In my previous article on this subject I was busy making it clear that our book is wanting in that religious spirit which we find in the other Old Testament books. Neither Mordecai nor Esther make the impression of being true believers.
Before Esther went in unto the king to make supplication to him, she made request that Mordecai together with the other Jews in Shushan, fast for her. It may be questioned whether she expected to receive, in answer to this fast, the help and protection of God in behalf of herself for this eventful hour. Her last words, “If I perish, I perish,” bespeak despair and an unwilling submission to fate rather than faith in the power and willingness of God to be the protector and avenger of those who trust in Him.
Then, too, the action which Esther and also Mordecai took against the hostile heathen bespeaks unbridled rage and desire for revenge, in all that they say and do there is to be discovered not the slightest evidence that they were speaking and acting from true principle. Let us get their words and deeds under our eye and see how true this is.
When Haman sees that the accusing finger of Esther is pointed at him, when he hears her saying to the king, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman,” he is sore afraid. The king at once becomes terribly angry and goes out into his palace garden. During his brief absence Haman makes request for his life to the queen. He implores her to intercede for him with the king, for he perceives that on the part of the king there is no hope for him, if she will not interpose.
It is going too far to say, as some have said, that it was her duty to second Haman’s request that his life be spared. But what she might have done is to refrain from throwing all the blame on Haman for the plight of her people—the king was also to blame—and to remind the king that it was his duty, as civil magistrate, to give Haman a fair trial. For all that she and the king knew, there might be an element of truth in the charge that Haman had lodged against her people. Let the king investigate and then take action. But Esther was too furious with Haman and too violently perturbed to consider what justice might be requiring of her. She was thinking only of her people and of herself. She wants Haman put out of the way and this not out of religious considerations, not because Haman as an Agagite and as an Amalekite, represented the cause of evil in opposition to the cause of God and His people, but solely because Haman had placed in jeopardy, exposed to destruction, her life and the life of her people. “If it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition and my people at my request” (chap. 7:3). “For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred” (8:6). Such is the language of her plea.
It can be easily shown that the king’s share of guilt was exceedingly great. Was it not he, as well as Haman, who had ordered the destruction of the Jews and this on the ground of their alleged seditious tendencies? Their laws were diverse from all people. They kept not the king’s laws so that it was not for his profit to suffer them (3:8). So Haman had testified before the king. Such had been his counsel. And so little value was the king placing on the lives not only of the Jews but of all his subjects of whatever nationality, that without even first inquiring who that people might be and without first ascertaining by thorough investigation whether the charge was true, he had given Haman his seal-ring and thus had caused the public proclamation to be made. If Haman was moved by malice against a single and definite people, the king coveted the spoils of whatever people Haman had marked for destruction, for he needed much money (3:9, 13). Whoever that people might be—the king knew not—let Haman do with them as it seemeth good to him (3:11). So the king had spoken. It shows that he had no preference among the nations of his realm. The one was of no more account to him than the others. All were equally worthless in his sight. He would sacrifice any one of them on the altar of his avarice.
But however great the share of his guilt may be, the king is resolved that Haman die. Whether Haman has spoken the truth in accusing the Jews, matters little with him. His sole concern at this juncture is Esther, his favorite wife—Esther the beautiful. She powerfully appeals to him now. Her fresh loveliness bewitches him as at no time previous. The spectacle of crestfallen Haman, crouching in fear and with base humility at her feet, pleading for his life, fills him with a jealous rage. Hear him scream, “Will he force the queen also before me in the house?” To think that this wretch dared to trick him into decreeing her death. He shall die for this. Presently the word goes forth out of his mouth and they cover Haman’s face. One of the chamberlains, who stands near the king, now ventures to speak. “Behold,” says he, “also the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman has made for Mordecai, who has spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman.” Then the king said, Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows prepared for Mordecai. Then was the king’s wrath pacified.” To appease Esther, he, on the very day in which Haman falls, gives to her the house of Haman, the people in it, and the entire possessions belonging thereto. Esther in turn places Mordecai, whom the king has made one of his officers who see his face, over the house of Haman, i.e., leaves to him the lucrative management of the large estate thus reverting to her. Herewith the king considers the case closed. That the Jews are still exposed to annihilation does not trouble him.
This king is a veritable monster in wickedness. Yet Mordecai married off his adopted daughter to such a man, and this under the impulse of lust of power and influence, because he thought it advantageous to his cause and the cause of his people. The both of them—Mordecai and Esther—covet and accept his favors and bask themselves in his depraved love. But not once do they openly rebuke him on account of his wickedness. Though he, in collaboration with Haman, has brought their people to the brink of ruin, they exonerate him and cast all the blame on Haman. And they hold their peace, when the king in a blind, jealous rage, orders Haman’s execution. Though in their hearts they revile him—the king—as much as they do Haman—it can’t be otherwise—their treatment of him is characterized by greatest respect and diffidence. They know better than to show that they are angry with him. He is useful to them. So they vent their wrath on Hainan and allow themselves to be enriched at the expense of his house, in whose destruction they acquiesce. Can we imagine Daniel doing this, or Isaiah or Jeremiah or any of the other true servants of God?
The king, as was just said, considers the case closed. But not so Esther, tier mourning cannot cease until full deliverance comes to her people. So she again intrudes upon the king unsummoned. Falling down at his feet, she beseeches him in tears to put away the mischief of Haman and his device that he has devised against the Jews. The king responds by again stretching forth his scepter toward her. She rises and stands before him. Her request now is that the king cause to return, that is, recall, the letters which contain Haman’s device for destroying the Jews. That she, by descent nothing but a poor and despised Jewess, should propose to the great king of the Persians, that he revoke an edict whose irrevocable character as a Persian dogma was fixed, was something extraordinary. This is a command that he run the risk of unsettling the faith of the people in him. Will he not resent such boldness? But how can she endure to see the destruction of her kindred! She may calm herself. The king is still her slave. He reminds her of what he has so far done for Esther and Mordecai. He has given them the house of Haman, “and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hands upon the Jews” (8:8). Does this not indicate that his good will abounds toward them? And now he cannot revoke the decree. “For the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse.” (Still, their case is not hopeless. Something can be done to help them without revoking the decree. Let them also write for the Jews, that is, let them cause to be made also for the Jews a public proclamation that will make the first decree—that of Haman—powerless in effect. Just what kind of writing will accomplish this purpose, the king does not say. Nor does he care. This he leaves to the inventive power of Esther and Mordecai. They may write as it pleases them in his name (8:8). Their minds are equal to the task. Mordecai in the name of the king sends an edict to the Jews in which it is granted them to gather themselves together in every city “and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power—the forces—of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey” (8:11). Just what are the grants of this edict? For one thing, it allows the Jews to collectively prepare and arm for the common defense, to act as one man against all the assaults and reverses which in case of their standing disunited will certainly befall them. This means is wholly justifiable. It is the only means that will avert the threatened calamity.
But the decree seems to grant still more. It allows the Jews not only to fight if and when attacked but to take the initiative in the impending warfare, and to search out, run down and put to the sword, on the day that was selected for their destruction, as many of the heathen as are known to them to be hostile and to do so with the aid of all the heathen who are well-disposed toward them. It permits them further to slay not only the armed man-power of their opponents but also their young and old, their defenseless women and children. Finally, the edict also specifies that they take the spoil of the adversary. In a word, Mordecai and Esther grant them the same which, according to Haman’s edict, was granted to the heathen. The edict, it would seem, is excessively and unnecessarily severe. We have a feeling that it was inspired by a lust to reward evil for evil. Even the Jews in the provinces seem to sense that Mordecai has gone too far in his zeal for his people. For if the edict decrees that the spoil of the enemy be taken, these Jews refrain from this. The statement thrice occurs, “but they laid not their hands on the prey” (9:15, 16).
As the grants of the two edicts—the edict of Haman and that of Mordecai—are the same, it would seem that the Persian empire in all its provinces approaches a terrible civil war. Yet when the day appointed finally arrives, there is properly speaking no such war, no pitched battles between the armed forces of the hostile heathen and the armed forces of the Jews. What takes place is a great and terrible slaughter with the hostile heathen as the sole victims. The sacred narrative makes this plain. The Jews smite all their enemies “with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter and destruction and do what they will to those that hate them” (9:5). “No man could withstand them” (9:2). In Shushan the Jews slay eight hundred men; in the provinces seventy five thousand. No mention is made of the slaying of a single Jew. It would seem that the hostile heathen offer no resistance whatever and that the will to fight is all on the side of the Jews. They are the aggressors and the resistance offered them is so feeble as to be insignificant.
The explanation of this is that the fear of the Jews was fallen upon all the enemies (9:2) and the fear of Mordecai especially. For, so the sacred narrator continues, “Mordecai was great in the king’s house, and his fame went out throughout all the provinces: for this man Mordecai waxed greater and greater” (9:4). The fact of the matter is this: The people heard that the Haman party had fallen at the court, that their leader was killed and that Mordecai was elevated to the position formerly occupied by him and was ever growing in influence. The result was that the hostile heathen were afraid to lay violent hands upon the Jews. The second edict showed that they now had the upper hand at the court and that, although the first was not revoked, it was against the will of the king to act in accordance with it. The dread of the Jews in all parts of the empire was so great that many of the heathen of the land became Jews, that is, united with them in opposition to the Haman party (8:17). Even all the rulers of the provinces, and the lieutenants, and the deputies, and officers of the king went over with their Persian armies to the side of the Jews to help them (9:3). The result was that when the day appointed by Haman for the destruction of the Jews arrived, all open hostility had vanished and the hostile heathen were no longer a menace. Yet out of fear of the Jews they did assemble not for attack but for the defense of themselves and of their own. For they knew that they had been marked for destruction. It is the Jews who took the initiative in this warfare. They fell upon their enemies with a fanatic zeal that rendered them irresistible. The hostile heathen already devitalized by fear before the commencement of the conflict were no match for them. Seventy five thousand of their number were slain. One wonders whether the Jews could not have been more lenient with their enemies, seeing that they had really gained the ascendency over them before the beginning of the conflict.
The number of those that were slain in Shushan was reported to the king. He communicated it to Esther, adding, “What have they done in the rest of the king’s province?” i.e. how many must they have destroyed there? The bloody events of the day leave him unaffected. Not a word of remorse or regret comes from his lips. He is solely interested in knowing whether Esther is now satisfied. “What now is they petition? And it shall be granted thee. . . .” Five hundred have been slain in Shushan, Haman’s sons are dead. “What is thy request further? and it shall be done.”
Esther still has a request or two. “If it pleases the king let it be granted to the Jews which are in Shushan to do tomorrow also according unto this day’s decree.” It was granted her. So on the morrow the Jews assembled and slew three hundred more men at Shushan. It must be that she feared the vengeance of some of the hostile party who had not yet been vanquished. Her final request is that the dead bodies of Haman’s ten sons be crucified in order to increase the disgrace of their execution and in order to fill the measure of fear of the Jews.
Were Esther and Mordecai people of true faith? It shall have to be admitted that their words and actions do not bespeak such faith.
As to the author of our book, it would seem that he was just as irreligious as Mordecai. (Some claim that Mordecai was the author. But the words at chapter 10 verse 3, which sum up his life work, imply that when the book was written, Mordecai had passed away. Whoever the author was, he failed to write his book after the manner of all the other canonical books of the Old Testament. Not once does he make mention of the name of God, much less of Jehovah. Nowhere does he make apparent that the measures taken by Mordecai and Esther for the deliverance of their people were necessary for the maintenance of true religion. He speaks only of the honor which Mordecai attained by adopting these measures which the king sanctioned. He states that Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white and with a great crown of gold and that the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. Nowhere does he state that the transactions of our book had a religious import. He fails to designate his own people as the people of Jehovah, in opposition to the heathen. Instead he terms them Jews merely with a task and principle no higher than that of the other nations. Nowhere does he derive the incidents which he describes from God or from His justice or yet from His gracious intentions toward His people. Nor does he show the bearing of that which has been attained upon the glory and honor of God. From beginning to end the book is devoid of expressions of religious feelings or thoughts in the persons of whom the author writes.
How different, from the point of view of mode of religious statement, our book is from all the other books of the Bible is best brought out by the making of a comparison. At Judges 2:13-18 we read, “And they (the people of Israel) forsook the Lord and served Baal. . . .And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of the spoilers that spoiled them. . . .Nevertheless the Lord raised up Judges, which delivered them out of the hand of those that spoiled them. . . .And it came to pass when the judge was dead that they returned and corrupted themselves.” Written after the manner of writing of the Author of the book of Esther, this would read, “And it came to pass in those days that the enemies often crossed Canaan’s borders and spoiled the Jews. At such times Judges came forward and delivered them out of the hands of their enemies. But when the judge was dead the enemy returned to spoil them.” To the notice (contained in the book of Esther and found at chapter 9:5), “Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword. . . .” the more ancient authors would have added some such statement as, “So did the Lord deliver the enemies of his people into their hands.” They also would have explained that the king accepted Esther’s countenance, because the Lord gave her favor in his sight. But the author of our book ascribes her influence over the king to her physical attractions.
Thus not only Mordecai and Esther but the author of our book as well fails to confess his faith to Jehovah. It means if they on this ground must be held to have been lacking in true faith, then likewise our author. It is therefore very necessary for a correct understanding of our book to enquire after the reason of the above-cited phenomenon.
More than one explanation has been offered. The Rabbins held that Mordecai, being the author of the book, had purposely expunged the names of God in it in order that they might not be desecrated by the
Persians, if they made use of it.
Another explanation, substantially identical to that of the Rabbins, is that the Jews were in that age very sensitive not to manifest their innermost and holiest thoughts to the gaze of the day after the manner of their forefathers. It was a great satisfaction to the Jewish national feeling to know that the secrets of their faith and law were well known and understood by themselves without having to enter expressly upon a declaration of them; and also that they were unknown and unattainable by the heathen.
This solution cannot possibly be the correct one. What is meant is that our author (as also Mordecai and Esther) in common with all the God-fearing Jews in that age, revered the names of God too deeply to make mention of them before the heathen in their public utterances and writings. Now this is not true. The God-fearing Jews revered the name of God certainly. But that this reverence neither might nor did prevent them from confessing these names before men, even before the heathen is very evident from the writings of Nehemiah, Ezra, Daniel, Haggai and Zachariah, all of whom were contemporaries of Mordecai, Esther and our author. From the deliverances of these servants of God there animates that same religious spirit which we find in all the other books of the more ancient authors, that same “religious pragmatism—a pragmatism that throws a supernatural illumination on all the events transpiring. In all their writings the name of God occurs over and over. The book of Ezra sets out with this significant statement, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing. . . .” Penned after the mode of statement of our book, this would simply read, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, the king made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom.” Ezra even introduces king Gyrus himself as saying that he gave permission to the exiles to return to Canaan, because “the Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem.”
Another proffered explanation of the phenomenon with which we now have to do is this: More than sixty years had passed since Cyrus had given the Jews permission to return. The vast majority of the people remained, nevertheless where they were. Some, like Nehemiah, were restrained by official and other ties. The rest were indifferent and declined to make the necessary sacrifices of property and rest. With such as these last the history of God’s work in this earth can never be associated. In His providence He will watch over them and deliver them; but their names and His will not be bound together in the record of the labor and the waiting of the earth’s salvation.
In other words, the reason that our author refrained from mentioning the name of God in his book is that to have done so would have been to associate this name with infidel Jews. This he is supposed not to have deemed permissible. But the more ancient authors were not of this conviction. They had understanding of the truth and fact that all creatures live and move and have their being in God and that thus God and all creatures including the wicked are bound together not certainly in the power of His love but in the power by which He sustains all things and uses all things for the promotion of the ends of His kingdom. Accordingly, Ezra declares that the Lord stirred up the spirit of the infidel Cyrus. He thus binded together Cyrus’ name and the name of God” in the record of the earth’s salvation.”
Besides, it was not in behalf of the infidel Jews in Babylon but for the sake of His believing people who had returned to Canaan that the deliverance recorded in our book was sent. Also Canaan was one of the provinces that formed the Persian empire. The church, too, had been exposed to annihilation by Haman’s edict. Why could not our author have included the name of God in his record by some such statement as, “So did the Lord send deliverance to His people.” Were but a single statement of this character found in our book, we would know where our author stood. Because of this lack, our book is decidedly deistic as to its mode of statement. Interpreters on a whole deny this. They everywhere find concealed in our book a copious religious sentiment. They ascribe to Mordecai and Esther a saving faith so firm and heroic that, had they actually been the possessors of such a faith, they would be standing before us in our book as two of the most remarkable saints in all the Scriptures. But the fact is that our book contains not a shred of real evidence of either they or our author having had any such faith at all.
Still another explanation runs as follows. The style of our book is most appropriate to its contents. The deliverance of the Jewish people within the Persian dominion, which forms its subject, was in itself a great and important event. But this was not brought about, by a divinely inspired hero, nor by the faithful valor of the people, but through the influence which a woman exerted over a king through her charms of the flesh. To have exalted such characters to a higher and holier tone, by which they would have been brought into an immediate relation to God, would have created a discord. This would have been a cause for irritation.
But it is not exalting such characters to a holier tone to bring out that their hearts are in God’s hand and that with all things they are made by Him to work together for good to them that are His. This creates no discord certainly.
It is plain that the phenomenon under consideration is still unexplained. Does then the irreligious mode of statement of our book find its proper explanation in the religious indifference of both its author and its characters? As far as can be determined, it does this. There is no other explanation that holds. However, “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21). According to this scripture the writers of the books contained in the Canon were holy men. If this was invariably true, the explanation last suggested must likewise be set aside as being untenable and then we are wholly at a loss to know how to explain the mode of statement of our book. However there is in the Scriptures more than one case on record of God communicating His Word to His people through the agency of unbelievers. Balaam, a thoroughly dissolute character, gave utterance as an organ of revelation to the sublimest truths—such truths as, “Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations (Num. 23:9). He hath beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. . . .” (23:21). tit is expressly stated that these were words put into his mouth by the Lord. Another such case is the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. We have from him words such as these, “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven—and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him what doest thou” (Dan. 4:34, 35). The first impression that this prophetic ebullition makes on us is that this pagan king was a true believer. Yet he was a godless man who perished in his sins.
Now the function of our author was to truthfully and accurately record past events. Was he disqualified for this task by his unbelief? Let us put the question this way: Could God use such a man to produce infallible written history? God being what He is, namely, God, this question is really pointless. If our author was religiously indifferent, God simply did use such a man to produce written history of this character. This of course does not imply that he labored under the impulse of love of God. If he was an unbelieving Jew, he was devoid of love. But it does mean that the Spirit gendered in him the inflexible will to write reliable history and that He so guided him in the performance of his task that he could not falsify the facts.
The Church, guided by Christ’s Spirit into all truth, did not err in incorporating our book in the canon of the Holy Scriptures. Hence, its being there is all the proof that we need of its belonging there. Rut it is not hard to discover the reason of its inception into the canon. Certain it is that, although our book takes no notice of religion, still it forms an essential part of the religious history of the kingdom of God. Just what is its place in the Canon; and what may be its canonical significance and dignity?
Our book does not cultivate religion as such, as does, for example, the book of Psalms and of Ecclesiastes. It cannot do this, as it is completely devoid of religious sentiment. Its principal significance is that it records the preservation of the church, whose very existence was being threatened by the hostile heathen as represented and headed by Haman the Agagite and Amalekite and as inspired by his evil genius. Thus the story of our book is at once prophetic of the final triumph of Christ’s kingdom over all the forces of darkness. In addition to this the book is evidence that God saves His people not despite but even through the evil devised against them by their enemies. And it presents these enemies as falling into the very pit that they dig for the elect.