1. Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this is Ahasuerus which reigned from India even unto Ethiopia [Ethiopia paid tribute to Xerxes, or Ahasuerus], over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:)
2. That in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan [the general abode of the Persian kings] the palace,
3. In the third year of his reign 483 b.c.], he made a feast [a successful campaign had just been finished in Egypt] unto all his princes and his servants; the power of Persia and Media, the nobles [the first like protos in Greek, and primus in Latin] and princes of the provinces being before him:
4. When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty many days, even an hundred and fourscore days [half a year].
5. And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king"s palace:
6. Where were white, green, and blue hangings, fastened with cords of fine [white] linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds [couches] were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue [not names of colours, but of actual stones], and white, and black marble.
7. And they gave them drink in vessels of gold (the vessels being diverse one from another), and royal wine [wine of Helbon, Ezekiel 27:18] in abundance, according to the state [hand] of the king.
8. And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel: for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man"s pleasure.
9. Also Vashti [beautiful] the queen made a feast for the [omit "the"] women in the royal house which belonged to the king Ahasuerus.
10. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains [eunuchs] that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king,
11. To bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal [a tall cap decked with gems, and with a linen fillet of blue and white, called the diadem], to show the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on.
12. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king"s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.
13. Then the king said to the wise men, which knew the times [the precedents], (for so was the king"s manner toward all that knew law and judgment:
14. And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes [the seven counsellors of Ezra 7:14] of Persia and Media, which saw the king"s face, and which sat the first in the kingdom:)
15. What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasuerus by the chamberlains?
16. And Memucan answered before the king and the princes, Vashti the queen hath not done wrong [dealt unfairly] to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the people that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.
17. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not.
18. Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king"s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath.
19. If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered [that it pass not away], That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she.
20. And when the king"s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his empire (for it is great), all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.
21. And the saying pleased the king and the princes; and the king did according to the word of Memucan:
22. For he sent letters [the Persian empire was the first to possess a postal system] into all the king"s provinces, into every province according to the writing thereof, and to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house, and that it should be published according to the language of every people [lit. be ruling in his own house, and speaking according to the language of his own people].
IT is important to remember that there are three men mentioned in the old Testament under the name of Ahasuerus. If we forget this fact we shall now and then be in confusion as to certain ancient policies. The Ahasuerus mentioned in this chapter is supposed to be Xerxes, a man who ascended the throne485 b.c. Twenty years afterwards he was murdered by two of his own officers. He had everything that heart could wish—his eyes stood out with fatness—yet his life was marked by dissipation and debauchery of an extreme degree He shows us just what man would be if he had everything he could desire, and if he were unrestrained by moral considerations This Xerxes had been flushed with his success in Egypt, his cheeks were red with glory, his eyes were ablaze with self-complacency. He was just meditating an invasion of Greece, and therefore he would have a feast worthy of the greatest of kings. He did not hesitate indeed to call himself king of kings. So here we have a feast extending over a hundred and eighty days, and more—half a year"s eating and drinking, night and day. Let us see what happened under such circumstances. What could be better, what could be more conducive to real joy, to boisterous gladness, than a hundred and eighty days at the banqueting-table?
But first let us look at the external pomp of the occasion, and mark its vanity:—he showed the nobles and princes of the provinces "the riches of his glorious kingdom and the honour of his excellent majesty," and the whole display took place in the grandest of palaces,—"Where were white, green, and blue hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble. And they gave them drink in vessels of gold, (the vessels being diverse one from another [no two vessels alike, so that sometimes the drinkers did not know which to praise the more, the drink or the goblet]) and royal wine in abundance, according to the state [that Isaiah, the estate, royalty, and splendour] of the king." Sometimes we say, looking upon the abodes of poverty, What can we expect here of decency, moral education, and progress? See how the poor are huddled and crowded together, what can be looked for here but a hotbed bringing forth a most evil harvest? All that is right. Not a word in the speech would we change. But if there is any argument in it at all it is an argument that covers a large space. Here is a man who has room enough, he has everything at his command; if he wants gold or silver or precious stones, he can have them by a nod of his head: what can we expect here but piety, thankfulness, contentment, moral progress? Family life under such a canopy must be a daily doxology, a sweet hallowed thing more of heaven than of earth. This would be a fair application of the first argument, if there is anything in that first argument at all.
Observe the vanity of the royal external condition. There was nothing else to live for. Here is a man who lived for time and sense: a new goblet was a delight, another horse was another kingdom; he had no vision beyond for which he cared; what heaven he had was in theory; we read nothing of his morals, his conduct, his spiritual inspiration; he is wrapped round and round with an infinite bandage of inventory. If it had not been so history would have been lacking in one important lesson. We should have said, Give a man enough of this world, and you will find him almost a god. There have been men here and there who have had the world thrust upon them, and the only element that was wanting under all the burden of their riches was the element of godliness. It is difficult to carry heaven in one hand and the earth in the other: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Yet men do not believe these stories of Ahasuerus and of Solomon. If they did, their whole course of life would be altered; their domestic expenses would be reduced to a minimum. But the whole struggle of modern life is exactly after the first chapter of the Book of Esther and the first chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Every Ahasuerus thinks he could do better than his namesake, and every new Solomon says that he would never play the fool as the old one did. What little toy-houses are ours as compared with this palace; and yet we will persist Why do we not believe history? Why do we not accept the verdict that it is not in time or sense, in gold or precious stones, to make a man great or happy, to make him wise or bless him with the infinite fortune of contentment? When we have built up our little toy places, Ahasuerus looks down upon them, and smiles at the little honeycombs. His "beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble." All these names are not colours; they are substances, they are jewels, they are precious works; there was not a single inch upon which a finger-tip could be laid that was not made the most of by artistic skill. Yet it was an elaborate tomb, a magnificent sarcophagus! Still, how we spin and spin, and toil and imagine, and dream, and get things together, and when it is all done our little snowball of success is looked down upon by the Jungfraus and Mont Blancs with unutterable disdain. When will men come to learn that a man"s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth; that he is most jewelled who has no jewellery; that he only is great who is great in soul? Never will the world learn that lesson, would be the verdict if the judges limited their inferences to immediate fact and experience. The purpose of the cross of Christ was to destroy all these little jewel-caskets, and all these toy inventions, and to bring men to feel that the body itself is a burden, and is only to be tolerated as necessary to the cultivation and development of the soul.
See what even kings are when morally uneducated and unrestrained! A man who sleeps on a bed of gold must wake up to do good. So one would think. The reasoning seems to be solid and transparent. He who spends a night under a canopy of silver, and opens his eyes upon all things lovely, must hasten away to make all men as wise and happy as himself. It is not in the world to make heavenly minds. This is the necessity of the case. There is nothing in bread, or gold, or fine raiment, or pomp, or vanity, that can touch the soul. But this lesson the poor moralist may urge for ever, and he will only be plying the drowsy attention of reluctant ears. We still think that the philosopher"s stone will be found tomorrow. That streak of superstition runs through the devoutest minds. We go down to the marketplace to bring back what the marketplace never sold; we say to one another, Good-bye, until eventide, and from marketplace, exchange, emporium, I will bring back a divine benediction; and when we bring back the reticule that was to have contained the prize, behold it is an empty basket. Yet man grows no wiser! The moment Sunday passes away like a ghost, a wraith of time on which man would never willingly gaze, he seizes Monday as it were by the throat and says, Give me peace, contentment, rest; and the poor day says, It is not in my keeping—not in time, but in eternity must immortal men find safe footing and perfect calm.
We must beware of the sophism in both sides of a very popular argument, namely, that if men had enough they would be good, and because men have not enough what can they be but bad. Character is not in circumstances. The poorest people have, in no solitary instances easily numbered, most vividly illustrated the purest and noblest character. There are kings who are paupers; there are paupers who are kings. How long should the moralist preach this truth? He will preach it many a year in the wilderness, and his best hearers will go immediately after his voice has ceased and buy another rim of gold. We owe everything to moral education—we owe nothing to kingly splendour. If any king has ever done anything for the world, he did it because he was a good Prayer of Manasseh, not merely because he was a titular king. Every known moral gift is consecrated to the lower faculties; how to make the body stronger, fairer, is the great question of the sensualist. Paint it; take grey-haired nature and steep her in the dye-tub, and make her young with colour! Is this the speech of immortal Prayer of Manasseh, divinest creature of God? Yes, it comes to that, if we have nothing but gold, and marble, and paint, and palace, and crown. How can we expect a road to end in two opposite directions? This is precisely what men are doing who imagine that by travelling the road of great state and splendour they will come into heaven. The road does not lie in that direction. Suppose you seek a city in the south, and I direct you upon a northern road, by what terms would you describe my direction and my spirit? Suppose I saw you walking south in order to get north, and never said a word about it, would you account me neighbourly, civil, friendly, just when by one word I could have put you on the right course? When I see a man mounting a horse with a view of riding to heaven, I feel bound to tell him that he is a fool, and will never get there. There is no bridle-path to heaven; it is a way of the cross, and self-immolation, and agonising prayer. No horse ever took a rider to heaven. Would you be great? Be great in soul.
Here is an opportunity for every man to be great—great in patience, in self-control, in charity, in magnanimity. A man is great because he takes great views of others, conceives liberal things for God and carries them out with both hands. So the poorest may be rich; the giver of mites may throw the giver of gold into contempt. What say we of working the miracles of goodness, of speaking to those who have no friends, of visiting the uttermost abodes of poverty and the lowest tenements of distress? All the miracles of goodness are yet to be done. Miracles of power have dazzled the vision of history,—now we may not show the glory, but we may disclose the goodness of God. Surely a palace will be a sanctuary. The palace of this man was worse than a stable. Surely in the presence of beauty men must grow beautiful? This man looked on beauty but did not see it, and perpetrated the irony of living amongst beautiful things until he became himself ghastly and hideous. How sad a thing when the house is greater than the tenant! How distressing a contradiction when the furniture is of greater value than the man who owns it! This was the case with the great Xerxes. No man had so many drinking-cups, no two guests had a cup of the same pattern; and as for the drinking of the royal wine, it was in abundance, the more it was drunk the more there seemed to be left to drink. Never did Pleasure hold such carnival; never were such Saturnalia known in all the earth. Yet the men did not retire from it heroes and chiefs of virtue and beneficence; they staggered away from it half beast, half devil.
Now we shall see some revelations of character. Notably we see how selfishness never considers the feelings of others. It occurred to the drunken king, when his heart "was merry with wine," to consult the seven chamberlains that waited always upon Persian monarchs. The seven chamberlains were the seven heads of seven houses; they constituted a kind of domestic cabinet always consulted by the king on critical, delicate, or difficult occasions. The king commanded the chamberlains "to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to show the people and the princes her beauty" ( Esther 1:11). Did he send a message to Vashti to ask if she would be willing? When was woman ever honoured out of Christ, who redeemed her from her social estrangement and solitude, and set her forth invested with the queenliness of a God-given beauty and modesty? Hear the king—Fetch Vashti now, and make a show of her beauty, for she is fair to look upon. All this is in natural order. Selfishness never considers the feeling of others. Selfishness will be gratified at all costs and hazards. When a man"s heart is merry with wine, all that is most sacred in humanity goes out of him. Still the king is in search of jewels, he will now have a living diamond; he dashed his goblet to the earth and said, That is a dead thing—fetch the living goblet, and let us drink blood, and feast our eyes upon throbbing beauty! Who can withhold anything from a ravenous beast? Who should stay his power, and say, Be quiet, be self-controlled, be contented? None. This is human nature when it is left to itself. Because we cannot do these things we must not reason that therefore they cannot be done. History is useful in so far as it sets before us what has actually been done by man. The king said, My wife is as my horse, my slave, my dog; if I order wife, or dog, or slave, or horse to stand before me, who should say me nay? Yet who can control the working of the Spirit of God? It may be that Vashti for the first time in her life will resist. We do not always know why we resist, why we commence new courses and policies of life; we are oftentimes a surprise to ourselves; we never could have believed that we could have been found in such and such relations, or uttering such and such words and vows. The heart of man is in the hand of the Lord. We can explain next to nothing.
We read in the twelfth verse that Vashti turned the whole occasion to new meanings.
"But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king"s commandment by his chamberlains" ( Esther 1:12).
She too had a feast "for the women in the royal house which belonged to king Ahasuerus." Was there any wine there? Not that we read of. Was the Persian law at all like the Roman law? for the Roman senate decreed that no woman should drink wine. Was this feast of Vashti"s a sober feast—a feast fit for women? If Song of Solomon, her reason may have grown in strength and clearness, and her will in genuine moral dignity. Who knows what was said at the feast? An infamous old rabbin, whose bones ought to be exhumed and burned by the common hangman, said that speech descended in ten measures, and that woman ran away with nine of them. He was a rabbin! We cannot tell what is being plotted in other houses. When we feast ourselves we do not take in the whole situation: there is life below stairs, life on the other side of the street, life that makes no noise but that schemes well, and that has patience to complete the powder circuit before applying the fusee. Vashti said, No, I will not come, I will not be made a show of. "Therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him"—literally, he frothed at the mouth, and became as a wild boar. The strength of manhood is in self-control. The Oriental king very soon became intolerably hot. He had a trick of anger. He could not brook that his will should be resisted. It is the very highest attainment of Christian education that a man shall accept the resistance of his will as an element in his culture: no man will seek to force his will; he will reason about it, he will be mighty in argument, tender and gentle in persuasion, and if he cannot win the first day or the second day he may be successful on the third day. But mere force never won a true victory. There may have been almost annihilation on the opposite side, but where there is one little spark left, that little spark hopes that it will become one day an avenging conflagration. Conquer by love, and you will reign by consent. Let men feel that your wisdom is greater than theirs, and they will say, God save the king! The time will come when every man will have to prove his kingliness, not because of the insignia that he keeps in the tower, but because of a wise head, a noble heart, and a hand that never refused its offices to an honest cause.
The chamberlains were as much overturned in their calculations as was the king. The question was—
"What shall we do unto the queen Vashti according to law, because she hath not performed the commandment of the king Ahasucrus by the chamberlains?" ( Esther 1:15).
What shall be done with the opposing party? What shall be done with the impracticable element? What shall be done with novelty of conduct? And the seven chamberlains began to reason, saying,—
"For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes, when it shall be reported, The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king"s princes, which have heard of the deed of the queen. Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath" ( Esther 1:17-18).
It is an instructive sight to see statesmen and others puzzled over these social problems. What shall be done with the enemy? Lock him up! What shall be done with Vashti? Cut off her head! But will that end the matter? No, it will only begin it. Beheading is an excellent way of propagating truth. The martyrs have made Christian assembly in public and in daylight possible and agreeable. But said the advisers—
"If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal estate unto another that is better than she" ( Esther 1:19).
Well, said Ahasuerus, perhaps that is the best that can be done: let us have Home Rule: send the letters out at once, "to every people after their language, that every man should bear rule in his own house." "Every man"—what a perversion of language! "Bear rule,"—what is "rule?" audacity, effrontery, tyranny? "In his own house"—who has a house of his own? Let us hope that no man is "in his own house:" the house is a prison until somebody else divides it, shares it. Husband, the house is not your own—except upon rent-day; then you can have it all. Wife, the house is not your own—but the most of it is; it would be a poor, poor house if you were to turn your back upon it The house belongs to all the people that are in it—part to the husband, part to the wife, part to the children, part to the servants, right through all the household line. Develop the notion of partnery, co-responsibility: let every one feel a living interest in the place: then the house shall be built of living stones, pillared with righteousness, roofed with love. It is here that Christianity shines out with unique lustre. Obedience is right for all parties, but the obedience is to be in the Lord, it is to be the obedience of righteousness, a concession to Wisdom of Solomon, a toll paid to honour, which is to be returned in love and gratitude. Christianity has made our houses homes. We owe everything that is socially beneficent to Christianity. O Jesus, Man of Bethlehem, who didst make every house radiant with morning light, dwell in our little house, break our bread, inspire our domestic economy; we want to be thy guests: let the house be ours only because it is thine!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Esther 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26