A Sleepless Night
“On that night could not the king sleep.” How was this? What was it that drove sleep from the monarch's eyes and slumber from his eyelids? Why could not the mighty Ahasuerus enjoy a mercy which was the portion of the very least of his subjects? Some may say, “The heavy cares of royalty robbed him of that which 'a laboring man' enjoys.” This might be so on other nights, but “on that night” we must account for his restlessness in quite another way. The finger of the Almighty was in that sleepless night. “The Lord God of the Hebrews” had a mighty work to accomplish on behalf of His beloved people and in order to bring that about, He drove “balmy sleep” from the luxurious couch of the monarch of 127 provinces.
This brings out in a marked way the character of the Book of Esther. The reader will observe that, throughout this interesting section of inspiration, the name of God is never heard. Yet His finger is visibly stamped upon everything. The most trivial circumstances displays His “wonderful counsel and excellent working.” Nature's vision cannot trace the movement of the wheels of Jehovah's chariot, but faith not only traces it, but knows the direction in which it moves. The enemy plots, but God is above him. Satan's every movement is seen to be but a link in the marvelous chain of events by which the God of Israel was bringing about His purpose of grace respecting His people. Thus it has been, thus it is and thus it shall ever be. Satan's malice, man's pride, the most hostile influences, are all but so many instruments in the hand of God for the accomplishment of His gracious purposes. This gives the sweetest rest to the heart amid the ceaseless tossings and fluctuations of human affairs. “The end of the Lord” shall assuredly be seen. “His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure.” Blessed be His name for this soul-sustaining assurance! It quiets the heart at all times. Jehovah is behind the scenes. Every wheel, every screw, every pivot in the vast machine of human affairs is under His control. Though His name be not known or acknowledged by the children of earth, His finger is seen, His word is trusted and His end expected by the children of faith.
How clearly is all this seen in the Book of Esther. Vashti's beauty, the king's pride therein, his unseemly command, her indignant refusal, the advice of the king's counselors, are all but the unfolding of Jehovah's ripening purposes. Of “all the fair young virgins gathered at Shushan the palace,” not one must be allowed to win the king's heart except Esther, the daughter of an obscure Jewish house, a desolate orphan. Again, of all the officers, ministers and attendants about the palace, not one must be allowed to discover the conspiracy against the king's life except “a certain Jew whose name was Mordecai.” And on that sleepless night, nothing must be brought to while away the monarch's weary hours except “the book of the records of the chronicles.” Strange recreation for a sensuous king! But God was behind all this. There was a certain record in that book about “a certain Jew” which must be brought immediately under the eye of the restless monarch. Mordecai must come into notice. He must be rewarded for his fidelity, and so rewarded as to cover with overwhelming confusion the face of the proud Amalekite. At the very moment that this record was passing under review, none other than the haughty and wicked Haman must be seen in the court of the king's house. He had come to ensure the death of Mordecai, but is forced by the providence of God to plan for Mordecai's triumph and dignity. He had come to get him hanged on a gallows, but, he is made to clothe him with the king's robe, to set him on the king's horse and like a footman, to conduct him through the streets of the city, and like a mere herald, to announce his triumph.
“Oh! scenes surpassing fable, and yet true.”
Who could have imagined that the noblest lord in all the dominions of Ahasuerus — a descendant of the house of Agag — should be compelled thus to wait upon a poor Jew, and such a Jew, at such a moment? Surely the finger of the Almighty was in all this. Who but an infidel, an atheist or a skeptic could question a truth so obvious?
Thus much as to the providence of God. Let us now look at the pride of Haman. Despite all his dignity, wealth and splendor, his wretched heart was wounded by one little matter, not worth a thought in the judgment of a really great mind or a well-regulated heart. He was rendered miserable by the simple fact that Mordecai would not bow to him! Although he occupied the nearest place to the throne and was entrusted with the king's ring — although possessed of princely wealth and placed in a princely station, “yet” he says, “all this availeth me nothing so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate” (Esther 5: 13). Miserable man! The highest position, the greatest wealth, the most extensive influence, the most flattering tokens of royal favor all “availed nothing” just because a poor Jew refused to bow to him! Such is the human heart! Such is man! Such is the world!
But “pride cometh before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Haman proved this. At the very moment when he seemed to be about to plant his foot on the loftiest summit of his ambition, a just and retributive providence so brought it about that he was obliged to wait upon Mordecai, and the very gallows which he had ordered to be prepared for his intended victim was used for his own execution!
Let us ask why Mordecai refused to bow to Haman? Did it not seem like a blind obstinacy to refuse the customary honor to the king's noblest lord — his highest officer? Assuredly not! Haman was the highest officer of Ahasuerus, but he was the greatest “enemy of Jehovah,” being the greatest “enemy of the Jews.” He was an Amalekite, and Jehovah had sworn that He would “have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17: 16). How then could a true son of Abraham bow to one with whom Jehovah was at war? Impossible! Mordecai could save the life of an Ahasuerus, but he never could bow to an Amalekite. As a faithful Jew, he walked too closely with the God of his fathers to pay attention to one of the seed of Amalek.
Hence Mordecai's stern refusal to bow to Haman was not the fruit of a blind obstinacy and senseless pride, but of lovely faith in and high communion with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He could never relinquish the dignity which belonged to the Israel of God. He would abide by faith under Jehovah's banner, and while so abiding he could never do obeisance to an Amalekite. What though His people were “scattered and peeled” — “though their beautiful house” was in ruins — though Jerusalem's ancient glory was departed — was faith therefore to abandon the high position assigned by God's counsels to His people? By no means. Faith would recognize the ruin and walk softly. At the same time, faith laid hold of God's promise and occupied in holy dignity the platform which that promise had opened up for all who believed it. Mordecai was made to feel deeply the ruin. He clothed himself in sackcloth, but he would never bow to an Amalekite.
What was the result? His sackcloth was exchanged for royal apparel. His place at the king's gate was exchanged for a place next to the throne. He realized in his own happy experience the truth of that ancient promise that Israel should be “the head and not the tail.” Thus it was with this faithful Jew of old. He took his stand on that elevated ground where faith ever places the soul. He shaped his way, not according to nature's view of things around, but according to faith's view of the Word of God. Nature might say, “Why not lower your standard of action to the level of your circumstances? Why not suit yourself to your outward condition? Had you not better acknowledge the Amalekite, seeing that the Amalekite is in the place of power?” Nature might speak thus, but faith's answer was simple: “Jehovah hath sworn that He will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Thus it is ever. Faith lays hold of the living God and His eternal Word, and abides in peace and walks in holy elevation.
Christian reader, may the hallowed instruction of the Book of Esther be brought home to our souls in the power of the Holy Spirit. In it, we see the providence of God, the pride of man, the power of faith. Moreover we are furnished with a striking picture of the actings of Jehovah on behalf of His people Israel — the sudden overthrow of their last proud oppressor, their restoration and their everlasting blessedness, rest and glory.