The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.Esther 3
1. After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman [of whom nothing is known beyond what is in this book] the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him.
2. And all the king's servants, that were in the king's gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not [did not prostrate himself], nor did him reverence. [Mordecai's objection was religious, not personal or ceremonial.]
3. Then the king's servants, which were in the king's gate, said unto Mordecai, Why transgressest thou the king's commandment?
4. Now it came to pass, when they spake daily unto him, and he hearkened not unto them, that they told Haman, to see whether Mordecai's matters [words] would stand: for he had told them that he was a Jew.
5. And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.
6. And he thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone; for they had showed him the people of Mordecai: wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.
7. ¶ In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year [474 b.c.] of king Ahasuerus, they cast pur [a Persian word for lot], that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar [the lunar month ending at the new moon in March].
8. ¶ And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws [a favourite weapon in the hands of persecutors]; therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them.
9. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver [two and a half millions sterling, the whole annual revenue of the empire] to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.
10. And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jew's enemy.
11. And the king said [with characteristic indifference] unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee.
12. Then were the king's scribes called on the thirteenth day [the eve of the passover, on the same date, five hundred years after, Christ was betrayed!] of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded unto the king's lieutenants [satraps], and to the governors that were over every province, and to the rulers of every people of every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king's ring.
13. And the letters were sent by posts [the runners] into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.
14. The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, that they should be ready against that day.
15. The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Hainan sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed [evidently preferring the Jews to Haman].
1. When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes [a common sign of Oriental sorrow], and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and bitter cry;
2. And came even before the king's gate: for none might enter into the king's gate clothed with sackcloth.
3. And in every province, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4. So Esther's maids and her chamberlains came and told it her. Then was the queen exceedingly grieved; and she sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away his sackcloth from him; but he received it not.
5. Then called Esther for Hatach, one of the king's chamberlains, whom he had appointed to attend upon her, and gave him a commandment to Mordecai, to know what it was, and why it was.
6. So Hatach went forth to Mordecai unto the street [the square, or wide open place] of the city, which was before the king's gate.
7. And Mordecai told him of all that had happened unto him, and of the sum of the money that Haman had promised to pay to the king's treasuries for the Jews, to destroy them.
8. Also he gave him the [a] copy of the writing of the decree that was given at Shushan to destroy them, to shew it unto Esther, and to declare it unto her, and to charge her that she should go in unto the king, to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for her people.
9. And Hatach came and told Esther the words of Mordecai.
10. ¶ Again [and is better] Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai;
11. All the king's servants [court], and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his [one unvarying rule] to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre [a custom referred to by this writer only], that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.
12. And they told to Mordecai Esther's words.
13. Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself [imagine not in thy mind] that thou shalt escape in the king's house [occupation of the palace will be no protection to thee], more than all the Jews.
14. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement [a breathing space] and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place [heavenly interposition]; but thou and thy father's house [Esther was not Abihail's only child] shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
15. ¶ Then Esther bade them return Mordecai this answer,
16. Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day [probably thirty-six hours]: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.
17. So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.
IN course of time Esther succeeded Vashti as queen. Some have blamed Mordecai for not returning with his people, for lingering in the strange land when he might have gone home. But who can tell what he is doing? How foolish is criticism upon human action! We think we have great liberty, and we have a marvellous way of blinding ourselves to the tether which binds us to a centre. We want to do things and cannot; we say we will arise and depart, and behold we cannot gather ourselves together or stand up. Some event occurs which entirely alters our whole purpose. We long to be at home, and yet we cannot begin the journey thitherward. Men should stand still and think about this, because in it is the whole mystery of Divine Providence. We cannot account for ourselves. There are those who challenge us to state our reasons for pursuing such and such a course of action; when we come to write down our reasons we have nothing to write. Do not scatter blame too freely. If life comes easily to you, so that you can manage it with the right hand and with the left, without any anxiety or difficulty, be quite sure that you are living a very poor life. Do not boast of your flippancy. An easy life is an ill-regulated life. A life that can account for itself all the four-and-twenty hours, and all the days of the year, is a fool's life. Blessed are they who know the pain of mystery, who see before them an angel whom they cannot pass, who hear a voice behind them, saying, This is the way; walk ye in it: though it look so bare and hard and uphill, yet this is the way. Out of all this should come great religious consideration. We want to sit beside our friend, and cannot; we want to return to the old homestead, and no ship will carry us; we want to get rid of burdens, and in endeavouring to throw off the weight we only increase it All this is full of significance. We may look at it in one of two ways: either fretfully and resentfully, and thus may kick against the pricks, and find how hard it is to play that game of opposition against God; or we can accept the lot and say, "I am called to be here; I should like to have laboured in another land, but thou hast fixed me here; I should have loved to surround myself with other circumstances, but thou hast determined the bounds of my habitation: Lord, give me light enough to work in, give me patience in time of stress, and give me the strength of confidence."
The nationality was concealed; it was not known that Mordecai was a Jew, beyond a very limited circle, nor was it known that Esther belonged to the Jewish race. We say, How wrong! Who are we that we should use that word so freely? Who gave us any right or title to scatter that word so liberally? Even things that are purely human, so far as we can see them, have mysteries that ought to be recognised as regulating forces, as subduing and chastening all the actions of life. Why did not Mordecai declare his nationality? Who asks the question? Do you know what it is to be down-trodden, never to be understood, always to have ill-usage heaped upon you? Do you know what it is to be spat upon, taunted, reviled, loaded with ignominy? If so, you will be merciful and generous, because you will be just. Many a man is suffering to-day from misconstruction, who could explain everything if he cared to do so. Some men would be as courageous as the boldest of us if they had not been ill-treated in youth. You must go back to the antecedents if you would understand many things which now occasion perplexity and excite even distrust. If the boy has had no chance in life; if he has been hungered, starved in body, starved in mind, beaten by cruel hands, or turned away from by still more cruel neglect; if he has had no one to fight his little battles; if every time he lifted up his face he was smitten down,—what if he should turn out to be a man who fears to speak his mind, who hesitates long before he adopts a definite action and policy? Who are these brave people who would always be at the front? They are always at the front when there is any fault-finding to be done, but never found there when any great sacrifice is to be completed. There may be explanations even of suspicious actions. Suspicion would vanish if knowledge were complete. Out of all this comes the sweet spirit of charity, saying, Be careful, be tender, be wise; judge not, that ye be not judged: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Many a man is more courageous than he appears to be, and there may yet come a time when he will prove his courage. It requires long years to forget first disappointments, early ill-usage, infantile neglect. Some are better at the end than they were at the beginning. Some men are good at a long race. Others are quicker at the start: they get on the road very speedily and ostentatiously, and the despised runner comes along labouringly, but he is an awkward man on a long race; he will wear the little flimsy creature down, and when he is asked a thousand miles away where his competitor is, he will say, I do Hot know. Some come to the full estate of their power almost at once—"soon ripe, soon rot." Others require long time, and they are younger at sixty than they were at thirty. We are not judges, blessed be God. Would heaven we could withhold the word of censure, and say, These men would be better if we knew them better; they are in quality as good as we are; they have not been growing in the same rich soil, but they may flourish when we are forgotten. Let us, then, see how the little story unfolds itself.
Here is a man advanced without any discoverable reason. His name is Haman, "the son of Hammedatha the Agagite "—an information which tells nothing, a pedigree which is a superfluity. But the king, whose character we have just studied a little, promoted him, advanced him; and whenever a man is advanced without reason he loses his head. A man must always be greater than his office. No honour we can confer upon him can move his equanimity or disturb his dignity, for whilst he is modest as virtue he is still conscious of a divinely-given power which keeps all office under his feet. A man arbitrarily set on the throne will fall off. Any one who is less than his office will be toppled over. Men must grow, and when they grow they will be modest; the growth is imperceptible. The grand old oak knows nothing about its grandeur; it has been developing for centuries, and is unconscious of all admiration. Entitle yourselves to promotion and advancement by solid character, large knowledge, faithful industry, steady perseverance, by moral quality of every name and degree; then when you come to high office you will be modest, calm, thankful, generous. Haman went up to the second place without, so far as we can discover on the face of the record, right or reason.
"But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence" (Esther 3:2).
This was not little or pedantic on Mordecai's part; the reason is religious. Here is an act of Oriental prostration which means religious homage, and Mordecai knew but one God. He was not wanting in civility, he was faithful to religious conviction. Some men would bow down to a dog if they could increase their salary by so doing! Bowing down, they would say, costs nothing: why should we trouble ourselves about a sentimental act, a piece of etiquette and ceremony? we can get promotion by it, and the end will justify the means. Mordecai was in a strange country, but he was a Jew still. He was an honest believer in God. He knew well enough what Haman could do for him; he knew also what Haman could do against him: but he was of a fine quality of soul. He will talk presently, and then we shall know something about him. He is grand in silence, he is overwhelming in speech. He will not talk long, but he will talk fire. This was told to Haman, and the question was asked "whether Mordecai's matters would stand: "look at his record, track his footprints, set the bloodhounds upon him. He had told them that he was a Jew, and that probably was given as his reason; and the very reason he assigned was turned into a charge against him. It would appear as if, in stating that he was a Jew, he meant to explain why he did not throw himself down in the common prostration. Men often have their reasons turned like sharp swords against them; their very confidence is turned into an impeachment. He who lives with bad men must expect bad treatment. Haman then began to take notice of the Jew.
"And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath" (Esther 3:5).
Little natures require great revenge. Little natures endeavour to magnify themselves by exaggeration. Small statues require high pedestals. Haman will not lay hands upon Mordecai, he will lay hands upon the whole Jewish race, so far as that race can be discovered in the country, and he will kill every man, woman, and child. Was he a right man to be promoted and advanced? Elevation tests men. A little brief authority discovers what is in a man's heart. How many men are honest, and modest, and gentle, and gracious, until they become clothed with a little brief authority! They do not know themselves—what wonder if they forget themselves? Haman therefore resolved upon the extirpation of the Jews in his country—
"And Hainan said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed: and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the hands of those that have the charge of the business, to bring it into the king's treasuries" (Esther 3:8-9).
It is of no use being in office unless you do something. Have a bold policy—kill somebody! Be active!
"And the king took his ring from his hand, and gave it unto Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the Jews' enemy. And the king said unto Haman, The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as it seemeth good to thee" (Esther 3:10-11).
This is the effect of self-indulgence on the human will. We have seen how the king lived. We cannot tell exactly what time passed between the action we have just studied and the action which is now before us, but probably a considerable period passed. The man's soul has gone down. You may ruin any man by luxury. Inflame his ambition, and he may seem to be a strong man; but ask him to do anything that is of the nature of resentment, and he will instantly succumb: his will had been destroyed. Xerxes said in effect to Haman, Do whatever thou pleasest: I hear the chink of silver in thy hand, thou hast promised tribute and support,—go and write any number of letters you like, and kill any number of men you please, but let me alone. Then came the dark day in history—that day all cloud, that day that had no morning, no noontide no hint of blue.
"When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry" (Esther 4:1).
That is all we can do sometimes. Speech is useless, words are a mockery; the soul is filled with woe. It is not unmanly, it is not weakness; it is indeed an aspect of human greatness; it is man seeking after the ineffable, the eternal, the infinite,—crying where he cannot speak, for a cry is more eloquent than a sentence. All who have known the bitterness of life have been in this very condition in some degree. When poverty has been in every room in the house, when affliction is a familiar guest, when disappointment comes like a crown of thorns upon the head of every day, what if even strong solid men express themselves in a loud and bitter cry? Mordecai had, however, something left; he said, I must work through my relative; Esther the queen must come to my deliverance now, and through me to the deliverance of the whole people in this foreign land. So he began communications with the queen; the queen explained and hesitated, pointed out the difficulties, but Mordecai would hear nothing of difficulty. He made a grand appeal to her:
"Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed" (Esther 4:13-14).
We have anticipated the speech. How nobly it is argued; how pathetically it is uttered! The man was shut up to one course. There are times when we are dependent upon one life: if this fail, God fails. Who does not know something of this experience, when ingenuity is baffled, when invention can go no farther, and yet there is just one thing that may be tried, that must be tried? These are the circumstances which test character; these are the circumstances, too, which test our friends. We only know our friends when we are in extremity. This is Christ's own test of character. He said, "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat"; in other words, I was in extremity, and my extremity was your opportunity. This is precisely the reasoning of Mordecai. The Jews were an hungered, and they pined for the meat—the bread, the water, of fraternal sympathy. There are times when we must risk everything upon a last effort. Are there not some of us who have risked nothing? In crises we know what men are. Mordecai's religious confidence triumphed. He was a Jew of the right type; he said enlargement and deliverance should arise from another quarter: God would not forsake his people; he has himself punished them, but in all God's correction there is measure: it is impossible that Hainan's murderous policy can succeed. There are times when men leap in their inspiration; they become majestic through moral conviction, they feel that things are not handed over to a wicked hand. Though the night be dark, and the wind be loud and cold, and friends there may seem to be none, yet through that very darkness deliverance will come, and the world will be wrested from the clutches of the devil.
Then came the sublime personal appeal—
"And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
Now we may have explanation. "We wondered why thou shouldest have been chosen to be queen in place of Vashti; others appeared to be more beautiful than thou, but by some means, not then explicable, thou wast brought to the kingdom: now the explanation is at hand." God discovers himself by surprises. For a long time all things proceed monotonously, even wearisomely, and quite suddenly we begin to put things together, and to shape them, until they become pillars, arches, houses, sanctuaries; then we say, This was the meaning of it all: the darkness is gone, the light shineth, and behold God, even invisibleness, is at hand, so that we can lay our hand upon him, fall down before him, and bless his all-sufficient and reverent name. This hope nerves the weakest; this hope reveals the depths of the human constitution. Are there not crises in which we are all placed? What have you your wealth for? What a trial is prosperity! Why was it given to you? That you might make every good cause prosper; that you might make every way easy along which the kingdom of heaven was passing; that there might be no crying in your streets. Your wealth was given to satisfy the cry of need, to bless the cause of honesty. How dare you go to bed with all that gold in the coffer? For what was your power given? not to gratify your ambition, not to make you a name amongst men; but that you might threaten the enemy, undo heavy burdens, smite the tyrant, and speak comfortably to every brave man who is working under arduous and trying circumstances. Who dare bear his power simply as a decoration? For what was your education given to you? That you might be a light in darkness, a teacher of the ignorant, a friend to those who have had no such advantages as you have enjoyed. You were not educated that you might chatter in polysyllables, astound human ignorance by an information which it could never test; you were educated in the providence of God that you might help every man to learn the alphabet, to spell the name of God, to make out the gospel of Christ. "Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" If men had understanding of the times, saw their opportunities, rose to the occasion, in the spirit of Christ, in the spirit of the cross of Christ, they would make the world feel how true are Christ's words: "Ye are the salt of the earth.... Ye are the light of the world.... Ye are a city set on a hill." Christ Jesus the Son of God always calls men to help others, to deliver the oppressed, to undo heavy burdens that are too grievous to be borne. In going forward to such work as that we are obeying Christ's command when he said—"Follow me."