AT ESTHER 'S REQUEST AHASUERUS ALLOWS THE ISSUE OF A SECOND EDICT , PERMITTING THE JEWS TO RESIST ANY WHO SHOULD ATTACK THEM , TO KILL THEM IN THEIR OWN DEFENCE , AND TO TAKE POSSESSION OF THEIR GOODS ( Esther 8:3-14 ). The execution of Haman, the confiscation of his property, the advancement of Mordecai into his place, though of favourable omen, as showing the present temper and inclination of Abasuerus, left the Jews in as great danger as before. In most countries there would neither have been delay nor difficulty. The edict which went forth on the 13th of Nisan ( Esther 3:12 ), and which could not be executed till the 13th of Adar, would have been cancelled, revoked, recalled. But in Persia this could not be done; or at any rate it could not be done without breaking one of the first principles of Persian law, the principle that "the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse" ( Esther 8:8 ). It was therefore necessary to devise a mode whereby the desired escape of the Jews might practically be obtained, and yet the edict remain unrevoked, and the king's honour be saved. At first Mordecai and Esther do not appear to have seen this, and Esther asked openly for the reversal of the decree, only representing it as the writing of Haman, and not the writing of the king (verse 5). But Ahasuerus pointed out that this could not be done. Anything short of a reversal, any new decree, he would sanction; but he could do no more—he could not revoke his own word (verse 8). The course actually followed was then devised, probably by Mordecai. The old decree was allowed to stand; but a new decree was issued and signed in the usual way, whereby the Jews were allowed and encouraged to resist those who should attack them,—to "gather themselves together, and to stand for their life; to destroy, slay, and cause to perish all the power of the people of the province that would assault them,"—and were further permitted to "take the spoil of them for a prey," or, in other words, to seize the property of all whom they should slay (verse 11). The royal posts carried out this decree (verse 14), as they had the former one; and it was publicly set forth and proclaimed in every province, that if the Jews were attacked under the terms of the one, they might defend themselves and retaliate on their foes under the terms of the other (verse 13). As the second decree was issued on the 23rd of Sivan, the third month (verse 9), and the day appointed for the attack was the 13th of Adar, the twelfth, there was ample time-above eight months—for the Jews to make preparations, to organise themselves, to collect arms, and to arrange an effective resistance.
Esther's life was now safe, and probably her cousin's too. But that was not enough. Her nation was still in danger. The royal decree had delivered the Jews throughout the empire into the hands of their enemies. In a few months, unless measures were meantime taken to check and hinder the malice of their foes, thousands of Israelites might be exposed to violence, pillage, and massacre. The thought was to Esther cruel beyond bearing. "How," said she, "can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people, the destruction of my kindred?" This was patriotism indeed.
I. PATRIOTISM IMPLIES A SENTIMENT OF SYMPATHY . Esther felt for her people, her kindred. Every lover of his country will not only rejoice in its prosperity, cherish a glow of pride and satisfaction in any great deeds of his countrymen, but will grieve over national calamities and mourn over national sins; will "sigh and cry for the abominations that are done in the land."
II. PATRIOTISM DETERS MEN FROM DOING ANYTHING THAT CAN INJURE THEIR COUNTRY . If personal advantage can be secured by any harm to his country, the patriot will spurn the thought of so profiting himself at the expense of the nation. As a citizen, whose life must have some influence, he will refrain from conduct by which his countrymen might suffer.
III. TRUE PATRIOTISM WILL LEAD MEN TO SEEK NOT ONLY THE MATERIAL PROSPERITY , BUT THE REAL AND MORAL GREATNESS OF THEIR COMMON COUNTRY . They cannot contemplate uninterested, unmoved, a state of society
"Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."
The progress of knowledge, of virtue, of true religion amongst their kindred will be sought with ardour and zeal.
IV. PATRIOTISM WILL LEAD TO PRACTICAL EFFORT TO AVOID THREATENING DANGERS . The patriot is unwilling to contemplate, to anticipate evil. But mere sentiment is insufficient, and he will exert himself to avert the evil he dreads. Especially will he use any influence he possesses with those who have the means, the power, the opportunity of assisting to secure the safety and welfare of the country. The examples of Ezra and of Nehemiah, among the children of the captivity, show us what true patriotism will lead men to undertake and do and bear. But the supreme example, alike of patriotism and of philanthropy, is to be beheld in Jesus Christ, who wept over Jerusalem as well as over the world, and who would fain have averted ruin from the city he favoured with his teaching and ministry, and in which he shed his precious blood.
Esther felt that her work was not yet done. An overconfident and sanguine disposition might have taken for granted, as we do in the mere retrospect, that all else which was requisite would follow as matter of course. She had met as yet no rebuff, had suffered no failure. Each move, well considered beforehand, had been crowned with success, surpassing the utmost that she or Mordecai had dared to imagine. In the flush of personal success, and of joy because of the safety and great promotion of Mordecai, she does not forget the larger family of her "people" and "kindred." The fearful decree is not reversed. It still overhangs the heads of thousands upon thousands. Esther feels that her mission will not be fulfilled until she has obtained the abrogation of the decree, and secured the lives of her people. In all the methods she had employed hitherto a remarkable calmness and circumspection are observable. But now a change is visible in favour of a demonstrativeness which it must have required very strong effort to keep up to this time in such restraint. Esther "fell down at the feet of the king, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman, and his device that he had devised against the Jews (verse 3). This change is interesting to observe, as occurring at the time when thought and affection left self and home for the scattered kindred of a hundred and twenty-seven provinces. This verse is the irrepressible outcry of true patriotism. It is the expostulation of vivid and tender sympathy. It is the argument of a forcible principle of our nature, which oversteps the boundaries of the personal and the domestic in order to travel much farther, and to embrace the national. It mounts by the stepping-stones of self-love and sacred family love to the love of vast numbers of those never seen nor personally known, yet in some special sense related. The passage suggests, by a leading illustration, the general subject of patriotism; and we may notice—
I. WHAT TRUE PATRIOTISM IS .
1 . It is evidently an original and ultimate principle. As soon as ever it was possible it showed its existence The fact of its presence, and operative presence, has been visible in all ages, traceable in all kinds and degrees of civilisation—among the barbarous, and among the most advanced and elevated nationalities.
2 . It is a principle of a high moral kind. A form of love above the sympathy which is between individual and individual, above that which lies between those born of the same parents, and, on the other hand, falling short of that universal love of man, as such, which is one of the very highest teachings of Christianity.
3 . It is a somewhat quickened regard for those united to us by community of race. A stronger interest in their welfare and advantage is marked by it, while divested as far as possible of any conscious reflex action or benefit to self. This affection was no doubt exceedingly strong in the Jewish race, was at Esther's time greatly intensified by adversity and persecution and natural causes, but owed its most determined hold to distinctly Divine purpose.
II. THE USE OF PATRIOTISM IN THE INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER .
1 . It must be enlarging to the heart. It must expand the affections in their outlook, which then seek the various and the distant instead of ever keeping at home. It must give greater and freer exercise to the more important moral elements of our nature.
2 . It must operate ever as a distinct corrective to some portion of the dangers of selfishness. There is much selfishness in our self-love; there is often not a little even in the family and domestic circle; sympathies may run round indeed, but in too narrow a circle. But the circle is immensely widened by this community of interest, while yet kept within a manageable area.
3 . It is able to give enough natural motive to the awakening of moral energies, which without it would have found no sufficient appeal. In point of fact, some of the grandest displays of human force, and among them that of the present history, have been due to it.
III. ITS USEFULNESS TO PUBLIC SOCIETY . There will be a vast amount of this necessarily entailed indirectly and unconsciously, as arising from the previous considerations; but, in addition, manifest practical use on a large scale will also result.
1 . It secures the prospect of bringing together to one point a great aggregate of force in emergency. It is like public opinion in action, seasoned by genuine affection.
2 . It is equal also to the converse of this, spreading, as in Esther's example, the willing benefit, the critical advantage of opportunity, of one loving, praying heart, over a vast area.
3 . Pervading the whole mass of mankind, it so divides it up and so allots it, that in place of unwieldiness a well-knit-together organisation is found. Thus it offers a strong and very traceable analogy to the body with its members.
IV. THAT IN PATRIOTISM WE HAVE ANOTHER EVIDENCE OF DIVINE DESIGN IN THE STRUCTURE OF HUMAN SOCIETY . For—
1 . It cannot possibly be attributed to mere human arrangement or compact.
2 . It does not at all really contravene either the descent of all from one head, or the fact that "God has made of one blood all nations of the earth."
3 . Its operation is not malevolent, setting "nation against nation." It is beneficent, and is ever growing to show itself more and more so, leading up to mutual service, mutual dependence, and mutual love, to the attainment of which it were very hard to see any other way so compact, so sure.—B.
Consecration, kindred, law, and folly.
In these words we have—
I. THE MANIFOLDNESS OF HUMAN CONSECRATION . "And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears ," etc. (verse 3). Emboldened by her first success, Esther goes in again to the king, again endangering her own position, and, indeed, her own life, on behalf of her people. The former time she may have been influenced by Mordecai's reminder that her own death was determined by the king's decree. Now, however, she had no reason to be apprehensive on that ground. Her second act of intercession was purely unselfish. It is a beautiful instance of goodness. The lovely queen risking her dignity, her wealth, her happiness, her very life on behalf of others; pleading with the capricious and uncertain sovereign; shedding for others, as she had not for herself, tears of tender compassion; bringing her beauty and her charms wherewith to insure the safety of the people of God. In how many ways may we serve the cause of goodness and of God. What varied offerings may we lay on the altar of the Lord! Each man must consecrate his best: the learned man can bring his knowledge, the wise his sagacity, the rich his wealth, the titled his rank, the fearless his courage, the energetic his vigour; the engaging woman can bring her charms, the loving her affection, the beautiful her beauty. Our God "has commanded our strength" ( Psalms 68:28 ). It is true that he requires of us "according to that we have, not according to that we have not" ( 2 Corinthians 8:12 ); but he asks of each of us the best we have to bring, and of what he has given us freely to give him and his.
II. THE SPECIAL LOVE WE OWE TO OUR OWN PEOPLE . "How can I endure to see the evil that shall come upon my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" (verse 6). Our Lord had on more than one occasion to teach that the affection of ordinary human friendship toward himself must give place to a purely spiritual attachment. In him we form and cultivate and magnify these spiritual affinities and relationships. Yet they are not inconsistent with special interest in those to whom the bonds of nature bind us. We know how intensely strong was the feeling of the Apostle Paul toward "his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh" ( Romans 9:1-3 ). If we do not wish to endure the intolerable pain of witnessing the "evil" and destruction of our own kindred, but wish for the joy of seeing them "walking in the truth," we must bring all our influence to bear on their hearts in the time when we can teach them, touch them, lead them.
III. THE FRAILITY OF HUMAN LAW , and, we might add, the presumption of human legislators. The decree which this great "king of kings" had just issued was no sooner published than he wanted to reverse it. He and his brother kings, indeed, professed that the law of the Medes and Persians altered not ( Esther 1:19 ), and when Esther came with her petition, Ahasuerus declared that what was "written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse" (verse 8). Technically and formally it was so; in part it was so truly. But in substance this was but a vain pretence. Measures were instantly taken to reduce the former decree to a nullity. Much of the most beneficent legislation of later years has been the undoing of what former acts had done, the repealing of old and evil laws. Solemnly and with all the forms of state we enact, and then, a few years on, with the same solemnity we repeal. Such are the laws of man.
IV. THE IRREPARABLENESS OF HUMAN FOLLY (verses 9-14). King Ahasuerus might hang Haman with great promptitude; a word from him, and the executioners were ready with willing hands; but he could not easily undo the evil work of his favourite. That bad man's work left dark shadows behind. He himself was disposed of, but what of the decree he had been the means of passing? That could not be quickly reversed, or its effects removed. The custom, if not the constitution, admitted of no formal repeal. Consequently the most energetic measures had to be taken to prevent a general massacre. The king's scribes had to be called together (verse 9); letters had to be written in every language and sent to every province in the empire (verse 9); horses had to be pressed into the service (verse 10); and then all that could be done was to sanction and encourage a stout resistance on the part of the Jews when they were attacked: they were "to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay," etc. (verse 11). This, no doubt, led to severe and fatal strife in some, if not in many, places. In truth, the king could not wholly undo what his thoughtless folly and excessive confidence had done. We never can wholly wipe out the evil consequences of our folly and our sin. We may do much to counteract , but we cannot wholly remove. Godlessness, selfishness, worldliness, vice, error, in former years, these have left their traces on our hearts and lives, and on those of others also, and all the waters of all the seas cannot wash them out. Sin may be forgiven, folly may be pardoned, but their miserable consequences flow on—who shall say how far?—in a polluting stream. It does not take a royal hand to do what is irreparable. The hand of a little child is strong enough for that.—C.
An effective advocate.
A second time Esther entered into the king's presence unbidden. A second time the king's sceptre was extended to her. Her own safety and queenly state had been secured, but her people were still exposed to the murderous decree which Haman had beguiled the king to seal and promulgate. She now appeared as an advocate for Israel. Learn here—
I. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE CLEAR AS TO ITS GROUNDS . The grounds on which Esther pleaded were such as the following:—
1 . That the edict of extermination was the device of the enemy Haman. The wicked man himself having been exposed and punished, his evil design should be countermanded.
2 . That all her people throughout the empire were as innocent, and therefore as unworthy of death, as herself. Justice and mercy combined in calling for a reversal of the cruel edict.
3 . That the destruction of a numerous people scattered through the empire would create universal alarm and confusion, and inflict irreparable loss on the king's estate. Esther's grounds of appeal were clear and strong. She had a good case.
II. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE DISINTERESTED . The queen had gained much by the death of Haman and the restored affection of the king, but she was willing to sacrifice all on the altar of her people's deliverance. Personal honour and wealth were as nothing to her so long as Israel was trembling under the uplifted sword. She presents us with a type of Christ, who "emptied himself of his glory" and offered up his life on the cross for the salvation of a condemned world. Advocacy, to be effective, must have no back-look on self.
III. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE EARNEST AND PERSUASIVE . The body in all its expressions is responsive to the soul that animates it. Cold feeling will be content with cold words and impassive features; but when the heart is swayed by strong emotion the whole outward frame will yield itself to the power of the inward force. Words, looks, movements, gesticulations, tears will all unite in expressing a desire that commands the spirit. Thus Esther, when, against the law, she again entered uninvited into the king's presence, "fell at his feet and besought him with tears." Earnestness makes short work with restrictive formalities. A full heart when once unlocked cannot but be persuasive. The whole attitude of Esther was eloquent. Such advocacy could not fail to move even an Ahasuerus. We are reminded by it of Christ's sweet, yearning, solemn prayer in behalf of his disciples as given in John 17:1-26 .
IV. THAT ADVOCACY SHOULD BE IN FULL SYMPATHY WITH THE CAUSE IN WHICH IT IS EMPLOYED . No advocate can be perfectly effective unless he can put himself in the place of those for whom he is pleading, and can plead for them as if he were pleading for himself. Listen to Esther:—"How can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?" She thus identified herself with her people and kindred. If they suffered, she would suffer; if they were destroyed, how could she live? The queen took on herself the burden of her nation. Again we think of Christ, the Divine Advocate. He became "bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh," "took on himself our likeness,'' that he might enter into our experiences, and bear our burden before God, and become an effective and prevailing Advocate. Hence his sympathy, his "fellow-feeling," his oneness, and his all-powerful intercession ( Hebrews 2:17 , Hebrews 2:18 ; Hebrews 4:15 , Hebrews 4:16 ).
V. THAT ADVOCACY FOR THE SUFFERING AND PERISHING IS THE DUTY AND PRIVILEGE OF THE GODLY . History affords many examples of noble advocacy in behalf of the justly doomed and the unjustly oppressed. Such Bible instances as Abraham's pleading for the cities of the plain, Moses' intercession for rebellious Israel, and Paul's willingness to lose himself for the sake of his unbelieving kindred, readily occur. In modern times the long and arduous advocacy of the emancipation of the slave has become memorable. To the Christian, as to his Master, Christ, "the field is the world." Men are "perishing for lack of knowledge." Multitudes everywhere are in bondage to sin and death. It should be our part to do what we can to bring "deliverance to the captives," and to "save them who are appointed to die;" and with our labours we should unite the earnest prayer of the advocate. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" ( James 5:16-20 ).—D.