Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
HAMAN'S MURDEROUS PROPOSAL
Esther 3:8-9. And Haman said unto King Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed.
REVENGE is cruel: but never more cruel than when it has its foundation in mortified pride. In the passage before us, it is carried to an almost incredible extent. Haman occupied the highest post of honor, next to the royal family, in the Assyrian empire. All the subjects in the kingdom bowed down to him. But there was a poor man, one Mordecai, who sat at the king's gate, and consequently was often passed by Haman, who refused to pay him this homage. At this neglect, Haman was grievously offended. He deemed it an insufferable insult, which could be expiated only by the death of the offender. On inquiring into Mordecai's habits and connections, Haman found that he was a Jew: and, conceiving probably that this contemptuous spirit pervaded that whole nation, and accounting it a small matter to sacrifice the life of one single individual, he determined, if possible, to destroy the whole nation at once; and, accordingly, he made this proposal to King Ahasuerus, engaging from his own resources to make up to the king's treasury whatever loss might arise to the revenue from the proposed measure.
Now this proposal appearing, at first sight, so very extraordinary, I will endeavor to set before you,
I. The commonness of it—
In every age of the world have God's people been hated, for the very reasons that are here assigned—
"Their laws are diverse from those of all other people, neither keep they the laws of the kingdoms where they dwell." This is true in part. They worship the one true and living God; and obey his laws, which are unknown to the rest of the world, or, at all events, unheeded by them. Of course, whatever laws are inconsistent with the laws of God, they disobey; because they owe to Jehovah a paramount duty of allegiance, and are bound to "obey God rather than men." On this account they are hated, reviled, persecuted: and, on many occasions, if man could have prevailed, they would have been utterly extirpated. David tells us of confederacies formed for this very purpose by all the nations around Jerusalem, each saying to the others, "Come, let us cut off the Jews from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance Psalm 83:3-8." So, in the early ages of Christianity, there were not less than ten strenuous efforts made to attain this object. And at different periods since that time has persecution raged to the utmost extent, to destroy, if possible, all real piety from the face of the earth. How "drunk the Roman Church has been with the blood of the saints," has been often seen, and would be seen again, if she could regain the power which she once possessed Revelation 17:6. She cannot endure that God should be served in opposition to her, and that his laws should be regarded as of superior authority to hers.
But we need not go back to former ages for an elucidation of this truth—
Behold any person at this time cordially embracing the faith of Christ, and conforming in all things to his revealed will; and it will soon be found that the same enmity still reigns in the hearts of men against the people of God, as at any former age. True, the cruelties of martyrdom are stayed: but private animosity is indulged as far as the laws of the land wherein we live will admit; and every person who thoroughly devotes himself to God, is made to feel its baneful influence. Paul, speaking of Ishmael and Isaac, says, in reference to his own time, "As he who was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now Galatians 4:29;" thus also must I say at this time. Our blessed Lord told us, that "he came not to send peace on earth, but a sword; for that he came to set the nearest and dearest relatives at variance with each other Matthew 10:34-36." (Not that this was the intent, though unhappily it is the effect, of his Gospel.) And thus it is, wherever the Gospel is preached with power. There is immediately "a division among the people;" and those who are "obedient to the faith" become objects of hatred and persecution to those who "rebel against the light:" so true is that saying of the Apostle, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution 2 Timothy 3:12."
Passing over the inhumanity of this proposal, as being too obvious to be insisted on, I proceed to notice,
II. The impiety of it—
The very accusation brought against the Jews by Haman shows what is the real ground of enmity against the Lord's people: it is, that they serve God, while the rest of the world bow down to idols; and that, in this determination of theirs, they inflexibly adhere to the dictates of their own conscience. This is universal among all the people of the Lord—
The man that turns aside from the path of duty, through fear of man's displeasure, has no title whatever to be numbered among the children of God. If we fear man, the fear of God is not in us Luke 12:4-5. We must be willing to lay down our life for the Lord, or else we can never be acknowledged as his disciples Matthew 10:37-39; And this inflexibility we must carry into every part of our duty.
But this preference of God to man is the very thing which gives the offence—
Where man's laws and customs are contrary to those of God, man expects and demands submission to his will, rather than to the oracles of God: and if we will not comply with his requisitions, he will use all possible means to compel us. But what is this, but a direct rebellion against God, and an usurpation of his authority? It is, in fact, a contest with God, whether He shall govern the universe, or they. Look at all the Prophets and Apostles, and see what was the ground of the world's opposition to them. They were ambassadors from God to men; and they were living examples of all that they proclaimed. Hence they were regarded as "the troublers of Israel," and were represented as enemies to the governments under which they lived Compare Ezra 4:13 with Acts 16:20-21; Acts 17:6-7; Acts 24:5; Acts 28:22. It was this adherence to God's laws that involved the Hebrew youths and Daniel in the calamities inflicted on them; and that subjected all the Apostles, with one only exception, to the pains and penalties of martyrdom. Hence, when Saul breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples, our Lord addressed him, "Saul, Saul, why persecute you me?" And hence he has declared, in reference to all his persecuted people throughout the world, "He that despises you, despises me; and he who despises me, despises Him that sent me Luke 10:16."
And this leads me to show,
III. The folly of it—
Can it be thought that such feeble worms as we shall be able to prevail against Almighty God?
Hear how God derides the vain attempt: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed; saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He who sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion Psalm 2:1-6." So said our blessed Lord to Saul also; "It is hard for you to kick against the pricks Acts 9:5." The truth is, that "the Lord Jesus holds all his stars in his right hand Revelation 2:1;" and it is impossible for any man to pluck them thence John 10:28-29. "Their life is hid with Christ in God Colossians 3:3;" who, then, shall get access to it, to destroy it? Haman, with all his power, could not prevail against the Jews, who yet, in appearance, were altogether in his hands. The whole power of the Roman empire, by whoever wielded, could not root out the disciples of the Christian Church: "nor shall the gates of Hell ever prevail" against the weakest of God's faithful people Matthew 16:18; for "HE will keep them even as the apple of his eye Deuteronomy 32:10," and "perfect in every one of them the work he has begun Philippians. 1:6," and "keep them by his own power through faith unto everlasting salvation 1 Peter 1:5." However "they may be sifted, not one grain from among them shall ever fall upon the earth Amos. 9:9." Hypocrites may turn apostates: but of "those who were really given him of the Father, our blessed Lord never has lost, nor ever will, so much as one John 17:12."
1. Those who are the objects of the world's hatred—
Realize the promises which God has given Isaiah 33:16; Isaiah 33:20-22; Isaiah 41:11-16.": and then say, "Shall I be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be as grass, and forget the Lord my Maker Isaiah 51:12-13." Dear Brethren, know that "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world;" and that, if you confide in Him, "no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper."
We have said, that it is on account of your peculiarities that you are hated. But let not those peculiarities be carried into matters of mere indifference. If to love and serve God, as Elijah did, render you peculiar, then must you, like Elijah, dare to be singular in the midst of an ungodly world. You are not to leave "the narrow path that leads unto life, and to go into the broad road that leads to destruction," to compliment or please any man under Heaven. In matters that are indifferent I am far from recommending an undue stiffness or singularity: but in relation to everything substantial, such as living a life of faith on the Lord Jesus, and confessing him openly before men, and devoting yourselves altogether to his service, I say, "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."
2. Those who are unhappily prejudiced against the Lord's people—
If you cannot see with their eyes, do not endeavor to make them see with yours, unless in a way of sober argumentation, and of candid reference to the word of God. To have recourse to derision or persecution of any kind will only involve your own souls in yet deeper guilt than you already lie under for rejecting the Gospel of Christ: and our blessed Lord warns you, that "it were better for you to have a millstone hanged about your neck, and be cast into the sea, than that you should offend one of his little ones." This is the advice I would give you: Search the Scriptures, to see what were the principles by which all the Prophets and Apostles were actuated, and what was the course of their lives: and then compare with them the principle and practice of God's people now: and if you find, as you will, a general agreement among them, though, alas! with a sad disparity in point of actual attainment among those of the present day, beware how you imitate the unbelievers of former ages, in opposing the work of God in others: for, if you do not succeed, you only fight against God for nothing; and if you do succeed, you will perish under the accumulated guilt of destroying the souls of others; for assuredly "their blood will be required at your hands."
THE FEAST OF PURIM
Esther 9:27-28. The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these too days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year; and that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
IT has been observed of the Book of Esther, that the name of God is not in it: and certainly there is not the same strain of piety pervading it as is found in the Book of Nehemiah. This perhaps may be accounted for from the circumstance of its having been written in the court of Persia, where Jehovah, the God of Israel, was not known or acknowledged. But though in this point of view it may appear more like to a mere record of facts, it does in reality contain as striking a display of God's providence as any book in the inspired volume. In explaining the feast of Purim, spoken of in our text, we must of necessity bring before you all the most leading facts recorded in the whole book; though we shall of course notice them only so far as they throw light on our main subject.
We shall consider,
I. The feast itself—
It is called the feast of Purim, in reference to a lot which was cast (the word Our signifying a lot), and which had a very principal effect in the preservation of all the Jewish people throughout the Persian dominions. But in speaking of the feast, we will distinctly state,
1. The occasion on which it was instituted—
Human, the prime minister and favorite of King Ahasuerus, was offended with Mordecai a Jew, who had refused to pay him that homage which the king had enjoined to be paid him by all his courtiers. Indignant at this supposed insult, Human sought to avenge himself, not on Mordecai alone, but on all the Jews throughout the empire. For this end, he cast a lot to determine on what day he should execute this design against them; and, having fixed the day in his own mind, obtained an order from the king that every one of them, old and young, women and children, should be put to death, and their property be delivered over as a prey to their destroyers. The Jews, informed of the edict, betook themselves to fasting and prayer: and God, in answer to their prayer, wrought a wonderful deliverance for them, and enabled them to execute upon their enemies the very evils which they themselves had been previously verse 1. It might have been expected indeed, when the king, at the request of Esther, had given liberty to the Jews to stand in their own defense, that their enemies would have abstained from any attempt against them, more especially when it was seen that the rulers of the different provinces favored the Jews: but, as Human had been hanged on the very gallows which he had erected for Mordecai, and thus had fallen the first sacrifice to his own devices, his surviving friends were determined at their own peril to carry into execution his cruel design: but God so strengthened the Jews, that they prevailed in the contest, and slew in one day no less than seventy-five thousand of their enemies, besides five hundred in the very palace of Shushan, and, on the day following, three hundred more. In commemoration of this glorious event, the feast of Purim was instituted: and from that day to the present hour it is kept, wherever there is a body of Jews to join in the celebration of it.
2. The manner of its observance—
We doubt not but that it was observed with pious gratitude: for though nothing is spoken of that, we may be well assured that the same piety which had enjoined a fast of three days to obtain the blessing, enjoined thanksgivings also, when the blessing was obtained.
But it was to be celebrated also with festive mirth. This is by no means incompatible with pious exercises, or unfit to be united with them on such an occasion as that. God himself had ordered three great feasts to be annually kept, in remembrance of his mercies; the feast of the Passover, in remembrance of the deliverance of the Jewish first-born from the sword of the destroying angel; the feast of weeks, in remembrance of the promulgation of the Law from Mount Sinai; and the feast of tabernacles, in remembrance of their dwelling in tents in the wilderness Deuteronomy 16:16; and these sufficiently show that our animal nature may participate in the joys which belong more particularly to our higher and better part, provided we keep within the strict rules of temperance, and enjoy the Donor in his gifts.
A special direction also was given, that the feast should be kept with active benevolence: the richer were not only to send portions to each other, but to provide for the poor also, who could not otherwise be partakers of the general joy. This was a very essential part of the institution, and highly proper to be observed; since we ought then more particularly to show love to our brethren, when we are commemorating God's love to us. This union of piety, festivity, and love, may be seen in the feast which Nehemiah made for the people, when Ezra expounded to them the law of God Nehemiah 8:10; Nehemiah 8:12; and it were to be wished that we, in the feasts instituted for the commemoration of still richer blessings, were careful never to separate what God in his ordinances has so plainly joined together.
The very particular injunctions given by Esther, and Mordecai, and all the principal Jews, respecting the perpetual observance of this feast, lead us naturally to inquire into,
II. The ends and reasons for which it was appointed—
It doubtless was designed,
1. As a memorial of God's goodness to them—
It was right to keep up, as far as possible, the remembrance of this mercy to all future generations. We are but too apt to forget the goodness of God to us: and we need occasional observances commemorative of them, in order to revive in our minds the impressions, which the first communication of his blessings excited in us. It was on this principle that God appointed a number of days to be kept holy under the Law; and for the same end is the ordinance of the Lord's supper appointed under the Gospel; "Do this in remembrance of me: for as oft as you shall eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show forth the Lord's death, until he come." On the same principle the Fathers of our Church have set apart certain days for the special contemplation of those mysteries, on which the salvation of the whole world depends; the incarnation, the death, the resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In truth, the Jews in all ages are equally interested in this event; since, if the design of Human had been carried into effect, the whole posterity of all the Jews in that immense empire would have been cut off in one day: and consequently they, as much as their remoter ancestors, are bound to "keep God's great goodness to them ever in remembrance."
2. As an incentive to love and serve him—
Commandments have but little effect, where love does not exist towards the authority that enjoined them. It is love alone that will constrain us to a willing and unreserved obedience even to God himself. Hence Paul urges us "by the mercies of God to yield ourselves as living sacrifices unto him;" for it is a sense of them only that will enable us to regard such a surrender of ourselves to him as "a reasonable service Romans 12:1." Now certainly the contemplation of this great deliverance could not but deeply affect the hearts of all, and stir them up to glorify their adorable Benefactor. And though, alas! at this time the feast is made only an occasion of intemperance among all who observe it, yet it ought to excite far other sentiments than those of carnal mirth, and to stimulate to far other conduct than that of riot and excess.
3. As an encouragement to trust in God—
In this view it may well be a feast to the whole world. For where can we find, except in the history of Joseph, so striking an exhibition of the ways of Providence, as in the history before us? Even long before the wicked thought was conceived in the heart of Haman did God in a most singular manner exalt Esther to the throne, that she might be able to counteract and defeat his purpose: and he enabled Mordecai also to detect and reveal a conspiracy against the life of the monarch, that he might afterwards have the influence that was necessary for the final preservation of the Jewish people. When Haman had conceived the purpose, he superstitiously "cast a lot from month to month, and from day to day," to determine the best time for carrying it into effect: and behold God, "with whom alone the disposal of the lot rests," so ordered it, that the lot should fall on the very last month, and on the thirteenth day of that month; so that there was abundant time for making the people sensible of their danger, and for accomplishing their deliverance. That the king should have a sleepless night might appear a very trivial accident; yet in the divine counsels it was an important link in the chain of his purposes, since it led to the exaltation of Mordecai at the very moment when Haman was prepared to put him to death. In a word, the courage with which Esther was inspired to go in, uncalled for, to the king, the readiness of the king to hear and answer her requests, the versatility of the courtiers, the jealousy of the king, together with many other circumstances, all led to the immediate overthrow of Haman, and the consequent deliverance of the Jewish people. How remarkable was it, that Haman himself, and afterwards his ten sons also, should be hanged on that very gallows which had been prepared by Haman for Mordecai; and that, instead of the Jews being put to death, they by the king's own authority should destroy seventy-five thousand of their enemies, besides eight hundred in the very palace of the king! All this shows, how impossible it is to fight successfully against God, and how safe they are, who put their trust under the shadow of his wings. Truly, if God be for us, we need not be concerned how many there may be against us; for "mightier is He who is in us, than he who is in the world." Only let us trust in him, and not a hair of our head shall perish.
1. To those who make a profession of religion—
You must expect, as in the days of old, that the "enmity which exists between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman" will yet show itself, and that "they who are born after the flesh will persecute those who are born after the Spirit." As you differ from the world in the laws which you obey, and in the habits you maintain, you must expect to be represented by them as enemies both to the Church and State Esther 3:8. But commit your cause to God, and he will preserve you. Your enemies may rage; but "no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper." There is an efficacy in fervent prayer, that shall bring Omnipotence to our aid: and though your trials may be great and of long continuance, yet shall they issue in more abundant joy to you, and honor to your God.
2. To those who show hostility to the people of God—
You little think whom it is that you revile and persecute: "He who hates you hates me," says our Lord; and again, "Saul, Saul, why persecute you me!" The people of God are regarded by him as "his first-fruits," which, being the Lord's property, no man was at liberty to consume: be assured therefore, that "all who shall devour them will offend; (I. e. will stumble;) and evil will come upon them Jeremiah 2:2." It were "better for you to have a millstone put about your neck, and to be cast into the sea, than that you should offend one of his little ones." Let the history before us suffice to show you, that "whose touches them, touches the apple of Jehovah's eye."
3. To those who in the midst of a persecuting world have been preserved—
Know to whom you owe it, that you have not been given up as a prey into the hands of your enemies. The agency of God's providence is secret, so that you behold it not: but you reap the benefit of it, and will at a future day see as striking interpositions in your favor as those which are recorded in the history before us. Go on then, serving the Lord without fear, and multiply your services for him as he multiplies his mercies unto you.