תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

All Haman could do was to veil his feelings and conceal his blasted hopes and execute to the letter the will of the despot whom he served. After the hateful ceremony was ended, he returned to his house a crushed and desperate man. His wife understood the omen, and so did his friends the astrologers whom he kept. Their words of comfort were like the handwriting on the wall of the banqueting hall of the king of Babylon. “ If,” said these comforters, “ Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but he will prevail against thee."

Before he could recover from his dismay, the humiliated favorite was summoned to the second banquet prepared by the queen, who doubtless had heard of the unexpected honor bestowed upon her relative. Not now timid and uncertain, but strong with the consciousness of approaching triumph, again she waits for her lord to speak. He sees her flushed countenance and her imploring attitude; she evidently has something important to reveal. The king kindly demands to know what her petition is, and promises to grant it, even to half of his kingdom. No longer she hesitates or gives fond dalliances, but rising in the dignity of an injured and faithful queen, and with a preternatural earnestness and eloquence, begs for the life of her people. She reveals her birth and nation.

That she, too, was doomed to destruction by the artful minister had never crossed the monarch's mind. That his own royal decree had forfeited the life of the woman he so tenderly loved filled him with horror; and now also he comprehended the enormity of taking the

who developed the resources of his kingdom. “We are sold,” she cried, with piteous grief, “ I and my people, to be slain and to perish. And if,” she continued, with vehement eloquence, “ we had been sold as bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue.” The oppression of slavery the Jews had learned to endure, but extermination was despair indeed. Who could resist such an appeal, such a revelation of an infernal plot ?

The monarch, in his turn, then rises with indignation from his golden and embroidered couch, and demands who and where is he that durst presume on

the crestfallen favorite who quailed before her, replied : “ This is the man! The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman.” The whole plot with all its consequences is now revealed to the astonished king, who in a moment of weakness had sanctioned the most outrageous crime in human annals, and as fool

and grief, he conceals his feelings and retires to meditate. Then Haman, wild with fear and despair, abjectly begs of Esther his wretched life. He foresees his doom. In his agony he even throws himself upon her couch, and clings to her feet in abject supplication. While he lies thus crouching, with useless tears, the king reappears, and is inflamed with renewed wrath at the supposition of an impossible crime. He summons his guards. They cover Haman's face as a man to be led to execution. They tell the king of the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. “Hang him thereon!" is the summary order.

Thus miserably perished the most powerful subject in the empire, utterly consumed with terrors. He reigned like a lion, but he died like a dog. So rapid and unexpected are the changes in an Oriental court! So impressive is the lesson of the instability of fortune! So unstable is the favor of the great!

“Oh, how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes' favors !
There is, betwixt tbat smile we would aspire to,
That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
More pangs and fears than wars or women have;
And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again.”

Mordecai now takes the place of his fallen enemy, bei.g elevated in power over all the princes of Persia. He rules with delegated yet absolute sway. Yet there is one thing he cannot do, — he cannot recall the decree for the destruction of his people. The king himself cannot recall it. Though Esther fell on her knees before him and besought him with tears to countermand his order, he was powerless. Even despotism could not annul what it had decreed. All Mordecai, or the king his master, could do was to forewarn the Jews, and authorize them to defend themselves.

But it is not probable that the decree was rigorously enforced, although there was a considerable slaughter of Jews, and a still greater slaughter of the Persians, — some seventy-five thousand men, three hundred in Susa alone. Mordecai was too powerful a man for provincial governors to offend. We read that they even helped the Jews, because the fear of the prime minister fell upon them.

Three times it is recorded in the Bible that captive Jews became the prime ministers of absolute monarchs in different countries, — Joseph in Egypt, Daniel at Babylon, and Mordecai in Persia. Each of these men was an instrument of divine Providence in averting great disasters from the empires that they served, or procuring benefits for the chosen people of Jehovah. But the ablest and most astute of these ministers was Mordecai. No Jew ever wielded in a foreign country so much power as he. He ruled one hundred and twenty-seven provinces; he was clothed in the royal robes of purple and white; he wore a golden crown upon his head; he sealed his letters with the king's own signet ring; his favor was courted by all the potentates. Mordecai and Esther together formed an irresistible power, — a combination not unlike that which might have been wielded in France in the time of Madame de Maintenon, had Richelieu been minister and Louis XIV. an enervated monarch. We are told that Mordecai sought the wealth of the people, — that is, that he developed the industrial industries of the nation. He could not arrest its decay and ruin, but he may have delayed the evil day. All that an intelligent government could do was done by him for the Persians. For his own people, he averted the most terrible calamity that ever threatened the Jewish nation in a foreign land. So marvellous was the deliverance that the Jews ever afterward commemorated it by a solemn festival.

At this point we may remark incidentally, that the Jews still furnish remarkable men for the highest stations in Europe, in spite of the obloquy which has befallen the race. There is not, it is said, a first-class cabinet in any European State in which the Jews are not represented. For some years a Jew reigned nearly supreme in Great Britain, against all the prejudices of the proudest aristocracy in the world. Jews occupy the

« הקודםהמשך »