of enterprise, that glow of affection, which often break through the gloom of human vanity and guilt, are like the scattered columns, the broken arches, and defaced sculptures of some fallen temple, whose ancient splendour appears amidst its ruins. In this view let us with reverence look up to that Divine Personage, who descended into this world on purpose to be the light and the life of men; who came in the fulness of grace and truth to repair the desolation of many generations, to restore order among the works of God, and to raise up a new earth and new heavens, wherein righteousness shall dwell for ever. Under His tuition let us put ourselves; and amidst the storms of passion to which we are here exposed, and the slippery paths which we are left to tread, never trust presumptuously to our own understanding. Thankful that a heavenly Conductor vouchsafes His aid, let us earnestly pray that from Him may descend Divine light to guide our steps, and Divine strength to fortify our minds. Fix, then, this conclusion in your minds, that the destruction of your virtue is the destruction of your peace. At your first setting out in life, especially when yet unacquainted with the world and its snares, when every pleasure enchants with its smile, and every object shines with the gloss of novelty, beware of the seducing appearances which surround you, and recollect what others have suffered from the power of headstrong desire. If you allow any passion, even though it be esteemed innocent, to acquire an absolute ascendant, your inward peace will be impaired. From the first to the last of man’s abode on earth, the discipline must never be relaxed of guarding the heart from the dominion of passion. Eager passions and violent desires were not made for man. They exceed his sphere. They find no adequate objects on earth, and of course can be productive of nothing but misery. (H. Blair, D. D.)
The mission and the curse of jealousy
In the formation of character, as in the makeup of the world, nothing is ever lost or misplaced. The heat of the tropics in the belt of the equator makes trade-wind currents, and trade-wind currents make northerly gales, and northerly gales bring hail and snow, and the rivers swollen from the mountain streams flow again into the ocean. There are scavengers on land and sea which consume the world’s refuse; there are processes at work in the economy of nature by which the refuse of the barn-yard and the dry bones of the slaughter-house become restorers of the soil and fertilisers of Mother Earth robbed yearly of her life-giving qualities. And in the economy of character we see this same endless chain of results. God does not work at right angles to His guiding principles. When a great law or tendency is boldly thrown out in the material world, we shall be sure, if we look closely enough, to find a corresponding principle in the mental and moral world. Just as there are sharks in the ocean and crocodiles in the jungle, and lizards and snakes and a world of crawling things about us; just as there are fevers and poisons and dreadful illnesses stored up in certain lovely-looking regions, so there are dreadful passions and instincts, revenges and jealousies, stored away in nature, which look as charming but are as deceitful as Brazilian wild meadow land. All these things have their use. Consider the mission and curse of jealousy.
I. Its mission. Have you ever felt in a yacht that the masts and the sails could not stand the strain of wind much longer? But the skipper at the helm laughs down your fears, for he knows how much lead is on the keel, or how much centre-board is down. Bulk is planted in that boat somewhere on purpose to steady it when the wind draws on for a blow. In some such way has jealousy been planted in human nature to steady the character when flaws of temptation or gusty currents of animalism strike us. In its existence we find the reason for monogamy and marriage faithfulness and domestic happiness and concord. Why should we be jealous if the Christian view of marriage is false? God has placed this Cerberus-like attribute, this watch-dog instinct, chained but barking, at the door of domestic happiness on purpose to guard the honour and sanctity of those within.
II. Its curse. Any force perverted becomes an evil, and when jealousy steps an inch beyond its lawful limits, then it becomes the direst curse. It is just like the mission or the curse of any strong drug or medicine. Any instinct or attribute which becomes inflamed or enlarged and assumes an undue prominence, causes trouble in the character, in the same way in which any enlarged or congested organ asserts itself with pain and irritation in the physical system. And when jealousy passes beyond its proper sphere and rankles in the nature like some smouldering back-log, it lights up every new object which is thrown upon it. It is like a secret fever, which burns and keeps one hot amid all sorts of cool surroundings, as when Haman said, “Yet all this availeth me nothing so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” It assumes many varying forms. It appears as tribe jealousy with its clannish smallness; it appears in the countless bickerings of society, in the pride of caste, and in that vulgar pride which rejoices in trampling upon caste; it is the great motive power of ambitious and scheming women; it gives the cud of reflection to innumerable artists, painters, musicians, and business men. It is with the physician in consultation with his fellow physician as they finger the pulse of their dying patient. It is with the warring lawyers, in strife over the sentence upon the accused murderer; it defiles the sacred chancel, it defiles the pulpit steps; it makes us think hard things of our brethren. In all these instances it is a moral malaria within the soul. It is the sight of the hated Mordecai sitting at the gate. The old Goth Alaric was called the scourge of God, as he came thundering down the plains of Lombardy. But jealousy is a greater scourge than the old Goth. It is the root of all our domestic troubles. Jealousy means pride; it means selfishness; it means inordinate self-conceit; it means being first all the time; it means a blighted life and a miserable old age. If you want to please yourself you can count up what you save and all you have got, as Haman did, and yet all this will avail you nothing every time you see the one you are jealous of sitting where you want to be. But if you cast these demons out--jealousy, selfishness, self-conceit--if you sink yourself and throw overboard for ever this thought of always being first, a whole new world of life and honour will be before you. (W. Wilberforce Newton.)
The festering thorn that poisons the body
It does not take much to spoil a man’s life. One little thing may mar his usefulness and the veriest trifle may destroy his peace. The record of lost men will be a record of apparent trifles. “One thing lacking” will be the keynote of the wail of hell, as it is the cry of those who have slipped down when they have reached the topmost rung but one of the ladder of life’s ambition. This man would have been the greatest of senators but for one infirmity. He has brilliance, power, eloquence, wisdom, but he has no stability. That man would have been the greatest soldier. He has courage, knowledge, skill, self-denial, but he has an unbridled temper. And so it is in every grade of life. In Haman we have a notable example of a worldly life, and a potent instance of the working of sin, sending its poisonous influence through a man’s character until it works out its own deadly end. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” We have the history of sin in the world exemplified in this individual man.
I. The poison latent. There is not a thing on earth but is poisoned. We attain learning, and while attaining it we swallow the poison with which it is infected. We derive honour, but at the same time we lay hold of the seeds of misery which accompany it. Heavy is the head that wears a crown. The baton of power is a symbol of weariness. The seat of honour is a seat of persecution. There is a great system of compensation in life which makes men much more nearly equal than they appear to be.
II. Notice the sore festering. This festering grievance was nothing but a sentimental fancy. And such are most of our festering sores. Mental, moral, or bodily maladies are soon got rid of, but visionary troubles--never. A man will recover after small-pox or fever; he will revive after bereavement or sorrow; he will be cheerful after the loss of a leg or the ruin of his pecuniary affairs. But once let him get a sentimental grievance, and he is never the same again.
III. Notice the sore working. Death. (J. J. S. Bird.)
The ruinous nature of discontent
In treating upon these words I shall endeavour to show--
I. That the discontent they express is common with persons in every possible condition of life.
II. Its evil and ruinous nature.
III. Its contrariety to the christian temper. (W. Richardson.)
Is there not a gnawing worm in the heart of every joy? Is there not a Mordecai in the way of every ambitious man? We cannot have all things exactly our own way; there is one nail we cannot extract, one lock we cannot undo, one gate we cannot open, one claim we cannot pacify. In every path there would seem to be a deep, gaping grave which even mountains cannot fill up. How near are some men to perfect bliss! If but one thorn could be extracted, then the men themselves would be safe in heaven; but that one thorn abides to remind them of their limitations, and to sting them with a useful sense of disappointment. (J. Parker, D. D.)
This confession is calculated to impress two things upon us.
I. That material things cannot make us happy.
II. That human happiness is all too easily destroyed. The work of destruction is, in general, easy. What is a flower worth after you roughly plant your foot upon it? What damage is done to a fair picture by throwing a bottle of ink against it! A servant can by mistake burn in a few minutes a MS. on which years of study were expended by her master. A succession of strokes with a hammer soon disfigure the most skilful and costly piece of furniture that ever was made; and it cannot have escaped the notice of any thoughtful man that human happiness is a flower of amazing delicacy. It takes but little to lay it low. A headache or the scratch of a pin unfits us for enjoying ourselves. An unkind remark renders us miserable for days. A disappointment does the same; and so with scores of other things. Mordecai’s want of respect was in itself a small matter; but it sadly interfered with Haman’s enjoyment. It had the effect of neutralising, and more than neutralising, all the felicities of his office and condition. He may be compared to the owner of s mansion sitting at a blind window seeing nothing, and all the while there are windows in every room from which excellent views of the surrounding scenery can be obtained if he would only place himself at them and look through them. Haman made the mistake--
1. Of thinking too much about Mordecai’s refusal to pay him the honour to which he considered he was entitled.
2. Of setting too high a value on the respect of Mordecai. (Homilist.)
Things that ought to be unnecessary for happiness
A forcible writer of our day has some remarks to the point which will well bear quotation--a few words only being altered. He is speaking of the great Lord Bacon. After describing the chancellor’s strenuous efforts within his library, where his rare powers were guided by an enlarged philanthropy and a sincere love of truth, this writer observes: “Far different was the situation of the great philosopher when he Came forth from his study and laboratory to mingle with the crowd which filled the galleries of Whitehall. In all that crowd there was no man equally qualified to render great and lasting services to mankind. But in all that crowd there was not a heart more set on things which no man ought to suffer to be necessary to his happiness--on things which can often be obtained only by the sacrifice of integrity and honour. To be the leader of the human race in the career of improvement . . . to be revered by the latest generations as the most illustrious among the benefactors of mankind--all this was within his reach. But all this availed him nothing, while some quibbling special pleader was promoted before him to the bench, while some obscure commoner took precedence of him by virtue of a purchased coronet . . . while some buffoon, versed in all the latest scandal of the court, could draw a louder laugh from the king.” This illustration shows how the profoundest intellect may be enslaved by a puerile self-conceit. It shows that refined mental power, together with exalted rank, immense reputation, European greatness (in fact or in tendency), may yet be coupled with a wretched, drivelling idolatry of toys and follies. And the difference is soon reached; we see that the soul of man is too capacious to be filled by the largest gifts of earth, and that time will not satisfy the cravings of a spirit made for eternity.
Wealth not happiness
Haman’s wealth, honour, power, palace, friends, etc., failed to satisfy and make him happy. “There be as many miseries beyond riches, as on this side of them.” “Pleasure is like lightning, a flash and away. The world is like an artichoke--nine parts of it are unprofitable leaves; about it there is a little picking meat, and, in the midst, there is a core enough to choke them that devour it.” It may be said of the world, as of Athens, “It is a fine place to pass through, for there is much to be learned there; but it is a bad place to live at, there are so many dangers in it.” The pleasures of sin are momentary and unsatisfying; its punishment is eternal and terrible. Adrian, a pope of Rome, said, “I had great hardships and troubles in early life, but none gave me such misery as the papal crown.” Diocletian, a Roman emperor, gave up his sovereignty, and retired to private life for comfort and happiness. It would be very foolish to pay genuine golden sovereigns for base counterfeit farthings. It is incredible that an angel should come from heaven to seek enjoyment with a baby’s toys. And the soul should seek satisfaction and blessing from God. (H. Burton.)
In the deserts of Central Australia there grows a plant called the Nardoo plant, which although it satisfies hunger, is said to be destitute of nutritious elements, and a party of English explorers once perished of starvation while feeding daily upon it. It is so in the experience of those who find their portion in earthly things. Their desires are crowned, but they are actually perishing of want. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
The black ewe
Some time ago, as a gentleman was passing over one of the extensive downs in the West of England, about mid-day, where a large flock of sheep was feeding, and observing the shepherd sitting by the roadside preparing to eat his dinner, he stopped his horse, and entered rote” conversation with him to this effect: Well, shepherd, you look cheerful and contented, and I daresay you have few cares to vex you. I, who am a man of pretty large property, cannot but look at such men as you with a kind of envy.” “Why, sir,” replied the shepherd, “‘tis true I have no troubles like yours; and I could do well enough was it not for that black owe that you see yonder amongst my flock. I have often begged my master to kill or sell her; but he won’t, though she is the plague of my life, for no sooner do I sit down to look at my book, or take up my wallet to get my dinner, but away she sets off over the down, and the rest follow her, so that I have many a weary step after them. There, you see, she’s off, and they are all after her.” “Ah, friend,” said the gentleman, “I see every man has a black ewe in his flock to plague him as well as I.”
Small things annoy the greatest
How small things may annoy the greatest! Even a mouse troubles an elephant, a gnat a lion, a very ties may disquiet a giant. What weapon can be nearer to nothing than the sting of this wasp? Yet what a painful wound hath it given me! That scarce visible point, how it envenoms, and rankles, and swells up the flesh. The tenderness of the part adds much to the grief. If I be thus vexed with the touch of an angry fly, how shall I be able to endure the sting of a tormenting conscience. (Bp. Hall.)
Worldly possessions cannot give full satisfaction
Who that looked upon Haman as he rode forth in all the glory of purple and gold, or as he lounged on his divan in the midst of his friends, would have supposed that he had anything to cause him so much annoyance? And yet is it not always so? There is a skeleton in every house, the worm in every rose, sorrow in every heart. Look into that stately mansion. See how richly it is furnished with finely carved chairs, luxurious lounges, marble-topped tables, and bookcases with rows of costly books. Pictures of the choicest character deck the walls. Busts and antiques are here and there. The velvety carpets feel like a mossy bank beneath the feet. Ask the occupants of the mansion if they are content, and perhaps the owner will tell you, “All this availeth me nothing” so long as my neighbour on the hill has a house larger and better furnished. The wife will perhaps tell you that “all availeth nothing” so long as a certain family is accounted as higher in the social scale than hers; or because at a dinner-party she noticed with annoyance that some one had taken precedence of herself; or because she had not been invited to some great gathering where certain of the elite were expected. The absurdities and vexations of the weak-minded and exclusive are more than equal to those of the excluded. The petty social fanciful annoyances oft make all comforts and possessions to “avail nothing” in the production of real happiness. Enter the shop of that tradesman. What a large business he carries on! Yet he in his soul is not happy. He is envious. He will confess to himself, if not to you, “All this availeth me nothing” so long as a certain competitor in the same business can buy cheaper or make money more rapidly than myself. Go along a country road, and note some pretty homestead nestling among the trees;. surely that must be the abode of content and peace! You approach it, and meeting the occupant thereof, you congratulate him on the beauty of his dwelling-place and charm of the surrounding hills; he, haggard and worn, only replies, “All this availeth me nothing.” Look at my neighbour’s barn, how much larger, and his crops how much finer than mine! So the warrior or statesman, the preacher and the potentate, are alike discontented. Dissatisfied, successful men! The blessings and privileges they possess are nothing; the trifling lack or annoyance is everything. Their state is as sinful as it is miserable. They are lineal descendants of Haman the Agagite. It is not in the nature of worldly possessions or position to give full satisfaction. If they could, the results would have been injurious to man’s moral nature. No thoughts of higher things entering man’s mind, he would soon have been degraded to the level of the brute creation. (F. Hastings.)
Then said Zeresh his wife and all his friends.
If a proud man make his complaint to you of his unhappiness, you but make him more unhappy if you advise him to gratify his pride by unreasonable and sinful means. You might as well advise a man dying of a dropsy to pour into his throat large quantities of water. Advise him to mortify his pride, and to learn of Him who was meek, and lowly of heart; to deny himself, to prepare himself for bearing the cross, to take upon himself the yoke of Christ, which is easy. The humble man is always happy. The proud man can never be happy till he is effectually humbled. It is not consistent with the nature of things, nor with the will of the High and Lofty One, who abhors the proud, that the gratifications which pride requires should ever give pure or lasting pleasure to the soul. (G. Lawson.)
Women best and worst
The truth is women are the best and the worst. Because they can be the best, they can be the worst. Because they can rise to the highest in moral grandeur, in self-sacrificing love, in the things which bring human nature nearest to the angelic mood, therefore they can sink to the lowest, and when “past feeling” can be most like the angels fallen. Thank God that your best friends would renounce your society rather than stand by you in anything revengeful or mean. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Esther 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany