The Book of Esther - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Vashti refused to come.
This is the one gleam of light in the picture of the conditions obtaining at the court of Ahasuerus. The feast in the palace of the king was characterized by all the gorgeousness peculiar to the East. It resolved itself into a debauch of drunken revelry. In the midst of this, the king commanded Vashti, his queen, to his presence, and to that of his drunken nobles. She refused to come. She paid the price of her loyalty to her womanhood in being deposed. Incidentally, the story reveals the place which woman occupied outside the Covenant of the chosen people; it was that of being the plaything and the slave of man. It also reminds us that, in the midst of the grossest darkness, the human soul is not without some consciousness of higher things; and that among the least favoured we may at times discover things of real value and beauty. Let the name of Vashti be held in everlasting honour for her refusal. The events recorded in this Book took place between the completion of the Temple and the mission of Ezra. The book in itself would seem to be a fragment of Persian history, captured and incorporated for sacred purposes. It shows us God overruling the affairs of His own people in a foreign land. The feast of Purim, observed to this day, is the living link with the events recorded, and sets the seal of historic accuracy upon the story. That feast celebrates, not the defeat of Haman, nor the advancement of Mordecai, but the deliverance of the people.
The king loved Esther ... and ... he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.
This chapter reveals customs obtaining in the household of Ahasuerus, which show us how far in advance of the pagan world the Hebrew people were, in spite of all their failures. Moreover, we can only read them in thankfulness that, wherever the purifying forces of revealed religion have operated, such things have become impossible. In the midst of the story, Mordecai appears upon the scene. Living with him was his cousin, whom he had adopted as his daughter. In the carrying out of a decree of the king, she was taken to the royal palace in the company of the maidens. Mordecai's action in this matter is certainly open to question. His love for Esther is evident, and the picture of him walking before the court of the house of the women indicates his continued interest in her. One can only hope that her presence there was not due to his scheming for place and power. It looks suspiciously as though it was so, and in any case his advice that she should not betray her nationality was questionable, as her position at the court of the king was one of grave peril for a daughter of the Covenant. We must remember, however, that this story is not preserved for us in order to glorify Mordecai, but rather to show how God overrules all the cleverness and folly of men, in order to carry out His own purposes. The beauty of Esther captured the heart of the king, and she was made queen in place of Vashti. God overruled her presence in the palace, in such wise as to make her the instrument for frustrating the foe, and preserving His people from massacre.
The king and Haman sat down to drink.
And so far as Haman was concerned, he did so with complete satisfaction, because he had now perfected his arrangements for the extirpation of the Jews. There was, however, a quantity with which he had not reckoned, and that was that these people were the people of God. It is questionable whether he had any idea of such a fact; or, if he knew that these people claimed some special relationship with a God, he knew nothing of that God; nor thought it worth-while to take such a matter into consideration. And thus he omitted the only factor of real importance. He had power and cleverness on his side. He was in complete favour with the king. Himself, he was haughty, imperious, astute. He had used his power, laid his plans; everything was done. Therefore he sat down to drink with the king. And all the while Mordecai, the Jews, and Haman, were in the hands of God. In the doings of evil men, their cleverness is constantly seen breaking down, in that they do strange and inexplicably foolish things from the standpoint of their own purpose. In the case of Haman, we ask: Why did he delay for months the carrying out of his intention? The answer probably is that he thought by such delay to make the extermination of these people more complete. We see now how that delay gave the necessary time for all the events which ended in the deliverance of the people of God. If men fear God and follow Him, they can always reckon on Him. If they ignore Him in their reckoning, they always find Him sooner or later, to their own undoing.
Who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
The action of Haman produced consternation among the Jews, as indeed it well might. The whole diabolical plan had been cleverly conceived, and the arrangements for carrying out the dire purpose had been skilfully made. On the level of human observation, it seemed that there could be no escape from a terrible massacre. Mordecai was overcome with grief, but in these words we discover the one gleam of hope that shone for him amid the pre-vailing darkness. It was not an affirmation, it was a question; not the expression of confident faith, but the inquiry of a wistful hope. Yet the true answer to that inquiry was an affirmative one. Esther became a direct link between the king and her people. The custom and law of the court forbade her approach to her lord, save at his command. Nevertheless, the urgency of the case inspired her to the heroism of making the great venture. Conscious of her need of moral and spiritual strength, she asked that her people might fast with her. The note of sacrifice on the highest level is discoverable in her word: "If I perish, I perish." This portrait of Esther is a singularly fine one. A beautiful woman, occupying a grave place of peril at the court of this Eastern despot, and that by no choice of her own, she made a great venture on behalf of her people in their hour of peril. She did it in the spirit of conscious dependence upon God, and in that of complete readiness to sacrifice her life. She had certainly come to the kingdom for that time; and she was exactly the woman whom God could use to be the instrument for carrying out His deliverance of His people.
All this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.
What an unveiling of the essentially evil heart we have in these words of Haman! At the back of selfish ambition, some cankering pain for ever torments. In this case, it was that of Mordecai refusing to render homage to him and to his friends. Haman frankly admitted that nothing satisfied him while this condition of things continued. I repeat, what an unveiling this is! Here we see the true reason of all the appalling suffering that this man was proposing to cause to a whole people. It was that of petty pique and pride. If it were not for the awful things which can result from such an attitude of mind, it would seem to be sufficient to hold it in contempt, to laugh at it. But that is the whole mischief. That apparently trivial thing is fundamentally wrong; and that is really so terrible, that when it completely expresses itself it does so in terms of cruelty, rapine, murder, and every evil thing. And all the while the evil root is a torment to the man in whose bosom it dwells. Haman said: "All this availeth me nothing ... so long ...!" The only cure for this malady would be the death of Mordecai, and that God would prevent. The gallows for Mordecai was intended to be Haman's comfort during the process of the feast. But in the counsels of God that gallows was not for Mordecai. The more carefully one considers the moral world under the government of God, as to its laws, its methods, its torments, and its triumphs, the more one is constrained to worship in the presence of the infinite wisdom and unvarying justice and mercy of our God. In the meanwhile Esther had made her venture, and the outstretched sceptre of the king was the sign of the Divine rule exercised in that court of earthly pride and pomp.
On that night could not the king sleep.
In this chapter we have a night interlude between the making of a gallows and the holding of a feast. In the economy of God, vast issues follow trivial things. A sleepless night is a matter transient and almost trivial. Yet it has often been a time of revelation and surprise, affecting the after-years. In the case of Ahasuerus, it was another of the ways along which God moved forward for the deliverance of His people. To while away its hours, the king commanded his readers to read to him from the Records. Again the unseen God, directing the mind of the king! When they obeyed, they found themselves reading an entry about a service Mordecai had rendered to the king. Again the unseen God, choosing the particular roll for their reading! Then swiftly and suddenly things developed. Haman was waiting without, for the opportunity of asking that Mordecai be hanged. He entered, heard, and went forth to confer the highest dignities of the kingdom upon Mordecai! Thus God works out His own high purposes, slowly as it seems oftentimes, but surely, and with unerring wisdom, until all things being done, the end is sudden, dramatic, complete. In two very different poems Russell Lowell gave expression to two truths which we may bring together and keep together in our thinking. In "The Crisis," he wrote:-
- "Standeth God within the shadows,
Keeping watch above His own."
And in "The Biglow Papers," he wrote:
- "... You'll hev to git up airly
Ef you think to take in Gawd."
They hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
By the way of the banquet Haman passed to the gallows which he had caused to be erected for Mordecai, and the existence of which he had expected to be his special source of consolation during that time of revelry and feasting. It was a fierce and terrible retribution, but it was characterized by poetic justice. The very core of Haman's hatred for Mordecai was that of his own self-centred and self-consuming pride and ambition. This was of so masterful a nature, that one man refusing to render homage to him inspired him to such hatred that he was determined to encompass, not the death of that man only, but also of all those who bore blood-relation to him. The nets of evil plotting and malicious enterprise, swing far out in the tides of human life, but never far enough to enmesh God. He remains beyond them all, and gathering them in the hands of His power, He makes them include the men who weave them to destroy others. The instrument which Haman's brutality prepared for Mordecai, God employed for the destruction of Haman. Not always with the same spectacular visibility, nor always with the same dramatic suddenness, but always, inevitably, sooner or later, now or in those longer issues, which only the eyes of God can see as yet - "Jehovah bringeth the counsel of the nations to nought."
The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honour.
The deposition of Haman issued naturally in the promotion of Mordecai. The peril threatening the Jewish people, however, was not yet by any means averted. The royal proclamation had gone forth that on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month the Hebrew people should be massacred. By the constitution no such royal proclamation could be directly reversed. Some other way must be discovered if the people were to be saved. Through the intervention of Esther, the king granted permission to Mordecai to send a proclamation under the royal seal allowing them to arm and defend themselves. Thus, through ordinary channels, God brought about the deliverance of His people through the extraordinary method of sending the king's own messengers with haste through the country, urging the people to be ready against what would have been the fateful day of their own slaughter by previous royal proclamation. We can understand what a day of "light and gladness" it was for these people. A very significant fact is recorded, namely, that many from among the peoples of the land "became Jews." Thus, the deliverance was evidently recognized as wrought for these people by supernatural means: and upon the other people the fear of the Jews fell, for the complete reversal of their position was conspicuous. In a distant land, and on a dark day, God thus gave His people a sign of His watchful care over them, and filled their hearts with joy. The whole value of the story is that it reveals anew the greatness of the love of God.
Esther confirmed these matters of Purim.
In this chapter we have a full account of the arrival of the fateful thirteenth day of the twelfth month, and of all that happened thereupon. It was the day on which the changed conditions in the cases of Haman and Mordecai were revealed throughout the whole of the provinces. Men who had persecuted the Jews, and were looking for the opportunity of wreaking their vengeance by royal decree, found themselves filling the places which they had intended their foes to occupy. It was in remembrance of this great deliverance that the feast of Purim was established. The thirteenth day was the day when the lot, according to Haman's devices, was to fall out to the destruction of the Jews. God overruled the lot, and they were delivered. Therefore the fourteenth and fifteenth days were hence-forth to be observed as Purim, or lots, a time of festal celebration. This decision was confirmed by the royal consent through Esther. According to a Jewish tradition, "all the feasts shall cease in the days of Messiah, except the feast .of Purim." It is a remarkable fact that while there have been breaks in the observance of the other great feasts, and some of them have been practically discontinued, this has been maintained. Whatever view men may hold of the value of this Book of Esther, it is certain that Jewish leaders have ever treated it as an exposition of the method by which God wrought deliverance for His people in a time of peril, even while they were in exile, and so of His unceasing care for them. It has been the inspiration of hope for them in many dark and desolate days.
Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus.
This tiny chapter is interesting as it give us the last picture of this man Mordecai. It is a singularly fine one. Whatever there may have been questionable in some of the methods he adopted with regard to Esther - and here we are not able to be dogmatic - it is evident that he was of fine character. Probably all the experiences of the goodness of God had brought him to finer life. Evidently he retained the favour of Ahasuerus, for his position was next to the king. This did not alienate him from his own people. He continued to seek their good, and to speak peace to them: and therefore was held in highest honour among them, as well as trusted in the realm in which he exercised authority. Perhaps there is no severer test of greatness of soul than that of advancement in the favour of kings. Too often such advancement has meant the undoing of men who, in poverty, or under disfavour in high places, have been true men. The man who can pass to wealth and to position among the great ones of the earth, and still maintain his integrity and his loyalty to his own kith and kin, is ever a great man: and the secrets of such greatness invariably are that his roots are in God.