Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
VASHTI, THE SELF-WILLED, REJECTED. Esther 1.
"Oh let Your sacred will
All Your delight in me fulfill!
Let not me think an action mine own way;
But as Your love shall sway,
Resigning up the rudder to Your skill."—Herbert.
The book of Esther belongs to the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, and was probably written by Mordecai (chapter 9:20). As has been often noted, the Name of God does not occur, and is never referred to in it. But although His Name is not found, His hand is everywhere visible. It may be fitly called, "The book of the providence of God." In this brief history we have a striking confirmation and fulfillment of that principle taught in Romans 8:28: "All things work together for good... to them who are the called according to His purpose." Each of the leading persons in the book presents a separate type of character, under the unconscious but over-ruling providence of God. Men and women are free to act as they may, and while responsible for their actions, there lies behind all the great purpose of God to manifest Himself. The events in the book are thrilling: Vashti, the queen, is deposed; Esther, the orphan, is crowned; Mordecai, the despised, is honored; and Haman, the boaster, is hanged. We shall consider first the downfall of Queen Vashti.
I. Her Name. Vashti means beauty. The king desired to show the princes her beauty, "for she was fair to look upon" (v. 11). Physical as well as moral beauty is always attractive, but mere outward loveliness has frequently proved a temptation and a snare. It is a dangerous gift when there is no corresponding loveliness of spirit. It is no uncommon thing to find the most beautiful spirit in a rough and uncomely body.
II. Her Position. She was the queen of Ahasuerus, the greatest king on the earth. His name means "majestic prince." What an honor to be the sharer of the glory and riches of such a king. Ahasuerus in some respects may represent Him who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. Especially in the greatness of his influence and in the generosity of his character in making a great feast for all his princes and for all his people (vv. 3-5). And like the great Gospel feast there was no compulsion. Every one was to choose for himself as to how much or how little he was to take (v. 8). A greater than Ahasuerus is here and it is our privilege to belong to Him. Queen Vashti was not more beautiful in the eyes of her king than those are in the eyes of the King of kings, in whom the "beauty of the Lord" has been put. Being made partakers of the Divine nature we become children and heirs together with Him.
III. Her Opportunity: "The king commanded Vashti to come before him with the royal crown, to show the people and the princes her beauty" (vv. 10, 11). We are not so much concerned just now with the customs of this heathen court, with the seemliness or unseemliness of this command, but with the principles that lie underneath. Vashti held her position as queen by virtue of the king's choice and favor, just as we, by the grace of God, have been called and exalted. This command to appear before the people with the crown royal—the gift of the king—to show them her beauty, and so please the king, was giving her an opportunity of doing a most acceptable service. It was her duty as well as her privilege to obey. Is there not a similar opportunity offered us, as the royal house of the King of Heaven? Should not that beauty which the Lord our God has put upon us be shown forth for the honor of His great Name? Let your light—the light of your life—so shine before men. This is an opportunity that we will not always have.
IV. Her Rebellion. "But the queen refused to come at the king's commandment" (v. 12). The call was very urgent, for seven chamberlains had been deputed to carry it out, but she deliberately refused to obey. The reason probably was that as she, too, had "made a feast for the women in the royal house which belonged to the king" (v. 9), she did not wish to break up her present enjoyment for the sake of pleasing the king in such a small matter. How often the acts of our disobedience to God have their roots down in our self-made plans and our determination to carry them out. We have prepared a feast for ourselves and others, and things are going on beautifully when some definite call from the King comes, but we judge it unworthy of our attention meanwhile, and disobey, utterly unconscious of the terrible fruits that will certainly follow. One refusal to obey may cast us out of the fellowship of the King.
V. Her Example. "This deed of the queen shall come abroad to all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes" (v. 17). "Acts speak louder than words." Vashti, being queen, was compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses, so that her actions had far-reaching results. This is an aspect of the Christian life that cannot be too carefully considered. We, like her, walk in high places, and one false step may be to others a license to sin. "No man lives unto himself" (Romans 14:7). This is true, especially of the servant of God. As wives are to be subject to their own husbands, so must we be subject to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24).
VI. Her Rejection. "Vashti came no more before king Ahasuerus" (vv. 19-21). He made Esther queen instead of Vashti" (chapter 2:17). Her disobedience led to entire separation from the fellowship of the king. Doubtless she little imagined that this simple refusal would result in such disastrous consequences. A thought, an act, and a crown lost. How long she lived to mourn over her folly we know not, but surely her days would be spent in shame and bitterness of soul. For this same reason (disobedience) many get out of fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. There is sin in the heart, and the Lord will not hear. There has been failure through preferring our own will to the will of our Lord, and now there is no liberty of access. The failure will be all the more grievous if another has been called of Him to take our place and our crown. Hold that fast which you have as a servant, that no man take your crown (Rev. 3:11). It is possible, through lack of self-subjection, even to preach to others, and yet, as a servant, become a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27).
ESTHER, THE HUMBLE, EXALTED. Esther 2, etc.
"Obedience is nobler than freedom. What's free?
The vexed straw on the wind, the frothed spume on the sea;
The great ocean itself, as it rolls and it swells,
In the bonds of a boundless obedience dwells."—Lytton.
Esther means "star." Star-like characters are sure to be seen and recognized. Light is self-assertive. The deposition of Vashti is followed by a most exciting search for a queen. It was a search for given qualities. It was not "Whoever will may come." In this case the number was very elect. We are thankful that candidates for Heaven are not sought for on this principle. Not the beautiful, but sinners, Jesus came to call. Some of the notes in the song of Mary might well have been sung by Esther. "He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden....He who is mighty has done to me great things" (Luke 1:48, 49). Observe—
I. Her Condition. "She had neither father nor mother," but was brought up by Mordecai, her aged cousin (chapter 2:7). No one seemed further away, by birth and circumstances, from being a queen than she was. But in the mysterious providence of God the most unlikely things do happen. No one seemed more unlikely to become a servant of Jesus Christ than Saul of Tarsus. Poverty, or ignorance, or guilt are no barriers to the infinite grace of God.
II. Her Call. "Esther was brought into the kings' house" (v. 8). She is now conscious that she has been called as a candidate for a crown. Not many had such a chance brought within their reach, but still she was just one among others. In this race only one could receive the prize. It is very different with the call that comes to us through the Gospel of Christ. Every one who receives this call may also receive the crown of life and eternal honor. All that have been brought into our "King's house" will be made to rejoice in His great and gracious presence.
III. Her Character. That she was exceeding gracious and trustworthy is apparent from the fact that she pleased the keeper of the women more than the others (v. 9), and that she was true to Mordecai's instructions in not revealing her nationality. Her implicit obedience to her guardian is a noteworthy feature of her humble and submissive spirit (v. 20). This may seem a small matter, but it is just such a matter that God in His providence never overlooks. It is what we are in the secret of our own souls that shows itself when the time of strain and testing comes. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." It is in the good and honest heart that the seed of the kingdom springs up into God-glorifying fruitfulness.
IV. Her Choice. "When the turn of Esther was come to go in unto the king, she required nothing but what Hegai, the king's chamberlain, appointed" (v. 15). Certain necessary things were appointed to be given to each of those candidates for queenship, but any other thing they might wish for the beautifying of their person, or that might help to commend them to the king was not to be denied them. The others evidently required many other things to perfect their preparation, but it is noted of Esther that she "required nothing." She chose to be satisfied with those things appointed by the king. She left herself entirely in the hands of him who had the work of preparation committed to him. Her own thoughts or devices find no place here. So let us submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to sanctify us, and fit and prepare us for the presence of the King. It will fare all the better with us if, like Esther, we "require nothing" but what He has appointed, satisfied with the garment of His righteousness, even of His only.
V. Her Crown. "The king loved Esther... and she obtained grace in his sight,... so he set the royal crown upon her head" (v. 17). Her humility and faith are now rewarded by a public manifestation of the king's favor—crowned with glory and honor, although she did nothing but obey. The way to the throne was open for her whenever the king loved her. What a privilege to be loved by a king, by the King of Heaven. The love of God opens the way for us into the heart and home of God. The crown is the symbol of honor and power. Pentecost was the crowning day for the early disciples, when the tongue of fire rested on each of them, and they all received the Royal authority of Heaven, becoming partners with the King of Glory and sharers of His Kingdom on earth. To find His "favor" is to find His crown.
VI. Her Courage. "I will go unto the king, which is not according to law, and if I perish, I perish" (chapter 4:16). A testing-time had now come, when all the power and authority she possessed were needed for the salvation of those who were condemned to die. Haman had succeeded in getting the sentence of death passed upon all Jews; Mordecai pleads with Esther as their only hope, but the law forbade anyone approaching the king, on pain of death, without an invitation. Nevertheless, Esther consecrates her life to this great object, and casts herself into the breach. It was a bold step. But although the law was against her, she knew that the heart of the king was for her. This also is our encouragement in giving ourselves for the salvation of others. If, like Esther, we have come into honor and power by the grace of our king, it is also "for such a time as this," a time of salvation for others. All the authority and power we have received is absolutely needed for this great work. The Jaw of the flesh will always be against us in approaching the King as soul savers. Let us, like Esther, give ourselves entirely to it. "If I perish" in a work like this, then it is a blessed and worthy object for which to die. But she did not perish. "None perish that trust in Him."
VII. Her Conquest. She obtained favor: the golden scepter was held out to her. Then the king said unto her, "What will you, Queen Esther, and what is your request?" etc. (chapter 5:1-3). She then identifies herself with the Jews, and, pleads for her own and their lives (chapter 7:3, 4). Her request is abundantly answered; the enemy is overcome, and her people are saved. She sees of the travail of her soul and is satisfied. This great achievement reminds us of a greater than Esther, who, when the law was against us, cast Himself down in the presence of God on that awful spot called Calvary, saying, as it were, "If I perish, I perish." But God raised Him again, and made Him a Prince and a Savior. The way to such conquests is self-surrender. If we are to be the saviors of others it can only be by the sacrifice of ourselves to this end. To this end have we been called into His kingdom. "Receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of souls" (1 Peter 1:9)
MORDECAI, THE FAITHFUL, REWARDED. Esther 2-10.
"Be strong, be good, be pure!
The right only shall endure."—Longfellow.
This "little man," as the name Mordecai indicates, had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity. Little did he or his captors know what an important part he was destined to play in the kingdom of Babylon.
"God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform!"
Little also did he imagine, when he agreed to adopt his orphan cousin, that she would yet be queen in Babylon. This book of the providence of God is true to its character, being full of surprises. We shall fix our attention now on the career of Mordecai. He was—
I. Merciful. It was a very merciful act to take the girl Esther, who was an orphan, and adopt her as his own daughter (chapter 2:7). This may seem a very ordinary thing, but the sequence was extraordinary. It seemed the right thing for him to do, and he did it. That is where the point lies. He opened his heart as well as his home for her, and the blessing that is promised to the merciful came to him (Matthew 5:7).
II. Faithful. Two of the king's chamberlains had plotted to kill the king. The thing was known to Mordecai and he boldly revealed the dastardly design to Esther, who told the king in his name (chapter 2:22, 23). If one would be true to themselves and to righteousness they must be prepared, if need be, to do things that may bring others into shame and condemnation. There are those who, if they don't plot against the King of Heaven, they do it against His people and His cause. Well, if the thing is known to you there is no need for you fighting against them. Tell the King about it, who, for His own sake, will surely deal with the offenders. Be faithful to the interests of your Lord and King, and, by the good hand of God your reward will come openly.
III. Consistent. "But Mordecai bowed not to Haman, nor did him reverence... for he was a Jew" (chapter 3:2-4). He refused to prostrate himself, and give to the haughty Haman that homage which is due only to God. By this act of resistance he declared his faith in and reverence for God. Mordecai was a man in whose eyes a vile person is contemned, but who honored them that fear the Lord (Psalm 15:4). A man's faith is of no value if it does not affect his daily life. How can a man say that he believes in God if he is not ready to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Those whose lives are governed by the fear of God will not be found doing just as others do, even for "peace sake." It may seem to some "men-pleasers" but a trifle, yet if he had yielded on this point he might never have been lifted up to the place of national honor that was afterwards his.
IV. Despised. "Then was Haman full of wrath" (chapter 3:5); and when he learned that Mordecai was a Jew he "scorned to lay hands on him alone," and sought to destroy "all the Jews" (chapter 3:6). But after laying his plans for the destruction of the Jews he was persuaded by his wife to hang Mordecai on a gallows fifty cubits high (chapter 5:14). All this wrath and proposed blood-shedding because one man had courage and conviction enough not to violate his conscience and deny his God. Is the game worth the candle? No, says the man who walks by sight, and not by faith. But what says the Lord by His wonderworking providence? If any man will live Godly he must suffer persecution, because he will be guided and controlled by motives and principles that have no place in the affairs of the selfish and ungodly. This is where the shoe pinches, unless it is a good fit. The man of God will never feel comfortable in the shoes of a man of the world, and not to be in the world's fashion is in itself a cause of offence. "But blessed are you when men shall revile you for My Name's sake;" great is your reward in the heavenlies.
V. Tested. "He rent his clothes... and went into the city, and cried with a loud and bitter cry" (chapter 4:1). The death sentence had gone forth against him and all his people. It was a most terrible experience. His sackcloth and agony awakened the compassion and inquiry of the queen (chapter 4:4, 5). He was sorely cast down, but not destroyed, for his faith in God was unfailing. "If you hold your peace," he said to Esther, "then shall deliverance arise to the Jews from another place" (chapter 4:14). It was a tremendous strain that was upon him. Who was to make intercession for his helpless countrymen if he did not? If he held his peace how perhaps some other might arise, and this would be to his great shame. He left no stone unturned, but his faith was in the unfailing providence of God. The trial of your faith may be painful, but it is precious when found unto the praise and honor of God (1 Peter 1:7). Nothing is impossible with God.
VI. Honored. God begun to work deliverance for Mordecai by giving the king a restless night (chapter 6:1). The national records are read, and the report of Mordecai specially noted, and the desire is begotten in the heart of the king to reward his timely warning (chapter 6:3, 4). Who would have thought that, within one week, the man who had erected a gallows to hang this stiff-necked Jew who refused to bow to him, would be led forth by that same man, seated on "the king's horse, adorned with royal apparel, and the crown upon his head, as the man whom the king delights to honor." That same week he had on his finger the ring of authority worn by Haman, his enemy. It does not take God long to work a perfect transformation act, and turn His servants' tears and wailings into songs and praises. Not only is he saved himself, but exalted to a position of glory and power that he might be the means of saving others (chapter 8:7, 8). When any one is brought by God into a position of privilege and into a condition of power it is that great and needful things may be done by them. "I will bless you and make you a blessing" (Hebrews 6:14).
HAMAN, THE PROUD, DESTROYED. Esther 3-7.
It has been said that "pride destroys or misleads more souls than deliberate wickedness." The history of Haman is a verification of that saying of the wise man: "Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). His Name means "magnificent," but his chequered career proves that his nature was ignominious. We see him—
I. Promoted. "King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, and advanced him, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him" (chapter 3:1). The greater our privilege, the more terrible will be our downfall if we fail to walk humbly with our God. Capernaum was exalted to the highest point of privilege, but through the blindness of unbelief fell to the deepest depths of dishonor and shame. "Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Through grace, every Christian has been promoted by the King of Heaven, and has his seat above all the princes of the earth. Let us see that we walk worthy of such an high calling.
II. Easily Offended. "When Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath" (chapter 3:5). A man of his position and dignity might easily have afforded to overlook the seeming disrespect of the poor Jew; but no, his haughty pride was wounded. The more authority he got the more overbearing and tyrannical he became. Is not this how spiritual pride works? Do we think that all men are going to honor us because we have been promoted by the king? To be easily offended because we are not honored by certain men is an evidence of pride; it is a sign that we are seeking our own glory, when anger or wrath finds a place in our hearts against any one who fails to respect us as perhaps we think they should. The servant is not greater than his Lord. It is sometimes said, "He is a good man, but very touchy." Touchiness may be another name for selfishness.
III. Boastful. "Haman told them (his friends) of the glory of his riches,... and how the king had advanced him above the princes and servants of the king" (chapter 5:11). He glories in his riches, his possessions, and his position. He exalts himself because he has been advanced above the other princes and servants of the king. The men of the world who have their portion in this life have little need to boast, for such riches can soon grow wings and fly away. "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing" (Proverbs 10:2). Paul says that "Proud boasters are inventors of evil things" (Romans 1:30). And such was Haman. All unholy boasting is the fruit of impure motives. Our spiritual promotion is "not by works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9).
IV. Revengeful. "The thing pleased Haman, and he caused the gallows to be made for Mordecai" (chapter 5:14). There was still a "fly in the ointment" of Haman's glory, pomp, and pride: "All this avails me nothing so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate" (chapter 5:13). The greatness of a soul is seen in its readiness to overlook personal insults and injuries, but this man's little selfish soul could not bear it. He made no attempt to win Mordecai's favor by kindness or patience, but greedily thirsts for his Jewish blood. The feeling of revenge, or even of grudge, against another is as much opposed to true Christian experience as death is to life. It is not for us to avenge ourselves, but to commit all to the Lord, who has said: "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" (Romans 12:19).
V. Self-Confident. When the king said unto him, "What shall be done unto the man whom the king delights to honor? Haman thought in his heart, To whom would the king delight to do honor more than myself" (6:6). In the pride and self-sufficiency of his heart he could see no one more fit or deserving special honor than himself. When any one comes to this, the cup of their iniquity is just about full, and their humiliation and downfall is at hand. The principle of "suffer me first" manifests itself in many different forms, and never more loathsome than when it appears in the words or acts of a Christian worker. The law for the children of God is: "In honor, preferring one another" (Romans 12:10).
VI. Disappointed. "Then the king said to Haman, Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as you have said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew" (6:10). It was a very humbling revelation to Haman that that hated Jew, for whom he had prepared the gallows, was to be honored by the king as one more deserving than himself. God has His own way of making appointments for them that mourn in Zion, in giving them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:3). He knows how to turn our mourning into dancing, and when to put off our sackcloth and gird us with praise (Psalm 30:11). In vain does Haman spread the net before the eye of Him whose wisdom and power governs the interests of His people. All the haughty in heart will certainly be brought to shame and confusion: sooner or later will the hopes of the hypocrite be cut off. The man must be in a demoniac state of soul when the honor and exaltation of another brings such overwhelming grief and disappointment. Envy is cruel as the grave.
VII. Doomed. "So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai." (7:10). He made a pit, and dug it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made (Psalm 7:15). The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands (Psalm 9:15). The wages of sin is death. In the den of lions Daniel did not get a scar, but when his enemies were cast in they "break all their bones in pieces or ever they came to the bottom of the den." The gallows of judgment that came to Haman was just as high as the murderous purpose that filled his heart. With what measure you mete, it shall be measured unto you again. He that humbles himself shall be exalted, but he who exalts himself shall be abased. The God of grace is also the God of judgment.