Life Contrasts
Esther 3:15
The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace…

And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed. Here is indeed a pair of pictures to look at - the subjects very different. They are not a pair of pastoral scenes, nor of family groups related, nor are they of sympathetic historical sort. But a pair they certainly are; as such they are hung, and they bear out the position, for one strictly and directly rises out of the other. The one shows two figures, as of men, sitting in a palace drinking. If we are to judge anything from their attitude and their occupation, their minds are perfectly at ease, and they are happy. The figures are life-size, and lifelike. The countenances, however; scarcely improve by dwelling upon. Very quickly the too plainly-marked impress of the Eastern aristocrat's effeminacy, and excessive luxuriousness, and unrecking pride of heart dispel the faintest suggestion that their apparent ease and happiness have any of the higher elements in them. We recognise in the men types of self-indulgence, even if it should prove nothing worse. The other picture shows a city in miniature, in broken, disconnected sections, interiors and exteriors together. The eye that is sweeping it turns it into a moving panorama. Whatever it is that is seen, an oppressive, ominous stillness seems to brood over it. An unnatural stoppage of ordinary business is apparent. The market, the bazaars, the exchange, the heathen temple, the Jews' meeting-place) and in fact every place where men do congregate, seems in a certain manner stricken with consternation. The faces and the gestures of the people agree therewith. These, at all events, betoken anything but peace and content and happiness. They give the impression of a "perplexity" rapidly inducing stupor, and a stupor ominous of paralysis itself. One malignant thought of Haman was answerable for all this. He had of late been obeying with completest self-surrender his worse genius; that was about the only self-surrender he practised or knew. His one malignant thought, the thought of "scorn," had rapidly ripened into determination, shaped into place and method, been clothed in the dress of consummate policy, and sealed with the signet of royal ring (ver. 10). That thought, so wrought up, was now sent forth, "hastened by the king's commandment," to a thousand cities and corners of the whole realm. Its publication made in Shushan the palace, and to the same hour "the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed." We have here -


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?


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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: The posts went out, being hastened by the king's commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed.

WEB: The couriers went forth in haste by the king's commandment, and the decree was given out in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city of Shushan was perplexed.

A Wicked Massacre
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