The Dispersed Among the Gentiles: Chapter 1

Esther 1‑5  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 6
(Sequel to "The Captives Returned to ")
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, on which I have already meditated, we saw the captives brought back to Jerusalem, there to await the coming of the Messiah, that it might be known whether Israel would accept the Messenger and Savior whom God would send to them. In this book of Esther, we are in a different scene. The Jews are among the Gentiles still.
We will look at it in its succession of ten chapters; and, in the action recorded, we shall find—
The Lord God working wondrously, but secretly.
The Jews themselves.
The Gentile, or the Power.
The great Adversary.
1., 2.
The book opens by presenting to us a sight of the Gentile now in power. It is, however, the Persian and not the Chaldean; " the breast of silver," not " the head of gold," in the great image which Nebuchadnezzar saw. We are here reading rather the second than the first chapter in the history of the Gentile in supremacy in the earth. We see him in the progress rather than at the commencement of his career; but, morally, he is the same. Moab-like, his taste remains in him, his scent is not changed. All the haughtiness that declared itself in Nebuchadnezzar reappears in Ahasuerus. No spirit or fruit of repentance-no learning of himself—or of what becomes him as a creature, is seen in this man of the earth. The lie of the serpent, which formed man at the beginning, is working as earnestly as ever. The old desire to be as God utters itself in the Persian now, as it had afore in the Chaldean. The one had built his royal city, and looked at it in pride, and said, " Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" The other now makes a feast, and for one hundred and eighty days shows to the princes and nobles the whole power of his realm, “the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honor of his excellent majesty."
Nay more; for the Persian exceedeth. There is a bold affecting to be as God in Persia, which we did not see in Babylon. We notice this in three distinguished Persian ordinances.
1. No one was to appear in the royal presence unbidden. In such a case, had this ordinance of the realm been violated, life and death would hang on the pleasure of the king. 2. No one was to be sad before the king; his face or presence was to be accepted of all his people as the spring and power of joy and gladness. 3. No decree of his realm could be canceled: it stood forever.
These are assumptions indeed. This exceeds, in the way of man showing himself to be as God; and know we not, that this spirit will work till the Gentile has perfected his iniquity? But the hand of God begins to work its wonders now, in the midst of all the festivity and pride which opens the book. The joy of the royal banquet was interrupted; a stain defaces the fair form of all this magnificence. The Gentile queen refuses to serve the occasion, or to be a tributary to this day of public rejoicing; and this leads to the manifesting of the Jew, and of ultimately making that people principal in the action, and eminent in the earth, beyond all thought or calculation.
It was a small beginning, poor and mean in its character and material. Vashti's temper, which goaded her to a course of conduct which jeoparded her life, was the "little fire" which kindled this " how great a matter." It is a miserable, despicable circumstance. What can be meaner? The temper, we may say, of an imperious woman And yet God, by it, works results, then known to Himself in counsel, but the accomplishment of which shall be seen in the coming day of Jewish glory.
" Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will."
Vashti is deposed. She is disclaimed as the wife of the Persian; and others more worthy are to be sought for to take her placed.
Divine counsels shall be accomplished, and the fruits of grace shall be gathered.
The Jew, strange to say it, as we have seen, becomes important to the power-that is, the Persian. But more so than I have as yet noticed-important to his safety as well as to his enjoyments. For Mordecai becomes his protector, as Esther had become his wife. This we see at the close of chap. 2. The king is debtor to both. In spite of all his greatness, and all the resources for happiness and strength which attached to his greatness, he is debtor to the dispersed of Judah. They are important to him. Both his heart and his head, as I may say, have to own this.
But, if the Jew be thus strangely brought into-personal favor and acceptance, equally strangely is the Jew's enemy brought into high and honorable elevation, and seated in the very position which capacitated him to gratify all his enmity. An Amalekite sits next in dignity and rule to the king. Above all the princes of the nation, Haman, the Agagite, is preferred; why we are not told. No public virtue or service is recorded of him. It is, apparently, simply the royal pleasure that has done it. A stranger to the nation he was—a distant stranger; one, too, of a race now all but forgotten, we might say, once distinguished, in the infancy 'of nations, but now all but blotted out from the page of history, superseded by Others fad-
loftier in their bearing than ever he had been; the Assyrian first, then the Chaldean, and now the Persian. And yet, there he now is before us, an Amalekite seated next to Ahasuerus the Persian; in dignity, office, and power, only second to him.
This is strange, indeed, we may say. The great enemy of Israel, when Israel was in the wilderness, re-appears here, in the same character, in this day of Israel in the dispersion (see Ex. 17). It is strange: an Amalekite found nearest to the throne of Persia! The heart of the great monarch of that day turned towards him, to put him into a condition to act the old Amalekite part of defiance of God, and enmity against His people. We could not have looked for such a thing. This name, the name of Amalek, was to be put out from under heaven; and, from the days of David' till now, I may say, this people had not been seen. But now they reappear, we scarcely know how; and that, too, in bloom and strength, as in a palmy hour.
This, again, I say, is strange indeed. It of one in quasi-resurrection; of one whose deadly wound' was healed; of one " who was, and is not, and yet is."
The Agagite now stands forth as the representative of the great enemy, the proud apostate that withstands God, and His people, and His purposes. There has been such an one in every age; and he is the foreshadowing of that mighty apostate who is to fall in the day of the Lord. Nimrod, in the days of Genesis, represents him; Pharaoh, in Egypt; Amalek, in the wilderness; Abimelech, in the time of the Judges; and Absalom, in the time of the Kings; Haman, here in the day of the Dispersion; and Herod, in the New Testament. Exaltation of self, infidel pride, and the defiance of the fear of God, with rooted enmity to His people, are, some or all, the marks on each of them; as in a full form of daring, awful apostasy, such will be displayed in the, person of the Beast who, with his confederates, fall in the presence of the Rider on the white horse, in the day of the Lord, or the judgment of the quick. Prophets have told of such as " the king that is to do according to his own will; " as " Lucifer, son of the morning; " as " the Prince of Tyrus," we may say; as " the fool that says in his heart there is no God; " and variously beside. And the Apocalypse of the apostle shows him to us in the figure of a Beast, who had his image set up for the worship and wonder of the whole world, and his mark as a brand in the forehead of every man; whose deadly wound was healed, who was, and is not, and yet is to be.
And further, we may notice, that the purpose, as well as the person of the great adversary, stands forth in this great Haman. He must have the blood of all the Jews; his heart will not be satisfied by the life of the one who had refused to do him reverence. He must have the lives of the whole nation. He breathes the spirit of the enemy of Israel, who by and bye is to say, " Come and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance " (Psa. 83). The Amalekite and his company cast the lot, the Pur, only to determine the day on which this deed of extermination was to be perpetrated. But, as we know, the lot may be " cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord " (Prov. 16:3333The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)). And so it was here. Eleven long months, from the thirteenth day of the first month to the thirteenth day of the twelfth month-that is, from the day when the lot was cast, to the day on which the lot decided that the slaughter of the nation should take place-are given, so that God would ripen His purposes both toward His people and their adversaries.
This has a clear, loud voice in our ears. There is no speech or language, but the voice is heard. God is not even named; but it is the work of His hand, and the counsel of His bosom.
Haman finds no hindrance from the king his master. He tells the king that there is a people
scattered through his dominions whom it is not his profit to let live, for their customs are diverse from all people—the secret of the world’s enmity then and still (see Acts 16:20,2120And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, 21And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. (Acts 16:20‑21)). The decree, according to the desire of Haman, goes forth from Shushan the palace; and it spreads its way in all haste to all parts of the world, the domain of the great Persian " breast of silver." The whole nation, as the consequence of this, takes the sentence of death into themselves. The decree would have reached the returned captives, as well as the dispersion. Judea was but a province of the Persian power in that day. But they are to learn to trust in Him who quickens the dead, Who calls those things that be not, as though they were, Who acts in this world, in resurrection strength. The remnant of Israel must learn to walk in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham. It is faith that must be exercised—for the Lord will not for a while reveal Himself, though He thinks of them, and shelters them without displaying Himself.
Mordecai now appears, as the representative of this Remnant, the possessor of this Abraham-like faith, in this awful hour.
The godliness of this dear and honored man begins to show itself in his refusal to reverence the Amalekite. The common duty of worshipping only the true God, the God of Israel, would have forbidden this. And shall a Jew bow to one of that race with whom the God of the Jews had already said, that He would have war forever and ever?-bow to one who, instead of bowing himself to the Lord of heaven and earth, had even, come forth to insult His presence and His majesty, yea, and to cut off His people even before His face? Mordecai will jeopard his life by his refusal. But he it so. He is in the mind of his brethren,. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who can say to an earlier Haman, " We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our. God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou Nast set up."
This is fine in its generation truly: but finer still from its connections. For combination constitutes excellency of character. We are " to quit ourselves like men"—and yet, " let all our things be done in charity." In Him, who was all moral glory, as we have heard from others, there was " nothing salient "—all so perfectly combined. And in Mordecai we see " goodness," and with that, " righteousness." He was gracious, and tender-hearted, bringing up his orphan cousin, as though she had been his own daughter. But now, he is faithful and unbending. He will quit himself like a man now, if then he did all his things in charity. He will not bow and do reverence, at the command of the king, though his life may be the penalty.
4. 5.
The various exercises of the soul in these chapters, as we see in Esther and Mordecai, are a matter of great interest. The Hand and the Spirit of God work together so wondrously in the story of Israel, as we get it in the Psalms and in the Prophets-the Hand forming their circumstances; the Spirit, their mind. And these two things occupy a very large portion of the prophetic word. And we get living personal illustrations of this here, in the exercises of 'heart through which these two distinguished saints of God are seen to pass, and the marvelous circumstances through which they are brought.
On the issue of the fatal decree, Mordecai fasts and mourns in sackcloth. But all the while, he counts upon deliverance. Such a combination is full of moral glory. Elijah gave a sample of it in his day, for he knew the rain was at hand; but he casts himself down on the earth, and puts his face between his knees, as one in " effectual fervent prayer" (1 Kings 18; James 5:16-1816Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 17Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. 18And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit. (James 5:16‑18)). The Lord Himself gives another sample of this. He knows and testifies that He is about to raise Lazarus from sleep, the sleep of death; but he weeps as He approaches the grave. So, here, with Mordecai: he will not put off his mourning; he refuses to be comforted, while the decree is out against his people, though he reckons, surely reckons, upon their deliverance some way or another. This is another of those combinations which are necessary to character or moral glory: a sample of which I have already noticed in this true Israelite, this " Israelite indeed."
And Esther is as beautiful in her generation, as a weaker vessel. She may have to be strengthened by Mordecai, but she is tenderly, deeply, in sympathy with the burdens of her nation. She sees difficulty, and feels danger; and she speaks, for a time, from her circumstances. Nothing wrong in this. She tells Mordecai of the hazard she would run if she went into the royal presence unbidden. Nothing wrong, again 'I say, in thus speaking as from her circumstances, though there may be weakness. But Mordecai counsels her, as a stronger vessel; and he appears as one above both circumstances and affections, in the cause of God and His people. He sends a peremptory message to Esther, though he so loved her; and he is calm and of a firm heart in the midst of these dangers. He sits above water-floods in his way, in the dear might of Him who has trod all waves for us. There is neither leaven nor honey, as I may say, in the offering he is making; he confers not with flesh and blood, nor does he look at the waters swelling. His faith is in victory; and the weaker vessel is strengthened through him. Esther decides on going in unto the king. If she perish, she perishes—but she is edified to hazard all for her people. And yet, while she does not " faint " under the trial, neither will she " despise" it: for she will have Mordecai and her brethren wait in an humbled, dependent spirit, so that she may receive mercy, and her way to the king's presence be prospered.
Accordingly, at the end of the fast, which they agreed on for three days, she takes her life in her hand, and stands in the inner court of the king's house, while the king was sitting on his royal throne. But kings' hearts are in the hand of the Lord; and so it proves to be here. Esther obtains favor in the sight of Ahasuerus, and he holds, out the golden scepter to her.
This was everything. This told of the issue of the whole matter. All hung upon the motion of the golden scepter. It was the Spirit of God, the counsel and good-pleasure, the sovereignty and grace of God, that ordered all this. The nation was already as good as saved. The scepter had decided everything in favor of the Jews and to the confusion of their adversaries, be they as high and mighty, as many and as subtle, as they may. God had taken the matter into His own hand—and if He be for us, who shall be against us? " Thou shalt be far from oppression," the Lord was now saying to His Israel, " for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come nigh thee. Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me; whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn." (Isa. 54).
Esther drew near and touched the scepter. She used the grace that had visited her; but used it reverently;, and the scepter was true to itself. It awakened no hope that it was not now ready to realize. It had already spoken peace to her; and peace, and far more than peace, shall be made good to her. " What wilt thou, queen Esther," says Ahasuerus to her, " and what is thy request? it shall be given to thee, even to the half of the kingdom."
Very blessed is this. The scepter, again let us say, was true to itself. What a truth is conveyed in this! The promise of God, the work of the Lord Jesus, is as this scepter. These have gone before -pledges under the hand and from the mouth of our God, and eternity shall be true to them; and endless ages of glory, witnessing salvation, shall make them good. Nothing is too great for the redeeming of such pledges-as here, the half of the king's dominions are laid at the feet and disposal of Esther.
But her dealing with the opportunity thus put into her possession, is one of the most excellent and wondrous fruits of the light and energy of the Spirit, that we see in the midst of the many wonders of this book in all this workmanship of God's great hand.
Instead of asking for the half of the kingdom—instead of desiring at once the head of the great Amalekite, she requests that the king and Haman may come to a banquet of wine which she had prepared for them. Strange, indeed! Who could have counted on such an acceptance of such an unlimited pledge and promise? It brings to mind the answer of the divine Master, of Him who is " the wisdom of God," to the Samaritan woman. She asked for the living water, and He told her to go call her husband! Strange, it would appear, beyond all explanation. But as, we know, it was a ray of the purest light breaking forth from the Fountain of light. And so here. This answer of Esther was strange, indeed. But it will be found to have been nothing less than the witness of perfect wisdom of the Spirit that was now illuminating and leading her. It was the way of conducting the 'great adversary onward to the full ripening of his apostasy, to his attaining that mighty elevation in pride and self-satisfaction, from which the hand of God had prepared from the beginning to cast him down. Esther, under the Spirit, was dealing with Haman, as the hand of God had once dealt with Pharaoh in Egypt. The vessel of wrath had again fitted itself for judgment; and he must fall from a pinnacle up to which 'his own lusts and the god of this, world are urging his steps. Esther is the instrument in God's hand for giving him occasion thus to fill out the full form of his apostasy. Esther shows herself wonderfully in the secret of all this. She bids Haman and the king, the second day as well as the first,—only these two together; and when this was done, the giddy height was reached from which the apostate is destined to fall.
He cannot stand all this. It is too much for him. His heart is overcharged; gratified pride has satiated it. He cannot contain himself—but corruption drives him in the way of nature; a sad verdict against nature. But so it is. It was natural, that' he should expose all his glories to his wife and his friends. Flesh and blood can appreciate it; and pride must have as many courtiers and votaries as it can. And it must have its
victims likewise. Mordecai still refuses to bow; and a gallows, fifty cubits high, is raised that he may be hanged thereon.
( To be continued, D. V.)