By J.R. Miller
Esther 3 and 4
The Book of Esther opens a window into Oriental life. It shows us also something of the sadness and debasement of woman's condition in those days. At first thought, Esther seems to have had an enviable experience in being chosen because of her beauty, to be the queen of Xerxes. But when we understand better what her position really was, we see that she was not to be envied--but pitied rather. Esther's story in the light of Christianity, is a sad one. Nor can we hold her up as an ideal woman. Yet there is value in the study of her story, as it shows by contrast--what Christianity has done for woman.
The book in its introduction tells the story of the deposing of Vashti, the former queen. Our sympathies are with the wronged queen. We can have only condemnation and contempt for the heathen king. We learn also how it was undertaken to find another beautiful woman to take Vashti's place. In all the provinces of the kingdom the fairest virgin was sought for the king. Esther appeared to win a great prize--but no lowly Christian girl today, would want to exchange places with her.
Mordecai is the real hero of the Book of Esther and the deliverer of the Jews. Not much is told of him. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a captive and lived in Shushan, or Susa, the Persian capital. Esther had been brought up by Mordecai as his own child. Yet Esther was forbidden to reveal in the palace either her relation to Mordecai or her nationality. Mordecai was in close communication with the palace. He discovered a plot against the king and defeated it, his name being recorded in the chronicles.
We do not know what Haman had done to win the king's favor. He was rich, and possibly had been liberal with his gifts to the king. For some reason, at least, the king wished Haman honored, and wherever he went every one bowed down to him--everybody but one man. Mordecai did no reverence to the proud official. Mordecai was a Jew--and Haman was an Amakelite; hence probably the bitter enmity between these two men. All the attendants and courtiers did honor to the grand official as he passed backward and forward--all except this Jew, who refused to bend the knee to him. Haman, writhing under the insult continually repeated, determined upon revenge and conspired to kill not Mordecai only--but all the Jews in the realm. He obtained the king's signature to the decree, and it was promulgated and the time fixed for the extermination of the hated race. Mordecai sent to Esther a copy of the edict, informing her of the plot, and charged her to go in unto the king and plead for her people.
Esther reminded Mordecai at once of the difficulties in the way. She referred to the custom observed in such matters. "All the king's servants ... do know, that whoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law for him, that he be put to death." The only people admitted to the king were those for whom he himself sent, and Esther had not been invited. "I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days." The fact that she had not been invited to come for so long a time, was disheartening. "There must be some reason for it," she thought. Esther would better not have stopped at all to think about these difficulties in the way. Considering the perils in our way--is apt to make us grow faint-hearted. Ofttimes, as it proved in Esther's case, the perils will vanish if we go forward.
Mordecai was not disposed to release Esther from her obligation. So he sent a messenger reminding her that her own life was in bond in this matter. "Think not with yourself that you shall escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews." She might meet death if she ventured into the king's presence; certainly she would meet death if she sat still where she was and did nothing. She was one of those upon whom the sentence had been pronounced in the king's decree, and even the palace and the royal robes she wore, would not protect her. Many people hesitate to come to Christ. They fear He will not receive them. They think it will be hard to live a Christian life. They count the crosses, the self-denials, the duties, and the long way of struggle and battle. But suppose they do not come to Christ at all--what then? Is there no danger in staying away? If you sit still where you are, will you be saved?
Sometimes silence is very costly. Often, no doubt, silence is better than speech. The old proverb says that while speech is silvern, silence is golden. Many times we will sin--if we speak. But here is one time when it was a sin not to speak. So in every life there are times when to be silent--is to fail in duty. We are to speak out on all occasions when the glory of Christ requires it. We should never be afraid to speak a word of warning to one who is in danger. We should never hesitate to speak boldly in confession of Christ, when all about us are Christ's enemies. We have many cautions about watching our speech and withholding words that are not good--but we must beware of silence about the eternal things. We scarcely ever lack words when the themes are light and trivial; let us not fail amid the light and trivial talk to speak earnest words which shall not be forgotten.
Mordecai reminded Esther further that she was not God's last resort. "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" If one messenger proves unworthy of the trust reposed in him, another is found, and the purpose moves on to its fulfillment--but he who has faltered is trodden down by the marching hosts behind him. The only safe way in life's thronging field--is straight on in the path of duty. No danger of the battle is so great as the danger of halting and turning back. No duty, however hard, should be feared half so much--as failure in the duty. We should never shrink half so much from responsibility which seems too great for us as from the shirking of the responsibility. In the end it is always easier and infinitely safer to do our duty, whatever the cost--than not to do it. God can get along without us--but we cannot get along without Him, and to fall out of the line in life's crowded pathway, is to lose everything. To neglect opportunities, is to throw away honors and crowns.
Mordecai went a step farther and reminded Esther that probably she had been born and raised up for this very task. "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Every one is born for something, some particular duty or task. Someone speaks of Stephen as having been born and trained that he might make one speech of thirty minutes in length. God has His people ready in their place when He wants to use them. If we are true to God, doing His will day by day--we are always in the place where He wants us, and wherever we are--He has some work for us to do. When we find ourselves in the presence of any human need or sorrow, we may say, "God sent me here just now to bring relief or to give help or comfort to this person."
We sometimes wonder at the strange ways of Providence, by which we are carried into this place or that. Is there not a key here to this mystery? It certainly was a strange Providence that led Esther, the lowly, simple-hearted maiden, into the palace of the great Xerxes to be his queen--but there was a divine purpose in it. She was placed there--because she would be needed there by and by. When God by some strange providence brings us into peculiar circumstances or associations, it is because there will be some time a need for us just there.
At last Esther rose to the call of duty. She determined to go into the king's presence. "So will I go in unto the king--and if I perish, I perish!" She took the risk. There are times when the best thing we can do with our life--is to give it up. There are times when to save one's life--is to lose it, when the only way to save it--is to sacrifice it. Life that is saved by shrinking from duty--is not worth saving!