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and shame had followed. That holy place was for none but persons sacred ; such as were privileged by blood and function : others should presume and offend in entering. And now, what would the people say? " What shall become of us, while our governor hides his head for fear? Where shall we find a temple to secure us? What do we depending upon a cowardly leader ?"
Well did Nehemiah forecast these circumstances, both of act and event; and therefore, resolving to distrust a prophet that persuaded him to the violation of a law, he rejects the motion with scorn; Should such a man as I flee? Should I go into the temple to save my life? I will not go. It is fit for great persons, to stand upon the honour of their places. Their very stations -should put those spirits into them, that should make them hate to stoop unto base conditions.
Had God sent this message, we know he hath power to dispense with his own laws; but well might the contradiction of a law argue message
not sent of God. God, as he is one, so doth he perfectly agree with himself. If any private spirit cross a written word, let him be accursed.
CONTEMPLATION IV.-AHASUERUS FEASTING;
VASHTI CAST OFF; ESTHER CHOSEN.
ESTHER I., II. What bounds can be set to human ambition? Ahasuerus, that is, Xerxes the son of Darius, is already the king of a hundred and seven-and-twenty provinces, and now is ready to fight for more. He hath newly subdued Egypt, and is now addressing himself for the conquest of Greece. He cannot hope ever to see all the land that he possesseth, and yet he cannot be quiet, while he hears of more. Less than two ells of earth shall ere long serve him, whom, for the time, a whole world shall scarce satisfy. In vain shalí man strive to have that, which he cannot enjoy; and to enjoy ought, by mere relation. It is a windy happiness, that is sought in the exaggeration of those titles, which are taken upon others' credit, without the sense of the owner. Nothing can fill the heart of man, but he that made it.
This great monarch, partly in triumph of the great victories that he hath lately won in Egypt, and partly for the animation of his princes and soldiers to his future exploits, makes a feast, like himself, royal and magnificent. What is greatness, if it be not showed? And wherein can greatness be better shown, than in the achievements of war, and the entertainment of peace?
All other feasts were but hunger, to this of Ahasuerus ;
whether we regard the number of guests, or the largeness of preparation, of continuance of time. During the space of a whole half-year, all the tables were sumptuously furnished, for all comers from India to Ethiopia ; a world of meat; every meal was so set on, as if it should have been the last. Yet all this long feast hath an end; and all this glory is shut up in forgetfulness. What is Ahasuerus the better, that his peers then said, he was incomparably great? What are his peers the better, that they were feasted ? Happy is he, that eats bread and drinks new wine in the kingdom of God. This banquet is for eternity; without intermission, without satiety.
What variety of habits, of languages, of manners, met at the boards of Ahasuerus! What confluence of strange guests was there now to Shushan! And, lest the glory of this great king might seem, like some coarse picture, only fair afar off, after the princes and nobles of the remote provinces, all the people of Shushan are entertained, for seven days, with equal pomp and
The spacious court of the palace is turned into a royal hall: the walls are of rich hangings, the pillars of marble, the beds of silver and gold, the pavement of porphyry curiously chequered. The wine and the vessels strove whether should be the richer : no men drunk in worse than gold; and while the metal was the same, the form of each cup was diverse. The attendance was answerable to the cheer; and the freedom matched both: here was no compulsion, either to the measure or quality of the draught ; every man's rule was his own choice. Who can but blush, to see forced healths in Christian banquets, when the civility of very pagans commands liberty?
I cannot but envy the modesty of heathen dames. Vashti the queen, and her ladies, with all the several ranks of that sex, feast apart ; entertaining each other, with a bashful courtesy, without wantonness, without that wild scurrility, which useth to haunt promiscuous meetings. Oh shameful unchastity of those loose Christians, who must feed their lust, while they fill their bellies ; and think the feast unperfect, where they may not satiate their eye, no less than palate!
The last day of this pompous feast is now King Ahasuerus is so much more cheerful, by how much his guests are near to their dismission. Every one is wont to close up his courtesy with so much more passion, as the last acts used to make the deeper impression. And now, that he might at once amaze and endear the beholders, Vashti the queen, in all her royalty, is called for. Her sight shall shut up the feast; that the princes and the people may say, “ How happy is king Ahasuerus, not so much in this greatness, as in that beauty!" Seven officers of the chamber are sent, to carry
the message, to attend her entrance; and are returned with a denial. Perhaps Vashti thought; “ What means this uncouth motion ? More
than six months hath this feast continued, and all this while we have enjoyed the wonted liberty of our sex. Were the king still himself, this command could not be sent. It is the wine, and not he, that is guilty of this errand. Is it for me to humour him, in so vain a desire? Will it
with our modest reservedness, to offer ourselves to be gazed
at by millions of eyes? Who knowns, what wanton attempts may follow upon this ungoverned excess? This very message argues, that wit and reason have yielded their places, to that besotted liquor. Nothing but absence can secure us, from some unbeseeming proffer. Neither doubt I, but the king, when he returns to himself, will give me thanks, for so wise a forbearance.”
Thus, upon the conceit, as is likely, that her presence would be either needless or unsafe, Vashti refuseth to came: although, perhaps, her great spirits thought much, to receive a command from the hand of officers.
The blood, that is once inflamed with wine, is apt to boil with rage.
Ahasuerus is very wroth, with this indign repulse. It was the ostentation of his glory and might, that he affected, before these princes, peers, people ; and now that seems eclipsed, in the shutting up of all his magnificence, with the disgraceful affront of a woman. It vexes him to think, that those nobles, whom he meant to send away astonished with the admiration of his power and majesty, should now say;
66 What boots it Ahasuerus to rule afar off
, when he cannot command at home? In vain doth he boast to govern kings, while he is checked by a woman.
Whatever were the intentions of Vashti, surely her disobedience was inexcusable. It is not for a good wife to judge of her husband's will, but to execute it. Neither wit, nor stomach, may carry her into a curious inquisition, into the reasons of an enjoined charge ; much less to a resistance: but in a hoodwinked simplicity she must follow, whither she is led ; as one that holds her chief praise, to consist in subjection.
Where should the perfection of wisdom dwell, if not in the court of princes? Or what can the treasures of monarchs purchase more invaluably precious, than learned and judicious attendance? Or who can be so fit for honour, as the wisest? I doubt how Ahasuerus could have been so great, if his throne had not been still compassed with them, that knew the times, and understood the law and judgment. These were his oracles in all his doubts. These are now consulted in this difficulty. Neither must their advice be secretly whispered, in the king's ear; but publicly delivered, in the audience of all the princes. It is a perilous way, that these sages are called to
betwixt a husband and wife ; especially of such power and eminency; yet Memucan fears not to pass a heavy sentence against queen Vashti. Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and all the people, that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus : a deep and sore crimination. Injuries are so much more intolerable, as they are dilated unto more. Those offences, which are of narrow extent, may receive an easy satisfaction ; the amends are not possible, where the wrong is universal : For this deed of the queen shall come abroad to all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes. Indeed so public a fact must needs fly : that concourse gave fit opportunity, to diffuse it all the world over. The examples of the great are easily drawn into rules. Bad lessons are apt to be taken out. As honour, so contempt, falls down from the head to the skirts ; never ascends from the skirts to the head.
These wise men are so much the more sensible of this danger, as they saw it more likely the case might prove their own : Likewise shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the king's princes. The first precedents of evil must be carefully avoided, if we care to keep a constant order in good. Prudence cannot better bestir itself, than in keeping mischief from home.
The foundation of this doom of Memucan is not laid so deep, for nothing ; If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of Persians and Medians, that it be not altered, That Vashti come no more before Ahasuerus ; and let the king give her royal estate to another, that is better than she.
How bold a word was this ; and how hazardous ! Had Ahasuerus moreloved the beauty of Vashti, than his honour, Memucan had spoken against his own life. Howsoever, a queen of so great spirits could not want strength of favour and faction in the Persian court ; which could but not take fire, at so desperate a motion. Faithful statesmen, overlooking private respects, must bend their eyes upon public dangers; labouring to prevent a common mischief, though with the adventure of their own.
Nature had taught these pagans the necessity of a female subjection, and the hate and scorn of a proud disobedience. They have unlearned the very dictates of nature, that can abide the head to be set below the rib.
I cannot say but Vashti was worthy of a sharp censure : I cannot say she was worthy a repudiation. This plaister drew too hard. It was but heathen justice, to punish the wife's disobedience in one indifferent act, with a divorce. Nothing, but the violation of the marriage-bed, can either break or untie the knot of marriage.
Had she not been a queen, had not that contemptuous act been public, the sentence had not been so hard : now, the punishment must be exemplary, lest the sin should be so. Many a one had smarted less, if their persons, if their place had been meaner. The king, the princes, approve this heavy judgment of Memu
It is not in the power of the fair face of Vashti, to warrant her stomach. No doubt, many messages passed, ere the rigour of this execution. That great heart knows not to relent; but will rather break than yield to an humble deprecation. When the stone and the steel meet, fire is stricken: it is a soft answer, that appeaseth wrath. Vashti is cast off. Letters are sent from the king into all his provinces, to command that every man should rule at home. The court affords them an awful pattern of authority. Had not Ahasuerus doted much upon Vashti's beauty, he had not called her forth at the feast, to be wondered at, by his peers and people; yet now he so feels the wound of his reputation, that he forgets he ever felt any wound of his affection. Even the greatest love may be overstrained. It is not safe presuming upon the deepest assurances of dearness. There is no heart, that may not estranged.
It is not possible, that great princes should want soothing up, in all their inclinations, in all their actions. While Ahasuerus is following the chase of his ambition in the wars of Greece, his followers are providing for his lust at home. Nothing could sound more pleasing to a carnal ear, than that all the fair
young virgins, throughout all his dominions, should be gathered into his palace at Shushan, for his assay and choice. The decree is soon published. The charge is committed to Hegai, the king's chamberlain, both of their purification and ornaments.
What strife, what emulation, was now amongst all the Persian damsels, that either were or thought themselves fair! Every one hopes to be a queen; and sees no reason, why any other should be thought more excellent. How happy were we, if we could be so ambitious of our espousals to the King of Heaven !
Amongst all this throng of virgins, God hath provided a wife for Ahasuerus ; having determined his choice, where most advantage shall rise to his forlorn people.
The Jews were miserably scattered over the world, in that woeful deportation under Seconiah. Scarce a handful of them returned to Jerusalem. The rest remained, still dispersed, where they may; but have leave to live. There are many thousands of them turned over, with the Babylonian monarchy, to the Persian. Amongst the rest, was Mordecai, the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin ; a man of no mean note or ability ; who, living in Shushan, had brought up Hadassah, or Esther, his uncle's daughter, in a liberal fashion. It was happy for this orphan, that, in a region of captivity, she lighted into such good hands. Her wise kinsman finds it fit, that her breeding and habit should be Persian-like. In outward and civil forms, there was no need to vary from the heathen: her religion must be her own: the rest was so altogether theirs, that her very
nation was not discerned.
The same God, that had given incomparable beauty to this Jewess, gave her also favour in the eyes of Hegai, the keeper of the women.
She is not only taken into the Persian court, as one of the selected virgins, but observed with more than ordinary respect. All necessaries for her speedy purification are brought