תמונות בעמוד

thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed. And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this ?”

Two things are remarkable in this eloquent and imperious speech. One is, that Mordecai believed in some mysterious aid from God; and the other, that he hoped that the instrument of divine deliverance might be Esther herself. And further, it is possible that Mordecai divined the subtle hatred of Haman; that as prime minister and favorite of an absolute and weakminded monarch whom he controlled, he would have set himself to compass the ruin of the Jews, whether he had been insulted or not. The refusal to bow before him was the pretext, and not the cause, of such terrible vengeance on those who had not offended him. Mordecai saw in him the inexorable and unscrupulous enemy of his race, bent on their destruction ; and therefore he could not bow to him. He would be guilty of the greatest rashness, rather than humble himself before such an enemy.

In his perplexity and anguish Mordecai had sought the aid of Esther, as the one person alone who could defeat the ends of Haman; and when she opened her eyes to the real issue and danger of the case, she showed self-reliance, piety, and heroism. “Go,” said she, through the messenger, for she could not hold direct intercourse with her cousin, “gather together all the Jews that are present in Susa, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I, also, and my maidens will fast likewise ; and so will I go unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

In this noble resolution to do the only thing which could possibly save her people, we see neither fatalism nor desperation, — we see the spirit of a believer in God, seeking His help in prayer and fasting. But she uses the means of success. She puts on the royal apparel after the third day, and arrays herself probably in the most elaborate fashion, with crown and jewels and love tokens, and with whatever could set forth her extraordinary beauty to the best advantage. Thus apparelled, she boldly entered the inner court, and stood, uncalled, before the king upon his throne. Stronger men than he would have yielded to such an unexpected blaze of personal charms. He held out to her the golden sceptre, and she was saved.

But the salvation of her people could be secured only by consummate tact. She dare not yet announce the real object of her visit. When told, as was usual, to prefer her request, — and the king knew she had some great favor to ask, else she would not run such dreadful risk, -— she simply asked the favor and the honor of the royal presence and that of the powerful favorite Haman to a grand banquet she had prepared. Nothing could be more agreeable to both king and minister, and they made haste to attend the festivities. But neither then nor there, at the most magnificent entertainment in her power to give, did she make known her wishes, — so great were the issues at stake. She waited for a better opportunity; and when her royal spouse, softened by caresses and wine, renewed his proinise to give her whatever she desired, she simply requested a repetition of the visit on the following day.

Meanwhile the man to whom was delegated the government of an empire went forth from the banquet, his heart inflated with exultation. He had received the greatest honor of his life. He had no suspicion of the parentage and people of the dazzling queen; he knew only her beauty and her station, and that she had invited him, with the king, to two banquets in as many days. As he passed the outer gate there sat, reserved and calm, his detested enemy, who neither saluted him nor bowed to him, — «till implacable, although it would seem that it was for his interest now to conciliate the most powerful man in the kingdom, who controlled the destinies of his people. Haman was inflamed with deeper resentment, but dissembled his indignation until he entered his own home, when he gave vent to his bitterness and wrath. “All this,” said he, “my power and riches and honors, avail me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.” How small a thing will poison our proudest hours ! The sneers of Michal disturbed the exalted happiness of David when he removed the ark to Jerusalem, leading to an eternal separation between them. We can forgive injuries, — we cannot forgive a wound to our vanity. Then said Haman's wife, a malignant Proserpina, “Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and to-morrow speak to the king that Mordecai be hanged thereon ; then go merrily with him to the banquet.” Great as was Haman's power, he could not punish Mordecai without the king's consent.

It is further recorded that on that eventful night when the slaves of Haman were erecting within the court of his palace the scaffold to be used for the death of his enemy, the king could not sleep, though lulled by the fumes of the banquet and the strains of music. He was troubled with anxious thoughts, or filled with remorse by the sudden recollection of some ill-requited deed of loyalty ; so he summoned his secretaries to read the chief incidents of his reign. They read among other things the fact that Mordecai had, a few years before, revealed a dangerous conspiracy and saved his life. He then inquired what had been done to reward his benefactor. They replied that nothing had been done. Silently the monarch brooded over his own ingratitude, and devised a tardy reparation. The morning came; but before the business hour arrived he seated himself on his throne, and inquired of his guards who were waiting in the outer court. They told him that Haman was there; for he came to beg the death of Mordecai. He was ordered into the royal presence, and Haman exulted at the fulfilment of his plans.

With blended irony and dissimulation the king inquired of his minister what should be done to the man whom the king delighted to honor. To the mind of Haman, who but himself was that fortunate man ? So in his vanity he said : " Let the royal apparel be brought, and sumptuous robes, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal; and let this apparel and horse be delivered unto the hand of one of the king's most trusted princes, that he might array the man whom the king delighteth to honor; and let him be brought on horseback through the streets of the city, with heralds proclaiming, “Thus shall be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honor!”” “Well, then,” said the king, “make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do so even to Mordecai the Jew; and let nothing fail of all thou hast spoken.”

What a crushing blow to the proud and revengeful Amalekite! What an abject humiliation ! His hour of triumph is turned to one of the deepest degradation.

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