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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Book of Esther]

AS the government of the kings of Persia was exceedingly mild, many of the Jews remained in the kingdom of Babylon. God permitted this for the spiritual good of the Gentiles, so that the latter, being brought into daily contact with the Jews, might more easily arrive at the knowledge of the true God, and be instructed in the promises made concerning a Saviour to come.

It happened, by a special dispensation of God, that many of the Jews, like Daniel and his companions in former years, were in high favour with the kings of Persia, and made use of their influence to protect their countrymen and to propagate the true faith. At a certain time it pleased Divine Providence to employ in this way a pious Jewess, named Esther.

She lived in the reign of Assuerus, in the house of Mardochai, her uncle, who had brought her up from her infancy. Assuerus, having seen her, was pleased with her beauty and virtue, placed the crown upon her head, and made her his queen. But she, by Mardochai’s advice, left the king in ignorance concerning her nation. And Mardochai who loved Esther as his own child, came every day and sat at the gate of the palace (Fig. 58, p. 352).

Now it came to pass that two officials of the palace had conspired together to kill the king. Mardochai, having discovered the plot, revealed it to Esther, who immediately told the king. The affair being examined, Mardochai’s statement was found to be true. The two conspirators were hanged, and the facts recorded in the annals of the kingdom.

Some time after, Assuerus raised a certain Aman to the highest dignity in the empire. All the king’s servants bent the knee before Aman and worshipped him. Mardochai alone did not bend the knee before Aman, as he would not give to man the honour due to God alone. Aman, perceiving this, and learning that Mardochai was a Jew, became very angry. To be revenged on Mardochai, he told Assuerus that the Jews were planning a revolt, and prevailed upon the king to publish an edict commanding all the Jews in his empire to be put to death, and their property to be taken away.

 

Fig. 58. Ruins of the Palace of Assuerus (Xerxes I.) at Persepolis.

The Jews were terrified and began to weep and lament. But Mardochai told Esther of the edict, so that she might intercede with the king for her own people.

Then Esther said: “All the provinces know that whosoever cometh into the king’s inner court, who is not called for, is immediately put to death. How then can I go in to the king, not being called?” To these words Mardochai replied: “Who knoweth whether thou art not therefore come to the kingdom that thou mightest be ready for such a time as this?” Esther, therefore, praying fervently, and abstaining from food and drink for three days, resolved against the law, to go in to the king without being called, and thus expose herself to the danger of death.

On the third day she put on her glorious apparel and wore her glittering robes, and passed through the door with a smiling countenance which hid a mind full of anguish and exceeding great fear. But when the king had lifted up his face, and with burning eyes had shown the wrath of his heart, Esther sank down and rested her head upon her handmaid. Then the king was seized with pity. He leaped from his throne, upheld her in his arms and said: “What is the matter, Esther? I am thy brother, fear not! Thou shalt not die, for this law is not made for thee, but for all others. What wilt thou, queen Esther?” She, recovering herself, answered: “If it please the king, I beseech thee to come to me this day, and Aman with thee, to the banquet which I have prepared.”

The king acceded to her wish; and during the repast he desired to know her request. She answered: “If it please the king to give me what I ask, and to fulfil my petition, let the king and Aman come again to the banquet which I have prepared them, and to-morrow I will open my mind to the king.” The king promised to do so, and Aman left the palace with a joyful heart. But in going out he saw Mardochai sitting at the door of the palace. And because Mardochai would not bow down before him like the others, he was filled with rage; and going home to his house, ordered a gallows fifty cubits high to be erected whereon to hang Mardochai on the following morning.

Now it happened that the king could not sleep that night, and to divert his mind he ordered the annals of his reign to be read to him. When the reader came to the place which related how Mardochai had discovered the plot against the king’s life, Assuerus suddenly asked what reward Mardochai had received for this important service. He was told that the man had never received any reward. Then the king called for Aman, whom he asked what ought to be done to honour the man whom the king desired to honour.

Aman, supposing that there was question of himself, said that the man whom the king desired to honour ought to be clothed with the king’s apparel, and be set upon the king’s horse, and have the royal crown put upon his head, and that the first of the king’s princes and nobles should hold his horse, and, going through the streets of the city, they should proclaim before him: “Thus shall he be honoured, whom the king hath a mind to honour!”

Then the king said to him: “Make haste and take the robe and the horse, and do as thou hast spoken to Mardochai, the Jew, who sitteth before the gate of the palace.”

Aman was surprised and enraged to hear these words, but he dared not disobey the word of the king. He went, therefore, and did as he was ordered. Meanwhile the hour came for the queen’s banquet, and Aman went thither in all haste.

While they sat at the table the king said again to the queen: “What is thy petition, Esther, that it may be granted thee? Although thou ask the half of my kingdom thou shalt have it.” Esther replied: “If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, give me my life, for which I ask, and my people for which I request. For we are given up, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish.”

The king, in surprise, asked: “Who is this, and of what power, that he should dare to do these things?” Esther answered: “It is Aman that is our most wicked enemy.” But Aman, hearing what the queen said, was seized with terror. The king arose from the table in great wrath. Being told by one of the attendants that Aman had prepared a gibbet fifty cubits high whereon to hang Mardochai, he ordered Aman himself to be hanged upon it.

The same day king Assuerus raised Mardochai to the high dignity which Aman had held, and the edict against the Jews was immediately revoked. The Jews rejoiced beyond measure at their unexpected deliverance, and many of the Gentiles, seeing how wonderfully God protected them, embraced their religion.

The Goodness and Providence of God extended itself not only to the Jews who returned to Judæa, but also to those who remained behind in the pagan country. He protected them, and rescued them completely from the destruction planned against them by Aman. Their deliverance was really wonderful; for Divine Providence so adapted circumstances that the projected plan of massacre was simply brought to nought. By God’s Providence Esther was raised to be queen. Again, it was by His Providence that Mardochai discovered the conspirators’ plot; and also that the annals of the reign were read to the king that night when he could not sleep, the name of Mardochai being thus recalled to him. By His grace God changed the anger of the king to gentleness, and moved him to grant Esther’s petition. So also it was God who turned the plans of wicked Aman to his own shame, saved His people from destruction, and made His name glorious among the Gentiles.

Pride is, firstly, a capital sin which leads to many other sins. See what a number of sins Aman’s pride led him to commit. It made him hate Mardochai, and extend his hatred to all the Jews. He calumniated them to the king, and obtained thereby an unjust edict for their massacre. His blind hatred grew to such an extent that he could not even wait for the day of the general massacre of the Jews, but wished to have Mardochai hanged at once.

Pride, moreover, makes men unhappy and discontented. Aman possessed riches, power and honours, and was held to be the most fortunate of men. But this highly-favoured man was discontented, and thought himself ill-used, because one individual Jew refused to pay him the homage that was paid to him by others. His injured pride embittered his life, and gave him sleepless nights.

Pride, thirdly, leads to humiliation and downfall. In Aman were fulfilled the words of Scripture: “Pride goeth before destruction, and the spirit is lifted up before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). His pride paved the way to his utter abasement. Imagining that he himself must be the man whom the king wished most to honour, he obtained really royal honours for his enemy, and had to pay this honour himself to the hated Mardochai, and proclaim his glory to the whole city. His injured pride made him desire the destruction of the Jews; but this bloodthirsty project led to his downfall and ignominious death.

The four cardinal virtues. This story affords a shining example of each of these virtues.

1. Prudence. Mardochai, Esther and all the Jews acted very prudently, because in their hour of need and peril they had recourse to prayer and fasting. They were convinced that these good works were pleasing to God, and that they would thereby obtain help and deliverance at the hands of the Almighty. They also used every human means of help which prudence suggested.

2. Justice. The king fulfilled a duty imposed by justice when he rewarded Mardochai who had saved his life, and punished Aman who had induced him to issue a cruel and murderous edict. It was also an act of justice on his part, when, having assured himself of the innocence of the Jews, he recalled and annulled the edict.

3. Temperance. Assuerus practised this virtue when, obedient to divine grace, he subdued his rising anger against Esther and listened favourably to her petition. But Aman, on the other hand, sinned against this virtue, when he let himself be carried away by his anger against Mardochai, and conceived the atrocious project of having every Jew in the kingdom massacred.

4. Fortitude. Esther, though raised to be queen, remained humble, pious, and full of confidence in God. This made her valiantly risk her life in order to save her people. She knew that the passionate king would be in a violent rage when she appeared, unsummoned, in his presence, but she prayed, and hoped that God would soften the king’s heart; nor was her trust misplaced. Confidence in God gives fortitude.

Esther is a type of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary. Esther, on account of her beauty, was raised from her low estate to be queen: Mary, on account of the beauty of her pure and humble heart, was raised to be the Mother of the Redeemer, and afterwards, Queen of Heaven. Esther alone was exempted from the king’s severe law: Mary alone is exempted from the curse of original sin. Esther, adorned in splendid garments, went before the king, prayed for her people, and was heard: Mary, the Queen of Heaven, radiant with virtues and merits, goes before the throne of God to intercede for her people.

Concealing sin. Was it right of Mardochai to reveal the conspiracy against the king’s life which he had discovered? He was doubly bound to do so, both as a servant of God and as a servant of the king. To conceal the sin of others, when you can prevent it by revealing it, is one of the nine ways of sharing in the guilt of others.

APPLICATION. Are you easily moved to anger? Have you in anger insulted, struck, or wished ill to others? Just observe the words and actions of an angry man, and you will see what a hateful passion anger is. Do not allow yourself to be ever carried away by it, but suppress its very first movements. If the angry impulse comes, be silent, and say within yourself: O gentle Jesus, have mercy on me and help me to overcome anger.








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