Lessons From the Book of Esther: Part 1

Esther  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 8
"The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility." Pro. 15:3333The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility. (Proverbs 15:33).
"Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Pro. 16:1818Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18).
Suffering first, and then glory, mark the due path or history of the saint. This has been illustrated from old time. Joseph, Moses, and David may be remembered in connection with this truth. But it is the common history, in a great moral sense the necessary history, of those who adhere to God in a system or world that has departed from Him and set up its own thoughts. For such must ever be stemming a contrary current.
But there is more than this. The moment of deepest depression has commonly been the eve of deliverance.
In Egypt, the burdens of the Israelites had grown to their highest just when the Lord was preparing Moses's deliverance for them. In the ministry of the Lord, just as He was bringing redemption, the devil would commonly throw his poor captive in the midst, or cause him to cry out under a still sorer affliction. Our own souls are led to Jesus and salvation by a light which has discovered to us our full moral ruin and degradation; and in the latter day, when Israel's strength is gone, and there is none shut up and left (1 Kings 14:1010Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone. (1 Kings 14:10)), and the enemy is coming in "like a flood," then the Spirit of the Lord will lift up His standard (Isa. 59:1919So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. (Isaiah 59:19)). For, as has been said, the hour of preparation for a better order of things is not a time of favorable appearances, but the reverse.
All this, however, is happy and encouraging. The bud is bitter the very moment before it opens to the scented flower. So it is not only sufferings first, and then glory, but sufferings commonly in their sorest form just before the glory and salvation break forth.
But there is a truth standing in company with this, yet over against it, as I may say. I mean the pride first, and then the overthrow or judgment of the man of the world, and that too in the hour of his highest, loftiest arrogancy.
The builders of Babel were in one great confederacy, and the proud design which filled their heart, and which their hand was stretched out to accomplish, was nothing less than to raise a tower that was to reach to heaven. But in that hour of proudest daring, the Lord comes down in judgment (Gen. 11). Pharaoh had been raised to be the first man in the world, and in the thought of his greatness, and in the pride of his independency, had forgotten Joseph, and declared that he knew not the God of Israel. But it was then that the vials of wrath from the Lord's hand began to be poured out upon him (Exod. 5). Nebuchadnezzar walked in his palace and admired its magnificence, and said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" But the Lord was watching that evil, and while the word of pride and importance was in his mouth, he that exalted himself was abased (Dan. 4). And Herod, after all this, was lauded as a god; and in a moment the judgment of God made a spectacle of him (Acts 12).
These were awful visitations in the hour of such prosperity and mighty pride of heart. And such things are foretold in prophecies, as well as illustrated in histories. The "Lucifer" of Isa. 14, the "prince of Tyrus" of Eze. 28, the "man of sin" of 2 Thess. 2, and the "beast" of the Apocalypse, are all prophetic of the doom of a proud one in the moment of loftiest presumption.
These serious and interesting truths (the exaltation of the righteous in the moment of deepest depression, and the abasement of the proud in the hour of their stoutest self-sufficiency) may easily connect themselves with our recollections of the book of Esther. It closes the volume of the historical books of the Old Testament, and it is, of all parts of Scripture, the most full and vivid expression of these two great principles; and thus, at the close of the histories, we get in full and beautiful season, the most complete illustration of the sweet springs of the whole movement.
In the catalog of those proud ones who meet their doom in their height of pride, I might have mentioned Haman, the Agagite. He was of the genuine seed of Amalek, with whom the Lord had a controversy forever, and who of old defied the glory as it began to unfold its brightness in the gloomy desert in the freshest moments of Israel's history (Exod. 17).
Prosperity had indeed attended Haman in a remarkable manner. He had the ear, the hand, and the ring of his master, the Persian (the chiefest monarch upon earth) at his command. And his pride, because of all this, could brook no refusal; and if the servant of God will not worship, the whole nation of God's people must pay the penalty.
In the day of this Amalekite, the Jewish maiden, Esther, appears in the scene. She had been a poor captive from the land of Israel, and was now in the land of the Persian; not only, however, in the common sorrow and degradation of her people, but with a grief and affliction that were peculiarly her own. She was an orphan, and in every sense a destitute one, save in the kindness and care of her godly kinsman, Mordecai.
In process of time, without any effort or desire on her part, she became the favorite wife of the Persian king—not only without effort or desire, but after she had, like another Daniel, purposed, though in the court of the Gentile, to preserve her Nazaritism, or separation to God from the customs of the people (chap. 2:15). She will be no debtor to man. She will not, as it were, take from the king of Sodom beyond the necessary things (Gen. 14). It is the Lord, and not ornaments, that gives her favor in the eyes of all who behold her; the king himself is won, and the crown royal is put upon her head.
And yet she is simply as the Jewish maiden still, and obedient to Mordecai, in the character of the day when she was brought up by him in his own house.
This was a happy beginning. She began with herself, with a full purpose to keep herself pure. And such will be found fit for the Master's use (2 Tim. 2). Jerusalem might have boasted of such a daughter, though in the palace at Shushan. She might have stood a witness of the prophet's truth: "Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire." Lam. 4:77Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: (Lamentations 4:7). And when in further process of time she heard of the sorrows of her people, like another Moses or Nehemiah, she forgets all that was her own, the ease and security and honors of the palace, and went forth to look only on their burdens.
This was going on happily.
She who had kept herself from defilement was the one to throw herself amid the afflictions of others. She had watched against personal entanglements, and was thus free to serve. She was already girded, and waited only for a call. Right condition of every follower of Jesus. The only due and suited attitude of one called to the holy honor of serving in God's house. Esther the queen now carefully acquaints herself with the state of her people throughout the realm of the king's dominion, and casts herself at once under their burdens.
I have before hinted at the occasion of these burdens of Israel, and it is well-known. The haughtiness of the great Agagite, who at this time had the Persian monarch at command, had not brooked the holy refusal of Mordecai, the Jew, to bow down to him; and he had prevailed so far as to get the whole nation of Israel (then scattered captives through the Persian provinces) under sentence of death, which was to be executed upon them on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month of that current year.
Every Jew therefore, it may be said, carried the sentence of death in himself; a sentence, too, pronounced by a power which thought it scorn ever to change its decrees (chap. 1:19).*
We might say that this same nation of Israel has been, after this manner, wonderful from the beginning and hitherto. The burning, unconsumed bush was their symbol of old, and is their symbol still (Exod. 3). They were a people under sentence of death in Egypt, as much as afterward in Persia, and have been of late centuries in Christendom. Did not Pharaoh utter another edict for their destruction? And was not God, who raises the dead, or who can dwell in a burning bush, or walk in a fiery furnace, their only helper? And have they not in the times of modern Europe been alike wonderful? This decree of the Persian was but the expression of the common history of this people, scattered and peeled, and meted out and trodden down, whose land all the rivers in their turn, in the pride of their overflowings, have spoiled (Isa. 18).
*Persian power affected two divine prerogatives: 1) never to change its decrees; 2) never to allow mourning in the royal presence.
And as to Mordecai, the distinguished and godly Israelite of his day, the present faithful and lonely branch of the tree of God's planting, he seems to have been a genuine son of Abraham. He believed in Him who could raise the dead. "Abide ye here with the ass," said the patriarch to his servants, "and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you," though the lad was at that moment under the sentence of death (Gen. 22). And so Mordecai can surely count on deliverance coming, though the decree for destruction was speeding its way (chap. 4:14).
That time therefore was a moment of Israel's deepest depression. But the Lord, as we have been seeing, had an arrow hidden in His quiver, or the appointed, though as yet unnoticed, stone of help, amid the smoothing, polishing waters of the brook, soon to be ready for the sling (1 Sam. 17:4040And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine. (1 Samuel 17:40)).
We have seen Esther beginning well, and going on well. She was in the school of God. Communion was light and strength from the Lord Himself to her. She had strange and very blessed intimacy with Him. Not that I speak of visions, or audiences, or trances, or anything of that nature; no, nothing of the kind. In these days, I may say, "there was no open vision" (1 Sam. 3:11And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision. (1 Samuel 3:1)). But there was within her reach, what is within the reach of faith in every age, communion with God.
She could trust God, like another Shadrach (Dan. 3). If He pleased, she doubted not that He could deliver her; but whether He pleased it or not, she had but to do her duty. She could and would venture all in the cause of His service. Her soul, like Shadrach and his dear companions, was prepared for any consequences. "If I perish, I perish," says she. Precious, beauteous workmanship of the hand of God! fashioned and graven indeed as both a lovely and serviceable vessel of His house.
But more than this. Esther may be observed to stand in very near fellowship with the mind of God. She seems as though she had observed the divine method with these proud adversaries, for she takes God's own way exactly with wicked Haman. She is not in haste. She lays her plans to let the heart of that Amalekite fill itself to the brim with pride, that, according to the divine way, he might fall in the moment of its most towering presumption.
She has "the golden scepter" on her side, and with it the king's promise to give her whatever she might ask, even to the half of his kingdom. But she is patient. She bids the king and Haman to her banquet of wine. They come, and again the half of the kingdom is put within her grasp. But she is still patient, and bids them a second time.
Is this, I ask, mere patience? Is this mere calmness and self-possession, or nothing more (however excellent that would be) than the contradiction of the heat and impatience of the wicked? Is this merely virtue and a well-regulated heart, as opposed to the passionate way of a Herodias when in possession of the same offer (Mark 6:2323And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. (Mark 6:23))?
It may have been all this, but it was more. It was the way of one who knew and imitated God's ways in like cases. The Lord, in possession, as He is, of all power, is patient, and even for four hundred years can bear with an Amorite till the measure of his sin be filled up (Gen. 15:13-1613And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. 15And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. 16But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. (Genesis 15:13‑16)). So here, the one who had learned from Him, the one who had been in the school of communion, can, though in the possession of the resources of a kingdom, be patient also, and let "the man of the earth" go on to the full measure of his sin. She bids Haman and the king a second time to her banquet.
And Haman that day went forth joyful and with a glad heart. He called his wife and his friends, and rehearsed all his greatness and prosperity to them, telling them moreover, as the very climax of his haughty thoughts and self complacency, how queen Esther had again invited him and the king alone to her banquet of wine on the morrow.
This is to be much observed. I need not say how all this loftiness of man was brought down in a moment. The story is known well among us. The day of the Lord was signally upon it all.