Esther 1:4

The context displays the miserable weakness of a mighty king. Placed in a position of immense responsibility, he might well have been overwhelmed with anxiety lest his conduct should prove detrimental to the millions under his rule. But no considerations of this nature seem to have exercised his mind; on the contrary, he was animated only with the vainglorious wish of exhibiting to the world "the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty." And he could think of no better way of gratifying this wish than by making an extravagant feast. Doubtless there was poverty, and wretchedness, and suffering enough in his vast dominions, and to have used his abundant resources to alleviate these evils would have reflected immortal glory upon his name; but he preferred to squander his substance in riotous revelry, a proceeding which must soon have necessitated the levying of fresh imposts, in order to replenish his impoverished exchequer. A right feeling may have a wrong development. The desire of excelling is truly laudable; but when it is alloyed with unworthy motives it becomes most despicable. Let us notice, in the first place, wrong ambition, of which we have an instance in the text; and, in the second place, right ambition, of which the former is but a perversion.

I. WRONG AMBITION. The most common forms of this are -

1. An immoderate love of fame. We have instances of this in every walk of life; some of the most brilliant characters in history have been victims of it. There have been authors who prostrated their divine gifts to gain the admiration of the world. There have been orators whose chief aim was to secure the applause of the multitude. And there are men now who will face danger, endure hardship, sacrifice property, for the sake of world-wide renown - or even a paltry distinction in the narrow sphere in which they move.

2. An immoderate love of power. Men hasten to be rich not because of the inherent value of riches themselves, but because rather of the power which riches enable them to command; for at the word of the rich luxury, gratification, service spring up as if at the touch of a magic wand. The thirst for power is insatiable. The amount enjoyed, however great, only begets a craving for more. It has led to the most sanguinary wars that have defiled the earth in ancient and modern times. Alexander, Caesar, Buonaparte, whom Christian enlightenment has taught us to regard with horror, are but types of all conquerors, however exalted their professed aims.

3. An immoderate love of display. This is the most contemptible form of all, and to this King Ahasuerus became a willing victim. Think of the sumptuousness of this feast, the number of the guests, the magnificence of the palace, the costliness of the furniture, the gorgeousness of the drapery, by which he sought to impress the world with the "honour of his excellent majesty" on this occasion. The morbid desire among the well-to-do classes of outshining each other in the grandeur of their mansions, and the splendour of their entertainments, is a standing reproach upon modern civilisation. In spite of the gigantic frauds and disastrous bankruptcies - the natural results of this spirit - which occasionally startle society, the evil seems as flagrant as ever.

II. RIGHT AMBITION. It does not follow that a feeling is essentially wrong because it is sometimes allowed to flow in wrong directions. Thus ambition, however uncomely in certain connections, may be in itself healthy, and conducive to our highest welfare. Ambition, then, is commendable when it is -

1. A desire to cultivate the powers with which we are endowed. These powers are various: physical, mental, spiritual. A man cannot lay claim to the highest virtue simply because he strives to have strong nerves and well-developed muscles; still perfect manhood is not independent of these things. The struggle for intellectual distinction is certainly more dignified, and has a more ennobling influence upon those who are engaged in it. The chief glory of man, however, is his spiritual nature, his ability to hold communion with the unseen; hence spiritual pursuits are the most exalted. However strong man may be physically, or great intellectually, if his spiritual powers be dwarfed, he comes miserably short of the true ideal.

2. A desire to make the most of our outward circumstances. No man's circumstances have been so adverse as to make all excellence unattainable to him. The most barren and desolate life has some spots which, by cultivation, may yield glorious results. In the majority of cases unfruitfulness is due to culpable negligence rather than external difficulties. Just think of the numerous instances in which formidable disadvantages have been conquered. Poor boys have worked their way up into the presence of kings, blind men have mastered the intricacies of optics, the children of profane parents have been renowned for their saintliness. All honour to those who have wrestled with fortune and defied her opposition! The circumstances of most men, however, are more or less favourable to their advancement, and to make the most of them is not only allowable, but a positive duty.

3. A desire to benefit the world. The best ambition is that which is furthest removed from self. The men who will be held in everlasting remembrance are those who have contributed their quota to the progress of their kind. When the names of the most potent warriors shall have perished, the names of philosophers like Newton, inventors like Stephenson, and reformers like Luther, shall live in the affections of a grateful world. But usefulness does not depend upon eminence; every man in his own sphere may do something for the common good. - R.

All the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.
All the wives too are included, for they are all "to give honour to their husbands, both to the great and small." Well, the great, the really great, will get the honour easily, and could do very well probably without the helpful edict. Where there is real greatness, which, in Christian speech, we may translate into real goodness, it is the wife's joy to render what it is the husband's pride to wear. But the honour is to be given "both to the great and small!" "Ay, there's the rub." If this insurrectionary torch should go through the land, what will become of the small ones? — the selfish, the spiteful, the meddlesome, the rude, the mean, the silly, the helpless, the good-for-nothing? They are all to have honour! As if a decree could really get it, or keep it from them. Wouldn't the better plan be, in that case, and in many a case besides, that the small shall try to grow larger? Let them be ashamed of their littleness, and rise out of it into something like nobleness. Let them love and help their wives, and care for their children, and honour will come as harvest follows sowing. But unless they do something like that, one fears that all the edicts that can be devised and promulgated will leave them as it finds them — "small."

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

1. And does not this history teach us that the great law of domestic happiness is love? No Persian decrees are required to execute the mandates of love, nor can any royal commandment make a household happy without it. The true way for all queens to rule is to "stoop to conquer." Let their husbands call themselves as much as they please "the lords of creation," and let them seem to hold the reins, but it is theirs to tell them how to drive. This is the more excellent way. The dispute about the sphere of the sexes is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural. It is God's will that man should be the head and woman the heart of society. If he is its strength, she is its solace. If he is its wisdom, she is its grace and consolation. Domestic strife is always a great evil, but it becomes doubly so when it occurs before company, as happened with the king of Persia, and when professed friends come in and make bad worse. It is then the wound becomes incurable.

2. Let us learn to guard against all excesses, not only in feasting and in the loss of time, but of feeling and passion. How inconsiderate, how rash, how sinful was Herod's oath and terrible decree against John the Baptist! And scarcely less wicked were the king's unjust and cruel proceedings against his wife. It was a maxim with General Jackson to take much time to deliberate — to think out the right resolution — but when once the resolution was taken, then to think only of executing it.

3. How emphatic a lesson is here of human vanity! The great monarch of such a vast empire is not able to govern himself. And all the grandeur of half a year's feasting is spoiled by the disobedience of his queen. This was the dead fly in his pot of ointment.

4. Alas! that so lovely a place as a garden should have been the scene of such revelry and sinning. A garden is associated with some of our holiest and saddest thoughts. Sin fastened on our race in a garden. It was in a garden the curse was pronounced, and there too the great promise of a Redeemer was given. And it was in a garden the Messiah entered the lists of mortal combat to bruise the old serpent's head. Instead, then, of making our gardens the scenes of sinful mirth and dissipation, as did the Persian king, let us make them oratories for pious breathings to heaven — let them give us thoughts of God and of the love and sufferings of His Son Jesus Christ. It is to Him we owe all our pleasures in the creatures and gifts of providence, as well as the hope of eternal life. And so also let the garden be a preacher to us of our frailty.

(W. A. Scott, D. D.)

This is truly a Divine appointment, but it is not made in an arbitrary manner, like, for instance, a positive institution of the Jews, which might be this way or that way with equal propriety — the thing deriving its sacred character chiefly from the fact of the appointment. Even a Divine appointment could not make the wife supreme, human nature continuing what it is. For one thing, woman is weaker than man physically, and supremacy goes with strength. All kinds of force have their ultimate source in God, and when He makes man permanently stronger than woman, no doubt He means some corresponding authority to rest where the permanent strength does. No doubt strength may be abused, is most shamefully abused in some instances, by the husband. But the way to prevent the abuse of strength is not, surely, to attempt to transfer its proper responsibilities to weakness? Weakness may be abused as much as strength, and in some ways even more. Again, there are many things of less or more importance which come to require a single ultimate decision. One must say how this thing is to be. Practical action must be taken one way or other. Who shall decide? Is the husband to submit to the wife? He decides with whom God has lodged the responsibility. But the truth is that in a properly regulated, or rather a properly inspired home, the question of authority in its bald form never arises. The husband's rule and the wife's obedience are alike unconscious, and alike easy. The sweet laws of nature, the good laws of God, make them one. This leads us to say, on the other hand, with equal emphasis, that the authority of the husband is clearly a limited authority. Common sense ought to teach a man that there is a large sphere of the practical family life where he ought to leave the wife and mother practically supreme. His interference at all (whatever may be the abstract right) will not help the industry, the order, the peace of the household. But, rising higher, look at the grand fact that the authority of the husband over the wife has, and must have, clear and strong, and altogether impassable limits.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

Bear rule in his own house
"In his own house" — who has a house of his own? The house is a prison until somebody else shares 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 has to be in the Lord; it is to be the obedience of righteousness, a concession to wisdom, 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.

(J. Parker,D. D.)

A man living at a hotel is like a grape-vine in a flower-pot — movable, carried around from place to place, docked at the root and short at the top. Nowhere can a man get real root-room, and spread out his branches till they touch the morning and the evening, but in his own house.

The important thing, in order to our understanding the story, is that we should keep these first links in our hand, and should mark the working of "another King." Into the administration of our Lord Jesus Christ no mistake can creep, and so perfect is His grasp that mosaic pavements, golden couches, throngs of noblemen, fawning courtiers, excess of wine, swelling vanity, and a woman's firmness, are all, without the slightest knowledge on the part of any actor in the drama, made to bring about a purpose of His, the execution of which is more than four years distant. Had Ahasuerus not been the proud voluptuary he was; had he not made his great feast; had he not in the last day of it let slip or thrown away the reins of sound reason and run his head against a first law of nature; had his vanity taken any other direction than that of wishing to parade the queen's beauty; had Vashti been less of a true woman; had the courtiers been honester than they were — then there would have been no vacant place for Esther to fill, and the plot of Haman might have thriven. But we have this song, "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain."

(A. M. Symington, B. A.).

Abagtha, Admatha, Ahasuerus, Bigtha, Biztha, Carcas, Carshena, Harbona, Marsena, Mehuman, Memucan, Meres, Persians, Shethar, Tarshish, Vashti, Zethar
Ethiopia, India, Media, Persia, Susa
180, Displayed, Eighty, Excellent, Fourscore, Glorious, Glory, Grandeur, Greatness, Honor, Honour, Hundred, Kingdom, Magnificence, Majesty, Pomp, Power, Riches, Royal, Shewed, Shewing, Showed, Splendid, Splendor, Vast, Wealth
1. Xerxes makes royal feasts.
10. Vashti, sent for, refuses to come.
13. Xerxes, by the counsel of Memucan, puts away Vashti, and decrees men's sovereignty.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Esther 1:4

     5776   achievement

Esther 1:1-12

     4476   meals

Esther 1:4-7

     5399   luxury

Whether Boasting is Opposed to the virtue of Truth?
Objection 1: It seems that boasting is not opposed to the virtue of truth. For lying is opposed to truth. But it is possible to boast even without lying, as when a man makes a show of his own excellence. Thus it is written (Esther 1:3,4) that Assuerus "made a great feast . . . that he might show the riches of the glory" and "of his kingdom, and the greatness and boasting of his power." Therefore boasting is not opposed to the virtue of truth. Objection 2: Further, boasting is reckoned by Gregory
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

In Judaea
If Galilee could boast of the beauty of its scenery and the fruitfulness of its soil; of being the mart of a busy life, and the highway of intercourse with the great world outside Palestine, Judaea would neither covet nor envy such advantages. Hers was quite another and a peculiar claim. Galilee might be the outer court, but Judaea was like the inner sanctuary of Israel. True, its landscapes were comparatively barren, its hills bare and rocky, its wilderness lonely; but around those grey limestone
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

The spirit of the book of Esther is anything but attractive. It is never quoted or referred to by Jesus or His apostles, and it is a satisfaction to think that in very early times, and even among Jewish scholars, its right to a place in the canon was hotly contested. Its aggressive fanaticism and fierce hatred of all that lay outside of Judaism were felt by the finer spirits to be false to the more generous instincts that lay at the heart of the Hebrew religion; but by virtue of its very intensity
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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