For the Jews it was a time of light and gladness, of joy and honor.
I. LIGHT. He will see the meaning of God's word and of life.
II. GLADNESS. He will not be afraid to rejoice, but will see that the Christian has the truest right to be glad, seeing he is delivered from the bondage of sin and death.
III. HONOUR. People respect a true Christian, but they despise the hypocrite. Every man's character is rendered of greater worth by his Christianity.
IV. USEFULNESS. Others will be won to the same good way. "Many of the people of the land became Jews." Influence will constantly spread.
V. SAFETY. The former enemies of the Jews were afraid to touch them or speak against them. The evil powers that oppose man's spiritual welfare will not be able to injure him, because God will protect, and the habit of watchfulness will be fixed. - H.
I. THE GOLLY OF CLAIMING HUMAN INFALLIBILITY. Think of what the king had here to do. His law "might no man reverse." To save the doomed Jews the king was reduced to the absurd necessity, as Matthew Henry pithily puts it, "of enacting a civil war in his own dominions between the Jews and their enemies, so that both sides took up arms by his authority and yet against his authority." What is not claimed by our sovereigns or legislators is claimed, in matters of religion, by the Roman Pontiff. As a general belief it may be held by Roman Catholics. But in what one law has this personal infallibility been exercised? In the end it must be a manifest failure in religion, as it has been in politics.
The Jews had light, and gladness, and Joy, and honour.
1. In the first place, the conduct of Mordecai under the strange revolution which had been wrought in his condition and prospects is full of practical instruction to us. The lesson is this, that advancement in worldly honour and prosperity should be turned to account, by being made conducive to the promotion of the interests of the Church of Christ and to the good of His people. It reflects high honour upon Mordecai, that the first act of authority which he performed in the exalted position to which he had been raised was one which secured the enlargement of the Church and the safety of his brethren. In other hands the king's signet had been more frequently employed to give effect to decrees of violence and cruelty; but no sooner does it pass into his hands than it is used in behalf of the oppressed. Worldly honour and dignity in his case were invested with a value which does not intrinsically belong to them, and which never can belong to them, except when they are made subservient to such ends as he sought to promote by means of them. Now we say that all who have been blessed with wealth and influence may well look to this example and learn from it. The natural selfishness of the human heart prompts men to overlook the miseries of others, when they have gathered about them all that is needful for their own comfort. If they can but obtain the luxuries which gratify the senses, they care not what amount of woe and wretchedness may be experienced by those who live almost at their door. They waste not a thought upon the sad condition of the victims of spiritual darkness. We would remind them, therefore, that there is a luxury, the sweetest and best which wealth can purchase, and which lies fully within their reach — the luxury of doing good.
2. In the second place, the account given in the text of the feelings of the Jews when the edict was issued for their deliverance, suggests some profitable reflections to us. It caused them light, and gladness, and joy; and the day of its publication was a day of feasting to them, and a good day. But our thoughts are directed by the description to a still higher theme. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth." All mere temporal deliverances sink into insignificance when contrasted with this which the prophet celebrates. The sentence of doom under which we all naturally lie, as transgressors of God's covenant, has been followed by a message of pardon and life through Jesus Christ to all who will accept God's gracious offer. Surely, then, we are warranted to ask, What has been the effect of this message upon you who have so often heard it? Now, according to the views of some, where spiritual joy and gladness are awanting, spiritual life must be awanting also. But to this "opinion we cannot give our assent. Various causes there may be for the obscuration of the light of Divine joy in the soul, while there is no good reason for supposing that the soul is still dead in sin. No one who has had experience of the conflicts of the life of faith, and of the power of temptation, will require any formal reasoning in proof of the fact that there may be spiritual life without joy, or at least with not a little darkness and disquietude. Yet, it is unquestionably the duty of all Christ's followers to rejoice in His salvation.
3. In the third place, we may take a lesson from what is said in the text respecting the readiness which was shown by multitudes to join themselves to the Jews, when the king's edict in their favour was published. It may be believed that in some instances those of the people of the land who professed the Jewish religion were influenced by right motives, and forsook their heathenism because they felt that Jehovah, the God of the Jews, was the true God. Zechariah had foretold such event (Zechariah 8:23). It is very manifest, from the language used in the text, that such was not the generally prevalent feeling. "Many became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them." The sunshine of the royal favour was now resting upon the seed of Abraham. They were a numerous body of themselves; and now, when they had liberty of action, by their wealth they could bring over to their side those who would protect them. It was good policy, therefore, to profess to be friendly toward them. And so not the fear of God, but the fear of the Jews, moved many to renounce heathenism, and acknowledge submission to the law of Moses. The Church was in one of her prosperous periods, and hence there were strong inducements to the worldly-minded to enrol themselves among her members. Now this is no isolated case. Such things have often occurred, although by no means tending to the advancement of vital religion. For example, it must have often struck the reflective readers of history, as a subject rather of painful than of pleasant contemplation, that the progress of the Reformation in many countries should have been so intimately connected with and dependent upon the belief and practice of the ruling powers. The flowing and ebbing of the tide of religious profession might be calculated too surely from the prevailing sentiments of the court. Thus, for instance, how sudden were the changes which the aspect of the Church in England presented during the reigns of three successive sovereigns. In the brief time of the Sixth Edward, when his counsellors were Protestant, and Popery was disallowed, how fast did the principles of Protestantism spread through the kingdom! Then Popery became rampant again, and the majority were glad to seem to be upon its side. And no less remarkable was the revival of Protestantism during the reign of Mary's successor, Elizabeth. The nation appeared to be born in a day; and again multitudes who had joined in the celebration of the Mass cried, "Away with it!" and became the friends and promoters of the purer faith. And thus, from regard to character, and with a view to maintain respectability and to forward worldly interests, very many join themselves to the Church of Christ without being influenced at all by the love of Christ. Now, if we examine all the circumstances carefully, we shall perceive that we have as little reason to take comfort to ourselves from the external state of religion among us as the Jews had from the apparent respect which was shown for their religion in the days of Mordecai, or as the conflicting parties had which alternately sunk or prevailed in many countries at the period of the Reformation. The worldly and selfish element — the fear of man, and not the fear of God — has ever been too prevalent in moulding religious profession; the fires of persecution being sometimes employed to compel, and the attractions of self-interest at other times to draw men to confess with the mouth what they did not believe in their heart. And thus it is that the numerical force of Christianity, if I may so speak, is so different a thing from the vital power of it. A profession of Christianity, with some show of reverence for its ordinances, will not carry you to heaven. It will not even abide the trouble of a sifting-time on earth, if such time should overtake you. It will not give you solid comfort when you come, as soon you must come, to pass through the dark valley of the shadow of death. Nothing will avail but the faith which rests on Christ, and which, being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, makes the possession of heaven sure, by the present foretaste of it with which it feasts the soul.
(A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
II. INTO ALL THE LANGUAGES OF PERSIA WAS THE NEW DECREE TRANSLATED. Thus with man's law. Thus too it should be with God's law. Happy day for any nation when in its own language it comes into possession of the Bible, the good news from God.
III. THE PROMPTITUDE IN THE COMMUNICATION OF GOOD NEWS. Wonderful the promptitude that marks the postal service of to-day! It may bring its burden to some, but it is a ministry of consolation to the many. It brings the distant nigh. It revives with oil of love the lamp of life.
IV. THE TEMPORAL SALVATION OF THE JEWS WAS BUT A FAINT SHADOW OF THE GOOD THINGS TO COME IN THE GREAT SPIRITUAL SALVATION WROUGHT BY OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.
(G. F. Coster.)
I. Now the first thing to be noticed in this story is, THE SECRET OF ISRAEL'S DANGER. It arose from the fact that Israel had an enemy at court — "that wicked Haman," who was, in the first place, moved by bitter hatred against the person of Mordecai, but who extended his antipathy to the whole nation to which the object of his hatred belonged. Observe, however, that the strength of the enemy's position rested upon a more valid basis than his own personal hatred. In urging this case against them, he was able to appeal to the laws of the king's realm, and that "it was not for the king's profit to suffer them." We need to point out where the analogy fails, as well as where it becomes instructive. There is no kind of moral resemblance between the Christian's God, and this half-barbarous monarch, Ahasuerus. This man was a capricious and licentious Oriental tyrant, utterly selfish; while righteousness and mercy are blended in wondrous harmony with the attributes of Him whom we acknowledge as King of kings, and who holds our lives and our destinies in His hands. Once again, these Jews were harmless folk, and the charge brought against them, though plausible, was destitute of any such foundation in fact as could have justified severe measures against them. We may despise the moral character of this Oriental despot, and yet the attitude which he, as a king, assumed towards the Jews may well serve to illustrate the attitude which the King of kings is constrained to assume towards those who disobey His laws. Further, though the Jewish people were innocent of any moral or serious political offence, yet at the same time, the fact that they had laws and institutions of their own and that these laws and institutions were diverse from those of other nations, and in particular did not wholly accord with the laws of the Medes and the Persians, placed them in a position of apparent sedition against the ruling power. Here, then, first we have a striking illustration of the relations between the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His rebel creature man. In virtue of the sovereign position which He occupies in His universe, He cannot tolerate anything like deviation from those eternal statutes of righteousness which He Himself has laid down for His creatures; and, on the other hand, it cannot be denied that the sinner does break the King's laws, and set His authority at defiance. We also have a determined and malignant foe, "the accuser of the brethren," who first lays himself out to induce us to sin against these eternal edicts, and to form habits of life which are altogether at variance with the Divine mind, and who then turns round upon his victims and next accuses us to the Divine Being as persons whose very existence in the universe is a source of danger, moral disorder, and general peril to the stability of the kingdom over which the King of kings holds sway. He presses upon the notice of the Supreme Ruler the fact that it is not for His profit to allow us to go on as we are doing. Between the case of Haman against the Jews, however, and Satan's ease against us, there is this wide difference — that the charge brought by the enemy of the Jews was morally a plausible pretext, a trumped-up accusation; whereas in the case of the sinner the charge is only too true. If there is one single person whose heart has not been surrendered to God, and whose will is not yet wholly yielded to Him, then of such an one the accusation is true, terribly true, "It is not for the King's profit to suffer him." Let me ask you, then, Have you yielded yourself to God? For observe that if God were to allow men to go on from age to age, defying and disregarding His Divine will and law, He would be permitting His own rule to be overthrown, and would be virtually abdicating the throne of the universe, and giving all over to general anarchy and disorder. Nay, God can never lay aside His claims, and therefore it is not for the King's profit to suffer those who reject or ignore Him. "Has it been for the King's profit that thou hast lived?" If you were eliminated from human society to-day, would it be a gain instead of a loss to the world in which you have lived? You may reply, "I have affections as well as other people. There are many whom I love, and who love me, and whose hearts would bleed if I were taken away; how, then, could the world be anything but a loser by my removal?" Stay, let me ask you, What is the character of your influence and the effect of your example upon those very persons whose affections you have won? Are you doing them harm or good? What fruit does your life bear from day to day? Father, might it not be better for your sons' spiritual and eternal well-being if you were taken away from them? Mother, might it not be better for your daughters, better for your household, if your baneful influence were removed? And you, young man! who are the ringleader of a little band of friends, let me ask, Whither are you leading those young companions of yours? Is your fatal influence dragging them down to ever-deepening depths of moral degradation and sin? Ah! if that be thy case, if thy very friendship is a source of danger to those who are its objects, surely it is not for the King's profit to suffer you. Well, you say, or some one says, "Why does He suffer me, then?" Ah, here is a point to which we can find nothing to answer in the analogy. Let St. Paul explain why God suffers you, "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Such is the secret of our danger; and now, turning again to our illustration, let us observe the sequel. There goes forth as the result of all this, a terrible edict against these unfortunate Jews, no less than an edict of utter destruction. Just let us picture to ourselves what effects must have been produced wherever the proclamation came. Yonder comes the royal herald into a large provincial town; he blows his trumpet and proceeds at once to nail up his proclamation at the gate of the city, or in the crowded marketplace. The news spreads like wildfire, and soon it reaches the Jewish quarter of a city. See the terrified inhabitants rushing about from house to house, and at last collecting in a crowd around the fatal parchment, eager to know the worst. One in a clear voice begins to read the dreadful paragraphs amidst a silence still as death. As he proceeds, strong men begin to weep like children, mothers clasp their children to their hearts in an agony of despair, till by and by, as with one voice, all break forth into a cry of lamentation; they rend their garments and grovel in the dust, utterly overwhelmed by a misfortune so unlooked-for and so inevitable. It is easy to account for their consternation, but it is much more difficult to explain the stolid equanimity with which sinners listen to the terrible threats against them of a proclamation more appalling than that which caused such terror to Israel of old. The dread and righteous decree which must expel the sinner from the Divine presence, and consign him to the darkness of death, may not be carried into effect at once; no more was the decree of Ahasuerus; but, remember, the command has gone forth, the sword of judgment is drawn, and under that most dread edict the sinner is condemned already. "The wages of sin is death." Oh, if there was weeping and wailing throughout the provinces of Persia when that ancient proclamation was read, no less is there horror and fear in the heart of the sinner when, his conscience being roused, he at last becomes aware of his actual state, and of his terrible danger. Too many, indeed, are so absorbed with the passing nothings of this world, that they endeavour to evade all serious thought, and to forget the real perils of their present condition. But, thank God, it is not so with all. See that terrified jailer of Philippi. Why does he exclaim with such undisguised trepidation, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Surely it was because in his own conscience he had discovered the proclamation. Remember that nothing is gained by shutting our eyes to facts.
II. THE SECRET OF ISRAEL'S SAFETY; for saved, eventually, they were in spite of the foe and the terrible edict of the king. How were they saved? As their danger was due to the presence of an enemy at court, so their safety was due to the fact that they also had a faithful friend at court.
1. Let us consider their deliverer; and the first thing that strikes us about her is the fact that she was connected by a double relationship with each of the parties concerned. On the one hand she was related to the doomed race; she was one of them — a Jewess, bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh; while, on the other hand, she was also closely related to the monarch. She was his wife. Thus she stands, then, between the two — the monarch and the condemned race — and so in her own person effects a reconciliation.
2. Notice, again, that the motive which inspired her to risk her life was love for her people. One angry word, one look, and she and her people were alike lost; but for love of them she was content to risk her all!
3. She stood before King Ahasuerus, not for herself, but as the representative of her people. She approaches him, not in her royal dignity as queen, but as identified with her kindred. For us, too, there is a secret of safety, and blessed are they who are acquainted with it. Let us proceed to consider how this safety has been secured. We, too, have a Friend at Court, and, like Esther, He is possessed of a certain double relationship. On the one hand, He is bound to humanity, for He Himself is man. Voluntarily He took our nature upon Him, "He was made flesh, and tabernacled amongst us." He has identified Himself for ever with mankind; but, on the other hand, He is no less closely bound to the everlasting Father than to us. He is one with the Father from all eternity, the Son of His love, the express image of His Person. Further, observe that it was as the representative of His people that the Lord Jesus Christ undertook to perform the work that had to be done before man could be saved. Queen Esther took her life in her hand and presented herself before the king, in order to save; but our Deliverer has done much more than that — He has not risked, but given His life for the doomed race. Now observe, further, when Queen Esther entered into the presence of King Ahasuerus, we read that she found favour, or grace in his sight; but this favour was shown her on her own account, and not because she was a Jewess. Ahasuerus would scarcely, under the circumstances, have been disposed to listen to such a plea, even when advanced by his wife. What does she do? First she wins the king's favour for herself, and then she is in a position, so to speak, to transfer that favour to those whom she represents. Even so was it with our Great Deliverer when He entered within the veil, with His own blood having perfected the work of filial obedience which He had undertaken on our behalf. He was then most of all the Beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased, but the special favour with which He was then rewarded by the Divine Father was won on our behalf that it might be transferred to us. When the grace of Ahasuerus reached Esther, it reached through her the Jew; and even so when the grace of the Father reaches the Beloved Son as Representative of the human family, it reaches us also through Him. Thus indeed "the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men." You will notice that this grace thus assumes a definite form in a second proclamation made this time in favour of the Jews, whom the former proclamation had given over to death. This second proclamation, observe, does not override or conflict with the first. The law could not be abrogate.d, and yet its fatal operation had to be prevented, its condemning force was to be rendered nugatory. Here again we need to call attention to points of difference as well as points of agreement. The Gospel dispensation was not designed to abrogate but to fulfil the law. The law of God must remain unalterable, not in virtue of an arbitrary decree of Omnipotence, but because it is founded on moral principles of eternal obligation; it is only because Christ is "the end of the law to every one that believeth," that is to say, produces consequences greater and better even than the law was designed to effect, that the dread penalties of the law can be escaped under the new dispensation. Now let us observe more closely the nature of this second proclamation, for we shall find the illustration very suggestive. The first proclamation puts the whole of the Jews into the hands of their enemies, and arrays against them all representatives of the king's authority and of legal justice throughout the land. The second proclamation, on the other hand, has the opposite effect, for it puts the law on the side of the Israelites; it gives them the right to defend themselves. Thus it is that the story of this marvellous deliverance shadows forth ours with strange fidelity. For us, too, there has been issued from the throne of the Eternal Being a second proclamation. It has been nailed to the Cross of Calvary, it has been revealed in the broken body of the Son of God. First, it puts the sinner who avails himself of it right with his God; it arrays all the forces of justice on his side, and enables him find his surest protection in that which but for the work of Christ must have condemned him; and further, it puts him in a position to rise up against the tyrant sins by which he was previously enslaved, and to lead his captivity captive. From the condemnation of the law and from the cruel dominion of sin the believing sinner is equally delivered by the proclamation made from Calvary. The eternal justice of God, which apart from the Cross of Christ must have righteously demanded our punishment, now secures our safety; and we find now that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Many see that God is merciful to forgive us our sin; but how much stronger is our confidence when we see even His eternal justice, that .attribute of His from which we needs must have most to fear, arrayed on our side! And here again I think we may notice, without pressing the illustration unduly, that this second proclamation demanded a certain believing response from the Jews before it could be of any practical utility to them. The favour of the king towards the race was conveyed by the proclamation; but unless the Jews had sufficient faith in the king's word to act upon it, and to arm themselves and issue forth against their enemies, they might still have fallen an easy prey. The proclamation from Calvary is described by St. Paul as "the grace of God which bringeth salvation to every man," but it is not every one that ventures forth upon it, claims justification, and, as it were, takes his spiritual enemies by the throat because that proclamation has delivered them into his hands. Alas I how many are there still who receive the grace of God in vain! But to return to our story, let us follow the second proclamation in its journey forth from the court of King Ahasuerus. In hot haste the heralds speed on their way, for the business is urgent, and the tidings spread from city to city, until they reach the uttermost parts of the great king's dominions. Let us watch this royal messenger as he enters that same provincial town that we were visiting in our thoughts when I was describing the promulgation of that first terrible edict. See, he rides up the street in great haste, he blows his trumpet, and the people begin to gather in a crowd. What is going to happen now? Another proclamation! What is it all about? Some poor trembling Jews venture into the throng in deadly terror, lest it should prove but some fresh aggravation of their woes. "Oh, it's about these Jews again! What more about them? Are they to be given up to us at once instead of our having to wait three or four days longer?" It is in three or four different languages, amongst others in Hebrew, and signed with the king's seal See, there is one of the doomed race. His eyes fall upon the Hebrew; eagerly he begins to read, the colour comes and goes. "God of my fathers!" I fancy I hear him exclaim, "what is this?" Another glance to make sure that his eyes don't deceive him, and then away he hies to the Jewish quarter of the town. "Deliverance!" he cries, "we are delivered, we are saved, God has saved us!" The Jews rush out of their houses, the whole multitude throng to the market-place. Eagerly they listen as one reads aloud; and as sentence after sentence falls from the lips of the reader, sobs of joy and gladness are heard. Ah, that was a day long to be remembered by all. What tears of joy were shed, what songs of rejoicing were raised, what feasts they held! But what shall we say of the joy of the ransomed sinner when the proclamation of life reaches his liberated heart? He has heard the sentence of doom from Sinai, tie has felt his impotence to resist his terrible foes, and has wrung his hands in despair as the iron has entered into his soul. "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" It may be that his misery is so great that he can scarcely attend to his ordinary business, or even find an appetite for his necessary food; and if so, why should we wonder at it? Are you surprised, then, at his joy when first he reads the second proclamation, and discovers that it is really intended for him? Do you blame him for being excited? I'll answer for it, these Jews were excited enough. How could they help it? And how can he? The Jews, we read, had light and gladness, and joy and honour; and such are the blessed privileges still of him who hears the gospel "report," and believes it. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen upon him with healing in His wings — joy within, and gladness without; and honour, for are we not children of the Most High, "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together"? Honour! Yes, for all things are ours, and we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Well, now, that second proclamation has been made to us; the voice from Calvary has been spoken. On the Cross, favour has been secured for a guilty world. Have you received the report? But do you say, "I don't realise it; I am afraid it can't be for me, because I don't feel happy; I don't feel as if I were free from condemnation; I don't feel that I am saved"? Did these Jews of eld know that they were delivered because they felt happy? Or did they feel happy because they knew that they were delivered? Which? Thy happiness is the, effect, not the cause of thy safety. If thou wouldst be happy read the proclamation. Answer all thy inward misgivings by telling thy troubled heart that the good news is for thee. When we really believe a thing, we cease to look for evidence of our believing it in the effect produced in our own experience. Let me put it thus: Suppose we were to visit that Persian city shortly after the proclamation, and find there an aged Israelite of a sorrowful countenance. "Well, sir," we remark, "this, is a day of good tidings: it occurs to us that a more cheerful look might be more in keeping with the occasion." "Ah, sirs," he replies, "this is a sad, sad time with me. I can get no comfort." "Why not, my good friend? Haven't you heard all about the king's decree, and how you Jews are to stand up against your enemies; and don't you know that the king's officers are all going to defend you, and that you are safe?" "Ah!" he replies, with a mournful shake of his head, "that may be all very true, but — but — I don't realise it!" "But what has your realising got to do with it: do tell us, is it true or false? If it is true, your realisings won't make it any truer; and if it be false, your realisings won't make it true; which is it?" "Oh, no doubt it's perfectly true; but still, how can you expect me to be happy when I don't realise it?" Really, if we could have found such a man, don't you think we should have felt something like irrepressible impatience with him?
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Many became Jews, for the fear of the Jews were upon them
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.).
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