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MORDECAI, BY WANT OF RESPECT, OFFENDS HAMAN, AHASUERUS' CHIEF MINISTER. HAMAN, IN REVENGE, RESOLVES TO DESTROY THE ENTIRE NATION OF THE JEWS (Esther 3:1-6). A break, probably of some years, separates Esther 2:1-23. from Esther 3:1-15. In the interval a new and important event has occurred a new character has made appearance upon the scene. Haman, the son of Hammedatha, an Agagite, has risen high in the favour of Ahasu-erus, and been assigned by him the second place in the kingdom. It has been granted him to sit upon a throne; and his throne has been set above those of all the other "princes" (Esther 3:1). He has in fact become "grand vizier," or chief minister. In the East men are so servile that a new favourite commonly receives the profoundest homage and reverence from all classes, and royal orders to bow down to such an one are superfluous. But on the occasion of Haman's elevation, for some reason that is not stated, a special command to bow down before him was issued by Ahasuerus (Esther 3:2). All obeyed as a matter of course, excepting one man. This was Mordecai the Jew. Whether there was anything extreme and unusual in the degree of honour required to be paid to the new favourite, or whether Mordecai regarded the usual Oriental prostration as unlawful, we cannot say for certain; but at any rate he would not do as his fellows did, not even when they remonstrated with him and taxed him with disobedience to the royal order (Esther 3:3). In the course of their remonstrances—probably in order to account for his reluctance—Mordecai stated himself to be a Jew (Esther 3:4). It would seem to have been after this that Haman's attention was first called by the other porters to Mordecai's want of respect—these persons being desirous of knowing whether his excuse would be allowed and the obeisance in his case dispensed with. Haman was violently enraged (Esther 3:5); but instead of taking proceedings against the individual, he resolved to go to the root of the matter, and, if Mordecai would not bow down to him because he was a Jew, then there should be no more Jews—he would have them exterminated (Esther 3:6). It did not occur to him that this would be a matter of much difficulty, so confident was he of his own influence over Ahasuerus, and so certain that he would feel no insuperable repugnance to the measure. The event justified his calculations, as appears from the latter part of the chapter (Esther 3:10-15).
After these things. Probably some years after—about b.c. 476 or 475. Haman, the son of Hammedatha. "Haman" is perhaps Umanish, the Persian equivalent of the Greek Eumenes. "Hammedatha" has been explained as "given by the moon" (Mahadata), the initial h being regarded as the Hebrew article. But this mixture of languages is not probable. The Agagite. The Septuagint has Βουγαῖος, "the Bugaean." Both terms are equally inexplicable, with our present knowledge; but most probably the term used was a local one, marking the place of Haman's birth or bringing up. A reference to descent from the Amalekite king Agag (Joseph; 'Ant. Jud.,' 11.6, § 5) is scarcely possible.
All the king's servants. Literally, "the king's slaves"—the lower officers of the court, porters and others, of about the same rank as Mordecai. Bowed and reverenced Haman. i.e. prostrated themselves before him in the usual Oriental fashion. For the king had so commanded. No reason is assigned for this order, which was certainly unusual, since the prostration of an inferior before a superior was a general rule (Herod; 1.134). Perhaps Haman had been elevated from a very low position, and the king therefore thought a special order requisite. Mordecai bowed not. Greeks occasionally refused to prostrate themselves before the Great King himself, saying that it was not their custom to worship men (Herod; 7.136; Plut; 'Vit. Artax.,' § 22; Arrian; 'Exp. Alex.,' 4.10-12, etc.). Mordecai seems to have had the same feeling. Prostration was, he thought, an act of worship, and it was not proper to worship any one excepting God (see Revelation 22:9).
Esther 3:3, Esther 3:4
The king's servants, which were in the gate with Mordecai, were the first to observe his disrespect, and at once took up the matter. Why were they to bow down, and Mordecai not? Was he any better or any grander than they? What right had he to transgress the king's commandment? When they urged him on the point day after day, Mordecai seems at last to have explained to them what his objection was, and to have said that, as a Jew, he was precluded from prostrating himself before a man. Having heard this, they told Haman, being curious to see whether Mordecai's matters (or, rather, "words") would stand, i.e. whether his excuse would be allowed, as was that of the Spartan ambassadors who declined to bow down before Artaxerxes Longimanus (Herod; 1. s. c.).
When Haman saw. Apparently Mordecai's disrespect had not been observed by Haman until the "king's servants" called his attention to it. Then, naturally enough, he was greatly offended, and felt exceedingly angry at what seemed to him a gross impertinence. Mordecai's excuse did not pacify him—perhaps seemed to him to make the matter worse, since, if allowed, it would justify all the Jews in the empire in withholding from him the respect that he considered his due.
He thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone. If Haman had simply said to Ahasuerus, "There is one of your menials who persistently disobeys a royal edict, and at the same time insults me," Ahasuerus would, as a matter of course, have told him to put the menial to death. But the revengeful temper of the man was such that this seemed to him insufficient. Mordecai had insulted him as a Jew, and the Jews should pay the penalty. Mordecai should be punished not only in person, but in his kindred, if he had any, and in his nation. The nation itself was contumacious and troublesome (Esther 3:8); it would be well to get rid of it. And it would be a grand thing to wipe out an insult offered by an individual in the blood of a whole people. Haman therefore sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. Massacres on a large scale—not unknown in the West, witness St. Bartholomew's—are of frequent occurrence in the East, where human life is not held in much regard, and the caprices of absolute monarchs determine the course of history. There had been a general massacre of the Magi upon the accession of Darius Hystaspis, the father of Xerxes (Herod; 3.79), and one of Scythians about a century before (ibid. 1.106). These were examples which might occur to Haman. A later one is the Roman massacre of Mithridates in b.c. 88.
The wicked exalted.
The temporary favourite of Ahasuerus was unworthy of the position to which he was raised, and the power with which he was intrusted. History has preserved the record of no meaner, baser character than Haman. He was a man servile and cruel, who used his power for disgraceful purposes. His conduct towards all with whom he was connected was alike despicable. His history and fate may be taken by the moralist as a type of the exaltation and fall of the wicked.
I. THE ARTS BY WHICH THE WICKED RISE. The basest selfishness takes the guise and garb of loyalty. Flattery is the surest road to a monarch's favour. Corruption, unscrupulousness, desertion of friends, betrayal of associates, slander of rivals, these are the means by which many have risen to share the favour of a king, to preside over the movements of a court, to control the affairs of a nation. Here observe the too common weakness of kings and those born to greatness.
II. THE TEMPORARY PROSPERITY WHICH THE WICKED ENJOY. Once in favour and in power, the world seems at their feet. They have influence with the sovereign; they are encompassed with the adulation of courtiers; they exercise power, even arbitrary and unjust, over fellow-subjects; they are lifted up with pride.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE FALL OF THE WICKED. From how great an elevation, and into what an abyss of misery and ruin, did Haman fall! The greater the height, the more calamitous and awful the headlong plunge. Sin rages and beats upon the shore. But above its hoarse roaring rises the voice of the All-wise and Almighty Disposer of events—"Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed!"
1. Be not envious at the prosperity of the wicked. The Psalmist seems to have been tempted to this childish and ignoble failing. He saw the wicked in great power, spreading himself like the green bay tree; but when he went into the sanctuary of God, then understood he his end.
2. Be not dismayed at the spectacle of power in wicked hands. It cannot be for long. A righteous Providence will bring the devices of the wicked to nought. The .greatest man is not omnipotent. "The Lord reigneth." He bringeth down the lofty from their seat, and exalteth those of low degree!
Foolish pride and wild resentment.
The lesson of this portion of the narrative is one concerning human sin. In some places Scripture seems to depict the character and the conduct of sinners in such a way as to impress the mind of the reader with what is called "the exceeding sinfulness of sin." And what more natural and appropriate than such representations of human iniquity in a book which brings to us the remedy for the disease, and the liberation from the bondage, which afflict mankind? In the temper and conduct of Haman we recognise the fruits of man's sinful nature.
I. Remark Haman's SINFUL PRIDE. It arose from his favour with the king, and from his position in the state, and was no doubt encouraged by the homage that was paid him by the courtiers and the people. His pride was hurt and mortified at the refusal of Mordecai to render him the honour he was accustomed to receive from all around. And the hurt was aggravated by the fact that the servants of the king observed the Jew's conduct, and reported to Haman his marked discourtesy and insult. What made the matter worse was the obscure position and despised nationality of the single person who did him no reverence.
II. Remark Haman's RESENTMENT. His pride was the occasion of his anger; his anger stirred up purposes of revenge; his revenge took a wild inhuman form. Mordecai had transgressed the king's command) and his conduct had been noticed by the king's servants. And it was this which gave a colourable pretext for the favourite's wrathful counsels and plans of destruction.
III. Remark the UTTER DISPROPORTION BETWEEN MORDECAI'S OFFENCE AND HAMAN'S PROPOSED REVENGE. A trivial slight was so laid to heart that it aroused a ferocious spirit, for the satisfaction of which no shedding of blood, no desolation of cities, could suffice. The great lesson to be learned from this frightful picture of human depravity is the extent to which sin will lead the victim. If so hateful a vice as pride be encouraged, if so mean a purpose as one of revenge be fostered, to what frightful crimes may the wretched sinner be led! There is one preventive and pro servative: "Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus!"
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
Esther 3:1, Esther 3:2
Danger of quick success.
I. A SUDDEN ADVANCEMENT. In a short time Haman was placed above all the princes. The officials of the court were commanded to give him reverence and worship. There seemed to be nothing which the infatuated king was able to refuse him. A quick rise to power, and one that would be envied by many! In most hearts there is a strong craving for rapid success. But it is a mistake to suppose that sudden or easy success is a benefit. For observe—
1. Prosperity is better borne and enjoyed when it is the result of long and steady effort. It is a sweeter and more honourable possession when it comes as the reward of conscientious toil.
2. The self-denying labour which, as a rule, is necessary to prosperity is itself an incalculable benefit. It brings into healthy exercise the physical and mental endowments. It develops many manly qualities.
II. AN INORDINATE CRAVING FOR QUICK ADVANCEMENT HAS A BAD EFFECT ON THE HEART. Some who never realise their desire continue to cherish it even against hope until the end. This is a cruel thirst, which dries up all the springs of happiness and kindly good in the soul. It is an idolatry which hardens, withers, embitters, and which robs life of all that would make it noble and good and happy. Haste not to be rich. Haste not after any of the world's prizes. We should strive to preserve a worthy independence of mind and heart in connection with whatever end we may be working to achieve.
III. SUDDEN PROSPERITIES ARE OFTEN BADLY OR DOUBTFULLY GAINED. The rise of Haman was not the result of admirable personal qualities, or of important services rendered to the state. From what is recorded of him we are entitled to infer that the arts by which he won the king's favour were degrading both to himself and to the king. An atmosphere of suspicion gathers round all sudden and abnormal successes. They are not the rule amongst men who follow legitimate courses. It is a terrible folly to stake our all on anything the world can give. No wealth, or rank) or fame can compare with the treasure of God's friendship and love (Isaiah 33:6; Matthew 6:19-21).—D.
Haman was not allowed to enjoy his high and ill-gotten position without trouble. Almost at the outset it brought him an annoyance which led to tragical results. In connection with this check to the triumph of his course, notice—
I. THAT A REAL AND MARKED CONTRAST EXISTS BETWEEN THOSE WHO "FEAR GOD" AND THOSE WHO "LOVE THE PRAISE OF MEN." The servants who "sat in the king's gate" readily obeyed the command that they should do homage to the favourite—all except one. Mordecai stood erect) with no fear or reverence in his look or attitude, when Haman passed in and out of the palace. It was a sight worth seeing) that of this man, too noble to bend to the world's idol, before which all others stooped in slavish adulation. Between Mordecai and his companions in office there was an evident gulf.
II. THAT CONDUCT WHICH CONTRASTS WITH THEIR OWN OFTEN EXCITES AN INQUIRING CURIOSITY IN THE WORLDLY. His fellow-servants at once noticed Mordecai's singularity. They daily questioned and expostulated with him, but "he hearkened not unto them." In silence he listened, and still disobeyed the king's command. Sincere inquiry is to be encouraged, and kindly met; but a prying curiosity into the affairs of others is unmanly, and to be reprobated. "Busy-bodies" in the Church were duly noted by Sts. Paul and Peter (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Peter 4:15).
III. THAT CONTRASTS OF BEHAVIOUR WHICH SEEM TO REBUKE EASILY AROUSE THE SPIRIT OF MALEVOLENCE. Overcome by the importunity of his companions, or perceiving that his continued silence was regarded by them as an indication of his being afraid to speak out, Mordecai at length declared that he was a Jew, and gave that as a reason why he could not abase himself, as they did, before Haman. This announcement awakened in their minds a deeper and more evil curiosity. Their pride was wounded by the Jew's implied claim of superiority. How would it go with him if Haman were told of his obstinacy and its reason? So they told Haman. It was mean and wicked; but they were hurt, and they no doubt expected that the all-powerful favourite would soon compel the Jew to a behaviour in harmony with their own. Small minds, that bend before every breeze of authority or fashion, readily become ungenerous, and conceive malice towards those who are stronger than themselves in principle or self-respect (1 Peter 2:1-3).
IV. THAT IT TAKES LITTLE TO MAR THE ENJOYMENT OF A FALSE GREATNESS. The sight of Mordecai standing upright amongst the prostrate attendants of the palace filled Haman with a fierce and vindictive wrath. True greatness is magnanimous. It is above resenting little affronts, or jealously exacting the signs of outward respect. It does not rest on the humiliation of others. But Haman's glory was tarnished, and his happiness soured, by the stubbornness of one man who occupied a lowly position compared with that of the favourite. Mordecai was the fly in the ointment of his pride.
V. THAT A FALSE GREATNESS CONTAINS WITHIN ITSELF THE CAUSES OF TROUBLE AND DANGER. It is necessarily suspicious and exacting. Doubt and fear are ever springing up in its path. It imagines affronts when none are intended, and magnifies small annoyances into hostile designs. It is thus often driven into passions and crimes which endanger its existence. All evil ambitions possess in the heart of them the seeds of their own punishment. God vindicates himself in the natural working of human vanities.
1. Hate every false way, however alluring. Beware of its deceitful promises.
2. Cultivate a generous spirit. Show respect to rights of others. Avoid humiliating those who are dependent on you, or below you in social rank.
3. Make God your law-giver and guide, and Jesus your example and trust.—D.
Esther 3:4, Esther 3:5
A loyal disobedience.
Mordecai's conduct was indeed striking. All the circumstances added to its impressiveness. The influences that ruled him must have been powerful. Why did he refuse to give homage to Haman? Why was he willing to disobey the king's command?
I. WAS HIS DISOBEDIENCE TO THE ROYAL WILL THE RESULT OF A DISLOYAL SPIRIT? That could not be; for he had recently given a most signal proof of his loyalty in discovering the plot of the conspirators against the king's life. He was true to the king even when he disobeyed him.
II. WAS HIS DISOBEDIENCE THE RESULT OF A VIRTUOUS DISLIKE OF THE WICKED FAVOURITE? Any amount of aversion for so worthless a creature would have been justified. But such an antipathy would hardly account for his disregard of the king's command. Here duty would have stepped in and saved at once his conscience and his self-respect. It must be remembered that he braved the king as well as Haman.
III. WAS HIS DISOBEDIENCE TO THE KING A RESULT AND EXPRESSION OF HIS OBEDIENCE TO THE KING OF KINGS? We now get near to the springs of his singular conduct. Nothing but this loyalty to the God of Israel will account for his calm and persistent daring. The unworthy character and the false eminence of Haman would no doubt have their effect on his mind. But it is only by considering the religious faith and principle of Mordecai that we can reach the true motive that actuated him. And here let us learn some things from the example of the heroic Jew.
1. A wise concession. So long as we can work honourably with those who differ from us in faith and opinion we should gladly co-operate with them. Religious differences should not interfere with civil duties ornational obligations. It is laid on both Jews and Gentiles to be loyal to the throne or government under which they live. A wise conduct is especially required in the followers of God whose lot is cast in heathen lands. While true to their faith in all things, they should avoid an inconsiderate and irritating obtrusiveness. Their aim should be to win by a holy guile, i.e. by "the meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13), rather than to repel by a crude and unsympathetic assumption of superior light. There are such things as casting pearls before swine, and swine turning and rending the foolish spendthrift.
2. A good confession. Whenever a time comes when silence as to our faith would be a sin, we should speak, and speak plainly. There should be no hesitation in naming God, or in witnessing for Christ, when occasion demands a clear testimony. When Mordecai saw that his silence was misinterpreted he declared his Jewish origin and faith. He was an Israelite and a worshipper of the Jehovah of Israel, and as such he could not give worship to any creature of God, even though it should be a Haman. There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.
3. An enduring steadfastness. It is often easier to begin than to continue a faithful witnessing for God. Some who readily acknowledge the truth begin to waver and lose steadfastness in presence of difficulty or danger. They cannot endure. But Mordecai, having once taken his stand on religious principle, remained firm against all temptations. He reminds us of the words of Luther in presence of Charles V.: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me. Amen" (Matthew 24:13; James 1:12).
4. A noble courage. It was not without sober calculation that Mordecai refused homage to Haman. He knew how much he risked. He had "the courage of his convictions." He was
(1) willing to stand alone amongst his companions in service. He could bear their sneers and threats. A hard thing in any position! He
(2) faced the probable anger of the king, to whom he had proved himself loyal. He
(3) braved the malignant wrath of the favourite, from whom he could expect no mercy. He
(4) put in peril the happiness and future guidance of his beloved Esther. He
(5) laid his own life on the altar of righteousness. He
(6) sacrificed every earthly interest to his allegiance to God. We think of Paul's heroism of faith (Philippians 3:8). Then we think of the words of Paul's Master (Matthew 19:29).—D.
HOMILIES BY D. ROWLANDS
Profession and practice.
The favourites of fortune are generally remarkable for their pride. Especially is this the case with those whom despots delight to honour. Forgetting the worthlessness of the preference to which they owe their promotion—being sometimes nothing more than a passing whim—they rashly lay claim to universal homage. Haman is therefore the representative of a numerous class, which is not likely soon to become extinct. Mordecai in this instance resolves upon a manly course. He will not join the multitude in feeding the vanity of an inflated upstart. Neither threatening nor persuasion is able to overcome his steadfastness. What could have been Mordecai's reason for his present conduct? We may well imagine that he had more reasons than one, and that the combined force of several had influenced his decision.
1. Haman possessed a despicable character. Mordecai could not have bowed to him without doing violence to his own nature. He knew the man—his insolent bearing, his mean spirit, his cruel disposition—and he recoiled from him with unconquerable loathing. And he was right. There are men whom to admire is a degradation, whom to serve involves the ruin of our manhood. They may possess brilliant parts, they may occupy high positions, they may enjoy popular favour; but in a moral point of view they are the pests of society.
2. Haman claimed Divine honours. The court officials prostrated themselves in the dust at his feet, and he regarded such obeisance as his due. How could Mordecai, a worshipper of the Most High, unite in such an extravagant demonstration of servility, even though the object of it had been the worthiest instead of the basest of mankind? To him it was a matter of conscience, and he calmly awaited the consequences. We have here a striking exemplification of PROFESSION AND PRACTICE in perfect harmony. Mordecai declared himself to be a Jew, and conducted himself as a Jew might be expected to do. Note—
I. MORDECAI'S BOLD PROFESSION. "For he had told them that he was a Jew." This was a brave thing to do; for the Jews were a conquered race. But it was the right thing to do; for to deny his people would have been the height of cowardice. What does profession involve at the present day? Is it simply a tacit avowal that we are Christians? Surely most people will go that length. It must, therefore, imply something more than that, if it is to serve as a distinction amongst us. It means, in fact, an open confession of our attachment to Christ, by identifying ourselves, in some way or other, with his Church. To the true Christian profession is a necessity.
1. -It is a duty which he owes to himself. Secret discipleship may be possible under very exceptional circumstances; but it must be most disadvantageous for the development of spiritual power. A plant may grow in the dark, but it cannot attain its full proportions, or put on its robe of beauty, without the light of day. The surest way to overcome temptation is to declare your principles. By the very act you will add to your own strength and weaken the power of the tempter. It was the attempt to disguise himself that led Peter to his fall.
2. It is a duty which he owes to the world. He has found peace himself, and will he hide its source from the troubled hearts among whom he lives? The Divine light has been kindled within him, and will he place himself under a bushel? The misery, the darkness, the sinfulness of the world constitute the world's claim upon his services, nor can he render the highest services except as a professed servant of Christ.
3. It is a duty which he owes to God. God requires it. No shame, or suffering, or loss should, therefore, make us hesitate in reference to this matter. Our Lord declared that whosoever was ashamed of him in his humiliation he would be ashamed to own when he came in his glory.
II. MORDECAI'S CONSISTENT CONDUCT. The king's servants endeavoured to persuade him to change his attitude, but he would not. "He hearkened not unto them." He was a witness-bearer, a martyr, and possessed a martyr's courage. Having professed himself to be a Jew, he would make good his profession by adhering to the right. Profession alone is worse than worthless. It injures the professor himself, and the cause with which he claims connection. "Faith without works is dead."
1. To act is admittedly more difficult than to profess. Had Mordecai merely professed himself a Jew, while he behaved like a Gentile, he would probably have experienced no difficulty. Haman would have been satisfied with his homage, and his comrades would have commended his prudence. To say, "Lord, Lord," is one thing; but to do "the will of the Father" is another. There is no grandeur in magnificent words, except when they are backed up by noble deeds. Heroism consists not so much in declaring war as in fighting the enemy.
2. Men learn more easily by example than by precept. Hence the immense importance of consistent conduct, when we consider its influence upon others. If Christianity had never succeeded to produce Christians—if it had set up a high ideal which no one ever attempted to approach—it would have remained to this day a dead form; and no amount of learning, or reasoningi or eloquence could have persuaded the world to accept it. Men may argue against creeds, but the holy lives which those creeds help to fashion are unassailable.—R.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The perfection of steadfastness.
"But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence." This book of Esther abounds in revelation of human nature. It has been much remarked upon as not containing the name of God. Furthermore, it has nothing of strict doctrine in its technical and theological sense. Neither does it lay itself out to exhibit the great spiritual facts which arrest the attention of the Bible reader in other portions of it. It does not refer with any explicitness to the unseen, to the great future, to the "that day" of the epistles. On the other hand, it is wonderful in the various exposition it offers of human nature. To history, indeed, its matter is confined. But that history seems to pursue its object with undeviating exactitude of aim. Through impartiality of selection and fidelity of description it advances, awarding its present verdicts to those on the left hand, or to those on the right. We have already considered the illustration it offers of a noble refusal on the part of a woman, on an occasion when to refuse was both undoubtedly right and undoubtedly the cause of much suffering and loss. We have here an illustration of the noble refusal of a man, right against the enormous force of the current of the whole world around him. Consistently with his race, his education, his religion, it is not merely, as in the case just alluded to, in the dictates of nature, but in the whispered monitions of religion as well, in the principle of "enduring as seeing the invisible," that the basis of the refusal in question is found and justified. Notice this refusal in some of the more prominent features it presents—
I. IT IS A REFUSAL WHICH COMES FROM THE DEEPER RECESSES OF OUR NATURE. It comes down from its higher haunts, from its more sacred retreats. To refuse at the price of suffering, loss, possibly death, because of the blush that would mantle in the cheek if you did not refuse, is to obey worthily God-given nature. All honour to Vashti that she did so! But to refuse at the imminent price of martyrdom for self, and for the all you hold dearest to the heart, and for your people scattered over a hundred lands, just because of a recovered snatch of Sinai's second commandment, is the achievement of a much higher reach. Obedience to the dictate of what We generally call nature is not to be disparaged. It reflects the intention of the Creator, and "repeats his praise." But So far as we are concerned, it may be considered to have something more of instinct about it. Mere physical temperament will in part account for it. But when the obedience is attributable to the new-learnt lessons of the word of God, then, though it is not a nobler parentage that accounts for it, it owns to a directer descent from the one Parent of all good, and this sheds fresh lustre upon it. Innocent nature in Eden, the broken snatches of Divine communication to our first parents in Eden, the patriarchal gains in similar methods of Divine revelation, then the ten commandments, the prophets, the beatitudes, the new commandment, all in developing order, challenge our lower life to regulate and improve itself by higher principles. "Thou hast magnified thy word," said the Psalmist, "above all thy name" (Psalms 138:2). The word of God unfolds duty, opportunity, responsibility in an ever-increasing ratio, and on an ever-ascending scale. And it ascertains the law which distinguishes the praise of the obedience, amid possibly great sacrifice, of nature, from the obedience paid, often amid the greatest possible sacrifice, to the inner, living Word. Mordecai was a worthy successor, by some fifty years, of Daniel and his three companions with their food (Daniel 1:8-17); of those same three companions in the matter of the golden image at Dura (Daniel 3:8-28); and again, in particular, of Daniel and his prayers (Daniel 6:4-24). "These all obtained their good report through faith"—the faith that saw, heard, obeyed, what was a blank to mere nature, inaudible and invisible to mere sense.
II. IT WAS A REFUSAL INTENSIFIED IN EFFORT BY ANXIETY AS TO WHAT IT MIGHT ENTAIL UPON ESTHER. It risked the premature betrayal of the nationality of Esther as well as of Mordecai himself, and thereby the spoiling of what it is probable Mordecai already had in his mind, viz; that Esther might prove a great benefactor of her people generally.
III. IT WAS A REFUSAL FAITHFULLY ADHERED TO WHEN DANGERS GREW THICKER. Mordecai did not yield and cringe to Haman when the original inner reason of his refusing to do so had now become immensely added to by Haman's enormous revenge. Outer policy might have advocated yielding at that very moment. The dictate of that policy would have been felt a temptation, resisted by few indeed. Very painful thoughts might also have attacked the steadfastness of Mordecai, as to what the recriminations of his people might be—that by his one display of feeling against Haman so many were involved in a common destruction. They might have said, "Why should he endanger the welfare of his people?" All the more would they have said this if at all envious because of the relation in which he stood to the new-made queen, Esther. But "none of these things moved him." He was inflexible at the right time.
IV. IT WAS A REFUSAL WHICH OPENED A PERIOD OF DREADFUL SUSPENSE. There are many sacrifices, great in themselves, but easier to make because a moment will make the resolution, another moment will execute the resolution, and a third moment will be quite sufficient to acquaint one with the result of it. The discipline of suspense, however, with many natures is nothing less than torture. And now Mordecai's refusal inaugurated the strain of days, weeks, and months of anguished conflict of feeling, of strenuous planning, and alternative purposings, the end of which he could not foresee, but the likeliest end for himself "hanging on a tree" (Esther 2:23); for his nation, destruction.
V. IT WAS A REFUSAL WHICH THREW DOWN ITS ROOTS DEEP INTO THE SOIL OF TRUST AND FAITH. Mordecai descried one possible way out of his own and his people's fearful peril. It was a narrow, uncertain, and dimly-lighted track. It was enough. He strove for it. He prayed for it. Faith and hope appropriated it. He will not relax an effort, nor will he permit Esther to be remiss. This was the best thing about Mordecai's refusal, that it was willing to abide by the alternatives, the worst conceivable extremities, or God's own deliverance. He had trust, and his trust was rewarded. The position then shows one man, deserted of earthly help, standing immovable in the same place, in the same posture, against a fierce current, midway in which he stood, for conscience' and honour's sake. And the issue shown was this, that to himself and to thousands upon thousands with him were brought salvation and great honour.—B.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
The intemperateness of contempt.
"And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone." The projected deed of Haman, if it had been carried to completion, would not have been entirely without precedent and parallels more or less nearly resembling it. Herodotus, in the first book of his history, tells us of a massacre of the Scythians, actually carried into execution, and which preceded by about a hundred years that now proposed by Haman. When Darius Hystaspis ascended the throne, some forty years before the present date, a cruel slaughter of the Magi was ordered, and that slaughter was for a long period commemorated once a year. Five centuries onward bring us to that most memorable date of all, when, in one of the most heartless of massacres, Herod, king of Judaea, schemed to nip in the tender bud the career of the King of all the world, and to stifle in the thought the work of the Saviour of all men! And one can scarcely fail to associate with the present purpose of Haman the transactions of Black Bartholomew day, when, through the widespread and fair provinces of France, thousands upon thousands of Protestants were slaughtered! Deterrent though the subject of analysis is, let us consider that which is offered us in this passage.
I. IT IS AN UNDISPUTED CASE OF A MAN ANGRY. But there is probably a place for almost every kind, for almost every degree, of anger. "A fool's wrath is presently known," and a good man's wrath should be presently known. Anger and sin often go together, but by no means always; the criterion this—whether the anger is fed, has the poisonous force of rankling thought, of gloomy brooding in it; whether the sun is permitted to go down upon it, or it bidden to go down upon the down-going of the sun. If we stop here, our analysis conducts us no way, and is not sufficient to determine anything of value for us.
II. IT IS AN UNDISPUTED CASE OF RESENTMENT. But resentment is a natural and valuable principle. Analogies come in and conspire to speak in its defence and praise. Physically it is sometimes equivalent to a vital principle. But the physical value of it is the merest shadow of the amount and value of its spiritual use. With all the fullest force of which it is capable it may advantageously come, and welcome—in order to fling off some kind of assault, some sorts of arrows, some species of temptings. It is the prime glory of resentment in matters spiritual to be as like as possible to the red-hot iron when the drop of water falls upon it.
III. IT IS AN UNDISPUTED CASE OF REVENGE. This passes us at once over the border line. We are no longer on safe ground, nor even on debateable ground. We are trespassing on the property of One who gives us here no right of ownership, but who is as liberal as he is powerful, as wise as he is wealthy, as considerate as he is just. It is he who, if he ever spoke with an impressive emphasis in his tone, has so uttered this one sentence: "Vengeance is mine,! will repay, saith the Lord." Punishment, indeed, is not revenge; but how often does the most undisguised revenge dare to take the name and try to wear the look of the most impartial, temperate, judicial punishment! Perhaps Haman would scarcely feel it necessary to attempt to put this face on it, or to defend himself from an imputation to which he would attach neither guilt nor shame, provided that danger was not in the way. Yet it is manifest that Haman did put a very false face on what was the simple outcome of his own revengeful spirit when he was seeking the requisite powers from King Ahasuerus (Esther 4:8).
IV. IT IS AN UNDISPUTED CASE OF THAT PARTICULAR KIND OF ANNOYANCE CALLED AFFRONT. No appreciable harm had been done to the person, or to the business, or to the place, or to the prospects of Haman. Nor had he been injured in the least degree in the person of his wife, or of his family, or of any one clear to him. But affront had been offered him, or he supposed such was intended. That is, harm, though light and fanciful as any butterfly, had alighted upon the finery of his dignity, his vanity, his pride. The abrasion of the polish of self was indeed so slight, so marvellously inconspicuous, that he himself did not at all know it till those envious mischiefmakers, the "king's servants," told him,,(ch, Esther 3:4), in order, forsooth, "to see whether Mordecai's account of the reason of this infinitesimal deduction from the incense due to Haman (to whom indeed he owed none at all) would hold him absolved. An angry man, a revengeful man, a madman, a "bear robbed of her whelps." (Proverbs 17:12), "the lion out of the forest" (Jeremiah 5:6), are surely all safe company to meet compared with the vain man affronted. And this was the lot of Mordecai now.
V. IT IS AN INDISPUTABLE CASE OF THE INSATIABLENESS OF CERTAIN COMBINATIONS OF SINFUL ELEMENTS IN A CHARACTER. There is no bottom to pride, there is no height to haughtiness, there is no measure to swelling vanity, there is no temperateness to contempt, there is not "the bit or rein" that can be reckoned safe to hold in the uncertain, nettled temper of scorn and disdain. Approach any one of these with but the appearance of affront, though the reality may be your own principle and religion unfeigned, and there is no longer room for either explanation or even expiation. Revenge alone can meet the case. We have need to fear the first symptoms of such dispositions. They belong to the godless heart. They spread pestilence. They make the lives that own to them resemble volcanoes, which ever and anon throw up and spread all around the torrents of their destroying lava. Those who answer to this type so mournfully exhibited by Haman, miserable and uncertain themselves, are they who make misery all around. They "think scorn" to be patient; they "think scorn" to give to others the liberty they demand for themselves; they "think scorn" to ask or accept an explanation; they "think scorn" to credit any man's religion and conscience, except their own travesty of the genuine and true; they "think scorn" to show any kindness, or to make only a little misery. The heart of goodness, of justice, of mercy, nay, even the heart of reason, is cankered from within them. They must destroy all who in the slightest degree, real or apprehended, stand in their light, if only they can see their way to do it without present injury to themselves. And among all the worst foes a man can have, none can exceed this disposition, if it dwell in his heart.—B.
Revenge. I. THE WRATH OF THE WICKED IS REVENGEFUL. The feeling is natural that prompts to retaliation. All human history is blurred by its activity. A Haman could not be offended without seeking to do the offender hurt. In the light of Christian truth it is mean and contemptible, but it is natural, and therefore almost universal.
II. THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE IS NECESSARILY UNJUST. It does not measure the evil it contemplates by the injury that has excited it; its fierce tide flows over, and drowns every thought of balanced equity; it throws away the scales, and only wields the sword.
III. THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE IS NECESSARILY UNMERCIFUL. Every feeling of pity is quenched in its fire. Its savage aim is to cause what suffering it can. The extermination of a whole people could only satisfy the vengeful lust of Haman.
IV. THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE, WHEN ONCE KINDLED, EASILY FINDS FUEL TO FEED IT. While blind to all considerations that should moderate or slay it, it is sharp-sighted with respect to everything that is fitted to stimulate it. It was bad enough that Mordecai refused to do homage to Haman; but when the favourite learned the real ground of his refusal, then a fiercer fire entered into his soul. All the antipathies of race were stirred into flame. Henceforth "he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone;" Mordecai's people shall suffer with himself.
V. THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE IS ENCOURAGED BY THE POSSESSION OF POWER. A conscious inability to give it exercise has often a sobering effect; but the power to gratify it only increases its resolution in evil minds. Haman's pride was inflated by the favour of the king. He could brook no slight. The might of the empire was in his hand, and that might should be exerted to its fullest extent to avenge the affront of the audacious Jew. His sense of power quickened his desire, and enlarged his project of revenge.
VI. THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE EXHIBITS ITSELF IN ALL PERIODS, AND IN ALL GRADES OF SOCIETY. Appalling as Haman's plan of vengeance was, it is not solitary. Under some of the Roman Caesars the Christians were treated as Haman intended to treat the Jews. Later on, and under a so-called Christian authority, whole communities were sacrificed to a vengeance which could not tolerate any sign of independent belief or action, such as the Waldenses, the Albigenses, and the Protestants in France. Our criminal records in the present day also illustrate the lengths to which an uncontrolled passion for revenge is willing to go. Yet the widest field on which this spirit produces suffering and misery is not public. Many families live on, in unknown but utter wretchedness, under the stupid fury of revengeful feeling excited by real or imaginary wrongs. Even in circles where everything like passion is avoided, men and women often cherish supposed slights and fancied insults. Reputations are often very calmly destroyed. The influence of good people is often neutralised, if not turned into evil, by the quiet maliciousness of enemies in the guise of friends. The spirit of revenge works in a myriad ways, and on every existing field of human life.
VII. THE SPIRIT OF REVENGE IN MAN IS NOT GODLY, BUT DEMONIACAL. Wherever seen, or however clothed, it is hateful to God, hateful to Christ, hateful to every true man. It is our part not to "return evil for evil," but to "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). The prerogative of judging and punishing belongs not to us, but to God. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19, Romans 12:20). The Christian law is not "hate," but "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44-48). This law was Divinely illustrated when Jesus on the cross prayed for the forgiveness of those who had in their mad fury of revenge inflicted on him such shame and pain: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).—D.
HAMAN CASTS LOTS TO OBTAIN A LUCKY DAY FOR HIS ENTERPRISE, AND OBTAINS A DAY IN THE MONTH ADAR, THE LAST MONTH OF THE YEAR (Esther 3:7). Having determined on a general massacre of the Jews on a given day, as the best mode of ridding the empire of them, Haman thought it of supreme importance, to select for the massacre a propitious and fortunate day. Lucky and unlucky days are recognised generally throughout the East; and it is a wide-spread practice, when any affair of consequence is taken in hand, to obtain a determination of the time for commencing it, or carrying it into effect, by calling in the arbitrement of Chance. Haman had recourse to "the lot," and by means of it obtained, as the fight day for his purpose, the 13th of Adar, which was more than ten months distant. The long delay was no doubt unpalateable, but he thought himself bound to submit to it, and took his further measures accordingly.
In the first month, the month Nisan. See the comment on Nehemiah 2:1. This name was first given to the month by the Jews after the return from the captivity. It was the Babylonian name of the first month of the year, and superseded the old Jewish name, Abib. The twelfth year of … Ahasuerus—b.c. 474, if Ahasuerus be Xerxes. They cast Pur, that is, the lot. The superstitious use of lots has always been prevalent in the East, and continues to the present day. Lots were drawn, or thrown, m various ways: sometimes by means of dice, sometimes by slips of wood, or strips of parchment or paper, and also in other manners. Even the Jews supposed a special Providence to preside over the casting of lots (Proverbs 16:33), and thought that matters decided in this way were decided by God. Haman appears to have cast lots, first, as to the day of the month which he should fix for the massacre, and secondly as to the month in which it should take place. Apparently the lot fell out for the thirteenth day (Nehemiah 2:13), and for the twelfth month, the last month in the year. The word "Pur" is not Hebrew it is supposed to be Old Persian, and to be connected with Mod. Pers. pareh, Lat. pars, Greek μέρος μοῖρα. To the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar. Adar is, like Nisan, a Babylonian word, perhaps connected with edder, "splendour." The month so named corresponded nearly with March, when the sun begins to have great power in Western Asia.
HAMAN PERSUADES AHASUERUS TO PUBLISH A DECREE COMMANDING THE DESTRUCTION OF ALL THE JEWS IN HIS KINGDOM ON THE ENSUING THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADAR (Esther 3:8-15). Having formed his own resolve, it remained for Haman to bring his proposal before Ahasuerus in such a shape as should secure his acquiescence in it. For this purpose he thought it best, first, to raise a prejudice against the Jews by representing them as bad subjects, causing trouble through the peculiarity of their own laws, and still more through their unwillingness to render obedience to the Persian laws (Esther 3:8). In support of this last statement he would no doubt, if questioned, have adduced the conduct of Mordecai, who persisted in "transgressing the king's commandment," and gave as his only reason that he was a Jew, and therefore could not obey it (Esther 3:4). As, however, he doubted the effect of this reasoning on his royal master, he held in reserve an argument of another kind, an appeal to the king's cupidity, which constituted his main reliance. If the king gave his consent to the destruction of the Jewish nation, Haman undertook to pay into the royal treasuries, out of his private means, a sum which cannot be estimated at much less than two millions and a quarter of pounds sterling, and which may have amounted to a much higher figure (Esther 3:9). The effect of this argument upon Ahasuerus was decisive; he at once took his signet-ring from his finger, and made it over to his minister (Esther 3:10), thus enabling him to promulgate any decree that he pleased, and he openly declared that he gave over the Jewish nation, their lives and properties, into Haman's hands (Esther 3:11). Haman "struck while the iron was hot." The king's scribes were put in requisition—a decree was composed, numerous copies of it made, the royal seal am,ca to each (Esther 3:12), and a copy despatched forthwith to each governor of a province by the royal post, ordering the complete destruction of the Jews within his province, young and old, men, women, and children, on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, and the confiscation of their property (Esther 3:13). The posts started off with all speed, "being hastened by the king's commandment'' (Esther 3:15); and the two men who had plotted a nation's extermination, as if they had done a good day's work, and deserved refreshment, "sat down to drink." But the Persians generally were less satisfied with the decree than their monarch and his minister; it surprised and startled them; "the city Shushan was perplexed."
There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed. It is not always borne in mind how large a part of the Jewish nation remained in the lands to which they had been carried away captive, after the permission had been given to return. Josephus notes that the richer and more influential of the Babylonian Jews were very little inclined to quit Babylon ('Ant. Jud.,' 11:1). There was evidently a large Jewish colony at Susa (infra, Esther 9:12-15). The Book of Tobit shows that Israelites, scarcely to be distinguished from Jews, were settled in Rhages and Ecbatana. The present passage is important as showing the early wide dispersion of the Jewish people. Their laws are diverse. A true charge, but a weak argument for their destruction, more especially as the Persians allowed all the conquered nations to retain their own laws and usages. Neither keep they the king's laws. Important, if true. But it was not true in any broad and general sense. There might be an occasional royal edict which a Jew could not obey; but the laws of the Medes and Persians were in the main righteous laws, and the Jews readily observed them. They were faithful and loyal subjects of the Achaemenian monarchs from first to last from Cyrus to Darius Codomannus. For the king's profit. Rather, as in the margin, "meet" or "fitting for the king." To suffer them. Or, "to let them alone."
If it please the king, lot it be written that they may be destroyed, and I will pay, etc. This startling proposition, to which the king might well have demurred, for even Xerxes could scarcely have regarded such a massacre as a light matter, is followed immediately, and before the king has time to reflect, by the tempting offer of such a bribe as even a king could not view with indifference. Xerxes had once, if we may trust Herodotus, declined to accept from a subject a gift of money equal to about four and a half million of pounds sterling (Herod; 7:28); but this was early in his reign, when his treasury was full, and he had not exhausted his resources by the Greek war. Now, in his comparative poverty, a gift of from two to three millions had attractions for him which proved irresistible. To the hands of those that have the charge of the business. Not the business of the slaughter, but the business of receiving money for the king, i.e. the royal treasurers. To bring it. i.e. "for them to bring it," or pay it, "into the royal treasuries." On the multiplicity of the royal treasuries see the comment on Ezra 7:20.
The king took his ring from his hand. Rather, "took his signet from his hand." This may have been a ring, for signet-rings were known to the Persians, but is perhaps more likely to have been a cylinder, like that of Darius, his father, which is now in the British Museum. And gave it unto Haman. Thus giving him the power of making whatsoever edicts he pleased, since nothing was requisite to give authority to an edict but the impression of the royal seal (see Herod; 3:128). For similar acts of confidence see Genesis 41:42; Esther 8:2. The Jews' enemy. Rather, "persecutor."
The silver is given thee, the people also. Not "the silver which thou hast given me is given back to thee," for the 10,000 talents had not been given, but only offered. Rather, "the silver of the people is given thee, together with the people themselves, to do with both as it pleases thee." Confiscation always accompanies execution in the East, and the goods of those who are put to death naturally escheat to the crown, which either seizes them or makes a grant of them. Compare Esther 8:11, where the property of those of the Jews' enemies who should suffer death is granted to those who should slay them.
Then were the king's scribes called. "Scribes" (in the plural) are spoken of as attending on Xerxes throughout the Grecian expedition (Herod; 7.100; 8.90). Such persons were always near at hand in the palace, ready to draw up edicts. On the thirteenth day of the first month. It is conjectured that Haman cast his lots on the first day of the year (Berthcau), as an auspicious time for taking anything in hand, and having obtained a thirteenth day for the massacre, adopted the same number as probably auspicious for the necessary appeal to the king. Having gained the king s consent, he sent at once for the scribes. The king's lieutenants. Literally, "the king's satraps." The actual Persian word is used, slightly Hebraised. And to the governors. The word used has been compared with pasha (Stanley), and again with beg or bey, but is probably distinct from either. It designates a provincial governor of the second rank-one who .would have been called by the Greeks ὑποσατράπης. The number of these subordinate officials was probably much greater than that of the satraps. And to the rulers of every people. i.e. the native authorities—the head men of the conquered peoples, to whom the Persian system allowed a considerable share of power. In the name of king Ahasuerus was it written. All edicts were in the king's name, even when a subject had been allowed to issue them. See the story of Bagseus in Herodotus, where the edicts, of which he alone was the author, have the form of orders from the king. And sealed with the king's ring. Or "signet" (see note on Esther 3:10).
And the letters were sent by posts. The Persian system of posts is thus described by Xenophon, who attributes its introduction to Cyrus:—"Stables for horses are erected along the various lines of route, at such a distance one from another as a horse can accomplish in a day. All the stables are provided with a number of horses and grooms. There is a post-master to preside over each, who receives the despatches along with the tired men and horses, and sends them on by fresh horses and fresh riders. Sometimes there is no stoppage in the conveyance even at night; since a night courier takes up the work of the day courier, and continues it. It has been said that these posts outstrip the flight of birds, which is not altogether true; but beyond a doubt it is the most rapid of all methods of conveyance by land" ('Cyrop.,' 8.6, § 17). To destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish. The writer quotes from the edict, which appears to have had as many surplus words as a modern English law paper. Young and old, little children and women. "To take the father's life and spare the child's" was thought to be an act of folly in ancient times. Wives and children of criminals were, as a matter of course, put to death with them. This was anciently even the Jewish practice (Joshua 7:24, Joshua 7:25; 2 Kings 9:26; 2 Kings 14:6), and was quite an established usage in Persia (Herod; 3.119). The thirteenth day. The Septuagint has "the fourteenth day" in its professed copy of the decree, but confirms the Hebrew text here by making the thirteenth the actual day of the struggle (Esther 9:1). The fourteenth and fifteenth are the days now kept by the Jews; but it is suspected that an alteration has been made in order to assimilate the Purim to the passover feast, which began on the 14th of Nisan.
The exact import of this verse is uncertain. Some suppose it to be a mere heading to a copy of the decree, which was originally inserted in the text between Esther 3:14 and Esther 3:15. In this case the translation should be—"A copy of the writing for giving commandment to every province, published to all peoples, that they should be ready against that day."
The posts went out, being hastened. Though there was ample time, since the remotest part of the empire could be reached in a month, or two at the most, yet the posts were "hastened," Haman being impatient, lest the king should change his mind, and decline to publish the edict. The king may himself also have wished to have the matter settled past recall. The king sat down with Haman to drink. This touch seems intended to mark their hardness of heart. As Nero "fiddled while Rome was burning," so these two, having assigned a nation to destruction, proceeded to enjoy themselves at "a banquet of wine." But the city of Susa was perplexed. The Jews had enemies in Susa (Esther 9:12-15); but the bulk of the inhabitants being Persians, and so Zoroastrians, would be likely to sympathise with them. There might also be a widespread feeling among persons of other nationalities that the precedent now set was a dangerous one. Generally the people of the capital approved and applauded what. ever the great king did. Now they misdoubted the justice, and perhaps even the prudence, of what was resolved upon. The decree threw them into perplexity.
A people scattered and apart.
This very remarkable language shows us that the Jews have been one and the same people for thousands of years. This description of the Jews is from the lips of an enemy; still, except in the last clause, it is just and true. In their captivity in the East, in their dispersion, in their present condition throughout Christendom, the Jews are a people by themselves, scattered and apart.
I. THE FACT OF ISRAEL'S ISOLATION. The descendants of Jacob are like no other people, and wherever their lot is cast, they do not intermingle with the population.
1. They are distinguished by their peculiar physiognomy.
2. By their homelessness and dispersion.
3. By the national customs and observances practised among them.
II. THE TREATMENT OF WHICH THIS ISOLATION IS THE OCCASION.
1. They have been looked upon as opposed to the interests and welfare of states. How often have ministers of state and prelates of the Church aroused the hatred of princes against the Hebrew race. "It is not for the king's profit to suffer them!"
2. They have consequently met with scorn, oppression, and persecution. What a disgraceful history is that of the Jews scattered throughout Christendom! That the nation has survived such persecutions is a proof of the inherent vitality of the race, and a proof of the superintending providence of the God of all the nations of the earth.
III. THE TRUE EXPLANATION AND PURPOSE OF THIS ISOLATION. It is an evidence of a special purpose of God. It is a fulfilment of prophecy. It is a witness to the truth of Christianity.
1. We should regard the Jewish people with deep interest.
2. We should use all feasible means to bring the Jews to the Messiah. "He that scattereth will gather them."
The price of blood.
Never was a more nefarious bargain proposed than this. That Haman not only plotted to destroy the Jews, but even offered to buy their lives, this is indeed a proof of the cruelty and baseness of his nature.
I. CRUELTY APPEALS TO AVARICE. Favourites always amass money; often by the most unscrupulous means. Tyrants always want money to spend on their pleasures and their ostentation. Haman offers to Ahasuerus a large sum to secure his assent to the destruction of the Jews.
II. A MEAN PRICE IS OFFERED FOR A NATION'S DESTRUCTION. The blood of one man were purchased cheaply at such a price; what shall we say of the purchase of a nation?
III. We are reminded of THE PRICE WHICH WAS PAID TO THE BETRAYER OF THE SON OF MAN. "The price of him that was valued" was thirty pieces of silver. Fitly was the money employed to buy "the field of blood."
IV. CONTRAST THE PRICE OF DESTRUCTION WITH THE PRICE OF SALVATION. When Christ purchased his people he paid a ransom the preciousness of which is not to be computed in terms of earthly treasure. "Ye were redeemed not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ."
Esther 3:10, Esther 3:11
Power in bad hands.
How all the links in the chain of evil counsel were fastened together! The tyrannical king was willing enough, in order to please a favourite, to decree the slaughter of a whole people scattered through his dominions. The cruel minister of state was willing enough to take the king s signet, and to issue the decree of extermination. The scribes were willing enough to write the missives of destruction. The lieutenants, governors, and rulers were willing enough to receive and to issue orders for the slaughter of the exiles. And, when the time came, the soldiers and other officers of injustice would be willing enough to "destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews" upon whom they could lay their hands.
I. THE COUNSELLOR OF STATE ABUSES HIS INFLUENCE. It is a responsible thing to be the adviser of a throne; for such counsel, as may in such circumstances be given, may mould a nation's character and determine its destinies. It is prostitution of such power to use it for selfish, far more for malicious, ends.
II. THE SOVEREIGN DELEGATES HIS POWER WITH INDIFFERENCE. It does not follow that because bad counsel is given, it must be followed. But this is likely enough to be the case when a monarch is careless, voluptuous, capricious, and arbitrary. Such was the character of Xerxes. How natural from his lips the language, "The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee." Scarcely less culpable was the king than his counsellor.
III. ALL MEN'S EVIL DESIGNS MAY BE FRUSTRATED BY THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD. If the prime minister and the despotic king of Persia could not, with all their power, destroy the Jews, who—what—could do so?
1. Rejoice in the blessings of constitutional government. In our country, happily, such a proceeding as this is impossible.
2. Sympathise with the cause of liberty, as opposed to tyranny, throughout the world. What vast populations are at the present day subject to the unjust authority, exactions, and oppressions of tyrannical governors. May the Lord deliver them from the yoke!
3. Pray for the frustration of cruel and tyrannical counsels, in many places Christians have been, and are, persecuted for righteousness' sake. Let our prayer be, God deliver them from the hands of those that hate and oppress them.
Heartless counsels of destruction.
History records many massacres, and the record is among the saddest and most sickening chapters of human annals. Most of these massacres have arisen from political fears and jealousies, or from religious hatred and bigotry. The proposed massacre of the Jews throughout the Persian empire took its origin from personal pique and pride—a motive even more contemptible than the others. Happily, the proposal and purpose of Haman were defeated. Still it may be well to regard the nefarious proposal of the king's favourite and counsellor as an illustration of the possible wickedness of the human heart.
I. The EXTENT Of the contemplated massacre. The Jews were scattered throughout all the provinces of the empire; and to all the provinces the letters commanding to slay them were transmitted by the posts, hastened by the king's commandment.
II. The UNIVERSALITY Of the contemplated massacre. "Both young and old, little children and women," were to be slain.
III. The SIMULTANEOUSNESS of the contemplated massacre. The bloody work was to be done in one day—the thirteenth day of the twelfth month.
IV. The GREED accompanying the massacre. The spoil of them was to be taken for a prey. The king had given to Haman beforehand the silver for himself. Admire the wisdom and mercy of God which discomfited these evil plans, and brought their authors to confusion.
Festivity within; perplexity without.
The contrast here is striking in itself, and all the more so from the brevity and simplicity of the language in which it is depicted.
I. REMARK THE MIRTH AND FEASTING WITHIN THE PALACE. "The king and Haman sat down to drink." This shows their indifference to human suffering. Nero fiddled, it is said, while Rome was burning. Herod feasted when he had cast the Baptist into prison. Paris and Rome were mad with mirth when the massacre of St. Bartholomew's day had rid them of the leading Protestants of France. The wicked feast, undisturbed by the cries and lamentations of their victims. Yet it is possible that the king and Haman feasted and drank to drown the voice of conscience. They both knew the deed they authorised was foul; it would not bear thinking upon. How often have sinners striven to silence the voice of the monitory the accuser within; to overbear that voice with the shout, the laugh, the song of folly and of riot I
II. REMARK THE DISTRESS AND PERPLEXITY WHICH PREVAILED IN THE CITY SHUSHAN. The Jews themselves were naturally enough distressed at the prospect before them. Even those who believed that deliverance would come from some source knew not where to look for it. The alternative before them seemed to be flight and homelessness, or massacre. There were many citizens who sympathised with the Jews in their trouble. "Susa was now the capital of Persia, and the main residence of the Persians of high rank. These, being attached to the religion of Zoroaster, would naturally sympathise with the Jews, and be disturbed at their threatened destruction.'' All thoughtful, prudent subjects would be perplexed at such conduct upon the part of their ruler. The land may well mourn whose princes slay, instead of protecting and pasturing, the flock. It is better to be perplexed under the infliction of wrong than to feast and rejoice over the miseries and injustice others may endure.
HOMILIES BY W. DINWIDDLE
Superstition and cynicism.
Haman now proceeds to carry out the terrible plan of revenge on which he had resolved. Some important steps had to be taken before he could reach his end. These seem to us strange and incongruous. We may learn from them—
I. THAT THE FREEDOM WHICH "NEITHER FEARS GOD NOR REGARDS MAN" MAY BE A SLAVE TO SUPERSTITION. Haman was a fatalist. He consulted Pur, or the lot, as to the day which would be favourable for his intended slaughter. Though it was only on the twelfth month that a propitious day was announced, yet he submitted to the long delay thus imposed. Fear of the fates curbed his impatience, even though it was spurred by an intense wrath. The first Napoleon, while willing to sacrifice millions of human lives at the shrine of a reckless ambition, was a victim, like Haman, to fatalistic ideas. Those who throw aside the restraints of virtue and religion come into other and more oppressive captivities.
II. THAT SUPERSTITIOUS FEARS MISLEAD THOSE WHO ARE GUIDED BY THEM. The ten or eleven months which Pur placed between the conceiving and executing of Haman's vengeance were the means of wrecking it. They gave time to Mordecai and Esther to counterplot, and to work the wicked favourite's downfall. But Haman was so confident in his power over the king, and in the pronounced favour of destiny, that he submitted to the delay. All false gods, all idols of man's fashioning, only get possession of the soul to deceive and destroy it.
III. THAT A WICKED PURPOSE IS NOT SCRUPULOUS AS TO THE MEANS IT ADOPTS. In illustration of this observe—
1. Haman's lying report to the king concerning the Jews (verse 8). There was some plausibility in the report, yet it was essentially a lie. It was so framed as to make the weak king falsely believe that it was not to his profit that the Jews should exist in his empire. It was true that the Israelites had their own law, and honoured it; but their loyalty to Moses, and the God of Moses, did not prevent them from being good citizens in the countries in which their scattered tribes had found a home. It is easy to clothe falsehood in the garb of truth.
2. Haman's offer of a bribe to the king. It was an immense sum, over two millions sterling of our money. Whence was it to be drawn? Not from Haman's own treasures, but from the devoted Jews. They were rich, and after being killed all their wealth was granted to Haman to be his own. In connection with this proposal there was evidently no consciousness of offering insult on the one side, or of receiving insult on the other. Bribery was as common in the East then as it is now. Would that we could describe it as a sin confined to the East. It enters so largely into the commercial and political life even of such a country as our own, that many touch and are tainted by it without suspecting the wrong they have received and done. The sensitiveness created by a living fellowship with Christ is required to deliver us wholly from its multiform and insidious temptations (see Isaiah 33:15, Isaiah 33:16).
IV. THAT THE THOUGHTLESS AND SELF-INDULGENT BECOME AN EASY PREY TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE WICKED. The king of Persia fell at once into the trap of Haman. He accepted his report without investigation, and delivered over to his will the Jews and their possessions. His proclamation, ordering the destruction of all the men, women, and children belonging to the Jewish race, was soon on its way to the authorities of every province in the empire.
V. THAT THOUGHTLESSNESS, OR A FOOLISH CONFIDENCE, DOES NOT RELIEVE MEN OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR ACTIONS. There is, perhaps, more misery caused in the world by want of thought than by evil intention. We are bound to consider the quality and issues of our conduct, and to examine carefully the counsel of others before committing ourselves to it. It will not diminish our responsibility to say that we acted without thought, or from an inconsiderate trust in designing men. The royal seal appropriated to the king the terrible iniquity of Haman.
VI. THAT EVIL CAN MAKE MERRY IN PRESENCE OF THE MISERY IT CREATES. Nero, after he had set fire to Rome, fiddled as he sat and looked at the blaze. So, while Shushan was agitated by fear, the king and his favourite "sat down to drink." The contrast here is most striking; it was evidently designed to impress the imagination and heart. We think of the fearfulness that entered into every household of the city; and then we turn to the two revellers, who, having issued the terrible edict, betook themselves to the wine-cup, that they might drown thought and care. Human nature may become so wanton in its allegiance to evil as to laugh at the suffering it works.
VII.. THAT COMMUNITIES OF PEOPLE ARE OFTEN BETTER THAN THEIR RULERS. The citizens of Shushan had sympathy with the innocent multitudes whose blood was to be so needlessly shed. They knew their peaceful virtues. They were united with them in many interests. They grew afraid of a licentious power which could without reason decree the massacre of an unoffending race. It is rather in the common heart of a people than in the will of selfish potentates that we look for a recognition of what is sound and good in feeling or action.—D.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
The true Church described by untruthful lips.
Infant lips sometimes utter greatest truths. Shallowest brain sometimes originates most politic scheming. Swine root out and tread underfoot pearls of unpriced value. Bad men often preach good doctrine, Now "the Jews' enemy" (Esther 3:10) volunteers the highest description, the most complimentary characterisation, of the Jew. And this passage proffers for notice a contrast not only full as remarkable in the depth of it as any of these, but far more remarkable when its subject matter is also taken into account. It might be stated thus: A PEOPLE'S RELIGION RIGHTLY DESCRIBED, WRONGLY CONSTRUED, by one who was "none of them," and who had none of it. The case is that of a man bearing witness against a people and their religion; he is at the same time a willing and an unwilling witness; his words are true; the meaning he wishes to be drawn out of them is untrue. His indictment is verbally correct; the charge he launches out by means of it has no foundation of fact. His description is good for what it says, bad for what it means. And by chance it happens to be so good for what it says that it tempts the thoughtful reader to pause, to ask whether he cannot learn a lesson of value from it. Haman dares a description of the nominal people of God; is he not in truth unconsciously throwing off a telling description of the real people of God, of God's real Church in the world? For this plain, brief description of the people to whom Mordecai belonged, which Haman now offers to the credulity of Ahasuerus, happens to seize three leading facts distinctive of the Church of God. Nor is it altogether to be assigned to the realm of chance. The fact was that, shaded though their race was now, dimmed though their glorious history, the people of Mordecai were the separate people of God, and that Haman had noticed and scrutinised their essential peculiarities. These peculiarities, false as is the gloss he puts upon them, he has in some degree correctly caught. These are the shadows of answering realities in the economy of the Church, the kingdom of God. They remind us of—
I. THE FOOTHOLD THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS IN THE WORLD. For whatever may be its exact position at any given hour of the world's clock—
1. Its genius is towards ubiquity. "There is a certain, people … in all, the provinces of thy kingdom."
2. Its genius is towards being "scattered abroad," "dispersed," intermingled "among the people." Once for a short time, and for the special need of preparatory education, it is true that God's elect people were locally as well as morally separate from others, i.e. when they sojourned in the wilderness. But this was only a phase, and a transient one, of their national existence. Again, for a longer time, and with fender prospect, they dwelt in comparative seclusion in their own land. But this also was quite as transient a phase of their national life, taking into consideration the settlement there. What a business it was! And the true place of the people of God is not merely to find a settlement and found a colony everywhere, but to mix among men, and to seek health of every sort in work and fidelity, rather than in retirement and the infolding of self. And this actual contact with all the varieties of human character, position, life, is in order to two ends: .first, for the proof and the growth of individual goodness; secondly, for the gradual leavening with a little leaven of the whole lump.
3. Its genius is towards working its way among men, day and night, and growing into their affection and confidence, rather than summoning them to capitulate either to fear or to admiration.
II. THE OUTSIDE APPEAL WHICH THE SUBJECTS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD EVER CLAIM AND EVER HOLD IN RESERVE. Their special laws are, and are to be, "diverse from all people" who are not of themselves. And when these clash with any other, they are not to "keep the king's laws," but to keep their own distinguishing and esoteric laws (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). To know well, to do well, these "diverse laws" is the sustained aspiration of the Church of God. There is such a thing as unity in variety, and there is, and is to be, on the part of the Church of God, the close union of all its own members, by one common fellowship, by obedience to one common code of laws, by acknowledgment of one standard Bible authority, amid all their intermixture, in every conceivable relationship, with all the rest of the world and "the kingdoms of the world." The genuine, hearty, living obedience of a thousand, of a hundred persons to "laws diverse from all people" is an enormously strong link of connection among themselves, and an enormously significant testimony to the outside world of something special at work. If we as Christian people rose to this conception, to the eager veneration of it, to the hearty practice of it, what a witness ours would be! Meantime Haman's allegation against the certain people scattered abroad that while their own laws were diverse from all people, they did not keep the king's laws"—was untrue. Mordecai had indeed withheld obedience to the law which "the king had commanded" (Esther 3:2), that "all the king's servants in the king's gate should bow and reverence Haman," and his non-obedience was no doubt covered, by his fealty to the "diverse laws;" but this was by no means enough to cover a charge against all the Jews, or even against Mordecai in his general conduct and life. The kingdom of God then does glory to follow the lead and command of "laws diverse from all people," to claim the ultimate appeal as lying always to these; and in any conceivable case of option to decide in one moment for obedience to God rather than to men.
III. THE FORESEEN DESTINY OF THE CHURCH OF GOD, Haman's apprehension was perhaps not very genuine, and any way was premature, but his instinct in the real matter at issue was only too unerring and correct. The Church of God—"that certain people scattered abroad among the people," with their diverse laws, and their first heed given to them—beyond a doubt has its eye on all other kingdoms, is not what those other kingdoms would now think "for their profit," is destined to absorb them, gives evidence of that destiny as a very intention in those same manifestations of its genius, and in its appeal to the unseen, and in its first obedience thereto. Oh for the time when the chorus shall indeed open, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever."—B.
HOMILIES BY F. HASTINGS
"They cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day." "Pur" is an old Persian word said to signify "part" or "lot." Haman resorted to the practice of casting a lot to find out what he believed would be a lucky day for his design. He had a blind faith in the unseen, and in the overruling of supernatural powers. He inquired of his idols, and acted according to received superstitions. His object was an evil one, but he supposed that his god would be on his side.
I. WE MUST LEARN TO SUBMIT TO THE OVERRULING OF PROVIDENCE. Haman was consistent with his superstition. We are ofttimes inconsistent in our acts. We profess to believe that God will overrule all for the best, and then we become doubtful and fretful because things turn not out as we expected.
II. WE MUST IMITATE THE PERSISTENT WAITING OF HAMAN. He must have found it wearying work to inquire so frequently, casting lots for one day after another, and having no favourable reply. The lot was cast for all the days of eleven months ere he had a period fixed which promised to be fortunate for him. He that believeth shall not make haste.
III. WE SHOULD SEEK NOT LUCKY PERIODS, BUT FITTING OPPORTUNITIES OF SERVICE. There are many foolish ideas as to periods, as those among sailors about Friday, and sailing on that day.
IV. THAT WHICH APPEARS MOST PROMISING FOR THE PLOTTER MAY BE THE WORST. The delay had given Mordecai and Esther time to act. God's hand may have been in this. "The lot was cast into the lap, but the whole disposal was of the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). Haman was misled by his inquiries, but God's people saved by Haman's delay through his superstition. Providence never misleads men; it leads to the best issues.—H.
A greedy grand vizier.
"The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee." One man alone was instrumental in placing the Jews in danger of complete extermination. This happened during the period of their subjection. To supply the record of their wondrous deliverance the Book of Esther, primarily, was written. The man who wrought this danger was Haman, the grand vizier to the king of Persia. He was second only to the king. Through flattering he had attained the coveted position. He was an astute politician, and apparently as unscrupulous as he was cunning. The king heaped riches upon his favourite. He would have Haman's means adequate to his position. Many houses and much land confiscated, often on the slightest excuse, would be handed over to him. The post of grand vizier would afford ample opportunities of self-enrichment. We read of the conspiracy of Bigthan and Teresh against the king, and of its discovery. To whom would fall the large possessions of these hitherto influential men? What more probable than that the next favourite should receive a great share of their forfeited property?
I. IT IS TO THE MATERIAL REWARDS OF OFFICE THAT SUCH MEN AS HAMAN TURN AN EAGER EYE. He well understood the ways of court, so as to secure the tangible results of favouritism. Conceptions of higher honour expand in proportion to elevation. A thought enters his mind to which if he gave utterance his immediate deposition and death would ensue. This thought will leak out by and by. It only needs a fitting opportunity. Nay, it will seize and make an opportunity out of the flimsiest pretext. Meanwhile he is as contented as an ambitious man ever can be. Under an outward calm he is hiding a flame of impatient expectancy. See him going forth from Shushan the palace. The gates are scarcely high enough for the proud-hearted man. Mark that smile on his countenance. Haman is "exceedingly glad of heart." Some further honour has been put upon him, and he goes to his home to reveal it to his friends. Why, may not a man of his calibre be proud? Can his honour ever be eclipsed? Can his glory ever be overshadowed? Can his name, handed down by his many children, ever die? Who can supplant him in the king's favour, seeing that he knows so well the arts of courtiers, and exercises his office apparently only with respect to the pleasure of the king? Do not all the rest of the courtiers and place-seekers look to him for advancement? Is not his favour, in turn, the sun that "gilds the noble troops waiting upon his smile"? "If ever man may flatter himself in the greatness and security of his glory," thinks Haman, "surely I may do so." Ah, Haman! thy pride is dangerous; it is like a high-heeled shoe, fitting thee only for a fall. Take care, the least stone may cause thee to stumble. Be not over-sure of thy position. Pitfalls are around. Ambition and pride are like heavy, widely-spread canvas on a ship, and need much ballast. Great is thy risk. Thou art like one standing on the narrow apex of a mountain. One false step will set thee rolling to the very abyss.
II. WORLDLY POSSESSIONS OR POSITIONS CAN NEVER GIVE FULL SATISFACTION. If they could, the result would have been injurious to man's moral nature. No thought of higher things entering man's mind, he would soon be degraded to the level of the brute creation. True pleasure arises from the attainment of some possession or object, but not full satisfaction. It is pleasant to have wealth wherewith to gratify desire, to be able to confer benefits on others; but if we make these things the one aim in life we are sure to reap but little joy. The drawbacks and counter-balancings are great. Much wealth, much furniture, many servants, a large house, and great popularity are only extra anxieties. The pleasure soon passes, the possession soon palls. Still, a man without any passion or aim is simply like "a speaking stone." Yet as a horse, too restive and fiery, puts his rider in danger, so do our passions. Ambition in moderation is an advantage, and few men become very useful who have none; but if give we the reins to our ambition we may be sure that such a fiery charger will dash-away over rocks or into floods to our great hazard. A man when at sea, cares neither for calm nor for a hurricane, but he enjoys a stiff breeze which helps the vessel along and braces his nerves. We suggest, therefore, not the banishment of all ambition, but its moderation; not the despising of all possessions, but that we should not be disappointed if we do not receive so much joy therefrom as we expected. Nay, we may thank God that we cannot live on stones, nor satisfy our hunger with husks; that in us has been cultivated the longing for those things which really afford satisfaction, viz; righteousness, peace, faith, and love.—H.
"And the posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment." The Persians had good arrangements for interchange of thought and desires. A nation's civilisation may be gauged by its facilities for intercommunication. Roads, canals, and railways, penny posts, and electric telegraphs are the present means of communication in this country. The ancient Romans sought to facilitate interchange. They were great road builders. The English have more than any nation helped to cover the world with a net-work of railways. Their couriers are in every land
I. PREACHERS SHOULD BE DILIGENT< AS HASTENED BY THE KING'S COMMANDMENT. They carry good news to souls. They are to do what their hands find to do with all their might. If Christ was "straitened," they should be.
II. PREACHERS ARE TO BE FAITHFUL, WHETHER THEIR MESSAGE BE A "SAVOUR OF LIFE UNTO LIFE OR OF DEATH UNTO DEATH." The couriers of Ahasuerus faithfully delivered the despatches they carried. In the eighth chapter (verse 14) we see how extra means and greater pressure were used to overtake wrong.—H.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
"And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed." Here is indeed a pair of pictures to look at—the subjects very different. They are not a pair of pastoral scenes, nor of family groups related, nor are they of sympathetic historical sort. But a pair they certainly are; as such they are hung, and they bear out the position, for one strictly and directly rises out of the other. The one shows two figures, as of men, sitting in a palace drinking. If we are to judge anything from their attitude and their occupation, their minds are perfectly at ease, and they are happy. The figures are life-size, and lifelike. The countenances, however; scarcely improve by dwelling upon. Very quickly the too plainly-marked impress of the Eastern aristocrat's effeminacy, and excessive luxuriousness, and unrecking pride of heart dispel the faintest suggestion that their apparent ease and happiness have any of the higher elements in them. We recognise in the men types of self-indulgence, even if it should prove nothing worse. The other picture shows a city in miniature, in broken, disconnected sections, interiors and exteriors together. The eye that is sweeping it turns it into a moving panorama. Whatever it is that is seen, an oppressive, ominous stillness seems to brood over it. An unnatural stoppage of ordinary business is apparent. The market, the bazaars, the exchange, the heathen temple, the Jews' meeting-place) and in fact every place where men do congregate, seems in a certain manner stricken with consternation. The faces and the gestures of the people agree therewith. These, at all events, betoken anything but peace and content and happiness. They give the impression of a "perplexity" rapidly inducing stupor, and a stupor ominous of paralysis itself. One malignant thought of Haman was answerable for all this. He had of late been obeying with completest self-surrender his worse genius; that was about the only self-surrender he practised or knew. His one malignant thought, the thought of "scorn," had rapidly ripened into determination, shaped into place and method, been clothed in the dress of consummate policy, and sealed with the signet of royal ring (Esther 3:10). That thought, so wrought up, was now sent forth, "hastened by the king's commandment," to a thousand cities and corners of the whole realm. Its publication made in Shushan the palace, and to the same hour "the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed." We have here—
I. SOME UTTERLY CONCLUSIVE FACTS OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. A leading instance of the glaring disproportions of human fortune and circumstance. In closest juxtaposition are found, on the one hand, two men, sated with ease and all they can ask. On the other, a city, a whole city, throbbing with all the most various life, but—condensed into this brief description—"perplexed.") These are, as matter of fact, the two experiences of human life found in the same place) on the same day, at the same hour; and they are the result of what we should be generally content to call human fortune. Is it such contrarieties as these, that can subsist side by side; and is it not the irresistible conclusion that either human life is the sport of the arbitrary and the mockery of the malign; or that human fortune is but an earthly phrase for a Providence, at present most inscrutable, but with which all is to be trustfully left, for that it will ere long give account and require account? Once satisfied of this, a heathen poet has taught us the words, Permitte coetera Deo.
2. A leading instance of the disproportion of human rights and powers. One might almost be tempted to call it a violent instance of an intolerable anomaly. But in various ways, in more subdued form, by removes far more numerous, and the contrasts accordingly far less striking, we can see this violent case to be but a plain case of what permeates the structure of human society. Yet ponder the facts here. There are thousands upon thousands whose life, humanly speaking, is not in their own hands; and there are two in whose hands those lives are! This disproportion must dwarf every other. Compared with it, that of possession, of education) of brain, of opportunity, of genius, of position and birth must seem small matters. For life holds all the rest. Like a vessel, for the time it contains all The aggregate of humanity is the history to a tremendous extent of an aggregate of vicariousness. The tangle human fingers cannot undo. Out of the labyrinth human wisdom cannot guide itself. One hand alone holds the thread, one eye alone commands the bird's-eye position and view. But in all we must remember these two conclusions: first, that the vicariousness counts sometimes for unmeasured help, and advantage, and love; secondly) that it were better far to be of the "perplexed city" and the jeopardised Jews than to be either of those two men "who sat down to drink" after what they had done. Who would buy their position to pay the price of their responsibility? Who would accept all their possessions at the risk of using them as they did?
II. SOME UTTERLY CONDEMNING FACTS OF HUMAN NATURE.
1. A leading instance of the attitude in which a bad conscience will suffer a man to place himself; the exact opposite of that for which conscience was given, the exact opposite of that which a good conscience would tolerate. The very function of conscience may be impaired, may he a while ruined. See its glory departed now. Haman now is a leading instance of the satisfaction which a bad conscience shall have become able to yield, of the content a bad conscience will in the possibility of things provide. He has actually filled up the measure of his iniquities (as appears very plainly), and, worse by far than Judas, whose conscience sent him to hang himself, he "sits down to drink" with his king!
2. A leading instance of the destruction of the tenderest relic of perfect human nature. For in the last analysis we must read here, the extinction of sympathy! It is true there may have been left with the man who could do what Haman did sympathy with evil, and yet rather with the evil; sympathy with the gratuitous causing of woe and the causers of woe. But this is not what we dignify with the name sympathy. This sweet word, standing for a sweeter thing, has not two faces. Its face is one, and is aye turned to the light, to love, to the good. 'Tis a damning fact indeed among the possibilities and the crises of human nature, and of the "deceitful and desperately wicked" human heart, when sympathy haunts it no more, has forsaken it as its habitat, hovers over it no longer, fans the air for it with its beneficent pinion for the last, last time! Oh for the Stygian murkiness, the sepulchral hollowness, the pestilent contagion that succeeds, and is thenceforward the lot of that heart! The point of supreme selfishness is reached when all sympathy has died away. For those whose terrible woe himself had caused, it is Haman who has less than the least pity, and no fellow-feeling with them whatever! The lowest point of loss which our nature can touch here is surely when it has lost the calm energy of sympathy—to show it or to feel it. The proportion in which any one consciously, and as the highest achievement of his base skill and prostituted opportunity, either causes unnecessary woe or leaves it unpitied, unhelped, measures too faithfully the wounds and cruel injuries he has already inflicted on the tenderest of presences within him, the best friend to himself as well as to others. The wounds of sympathy are at any time of the deadly kind, and it only needs that they be one too many, when at last she will breathe out her long-suffering, stricken spirit! For him who is so forsaken it may well be that "he sits down to drink." For the knell is already heard, and "to-morrow he dies."—B.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Esther 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent