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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: H. Hastings Weld :: The Women of the Scriptures

H. Hastings Weld :: Queen Esther

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Picture of Queen Esther


QUEEN ESTHER OR WOMAN'S PATRIOTISM

MRS. SARAH JOSEPHA HALE


CHAPTER I.-THE TRIAL


There was mourning in Shushan, as though the shadow of death had fallen on the proud city. A cry of lamentation was heard through all the streets, and the stately form of Mordecai the Jew, clothed in sackcloth and with ashes upon his head, stood before the gate of the palace.

Within that gorgeous abode these tidings of woe had been told, and Esther the beautiful queen, grieved to the heart, had sent to inquire the cause of the mourning: she had also sent raiment to clothe Mordecai, and to take away the sackcloth that he wore; but "he received it not." (Est 4:1-4.)

Then she sent Hatach,-the favourite chamberlain of the king, whom he had appointed to wait on her,-and commanded him to learn from Mordecai what was the cause of this great affliction. And she had heard the appalling story. Haman, the Agagite, the crafty flatterer of the king, the cruel persecutor of all who opposed his plans or refused homage to his power, had plotted to destroy every Jew who dwelt in the wide kingdom of Ahasuerus. All were delivered to the massacre; and in twelve months from that time the whole race, the young and the old, the women and the children, would all be exterminated.

And Mordecai had sent a solemn charge to Esther to go in to the king and make supplication, and to make request before him for her people. (Est 4:8.)

The answer of Queen Esther was in the language of despondency-almost despair. She reminded Mordecai of a decree then in force, "that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king, into the inner court, who is not called, there is but one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live:" and, she added sadly, "but I have not been called these thirty days." (Est 4:11.)

Hatach was gone to deliver this message, and now came the trial-the bitter agony of grief and fear over the young, buoyant heart of Esther. What could she do to stay this awful catastrophe impending over her people? The law forbidding woman as well as man to approach the king without being called, joined with the fact that she had not been called for thirty days, while in that interim the destruction of the Jews had been planned,-all these circumstances were doubtless the result of the same wicked art. Haman had done all. He had doubtless learned that she belonged to this proscribed people, that she was a Jewess,-though this had been kept secret from the king,-and if she interfered, her life would be the forfeit.

Then the king, her husband, he who had during the five years of their married life been her lover and friend, who had never allowed her to be absent from his side, and seemed to live only in her smiles and caresses,-he had not asked to see her for thirty days! What could have wrought this change? Was he tired of his chosen, his wife? Was he intending to put her away as he had done her predecessor Vashti? She was repudiated for disobedience-and should Esther dare now to appear before him when she was not called,-though he might not allow her life to be taken, yet she might be banished from his bosom and his throne for ever. Oh! she dared not go.

But there came a change. Her people, her suffering, mourning people, rose before her. All these were condemned to perish. Should she think of her own peril while the life of her nation was in jeopardy? God could save by the weakest agents. He might have appointed this crisis for the trial of her faith and patriotism. She had been separated from her people and highly preferred in earthly honours,-but what was all the glory she enjoyed as the wife of the great king to the glory of belonging to the chosen people of Jehovah? No, she would not falter in her duty. She was born a Jewess; she would trust in the God of Israel, and devote her life to the saving of her people.

She raised her eyes and her clasped hands towards heaven-an expression of ineffable serenity came over her angelic features, for the strength of holy trust in God had entered her soul,-as the gorgeous hangings of blue and silver that curtained her private apartment were drawn aside, and Hatach, pale and trembling, bowed himself before her.

"What message has Mordecai returned? Fear not; tell me the whole bitter truth. I am prepared."

Her soft voice was firm in its utterance, and the faithful chamberlain felt he might speak truly; and he delivered, word for word, the message of Mordecai. (Esther 4:13-14.)

As he ended, the queen arose from her divan. There was deep sadness on her sweet face, but no faltering in her tones as she bade Hatach bear back this answer to Mordecai:'"Go, gather together all the Jews that are at present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to law: and if I perish, I perish." (Est 4:16.)


CHAPTER II.-THE PREPARATION


Those three days of fasting, and mourning, and supplication for God's grace to crown the effort of Queen Esther-what a very inadequate preparation these would have seemed to an unbeliever in the God of Israel!

Mordecai had faith in God, and from this secret spring we may trace the development of his lofty character and the course of portentous events that resulted from his conduct. Let us leave the fair Esther to commune with her own heart, and devote a few moments to the contemplation of her noble‐minded cousin; he who had been to her father, brother, friend and mentor.

Mordecai was of the tribe of Benjamin, the great‐grandson of one of the captives taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in his first conquest of Jerusalem. Mordecai was probably born and brought up in Babylon, yet he had faith in God's promises that the captives should be restored, and that Jerusalem and their Temple would yet become the glory of the world. He had taken, in her childhood, his orphan cousin, the beautiful Esther, and brought her up as his own child. Probably he hoped through her for some manifestation of the favour of God for his chosen people. The "Shiloh" was to come; and this Deliverer would be the son of a daughter of Israel. No doubt Mordecai had carefully instructed Esther in the marvellous history of her nation, and in the holy principles of its religion. When she was selected among the fair maidens of Shushan as a candidate for the royal favour, he had strictly forbidden her to "show her kindred or her people;" (Est 2:10)-perhaps he feared these might be an obstacle to her preferment. The anxiety he felt on her account is briefly but most emphatically told:-"And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what should become of her." And this for the space of a whole year; thus long were the preparations for admittance to the king.

Behold her the chosen of the great Ahasuerus-crowned his queen; still Mordecai, though not acknowledged as her kinsman, hovers around the palace where she dwells. He "sat in the king's gate," evidently looking for some important event. He had faith in God.

In this lofty mood of mind, whatever savoured of meanness, selfishness, treachery, must have been most disgusting to his soul; and thus we see why such a man as Haman would excite his unmeasured scorn.

Mordecai had detected one conspiracy against the life of the king, yet his disinterested zeal was unrewarded; while the vile flatterer, the selfish, vain, wicked Haman, had been promoted to the highest honours. "All the king's servants bowed before Haman; but Mordecai bowed not." (Est 3:2.) Faith in God sustained him in this righteous course. He would not do reverence to the base, bad man. And now, while in sackcloth and ashes he bowed before the Lord, wrestling in earnest supplications for mercy on the dear child of his heart, he felt as though the cry went up before the throne of Jehovah, who would hear and save. Faith in God made his soul strong like the oak, to endure the tempest.

But how fared it with the tender blossom that had never before been shaken by the blast? Prostrate in her deep anguish of spirit, a covering of sackcloth thrown over her delicate form, and her long hair in dishevelled masses, shadowing like a raven's wing the white marble where her beautiful head reposed, lay the fairest, the noblest queen that had ever sat on Persia's throne. The sun shone not on another woman in all the world so lovely, so highly elevated. Yet there she lay, silent, pale, lonely in her heart, as though she were already entombed. She felt there was no more trust for her in the things of this world. Had she not been endowed with all its riches and pomps, and had all its pleasures at her command? And now-where were these?

Then her thoughts went back and gathered in the early lessons of piety and patriotism her generous preserver, the noble‐hearted Mordecai, had taught her; not only taught, but instilled, as it were like colours into the flower, and blended with her very soul. She felt that it was good for her that she was afflicted; that the holiest impulses of her nature had been deadened beneath the weight of grandeur with which her queenly state had surrounded her; that she had worshipped the idols of the world, and forgotten Jehovah, her own and her fathers' God. Oh! how earnest was her cry for the pardon of her own sins-how fervent her prayers for the preservation of her poor people.

All the selfish feelings that prosperity fosters, even in the best natures, as surely as the hot sun draws from the too rank vegetation the poisonous miasma, seemed vanquished and rooted up in this overwhelming rush of generous emotions and holy zeal to serve and save others.

There is something wonderfully purifying and elevating in the generous sentiments. A soul truly benevolent has a foretaste of the happiness and glory of heaven. And never was Esther's soul so truly royal in its dignity as when she, humbly trusting in God to sustain her, resolved to devote her whole power and influence, ay, life even, for the salvation of others.


CHAPTER III.-THE PETITION


"And the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house." (Est 1:2.) Kings were kings in those days. We can scarcely, in our wildest imaginings, picture forth the gorgeous splendours that surrounded this proud successor of the great Cyrus, this Artaxerxes of history, called in the sacred Book Ahasuerus. His dominions comprised the greater part of the then known world;-"he reigned from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and twenty‐seven provinces." (Est 1:1.) He ruled as he willed; his word was law; the riches of the empire were laid at his feet; his smile was life; his frown was death.

This mighty monarch sat on his throne of gold, surrounded by the great lords of his court; Haman only, whose "seat was above all the princes," (Est 3:1) was absent. There was hushed silence in that royal presence-no one dared even whisper to his neighbour while the king was in his sullen mood. Suddenly there appeared through the balcony that opened into the inner court a light, or as it were the glory of a new‐risen star; and this vision of angelic loveliness all knew was the queen! Her exceeding beauty was arrayed in the most studied magnificence of royal apparel; yet her large, lustrous black eyes outshone the diamonds on her tiara,-nor were her pearls so lustrously fair as the delicately‐curved neck they surrounded but could not adorn. Her small white hands were clasped together, as she stood in an attitude of entreaty-her cheek pale as an opening lily, was half concealed by the shadowy grace of her long, flowing curls, that fell around her shoulders and bosom like an envious cloud over the brightness of the rising moon.

No wonder that "she obtained favour" in the sight of the king, and that he instantly held out to her the golden sceptre. (Est 5:2.)

How her pale cheek brightened like a rose in the first rays of the morning sun, and her pleading, dewy eyes beamed with deep emotions of love and thankfulness as "she drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre!"

Her sweet timidity, gracefulness, and beauty, seem to have taken captive the soul of the monarch, as he said to her, with the impetuosity of rekindled royal passion-

"What wilt thou, Queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of my kingdom." (Est 5:3.)

Her reply is a remarkable instance of the tact-in other words, the wisdom-of woman. Clear and quick like the lightning from heaven these conclusions of her mind are drawn; and man, in the pride of his reflective powers, often despises this intuitive faculty which he cannot comprehend.

Esther, with the true delicacy and discretion of this unerring tact, felt that in dealing with a proud, indolent, capricious man, she must soften and charm his temper before she ventured to say aught which would give him disquiet. She made, therefore, her simple request that if she had found favour in the sight of the king, he would come, and bring with him Haman to her banquet.

And for this she had perilled her life! To enjoy the society of her husband, from whom she had been banished a whole month, she had ventured thus! What sweet flattery was this to the king! No wonder he ordered Haman to be instantly called, and they went to the banquet.

At this feast, doubtless prepared in the most sumptuous style, there was yet something which reminded the king that his lovely and beloved queen had still in her heart an unsatisfied wish. Perhaps he read this in the subdued expression of her soft eyes, when meeting his impassioned glances; perhaps, mingling with the sweet music that breathed its entrancing melody around them, a few notes of plaintive sadness were heard. Perhaps his newly‐kindled love sought to manifest its warmth towards her by bestowing favours, when he again said earnestly at the banquet-"What is thy petition? and it shall be granted thee: and what is thy request? even to the half of the kingdom it shall be performed."

But her heart still trembled. The boon she would ask was so great-the failure would be so fearful. She must wait. She must draw her husband still nearer to her. She dared not then disturb his mood of self‐satisfied enjoyment. So she begged him to come to another banquet that she would prepare on the morrow, and then she would prefer her petition. (Est 5:8.)

This was drawing near the point. The king now knew that she had something to ask. This, probably, was the real cause that hindered his sleeping on that eventful night. He wished to ascertain what had been done or omitted since Esther first entered the palace, and for this he ordered the "book of records"-and these were read before him. (Est 6:1.) There it was found recorded that Mordecai had saved the king's life. Now the king did not know that Mordecai was a kinsman of Esther's; but as he was seeking to learn what had been done that she could complain of, he must have been in the mood to feel where wrong had been done to others. He therefore naturally inquired what reward had been bestowed on Mordecai, and learned, doubtless to his astonishment, that nothing had been done for him.

And here we are taught a lesson on the providential arrangement of all the little circumstances conducing to a great movement or purpose.

Haman had gone out from the banquet elated with wine and swelling with pride. All bowed before him till he reached the king's gate. There, in unblenching firmness, sat the stubborn Jew; the Mordecai whose cool contempt had so wounded the vanity of this chief among the princes. "And he neither stood up nor moved" for Haman! (Est 5:9.)

No wonder the wrath of this mean, envious, cruel man, was wrought up to murderous rage. He went to his home in an agony of suppressed indignation, and by the advice of his friends, planned to have his hated enemy Mordecai hung the next morning; and then he would "go merrily with the king to the banquet." (Est 5:14.) But first he must gain the king's consent to the execution of the Jew-and for this he was come into the court of the palace at the very moment the king was planning how to reward Mordecai.

The whole scene is a striking illustration of the lesson that goodness will, sooner or later, be rewarded and evil punished.

What exquisite torture Haman must have suffered while obliged to parade Mordecai through the streets, bowing down before him as the man the king delighted to honour! No wonder that, when this ceremony was over, the baffled villain hastened home mourning and having his head covered.

But still he is to enjoy a great honour-he is invited to the banquet of the queen, and there Mordecai will not intrude. Oh, blindness of sin! Is not the evil heart like a mirror, always showing within the bosom the images it fears and hates? The bad are never alone. Temptations or torments must make them always feel that the Tempter is with them.

Haman must have been in mortal terror through the feast, because of the prediction of his wife and friends; still he might flatter himself that he should escape. And when the king asked Esther to name her petition and her request, it is hardly probable Haman anticipated any evil to himself.

But when she replied, with the directness of truth and the earnestness of a soul pleading for the innocent-"Let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request:" (Est 7:3) -then he must have heard the rolling of the thunderbolt that was to crush him. He knew to what she alluded, though the king did not.

When the monarch, in his astonishment, questioned her-"Who is he, and where is he that durst presume in his heart to do so" (Est 7:5)-meditate evil against her and her people-her answer marked the unblenching firmness of a true and noble nature, that having taken the path of duty, bravely goes through the task;-"And Esther said-The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman." (Est 7:6.)


CHAPTER IV.-THE TRIUMPH


The result is known to all who have read the holy Book. "Haman was hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai." (Est 7:10)-A most fitting retribution!

The relationship of Esther and Mordecai was made known to the king, who from that time forth took the noble Jew into his service, and promoted him to the highest honours.-Between the king and his lovely, heroic wife, the most perfect confidence was restored. Indeed, from what is said by the prophet (Nehemiah 2:6) who wrote some ten or twelve years later, and who represents the queen as sitting beside the king when petition concerning the Jews was made, we must infer that she was ever after his counsellor and good angel.

But though Haman was dead, the awful consequences of his wickedness were to be met. We are taught, most emphatically, in this wonderful story, how terrible is the selfishness of the human heart, when its evil thoughts are allowed scope to work out their legitimate results. Haman's selfish vanity and wicked plan of revenge resulted, it is true, in his own destruction,-but many, many thousands of innocent persons were also the victims of his sin.

The decree for the destruction of the Jews had gone forth, and could not be recalled. One of the evils of the despotism that then ruled the world was its infallibility. The king's seal once affixed to any law,-no matter how unjust or cruel,-made it irrevocable.

What could be done to prevent the massacre of the Jews? Nothing-except to issue another decree and permit them to "stand for their lives." (Est 8:11.) This was accordingly done. Mordecai, by the earnest intercession of Queen Esther with the king, was empowered to send this permission throughout the empire-"in every province, from India even unto Ethiopia." (Est 8:9.)

Behold these messengers on their way-these "posts that rode upon mules and camels-hastened and pressed on by the king's commandment;" (Est 8:14) and remember that in every place they entered they bore a missive-not of reprieve for the Jews-but a permission for war between them and their enemies-war to the death! Every province, city, village, neighbourhood-the whole world, as it were, was to be for one day delivered up to this most awful struggle of man with his fellow-man.

All these horrors resulted from the indulgence of Haman's selfish vanity and revenge. Earnestly should we pray-"Lead us not into temptation." (Mat 6:13; Luk 11:4.)

The Jews conquered. In Shushan, the palace, they slew eight hundred of their enemies during the two days they were there allowed to continue the battle. Throughout the provinces, where one day only was given to the struggle, they slew seventy and five thousand!

More persons were killed in this one day than have perished in all the wars in which our own country has ever been engaged. It is only by such comparisons that we can bring home to our minds the greatness of the peril in which the Jews stood, and the marvellous triumph they gained over their enemies.

And this triumph was the result, under God, of the pious patriotism of a woman. Esther was deeply indebted to Mordecai for his care and zeal in her education; still, had she not possessed, and exercised too, the highest powers of woman's mind, faith in God, and love-self‐sacrificing love for her people, the Jews must have perished. This great deliverance has, from that time to the present-more than twenty‐three centuries, been celebrated by the Jews in every part of the world as a festival, called "the days of Purim," (Est 9:26) or, more generally, "the feast of Esther." (Est 2:18.)

There is a holy power in such examples of woman's worth that would elevate our sex and urge onward and upward the progress of the whole world, if we would rightly improve them.

The transcendant beauty of this daughter of Israel, or the honours, riches, and power of her queendom, none can gain. But these were transient advantages. They lasted only a few years. Ages on ages have passed since her lovely form was mingled with its kindred dust-and the gorgeous palace where she moved in her grace and glory is a shapeless mass of ruins. Had she been only the beauty and the queen, we should never have heard of her. But the memory of her self‐sacrificing devotion to the good of others-her piety and patriotism-these have made her name immortal. And these noble traits of her character every daughter of America can emulate.

Remember that true greatness is gained by the true heart, working in faith, in hope, in love, with the means and in the place Providence has assigned. And though the reward be not given here, yet for all who are faithful there is a crown laid up, and a glory, a beauty to he inherited, which the measure of this world's highest grandeur-even Esther's majesty-is only a faint representation, as though the dim Uranus were likened to the Sun.





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