Esther 1:8

The entertainment of such large and promiscuous companies as those which were gathered for seven days in the court of the palace garden at Shushan was not an easy matter. To secure order, and propriety of conduct, and the general comfort, required much forethought and care. As an example of the measures adopted, a certain law of the feast is mentioned as having been laid down by the king for the occasion.

I. THE LAW. It was laid on the officers not to compel or urge any of the guests to take wine. All were to be left free to drink or not drink as they pleased.

II. THE AUTHORITY. It was at the express command of the king that the law was put in force on this occasion. We learn from this

(1) that the royal command was needed, and

(2) that the king, thoughtless as he was in many things, exerted a direct influence on the orderly arrangement and conduct of the banquet. The great lose no dignity by attending personally to little duties. What seems little may contain the seeds of, or have a close connection with, great issues.

III. THE MOTIVES. These are not stated. But the fact that the king issued a special command to enforce a law that was contrary to the usual practice may be taken as proof that he had special reasons for making known his will. The following are suggested: -

1. Self-dignity. Any excess on the part of the citizens would have been unbecoming in his presence, and might have led to the serious humiliation of his imperial majesty.

2. Policy. It would have been an awkward thing if the close of the prolonged and so far triumphant festival had been signalised by a popular riot, whether good-humoured or the reverse. The noise of it would have spread throughout the empire, and its real character might have been lost in the misrepresentations of rumour and report. And such a result was not improbable, supposing that the servants and the mixed multitude had been left guideless as to their obligations in presence of the king and his boundless hospitality.

3. Sympathy. There would be many in such assemblies as now filled the king's tables who were unaccustomed to the use of wine, and more perhaps whose "small" condition would only enable them to use it sparingly. - Young men also would be present to whom the indulgences of the older society about them would be yet strange. It would have been, therefore, a hardship and a wrong, as well as a danger, if the city guests had been allowed to act on the natural belief that at the king's table they were expected to take wine whenever it was presented. Whatever the motive or motives of the king, it goes to his credit that when the young and old, the small and great, were his guests, he enforced a law that favoured temperance. Temperance is not always studied, either on great festive occasions, or in social gatherings of a more private kind. Thus this old Persian law becomes our teacher -

1. As to the relative duties of host and guest. In countries where social life is highly developed, and where the men and women of different families mix much in free and lively intercourse, these duties are of great importance.

(1) The host.

(a) He should be kindly considerate of all whom he invites to share the hospitalities of his house - avoiding all tyrannical rules that make no allowance for differences of age, habit, and taste.

(b) He should invite none whose manners are offensive to the temperate, or whose example and influence would place an undue constraint on the consciences of others.

(c) He should be careful to put no temptations to excess before the weak, and to give no countenance to what may favour intemperate habits.

(2) The guest. While showing a full appreciation of the good intent of his host, and a suitable amiability to his fellow-guests, he should claim and exercise the right to guide himself in the matters of eating and drinking by the dictates of the Christian conscience. Whether he abstain from wine or not, a regard for himself, for his host, and for his companions should bind him to be temperate in all things.

2. As to the duty of all men to the law of moderation. Not long ago, to abstain or even to be temperate at social meetings was considered the mark of a sour and ungenerous nature. But since then a great improvement in manners has taken place. Little courage is now required to abstain altogether from wine. It is said that Queen Victoria sets a good example in this respect. To the expressed desire of a sovereign the authority of a command is attached, and to refuse wine when presented at a sovereign's table is regarded as an act of disobedience. But our queen has abolished this law at her own table, and substituted the law of Ahasuerus at his great banquet - that all guests shall be free to take or refuse wine - that none shall compel. The change for the better in social customs is a matter for thankfulness, but there is still much room for amendment. Let us remember that to indulge in excess is -

(1) A sin against society.

(2) A sin against one's self.

(a) It injures the body

(b) It weakens the mind.

(c) It enervates the will.

(d) It deadens the conscience.

(e) It impoverishes and embitters the life.

(f) It destroys the soul.

(3) A sin against God.

(a) It is a transgression of his law.

(b) It is a despising of his love.

(c) It is opposed to the spirit and example of his Son.

(d) It is a braving of his judgment.

Christian men and women should live under the power of the Christian law, and strive in all things to be "living epistles" of the Master whom they serve. All such will give earnest heed to the injunction of Paul, "Let your moderation be known among all men; the Lord is at hand." - D.

And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel
It is not entirely, however, in moral recoil that sanction is thus given in law to the better practice. There is a touch of political prudence in it. For here at the feast are princes from all parts, with their retainers and tribes. There are men here from the mountains who are famous for their temperance and for the strictness and simplicity of their manners. Such men would not be won, but dis. gusted rather and alienated from the royal cause, by anything like Bacchanalian excess. In prudence, therefore, as well as from possibly higher motive, the principle of temperance must have the reinforcement of public law.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Did an absolute prince pay such regard to the laws of his country, and to the liberty of his subjects, and shall not Christians pay an equal regard to the laws of their religion? Are these laws less obligatory upon us at feasts them on other occasions? Shall we requite the liberal Giver of all good things with insults on His authority, at the very time that our table is covered by His bounty?

(G. Lawson.)

Whether we do not, on a wider scale, as a people in fact, and with the force of law, practise compulsion still, sad that on the weakest and most helpless part of our people, is a very serious question, and one which, to say the least, we cannot answer with the same confidence. If places where drink is sold to the common people are multiplied much beyond the reasonable needs of the community; if exceptional privileges are given to the sellers; if their houses, with many exits and entrances, are planted in the most conspicuous spots; if they burn the brightest lights in the streets, and are allowed to keep open long after other trades and industries are closed and silent, does not all this and more of the same kind amount to a sort of compulsion to working-people, and trades-people, and thoughtless young people of both sexes?

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

The statement here made reminds us of an incident which is said to have occurred at the table of Queen Victoria in one of the early years of her reign. The temperance movement was just beginning to make its way into the upper classes of English society, sad on the occasion to which I refer a British nobleman, well-known for his activity in all good causes, declined to comply with the request of one of his fellow-guests that he should drink wine with him, whereupon the appeal wait made to her Majesty that she should exert her authority in the case; but she nobly replied, in the spirit of this Persian law, "There shall be no compulsion at my table"; and that reply did much to discountenance the old custom of badgering, and browbeating and insisting upon guests drinking out of regard for their hosts, until they felt themselves in a position where it was difficult to refuse, and were virtually compelled either to act against their better judgment or to do that which was considered rude and unmannerly.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

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