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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary

Esther 7

 

 

Verses 1-4

QUEEN ESTHER

Esther 4:1-5;, Esther 7:1-4;, Esther 9:12-13

THE young Jewess who wins the admiration of the Persian king above all the chosen maidens of his realm, and who then delivers her people in the crisis of supreme danger at the risk of her own life, is the central figure in the story of the origin of Purim. It was a just perception of the situation that led to the choice of her name as the title of the book that records her famous achievements, Esther first appears as an obscure orphan who has been brought up in the humble home of her cousin Mordecai. After her guardian has secured her admission to the royal harem-a doubtful honour we might think, but a very real honour in the eyes of an ancient Oriental-she receives a year’s training with the use of the fragrant unguents that are esteemed so highly in a voluptuous Eastern court. We should not expect to see anything better than the charms of physical beauty after such a process of development, charms not of the highest type-languid, luscious, sensuous. The new name bestowed on this finished product of the chief art cultivated in the palace of Ahasuerus points to nothing higher, for "Esther" (Istar) is the name of a Babylonian goddess equivalent to the Greek "Aphrodite." And yet our Esther is a heroine-capable, energetic, brave, and patriotic. The splendour of her career is seen in this very fact, that she does not succumb to the luxury of her surroundings. The royal harem among the lily-beds of Shushan is like a palace in the land of the lotus-eaters, "where it is always afternoon," and its inmates, in their dreamy indolence, are tempted to forget all obligations and interests beyond the obligation to please the king and their own interest in securing every comfort wealth can lavish on them. We do not look for a Boadicea in such a hot-house of narcotics. And when we find there a strong, unselfish woman such as Esther, conquering almost insuperable temptations to a life of ease, and choosing a course of terrible danger to herself for the sake of her oppressed people, we can echo the admiration of the Jews for their national heroine.

It is a woman, then, who plays the leading part in this drama of Jewish history. From Eve to Mary, women have repeatedly appeared in the most prominent places on the pages of Scripture.

The history of Israel finds some of its most powerful situations in the exploits of Deborah, Jael, and Judith. On the side of evil, Delilah, Athaliah, and Jezebel are not less conspicuous. There was a freedom enjoyed by the women of Israel that was not allowed in the more elaborate civilisation of the great empires of the East, and this developed an independent spirit and a vigour not usually seen in Oriental women. In the case of Esther these good qualities were able to survive the external restraints and the internal relaxing atmosphere of her court life. The scene of her story is laid in the harem. The plots and intrigues of the harem furnish its principal incidents. Yet if Esther had been a shepherdess from the mountains of Judah, she could not have proved herself more energetic. But her court life had taught her skill in diplomacy, for she had to pick her way among the greatest dangers like a person walking among concealed knives.

The beauty of Esther’s character is this, that she is not spoiled by her great elevation. To be the one favourite out of all the select maidens of the kingdom, and to know that she owes her privileged position solely to the king’s fancy for her personal charms, might have spoilt the grace of a simple Jewess. Haman, we saw, was ruined by his honours becoming too great for his self control. But in Esther we do not light on a trace of the silly vanity that became the most marked characteristic of the grand vizier. It speaks well for Mordecai’s sound training of the orphan girl that his ward proved to be of stable character where a weaker person would have been dizzy with selfish elation.

The unchanged simplicity of Esther’s character’ is first apparent in her submissive obedience to her guardian even after her high position has been attained. Though she is treated as his Queen by the Great King, she does not forget the kind porter who has brought her up from childhood. In the old days she had been accustomed to obey this grave Jew, and she has no idea of throwing off the yoke now that he has no longer any recognised power over her. The habit of obedience persists in her after the necessity for it has been removed. This would no have been so remarkable if Esther had been weak-minded woman, readily subdued and kept in subjection by a masterful will. But her energy and courage at a momentous crisis entirely forbid any such estimate of her character. It must have been genuine humility and unselfishness that prevented her from rebelling against the old home authority when a heavy injunction was laid upon her. She undertakes the dangerous part of the champion of a threatened race solely at the instance of Mordecai. He urges the duty upon her, and she accepts it meekly. She is no rough Amazon. With all her greatness and power, she is still a simple, unassuming woman.

But when Esther has assented to the demands of Mordecai, she appears in her people’s cause with the spirit of true patriotism. She scorns to forget her humble origin in all the splendour of her later advancement. She will own her despised and hated people before the king, she will plead the cause of the oppressed, though at the risk of her life. She is aware of the danger of her undertaking, but she says, "If I perish. I perish." The habit of obedience could not have been strong enough to carry her through the terrible ordeal if Mordecai’s hard requirement had not been seconded by the voice of her own conscience. She knows that it is right that she should undertake this difficult and dangerous work. How naturally might she have shrunk back with regret for the seclusion and obscurity of the old days when her safety lay in her insignificance? But she saw that her new privileges involved new responsibilities. A royal harem is the last place in which we should look for the recognition of this truth. Esther is to be honoured because even in that palace of idle luxury she could acknowledge the stern obligation that so many in her position would never have glanced at. It is always difficult to perceive and act on the responsibility that certainly accompanies favour and power. This difficulty is one reason why "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." For while unusual prosperity brings unusual responsibility, simply because it affords unusual opportunities for doing good, it tends to cultivate pride and selfishness, and the miserable worldly spirit that is fatal to all high endeavour and all real sacrifice. Our Lord’s great principle, "Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required," is clear as a mathematical axiom when we look at it in the abstract, but nothing is harder than for people to apply it to their own cases. If it were freely admitted, the ambition that grasps at the first places would be shamed into silence. If it were generally acted on, the wide social cleft between the fortunate and the miserable would be speedily bridged over. The total ignoring, of this tremendous principle by the great majority of those who enjoy the privileged positions in society is undoubtedly one of the chief causes of the ominous unrest that is growing more and more disturbing in the less favoured ranks of life. If this supercilious contempt for an imperative duty continues, what can be the end but an awful retribution? Was it not the wilful blindness of the dancers in the Tuileries to the misery of the serfs on the fields that caused revolutionary France to run red with blood?

Esther was wise in taking the suggestion of her cousin that she had been raised up for the very purpose of saving her people. Here was a faith, reserved and reticent, but real and powerful. It was no idle chance that had tossed her on the crest of the wave while so many of her sisters were weltering in the dark floods beneath. A clear, high purpose was leading her on to a strange and mighty destiny, and now the destiny was appearing, sublime and terrible, like some awful mountain peak that must be climbed unless the soul that has come thus far will turn traitor and fall back into failure and ignominy. When Esther saw this, she acted on it with the promptitude of the founder of her nation, who esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt," but with this difference, that, while Moses renounced his high rank in Pharaoh’s court in order to identify himself with his people, the Queen of Ahasuerus retained her perilous position and turned it to good account in her saving mission. Thus there are two ways in which an exalted person may serve others. He may come down from his high estate like Moses, like Christ who was rich and for our sakes became poor, or he may take advantage of his privileged position to use it for the good of his brethren, regarding it as a trust to be held for those whom he can benefit, like Joseph, who was able in this way to save his father and his brothers from famine, and like Esther in the present case. Circumstances will guide the willing to a decision as to which of these courses should be chosen.

We must not turn from this subject without remembering that Mordecai plied Esther with other considerations besides the thought of her mysterious destiny. He warned her that she should not escape if she disowned her people. He expressed his confidence that if she shrank from her high mission deliverance would "come from another place," to her eternal shame. Duty is difficult, and there is often a call for the comparatively lower, because more selfish, considerations that urge to it. The reluctant horse requires the spur. And yet the noble courage of Esther could not have come chiefly from fear or any other selfish motive. It must have been a sense of her high duty and wonderful destiny that inspired her. There is no inspiration like that of the belief that we are called to a great mission. This is the secret of the fanatical heroism of the Madhist dervishes. In a more holy warfare it makes heroes of the weakest.

Having once accepted her dreadful task, Esther proceeded to carry it out with courage. It was a daring act for her to enter the presence of the king unsummoned. Who could tell but that the fickle monarch might take offence at the presumption of his new favourite, as he had done in the case of her predecessor? Her lonely position might have made the strongest of women quail as she stepped forth from her seclusion and ventured to approach her lord. Her motive might be shamefully misconstrued by the low-minded monarch. Would the king hold out the golden sceptre to her? The chances of life and death hung on the answer to that question. Nehemiah, though a courageous man and a favourite of his royal master, was filled with apprehension at the prospect of a far less dangerous interview with a much more reasonable ruler than the half-mad Xerxes. These Oriental autocrats were shrouded in the terror of divinities. Their absolute power left the lives of all who approached them at the mercy of their caprice. Ahasuerus had just sanctioned a senseless, bloodthirsty decree. Very possibly he had murdered Vashti, and that on the offence of a moment. Esther was in favour, but she belonged to the doomed people, and she was committing an illegal action deliberately in the face of the king. She was Fatima risking the wrath of Bluebeard. We know how Nehemiah would have acted at this trying moment. He would have strengthened his heart with one of those sudden ejaculations of prayer that were always ready to spring to his lips on any emergency. It is not in accordance with the secular tone of the story of Esther’s great undertaking that any hint of such an action on her part should have been given. Therefore we cannot say that she was a woman of no religion, that she was prayerless, that she launched on this great enterprise entirely relying on her own strength. We must distinguish between reserve and coldness in regard to religion. The fire burns while the heart muses. even though the lips are still. At all events, if it is the intention of the writer to teach that Esther was mysteriously raised up for the purpose of saving her people, it is a natural inference to conclude that she was supported in the execution of it by unseen and silent aid. Her name does not appear in the honour roll of Hebrews 11:1-40. We cannot assert that she acted in the strength of faith. And yet there is more evidence of faith, even though it is not professed, in conduct that is true and loyal, brave and unselfish, than we can find in the loudest profession of a creed without the confirmation of corresponding conduct. "I will show my faith by my works," says St. James, and he may show it without once naming it.

It is to be noted, further, that Esther was a woman of resources. She did not trust to her courage alone to secure her end. It was not enough that she owned her people, and was willing to plead their cause. She had the definite purpose of saving them to effect. She was not content to be a martyr to patriotism; a sensible, practical woman, she did her utmost to be successful in effecting the deliverance of the threatened Jews. With this end in view, it was necessary for her to proceed warily. Her first step was gained when she had secured an audience with the king. We may surmise that her beautiful countenance was lit up with a new, rare radiance when all self-seeking was banished from her mind and an intense, noble aim fired her soul, and thus, it may be, her very loftiness of purpose helped to secure its success. Beauty is a gift, a talent, to be used for good, like any other Divine endowment; the highest beauty is the splendour of soul that sometimes irradiates the most commonplace countenance, so that, like Stephen’s, it shines as the face of an angel. Instead of degrading her beauty with foolish vanity, Esther consecrated it to a noble service, and thereby it was glorified. This one talent was not lodged with her useless.

The first point was gained in securing the favour of Ahasuerus. But all was not yet won. It would have been most unwise for Esther to have burst out with her daring plea for the condemned people in the moment of the king’s surprised welcome. But she was patient and skilful in managing her delicate business. She knew the king’s weakness for good living, and she played upon it for her great purpose. Even when she had got him to a first banquet, she did not venture to bring out her request. Perhaps her courage failed her at the last moment. Perhaps, like a keen, observant woman, she perceived that she had not yet wheedled the king round to the condition in which it would be safe to approach the dangerous topic. So she postponed her attempt to another day and a second banquet. Then she seized her opportunity. With great tact, she began by pleading for her own life. Her piteous entreaty amazed the dense-minded monarch. At the same time the anger of his pride was roused. Who would dare to touch his favourite queen? It was a well-chosen moment to bring such a notion into the mind of a king who was changeable as a child. We may be sure that Esther had been doing her very best to please him throughout the two banquets. Then she had Haman on the spot. He, too, prime minister of Persia as he was, had to find that for once in his life he had been outwitted by a woman. Esther meant to strike while the iron was hot. So the arch-enemy of her people was there, that the king might carry out the orders to which she was skilfully leading him on without the delay which would give the party of Haman an opportunity to turn him the other way. Haman saw it all in a moment. He confessed that the queen was mistress of the situation by appealing to her for mercy, in the frenzy of his terror even so far forgetting his place as to fling himself on her couch. That only aggravated the rage of the jealous king. Haman’s fate was sealed on the spot., Esther was completely triumphant.

After this it is painful to see how the woman who had saved her people at the risk of her own life pushed her advantage to the extremity of a bloodthirsty vengeance. It is all very well to say that, as the laws of the Medes and Persians could not be altered, there was no alternative but a defensive slaughter. We may try to shelter Esther under the customs of the times; we may call to mind the fact that she was acting on the advice of Mordecai, whom she had been taught to obey from childhood, so that his was by far the greater weight of responsibility. Still, as we gaze on the portrait of the strong, brave, unselfish Jewess, we must confess that beneath all the beauty and nobility of its expression certain hard lines betray the fact that Esther is not a Madonna, that the heroine of the Jews does not reach the Christian ideal of womanhood.


Verses 5-10

HAMAN

Esther 3:1-6;, Esther 5:9-14;, Esther 7:5-10

HAMAN is the Judas of Israel. Not that his conduct or his place in history would bring him into comparison with the traitor apostle, for he was an open foe and a foreigner. But he is treated by popular Judaism as the Arch-Enemy, just as Judas is treated by popular Christianity. Like Judas, he has assigned to him a solitary pre-eminence in wickedness, which is almost inhuman. As in the case of Judas, there is thought to be no call for charity or mercy in judging Haman. He shares with Judas the curse of Cain. Boundless execration is heaped on his head. Horror and hatred have almost transformed him into Satan. He is called "The Agagite," an obscure title which is best explained as a later Jewish nickname derived from a reference to the king of Amalek who was hewn in pieces before the Lord. In the Septuagint he is surnamed "The Macedonian," because when that version was made the enemies of Israel were the representatives of the empire of Alexander and his successors. During the dramatic reading of the Book of Esther in a Jewish synagogue at the Feast of Purim, the congregation may be found taking the part of a chorus and exclaiming at every mention of the name of Haman, "May his name be blotted out," "Let the name of the ungodly perish," while boys with mallets will pound stones and bits of wood on which the odious name is written. This frantic extravagance would be unaccountable but for the fact that the people whose "badge is sufferance" has summed up under the name of the Persian official the malignity of their enemies in all ages. Very often this name has served to veil a dangerous reference to some contemporary foe, or to heighten the rage felt against an exceptionally, odious person by its accumulation of traditional hatred, just as in England on the fifth of November the "Guy" may represent some unpopular person of the day.

When we turn from this unamiable indulgence of spiteful passion to the story that lies behind it, we have enough that is odious without the conception of a sheer monster of wickedness, a very demon. Such a being would stand outside the range of human motives, and we could contemplate him with unconcern and detachment of mind, just as we contemplate the destructive forces of nature. There is a common temptation to clear ourselves of all semblance to the guilt of very bad people by making it out to be inhuman. It is more humiliating to discover that they act from quite human motives-nay, that those very motives may be detected, though with other bearings, even in our own conduct. For see what were the influences that stirred in the heart of Haman. He manifests by his behaviour the intimate connection between vanity and cruelty.

The first trait in his character to reveal itself is vanity, a most inordinate vanity. Haman is introduced at the moment when he has been exalted to the highest position under the king of Persia; he has just been made grand vizier. The tremendous honour turns his brain. In the consciousness of it he swells out with vanity. As a necessary consequence he is bitterly chagrined when a porter does not do homage to him as to the king. His elation is equally extravagant when he discovers that he is to be the only subject invited to meet Ahasuerus at Esther’s banquet. When the king inquires how exceptional honour is to be shown to some one whose name is not yet revealed, this infatuated man jumps to the conclusion that it can be for nobody but himself. In all his behaviour we see that he is just possessed by an absorbing spirit of vanity.

Then at the first check he suffers an annoyance proportionate to the boundlessness of his previous elation. He cannot endure the sight of indifference or independence in the meanest subject. The slender fault of Mordecai is magnified into a capital offence. This again is so huge that it must be laid to the charge of the whole race to which the offender belongs. The rage which it excites in Haman is so violent that it will be satisfied with nothing short of a wholesale massacre of men, women, and children. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth"-when it is fanned by the breath of vanity. The cruelty of the vain man is as limitless as his vanity.

Thus the story of Haman illustrates the close juxtaposition of these two vices, vanity and cruelty; it helps us to see by a series of lurid pictures how fearfully provocative the one is of the other. As we follow the incidents, we can discover the links of connection between the cause and its dire effects.

In the first place, it is clear that vanity is a form of magnified egotism. The vain man thinks supremely of himself, not so much in the way of self-interest, but more especially for the sake of self-glorification. When he looks out on the world, it is always through the medium of his own vastly magnified shadow. Like the Brocken Ghost, this shadow becomes a haunting presence standing out before him in huge proportions. He has no other standard of measurement. Everything must be judged according, as it is related to himself. The good is what gives him pleasure; evil is what is noxious to him. This self-centred attitude, with the distortion of vision that it induces, has a double effect, as we may see in the case of Haman.

Egotism utilises the sufferings of others for its own ends. No doubt cruelty is often a consequence of sheer callousness. The man who has no perception of the pain he is causing or no sympathy with the sufferers will trample them under foot on the least provocation. He feels supremely indifferent to their agonies when they are writhing beneath him, and therefore he will never consider it incumbent on him to adjust his conduct with the least reference to the pain he gives. That is an entirely irrelevant consideration. The least inconvenience to himself outweighs the greatest distress of other people, for the simple reason that that distress counts as nothing in his calculation of motives. In Haman’s case, however, we do not meet with this attitude of simple indifference. The grand vizier is irritated, and he vents his annoyance in a vast explosion of malignity that must take account of the agony it produces, for in that agony its own thirst for vengeance is to be slaked. But this only shows the predominant selfishness to be all the greater. It is so great that it reverses the engines that drive society along the line of mutual helpfulness, and thwarts and frustrates any amount of human life and happiness for the sole purpose of gratifying its own desires.

Then the selfishness of vanity promotes cruelty still further by another of its effects. It destroys the sense of proportion. Self is not only regarded as the centre of the universe; like the sun surrounded by the planets, it is taken to be the greatest object, and everything else is insignificant when compared to it. What is the slaughter of a few thousand Jews to so great a man as Haman, grand vizier of Persia? It is no more than the destruction of as many flies in a forest fire that the settler has kindled to clear his ground. The same self-magnification is visibly presented by the Egyptian bas-reliefs, on which the victorious Pharaohs appear as tremendous giants driving back hordes of enemies or dragging pigmy kings by their heads. It is but a step from this condition to insanity, which is the apotheosis of vanity. The chief characteristic of insanity is a diseased enlargement of self. If he is elated the madman regards himself as a person of supreme importance-as a prince, as a king, even as God. If he is depressed he thinks that he is the victim of exceptional malignity. In that case he is beset by watchers of evil intent, the world is conspiring against him, everything that happens is part of a plot to do him harm. Hence his suspiciousness, hence his homicidal proclivities. He is not so mad in his inferences and conclusions. These may be rational and just, on the ground of his premisses. It is in the fixed ideas of these premisses that the root of his insanity may be detected. His awful fate is a warning to all who venture to indulge in the vice of excessive egotism.

In the second place, vanity leads to cruelty through the entire dependence of the vain person on the good opinion of others, and this we may see clearly in the career of Haman. Vanity is differentiated from pride in one important particular-by its outward reference. The proud man is satisfied with himself, hut the vain man is always looking outside himself with feverish eagerness to secure all the honours that the world can bestow upon him. Thus Mordecai may have been proud in his refusal to bow before the upstart premier, if so his pride would not need to court admiration; it would be self-contained and self-sufficient. But Haman was possessed by an insatiable thirst for homage. If a single obscure individual refused him this honour, a shadow rested on everything. He could not enjoy the queen’s banquet for the slight offered him by the Jew at the palace gate, so that he exclaimed, "Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate." [Esther 5:13] A selfish man in this condition can have no rest if anything in the world outside him fails to minister to his honour. While a proud man in an exalted position scarcely deigns to notice the "dim common people," the vain man betrays his vulgarity by caring supremely for popular adulation. Therefore, while the haughty person can afford to pass over a slight with contempt, the vain creature who lives on the breath of applause is mortally offended by it and roused to avenge the insult with corresponding rage.

Selfishness and dependence on the external, these attributes of vanity inevitably develop into cruelty wherever the aims of vanity are opposed. And yet the vice that contains so much evil is rarely visited with a becoming severity of condemnation. Usually it is smiled at as a trivial frailty. In the case of Haman it threatened the extermination of a nation, and the reaction from its menace issued in a terrific slaughter of another section of society. History records war after war that has been fought on the ground of vanity. In military affairs this vice wears the name of glory, but its nature is unaltered. For what is the meaning of a war that is waged for "la gloire" but one that is designed in order to minister to the vanity of the people who undertake it? A more fearful wickedness has never blackened the pages of history. The very frivolity of the occasion heightens the guilt of those who plunge nations into misery on such a paltry pretext. It is vanity that urges a savage warrior to collect skulls to adorn the walls of his hut with the ghastly trophies, it is vanity that impels a restless conqueror to march to his own triumph through a sea of blood, it is vanity that rouses a nation to fling itself on its neighbour in order to exalt its fame by a great victory. Ambition at its best is fired by the pride of power, but in its meaner forms ambition is nothing but an uprising of vanity clamouring for wider recognition. The famous invasion of Greece by Xerxes was evidently little better than a huge exhibition of regal vanity. The childish fatuity of the king could seek for no exalted ends. His assemblage of swarms of men of all races in an ill-disciplined army too big for practical warfare showed that the thirst for display occupied the principal place in his mind, to the neglect of the more sober aims of a really great conqueror. And if the vanity that lives on the world’s admiration is so fruitful in evil when it is allowed to deploy on a large scale, its essential character will not be improved by the limitation of its scope in humbler spheres of life. It is always mean and cruel.

Two other features in the character of Haman may be noticed. First, he shows energy and determination. He bribes the king to obtain the royal consent to his deadly design, bribes with an enormous present equal to the revenue of a kingdom, though Ahasuerus permits him to recoup himself by seizing the property of the proscribed nation. Then the murderous mandate goes forth, it is translated into every language of the subject peoples, it is carried to the remotest parts of the kingdom by the posts, the excellent organisation of which, under the Persian government, has become famous. Thus far everything is on a large scale, betokening a mind of resource and daring. But now turn to the sequel. "And the king and Haman sat down to drink." [Esther 3:15] It is a horrible picture-the king of Persia and his grand vizier at this crisis deliberately abandoning themselves to their national vice. The decree is out, it cannot be recalled-let it go and do its fell work. As for its authors they are drowning all thought of its effect on public opinion in the wine-cup; they are boozing together in a disgusting companionship of debauchery on the eve of a scene of wholesale bloodshed. This is what the glory of the Great King has come to. This is the anticlimax of his minister’s vanity at the moment of supreme success. After such an exhibition we need not be surprised at the abject humiliation, the terror of cowardice, the frantic effort to extort pity from a woman of the very race whose extermination he had plotted, manifested by Haman in the hour of his exposure at Esther’s banquet. Beneath all his braggart energy he is a weak man. In most cases self-indulgent, vain, and cruel people are essentially weak at heart.

Looking at the story of Haman from another point of view, we see how well it illustrates the confounding of evil devices and the punishment of their author in the drama of history. It is one of the most striking instances of what is called "poetic justice," the justice depicted by the poets, but not always seen in prosaic lives, the justice that is itself a poem because it makes a harmony of events. Haman is the typical example of the schemer who "falls into his own pit," of the villain who is "hoist on his own petard." Three times the same process occurs, to impress its lesson with threefold emphasis. We have it first in the most moderate form when Haman is forced to assist in bestowing on Mordecai the honours he has been coveting for himself, by leading the horse of the hated Jew in his triumphant procession through the city. The same lesson is impressed with tragic force when the grand vizier is condemned to be impaled on the stake erected by him in readiness for the man whom he has been compelled to honour. Lastly, the design of murdering the whole race to which Mordecai belongs is frustrated by the slaughter of those who sympathise with Haman’s attitude towards Israel-the "Hamanites," as they have been called. We rarely meet with such a complete reversal of fate, such a climax of vengeance. In considering the course of events here set forth we must distinguish between the old Jewish view of it and the significance of the process itself.

The Jews were taught to look on all this with fierce, vindictive glee, and to see in it the prophecy of the like fate that was treasured up for their enemies in later times. This rage of the oppressed against their oppressors, this almost fiendish delight in the complete overthrow of the enemies of Israel, this total extinction of any sentiment of pity even for the helpless and innocent sufferers who are to share the fate of their guilty relatives-in a word, this utterly un-Christlike spirit of revenge, must be odious in our eyes. We cannot understand how good men could stand by with folded arms while they saw women and children tossed into the seething cauldron of vengeance, still less how they could themselves perpetrate the dreadful deed. But then we cannot understand that tragedy of history, the oppression of the Jews, and its deteriorating influence on its victims, nor the hard, cruel spirit of blank indifference to the sufferings of others that prevailed almost everywhere before Christ came to teach the world pity.

When we turn to the events themselves we must take another view of the situation. Here was a rough and sweeping, but still a complete and striking punishment of cruel wrong. The Jews expected this too frequently on earth. We have learnt that it is more often reserved for another world and a future state of existence. Yet sometimes we are startled to see how apt it can be even in this present life. The cruel man breeds foes by his very cruelty, he rouses his own executioners by the rage that he provokes in them. It is the same with respect to many other forms of evil. Thus vanity is punished by the humiliation it receives from those people who are irritated at its pretensions, it is the last failing that the world will readily forgive, partly perhaps because it offends the similar failing in other people. Then we see meanness chastised by the odium it excites, lying by the distrust it provokes, cowardice by the attacks it invites, coldness of heart by a corresponding indifference on the side of other people. The result is not always so neatly effected nor so visibly demonstrated as in the case of Haman, but the tendency is always present, because there is a Power that makes for righteousness presiding over society and inherent in the very constitution of nature.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Esther 7:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/esther-7.html.

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