The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews' enemy unto Esther the queen. And Mordecai came before the king; for Esther had told what he was unto her.Reprisals
WE have seen Esther in the attitude of lifting the index finger; we have now to consider the attitude of Haman whilst that finger was being pointed at him. The statement is marked by great simplicity, but also by solemn suggestiveness,—
"Then Haman was afraid before the king and the queen" (Esther 7:6).
Why was he afraid? Nothing had been stated but simple fact: is it possible that a man can be terrified by being reminded of simple reality? We may go farther in this case, and by going farther may increase our wonder. Could not Haman defend himself? Was it not open to him to say to king Ahasuerus, That is certainly true, but nothing has been done without the king's consent, and no writing has been sent forth that was not sealed with the royal signet: what the queen has said is perfectly true, but I must hide myself behind the king's authority? Not a word did he say: he simply burned with shame; his cheeks were red with fire. How is this? The answer is plain enough. We do many things with the king's signet which we have no business to do. We may be very careful about our little cordon of facts, but all this amounts to nothing so long as the heart accuses itself. No matter what writings you have,—it is of no consequence that you point to conversations, and recall incidents, and remind your interlocutor of certain occurrences, if the thing itself is wrong. There is something in human nature that gives way at the weakest point. There are defences that are in reality accusations. To excuse is in very deed to accuse under such circumstances. Men know this, and yet play the contrary part with great skill and persistence; they say they have documentary evidence, but they do not tell us how they procured it; they can produce letters sealed and signed by high authority, but they never tell the wicked process through which these letters came to be facts. Men, therefore, soon give way under the pressure of incomplete evidence; the unwritten law swallows up all the inky documents. Haman had indeed gone to the king, and told him about a certain people, diverse from the people of Media and Persia, and had in very truth received the king's orders to write letters of destruction; but when all came to all it was the unwritten law that made a coward of Haman. The letters ought not to have been written; being written, they simply amounted to so much evidence against the man; the very motive of the letter burned the letter, and thus made it non-existent; and we are perfectly well aware that we are doing many things, in statesmanship, in ecclesiastical relations, in personal references, that bear very distinctly upon this method of procedure. There are laws, there are facts, there are letters; but all these ought not to have been; they are not in accord with the eternal unwritten law of righteousness, truth, charity, pureness, godliness, and therefore when that is pointed out all the documents fall into the fire, crinkle, blacken, catch the flame, and evaporate in smoke. Thus was Haman afraid before the king and the queen. Cowardice is traceable to consciousness of wrong-doing. Haman said to himself, I got the letters, but I ought not to have got them; I could take off this ring and show it to his majesty, but the ring would take fire and burn me if I held it up under such circumstances; no, I am a murderer, and I am discovered. What then took place?
"The king arising from the banquet of wine in his wrath went into the palace garden: and Haman stood up to make request for his life" (Esther 7:7).
That was all! Let me live! Strip me, cast me off, banish me, but—let the poor dog live! All mock royalties come to that, all false ambitions, all ill-conceived plans, all selfishness, all murder. Do not hang me! I care for this poor old neck; I will never speak more, I will only ask for bread and water; only let the dog live! He was a great man just now;
Haman "sent and called for his friends, and Zeresh his wife. And Haman told them of the glory of his riches, and the multitude of his children, and all the things wherein the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king" (Esther 5:10-11).
Now he says, Let the dog live! Let the bad man take care! Judas Iscariot, be on thy guard! Heaven is against thee, and thine own hell hates thee. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." You are very clever, you only are asked to the king's banquet, you are entrusted with the king's seal, you are chancellor, premier, leader,—"Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" The success of bad men is their failure. There is no heaven in their gold; it is not gold, it is gilt. How rich the table is! but Haman cannot eat; the wine is old, but the palate is dead. Walk in the garden and view the lovely flowers: there is no loveliness to eyes of greed, to eyes of ambition, to eyes of selfishness, every Eden is lost by the disobedient man. Do not let me die even in Eden, give me a skin of beast to my back, and let me out of the golden gate—Let the dog live! There are many valiant men whose valour will one day be turned into pale cowardice. Only they are valiant who are right; only they are heroic who love God and keep his commandments; to them death is abolished, the grave a hole filled up with flowers, blossoming at the top. Who would be wicked—prosperously wicked, dining with the king, but wicked; drinking wine with the queen with a murderer's lips? We may be murderers without shedding blood. Every man who has broken a heart is a murderer, it matters not whether he be the highest prelate or supremest minister.
Whatever Ahasuerus did he did quickly. No one ever complained that he was dilatory. Let justice be done to Xerxes. He was a man of action. It was pointed out to him that the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, stood in the house of Haman. The moment Ahasuerus heard there was a gallows he said, Hang Haman. Circumstances happily coincide—here is the victim, here is the gallows: a child may complete the syllogism. It is wonderful how men who have no knowledge of the true God have always discovered a point of almightiness somewhere. Men who had no God, as we understand that term, have always had a deific line in their policy, a black line which meant the end. The Oriental kings realised this ideal of almightiness. Their word was law. Hang him! and no man dare say, Spare him! How could Haman complain? The gallows was his own invention; it was made after his own imagination; it was the very height he liked best for a gallows—not forty-nine cubits high, but the round fifty. How often he had hanged Mordecai on the preceding night! how he had seen the Jew dangle in the air, and almost seen birds of carrion come and alight on his shoulder to look him over with a view to banqueting! How could he complain? This is God's law: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." All this we ourselves must go through. Take care! How much deeper are you going to make that hole? Do you say you mean to make it about ten feet deeper? then be assured that you have ten feet farther to fall. Men dig holes for others, and fall into them themselves. Do not be grave-diggers. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." Our hands were never made for the forging and hurling of thunderbolts; they were made to clasp other human hands, to lead the blind, to help the helpless. Yet who does not rejoice in this law of retribution, worked out on a grand scale, without a sign or token of pettishness in all its evolution? The universe would not be secure without it. The wicked man must be stopped somewhere: and how can a man be more decorously hung than on his own gallows? Is there satire in heaven? Is there just a faint wreathing of sarcasm on the lips of Justice? Do the powers supreme wait until the plans of bad men are quite completed, and then make them cut down the harvest which they themselves sowed in such glee of heart? Bad man, thine end is the gallows-tree! thou shalt surely be hanged by the neck until thou be dead. We see thee at thy front door, well painted, well polished, opening upon museum and picture-gallery and treasure-house; we hear the horses pawing and snorting in their warm stables, and see the servants flitting about in panoramic activity and confusion; we speak to thee over thy bags of gold—thou shalt be damned! Say ye to the wicked, It shall be ill with him: he shall vomit his own successes, and when he is most ashamed it will be when he most clearly sees his triumphs. Say ye to the righteous, It shall be well with thee: poor, desolate, and afflicted, carrying seven burdens when one is enough for thy poor strength; yet at the end, because thou hast loved thy Lord, it shall be well with thee. Do not attempt to explain God's "well." It is a better word than if it had been in the superlative degree. Grammatical increase would mean moral depletion. It is enough that God says, "Well done." "Well" is better than "best" in such setting of words.
From what point did Haman proceed to the gallows? From a banquet of wine. Oh to think of it!—from a banquet to the gallows! There is not such a distance between the two points as might at first appear. Nearly the worst things in all the world are banquets. How a man can live in a mansion-house and pray, is a problem which we can consider even if we cannot answer. It was the rich man in the parable who was called "fool." We should have been sorry for him under that designation if we had not first heard his speech; but after hearing his speech we found that no other word precisely covered the occasion. The house of mourning is better than the house of feasting. There is a sadness which is to be preferred to laughter. There are funerals infinitely more desirable than weddings. But we are the victims of the senses; we like gold and silver, and satin and colour; we rub our skilled fingers over them and say, Behold the texture! see the lustre! admire the beauty! We are blind within. An awful irony, that a man should have eyes to see stones and trees, and no eyes wherewith to see spirits, angels, God! Men drink away their vision; men drown in their cups the divinity that stirs within them.
Is the matter then at an end here? No. Haman's policy must be all reversed.
"On that day did the king Ahasuerus give the house of Haman the Jews' enemy unto Esther the queen" (Esther 8:1).
Esther had another request to make—"She fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears." Then it was all over! What did she beseech the king to do?
"To put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews. Then the king held out the golden sceptre toward Esther. So Esther arose and stood before the king. And said, If it please the king, and if I have found favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes [Oh this eloquent tongue! She knew it was all settled before it began], let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king's provinces: for how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" (Esther 8:3-6).
Pathos will do more than logic. Would God all preachers knew that one simple, practical, eternal lesson! Tears conquer. It was all done. Ahasuerus made gracious reply; the king's scribes were called at the time to write letters of reversal all over the empire—
"To the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language "(Esther 8:9).
It was the beginning of a gospel: Go ye into the provinces, and tell every Jew that he shall live. It was a great speech. There is a greater still made by the Jew whom we call the Son of. God, and worship as God the Son: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," the gospel of pardon, acceptance, adoption, restoration, assured and immortal sonship.
Now will the Jews be merciful? Will they remember that
"Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them" (Esther 9:5).
That is human, but not the less awful. Who can be so bad as man? What beast can be so cruel as an unnatural parent? We have no excuse to offer for these men. If we had been reading a story rather than a history we should have had a different conclusion; we should have made the Jews almost divine: but the Jews were human, and therefore resentful and unforgiving. There is but one Man who can forgive sins.
A wonderful book is this book of Esther! We are told that the name of God does not once occur in it. How fond people are of counting times in which names appear! Observe, it is the name of God that is not in it: God himself is in every line of it. This distinction should be carefully marked by all men who are verbal statisticians, who take note of how many times the name of Christ appears in a sermon. The name of Christ may never be mentioned, and yet Christ may be in the sermon from end to end, the inspiration of its power, the secret of its pathos, the charm of its earnestness. It is but frivolous work to be counting the number of times in which the name of God occurs in this book or that, or the name of Christ occurs in this sermon or in that: is the Spirit Divine there? Is the thought from eternity or from time? Is it a mighty rushing sound from heaven, or is it but a whirlwind carrying nothing with it but thick dust? Men can answer the question well. There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding If God be for us, who can be against us?
"Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed" (Esther 10:3).
What narrow escapes we have in life! How near being hanged was even Mordecai one night! Who can tell what will happen tomorrow? Blessed is that servant who when his Lord cometh shall be found waiting. The faithful servant shall be called up into friendship and honour and coronation. You are in great straits to-day—to-morrow you may have great riches. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." There is a sentimental hope which is never to be trusted; there is a hope which is the blossom of righteousness or the music of reason. Every Christian has the spirit of hope given to him as part of his divine estate: quench not the Spirit. We are not delivered in order that we may crush our enemies; we are not Christians in order that we may slay the heathen; we have not been adopted into God's family that we may go out with a naked sword to cut down every infidel, sceptic, atheist, and unbeliever: we are saved that we may save; we have this honour given to us that we may call others to the same great joy. Let us, if we are delivered men—let us, if we are saved from peril, strait, and sore extremity—let us show our gratitude by our benevolence.
So we part with the brilliant queen, in some respects the Lady Macbeth of her day. The oldest blood of history warmed her veins, and the light of generations of heroes shone in her glorious eyes. She was developed by circumstances. Now she is timid, calculating, half afraid, half ashamed: her courage comes and goes like the blood-tide on fair cheeks, and anon she is as an unquenchable fire. How carefully she laid her finger on the king's pulse! How well she kept the neck of Haman within reach of her crushing heel! She saw wonders, too, in her dreams! Countless hosts of murdered Jews; women begging for pity, and so doubling the very agony they hoped to abate; children speared, and hurled into depths like refuse too vile to waste fire upon: then Mordecai, grey with grief, bowed down with sorrow's invisible burden, and sad with woe never to be all known;—his quivering old life now yielding to despair, and now rising to an impossible hope,—herself, killed, and buried amid oaths and jeers—and Haman, his breast a hell, rejoicing with infernal joy as the last Jew gasped and died. Then the dream changed: a king was approached, interested, mollified; a fair woman grasped a moral sceptre, addressed a heart-speech to a willing ear, transfixed with eloquent finger the prince of villains, and on a morning cool and bright the enemy who plotted the murder of others swung from a gallows fifty cubits high! Thus life hints itself in dreams. Thus in the night we see outlines invisible in the glare of day. Thus, and thus, and thus, the great Spirit comes to establish his infinite purpose. We do not strain the moral of the story by calling for an Esther to stand up in modest courage in the presence of devastating forces—drunkenness, lust, selfishness, oppression, slavery, and all wrong. The Woman must deliver us. She knows the availing method: her tongue is the instrument of eloquence; her eyes see the path that lies through all the darkness; she can mark the time, estimate the forces that are foremost, and strike violently without violence, and mightily without exaggeration. We want no dramatic attitude, no public display, no vaunting ostentation or self-assertion;—we want the might of light, the stratagem of love, the courage of faith, the word of deliverance. Are not women themselves beaten, starved, dishonoured? Are not children cast out, neglected, left to die? Are not lies triumphant, are not honour and truth thrown down in the streets? The true propriety is to be unselfishly sincere, high-minded, fearless,—O that women would take up the sad world's cause and live and die for Christ. When did Jesus discourage the ministry of women? When did he order them home with gruff disdain? Did he not need them all, and make them rich with his blessing?