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CHAPTER XVII.

ESTHER.

GOD'S HIDDEN PROVIDENTIAL CARE OVER HIS PEOPLE IN THEIR CAPTIVITY.

Keynote: Heb. xiii. 5, 6.

THE book of Esther closes the series of the historical books of the Old Testament. It takes up the condition of the Jews, who "had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captivity," ii. 5, 6, and who had remained behind in the land of their enemy, when the faithful remnant under Ezra and Nehemiah had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the walls of the city. These captives are shown here, to be still the objects of God's care, although they would seem to have forfeited all right to it, by their failure to return to their own land when an opportunity was afforded them.

The details of this story are very simple. The Gentile wife of Ahasuerus, having been set aside because of her disobedience, the king chose for her successor a lowly 269 Jewish maiden, belonging to the captive race; and her uncle and protector Mordecai "sat in the king's gate," ii. 19. One of the king's servants, Haman the Agagite, was advanced to a place of great honor, and all the king's servants bowed and reverenced him, but we read that "Mordecai bowed not nor did him reverence." In this no doubt Mordecai as a Jew, was governed by a command of the Lord, which was more binding to him than even the command of Ahasuerus. For Haman was an Agagite, and the family of Agag were of the nation of Amalek, whom Israel as far back as Exodus had been commanded utterly to destroy. See Ex. xvii. 14-16; Deut. xxv. 17-19. The wrath of Haman at this disrespect, led him to desire the destruction of the whole nation to which Mordecai belonged. For Haman "thought scorn to lay hands on Mordecai alone;" wherefore he "thought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai." "And Haman said unto King Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom: and their laws are diverse from all people: neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them. If it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed." King Ahasuerus consented, and posts were immediately sent out into all his provinces with commandment to destroy "all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day." iii. 11-15.

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Mordecai at once made application to Esther to inter- cede with the king on behalf of her nation; and Esther braved the king's displeasure, by going into his presence unsummoned, and requesting him to come that day with Haman to a banquet she would prepare for them. At this banquet she invited them to a second one on the following day, where she promised to tell out her petition. Meanwhile, on that very night, the king could not sleep, and he commanded them to bring the book of records to be read to him, vi. 1,2. There "it was found written" that Mordecai had saved the king's life from a conspiracy, and his gratitude was so stirred at the remembrance of it, that he bestowed upon Mordecai great honor, unconsciously making use of his worst enemy, Haman the Agagite, to carry out the plans. And at the second banquet the whole story of Haman's cruelty was brought out, and Haman was hanged, and the king issued a decree giving the Jews permission to "gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish all the power of the people and provinces that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey," vii. 10, 11. The result of this was a general deliverance to the Jews throughout all the provinces which were from India unto Ethiopia; and the "Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honor," viii 16, 17. And "Mordecai the Jew was next to King Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren, seeking the wealth of his people, and speaking peace to all his seed," x. 3.

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Such is the story of the book of Esther. Some seem to have seen in it a typical picture of the Kingdom of God upon earth; taking Ahasuerus as a type of the Most High Jehovah, Vashti as a type of rejected Israel, Esther as a type of the chosen Church, Mordecai as a type of the Lord Jesus, and Haman as a type of Satan. But this seems rather fanciful to me; and I confess that I have no clear apprehension of any especial typical teaching as intended here. The story of Esther, like that of Ruth, is the story of a bride. In both a lowly maiden is exalted to a place of honor and wealth. And it seems probable, although one was a Gentile and the other a Jew, that they were both meant to typify in some way the future story of the Church of Christ, chosen from her low estate, and called to the glorious destiny of sharing the throne with her heavenly Bridegroom.

But I incline to think that the lesson to be drawn from this little book, is rather moral than typical. We have given to us here, the secret and providential care of the Lord over His people, even when they were in captivity in an enemy's country, and at a time when they seemed to be utterly unmindful of Him. God's people may forget Him, but He cannot forget them, and wherever they may be, He watches over and cares for them.

The book of Esther, therefore, seems to me to teach the much-needed lesson that even at times, when, on account of their unfaithfulness, the Lord may seem to have hidden Himself, or to have forsaken His people, His care over them is as real as ever, although it may be 272 a secret care, which is altogether hidden from their eyes. The name of the Lord is not once mentioned in this book, because His agency in their deliverance could not be made manifest to a people so far off from Him, and yet to the anointed eye there can be traced plainly throughout the whole of it, His providential care, Behind all their neglect of Him, and His seeming forgetfulness of them, He held the reins of His providence, and by a series of apparently natural events, and by most unlikely means, using the king's sleeplessness even as one link in this chain, He brought to pass His will concerning them, and saved them in the time of their need, see vi. 1-3.

I have said that the name of the Lord was not once mentioned in this book, yet that the thought of Him was there, and that His hand was recognized in the events that took place, is very evident from the fact of a fast being proclaimed by Esther and Mordecai, iv. 16, which could have no other meaning than that of prayer to the Being whose Name is left unspoken; and also from the establishment of the "feast of Purim" which has been celebrated by the Jews for all the centuries since, as the memorial of a great national deliverance, ix. 17, 26. Even as I write, the daily papers are calling attention to the fact that at this very time the feast of Purim is being kept. One paper says, "By the unanimous consent of the entire body of the Jewish people, the festival of Purim has been observed for a period of about 2500 years. Devoted to rejoicing and hilarity, without 273 sinking into Bacchanalian orgies, it has taken deep hold on the affections of the Jews, and its annual return is hailed with such marked demonstrations of pleasure, as to show that it occupies no inferior position in their estimation. In pious gratitude for the joyful termination of Haman's plot, Esther and Mordecai enjoined all Israelites and their descendants to celebrate the 14th and 15th day of Adar as "days of feasting and joy, of sending presents one to another, and gifts to the poor." In the spirit in which the festival was instituted, it is observed at the present day. On the eve of Purim, and again on the following morning, the Jews assemble in their synagogues to offer prayers and hymns of thanksgiving to God, and to listen to the reading of Megillah, or Book of Esther. The rich distribute alms bountifully to their poorer brethren, presents are interchanged, social reunions take place, and no Jew permits the day to pass without devoting some portion of it to domestic comfort and happiness."

The teaching of this book is therefore, that the Lord, though hidden, still cares for His people. And it is a teaching of great practical importance for every one of us.

The natural heart finds it hard to trust in an unseen Care-taker; and when Christians wander away from the Lord and forget Him, they can hardly believe that He does not forget them. They talk about being forsaken; and, because their own love has grown cold, they imagine that His has also. They judge Him to be altogether such as themselves in their unfaithfulness, and 274 measure His truth by their own falseness. But the Scriptures reveal a far other God than this. They reveal One who "having loved His own, that were in the world, loved them to the end," even though they forsook Him and fled. They show forth a Shepherd who does not leave His sheep on the cloudy and dark day, nor when the wolf cometh; but who draws nearer than ever in such times of need, and who always goes after the ones that wander. They tell us of a Saviour who saves the lost, not the found, and of a Physician who heals the sick, not the well. They declare to us the glorious fact that He never leaves nor forsakes us, and that always and everywhere He is watching over us and caring for us in tenderest love, and with infinite wisdom. Our sins separate us from Him, but they do not separate Him from us; and we never get from under His providential care. This care may be hidden, but it is none the less real, and all things in the daily events of our lives are made to work subservient to the Lord's gracious purposes towards us. "Can a woman forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of my hands: thy walls are continually before me," Is. xlix. 15, 16.

This thought would have wonderful power to restore the soul of the backslider, were it but fully realized continually. Coldness, and neglect, and indifference we can resist and resent, and be only driven away the further; 275 but who can turn always from the persistent love and care that will not be rebuffed, and that never forgets our need? And even backsliding Israel will at last be won by this love that has so followed them throughout all their rebellions and backsliding, and will, when the final and crowning proof of undying love has come in their restoration and establishment in their own land, be brought to "remember their own evil ways, and their doings that were not good, and shall loathe themselves in their own sight for their iniquities and for their abominations," Ez. xxxvi. 31. "And they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him as one that is in bitterness for his first-born," Zech. xii. 10.

No doubt, in Esther we have an insight into the Lord's providential care of His people from that time onward. The day of their "scattering" still continues, but the Lord still watches over them as faithfully as He did then, though as secretly. And in every country or nation where a single one of His chosen nation are today abiding, His providential care is, I doubt not, ordering all outward events to work together for their preservation and their final deliverance. Only in this way can we account for their marvellous history down to the present time. They are still His people, beloved and blessed, in spite of their long-continued unfaithfulness; and His sovereign unfailing care, come what will, is unceasingly exercised in their behalf.

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But if all this is true of the Lord's people, when living afar off from Him in the land of their captivity, how much more true must it be of those who are seeking to follow Him closely, and to abide continually in the land of promise which He has given them! Surely to all such, no single doubt of His constant watchfulness and care ought ever to be permitted to come, even though no manifest token of His presence is discernible! And the lesson of Esther to each one of us must be, to teach us to rest in a serene and unwavering trust, even in the midst of the most mysterious dispensations, sure that He overrules and controls it all, and that nothing that affects us, whether seen or unseen, whether in the minds of others or in our own, escapes His care.


Texts on the Lord's over-ruling and providential government:--Dan. iv. 35.  Ps. cxv. 3; cxxxvi, 6; ciii. 19Prov. xxi. 1Is. xl. 15, 17; xliii. 13; xliv. 24-28; xlv. 5-9Jer. xviii. 6; xxiii. 24Job xii. 9, 10, 16; xxxlv. 29; xxxvii. 5-19Ps. xxii. 28; xxxiii. 10-15; lxxxix, 6-14; xciv. 7-102 Chron. xx. 6Rom. ix. 14-23Heb. xiii. 5, 6.

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