Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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.
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. Lessons: -
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.
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" (Psalm 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.
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
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.
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 (ch. 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, 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.
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, 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.
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 (ver. 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, 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.
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.
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" (ver. 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.
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.
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.
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 (ver. 14) we see how extra means and greater pressure were used to overtake wrong. - H.