Obrázky stránek

to her; seven maids are allowed for her attendance; and the best and most honourable place in that seraglio is allotted to her : as if this great officer had designed her for a queen, before the choice of his master.

What strange preparation was here, for the impure bed of a heathen! Every virgin must be six months purified with oil of myrrh, and six other months perfumed with sweet odours ; besides those special receipts, that were allowed to each upon their own election. O God, what care, what cost is requisite to that soul, which should be addressed a fit bride, for thine own holy and glorious Majesty! When we have scoured ourselves with the most cleanest oil of our repentance, and have perfumed ourselves with thy best graces and our perfectest obedience, it is the only praise of thy Mercy, that we may be accepted.

The other virgins passed their probation, unregarded. When Esther's turn came, though she required nothing, but took what was given her; though she affected nothing, but brought that face, that demeanour, which nature had cast upon her; no eye sees her without admiration. The king takes such pleasure in her beauty, that, contemning all the other vulgar forms, his choice is fully fixed upon her. All things must prosper where God hath intended the success.

The most wise Providence of the Almighty fetches his projects from far. The preparation, and advantage, of his own people is in hand. For the contriving of this, Vashti shall be abandoned ; the virgins shall be chosen; Esther only shall please Ahasuerus ; Mordecai shall displease Haman; Haman's ruin shall raise Mordecai. The purposes of God cannot be judged by his remote actions ; only the accomplishment shows his designs : in the mean time, it pleaseth him to look another way, than he moves ; and to work his own ends, by arbitrary and unkindly accidents.

None but Esther shall succeed Vashti. She only carries the heart of Ahasuerus from all her sex. The royal crown is set upon her head; and, as Vashti was cast off at a feast, so with a solemn feast shall Esther be espoused. Here wanted no triumph, to express the joy of this great bridegroom; and, that the world migħt witness he could be no less loving than severe, all his provinces shall feel the pleasure of this happy match, in their immunities, in their rich gifts.

With what envious eyes, do we think, Vashti looked upon her glorious rival! How doth she now, though too late, secretly chide her peevish will, that had thus stript her of her royal crown, and made


for a more happy successor ! Little did she think, her refusal could have had so heinous a construction. Little did she fear, that one word, perhaps not ill-meant, should have forfeited her husband, her crown, and all that she was. Whoso is not wise enough to forecast the danger of an offence, or indiscretion, may have leisure enough of an unseasonable repentance.

That mind is truly great and noble, that is not changed with the highest prosperity. Queen Esther cannot forget her cousin Mordecai. No pomp can make her slight the charge of so dear a kinsman. In all her royalty, she casts her eye upon him, amongst the throng of beholders; but she must not know him. Her obedience keeps her in awe; and will not suffer her to draw him up with her, to the participation of her honour. It troubles her not a little, to forbear this duty; but she must. It is enough for her, that Mordecai hath commanded her not to be known, who or whose she was.

Perhaps the wise Jew feared, that, while her honour was yet green and unsettled, the notice of her nation and the name of a despised captive might be some blemish to her in that proud court; whereas, afterwards, upon the merit of her carriage and the full possession of all hearts, her name might dignify her nation and countermand all reproaches.

Mordecai was an officer in the court of Ahasuerus. His service called him daily to attend in the king's gate. Much better might he, being a Jew, serve a pagan master, than his fosterdaughter might ascend to a pagan's bed.

If the necessity or convenience of his occasions called him to serve, his piety and religion called him to faithfulness in his service. Two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthan and Teresh, conspire against the life of their sovereign. No greatness can secure from treachery or violence. He, that ruled over millions of men, through a hundred and seven-and-twenty provinces, cannot assure himself from the hand of a villain. He, that had the power of other men's lives, is in danger of his own. Happy is that man, that is once possessed of a crown incorruptible, unfadable, reserved for him in heaven. No force, no treason can reach thither: there, can be no peril, of either violence or forfeiture.

The likeliest defence of the person of any prince, is, the fidelity of his attendants. Mordecai overhears the whispering of these wicked conspirators, and reveals it to Esther. She, as glad of such an opportunity to commend unto Ahasuerus the loyalty of him whom she durst but secretly honour, reveals it to the king. The circumstances are examined; the plot is discovered; the traitors executed; the service recorded in the Persian annals.

A good foundation is thus laid for Mordecai's advancement, which yet is not over hastened, on either part. Worthy dispositions labour only to deserve well ; leaving the care of their remuneration to them, whom it concerns. It is fit, that God's leisure should be attended, in all his designments. The hour is set, when Mordecai shall be raised : if, in the meantime there be an intervention, not only of neglect, but of fears and dangers, all these shall make his honour so much more sweet, more precious.





[ocr errors]

BESIDES the charge of his office, the care of Esther's prosperity calls Mordecai to the king's gate; and fixes him there.

With what inward contentment did he think of his so royal pupil ! “Here I sit among my fellows. Little doth the world think, that mine adopted child sits in the throne of Persia ; that the great empress of the world owes herself to me. I might have

more honour, I could not have so much secret comfort, if all Shushận knew what interest I have in queen Esther.

While his heart is taken up with these thoughts, who should come ruffling by him, but the new-raised favourite of king Ahasuerus, Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite? Him hath the great king unexpectedly advanced; and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. The gracious respects of princes are not always led by merit, but by their own will ; which is ever affected to be so much the freer, as themselves would be held more great.

When the sun shines upon the dial, every passenger will be looking at it. There needed no command of reverence, where Ahasuerus was pleased to countenance. All knees will bow alone even to forbidden idols of honour; how much more, where royal authority enjoins obeisance ? All the servants, all the subjects, of king Ahasuerus are willingly prostrate, before this great minion of their sovereign. Only Mordecai stands stiff; as if he saw nothing more than a man, in that proud Agagite.

They are not observed, that do as the most; but if any one man shall vary from the multitude, all eyes are turned upon

him. Mordecai's fellow-officers note this palpable irreverence, and expostulate it; Why transgressest thou the king's commandment ? Considerest thou not, how far this affront reacheth? It is not the person of Haman, whom thou refusest to adore, but the king in him. Neither do we regard so much the man, as the command. Let him be never so vile, whom the king bids to be honoured, with what safety can a subject examine the charge, or resist it?' His unworthiness cannot dispense with our loyalty. What a dangerous wilfulness should it be, to incur the forfeiture of thy place, of thy life, for a courtesy! If thou wilt not bow with others, expect to suffer alone."

Perhaps," they thought, “this omission was unheedy." In a case of ignorance or incogitancy, it was a friendly office to admonish: the sight of the error had been the remedy.

Mordecai hears their challenge, their advice; and thinks good

to answer both, with silence: as willing they should imagine, his inflexibleness proceeded from a resolution, and that resolution upon some secret grounds, which he needed not impart : at last yet he imparts thus much; “Let it suffice, that I am a Jew, and Haman an Amalekite."

After a private expostulation, the continuance of that open neglect is construed for a sullen obstinacy; and now, the monitors themselves grow sensible of the contempt. Men are commonly impatient, to lose the thank of their endeavours ; and are prone to hate, whom they cannot reform. Partly, therefore, to pick a thank, and partly

to revenge this contumacy, these officers turn informers against Mordecai ; neither meant to make the matter fairer than it was. They tell Haman, how proud and stubborn a Jew sat amongst them; how ill they could brook so saucy an affront to be offered to his greatness; how seriously they had expostulated; how stomachfully the offender persisted; and beseech him, that he would be pleased, in his next passage, to cast some glances that way, and but observe the fashion of that intolerable insolency.

The proud Agagite cannot long endure the very expectation of such an indignity. On purpose doth he stalk thither, with higher than his ordinary steps ; snuffing up the air as he goes ; and would see the man, that durst deny reverence to the greatest prince of Persia.

Mordecai holds his old posture : only, he is so much more careless, as he sees Haman more disdainful and imperious. Neither of them goes about to hide his passion. One looked, as if he said, " I hate the pride of Haman;" the other looked, as if he said, “I will plague the contempt of Mordecai.” How did

of Haman sparkle with fury, and, as it were, dart out deadly beams in the face of that despiteful Jew! How did he swell with indignation; and then again wax pale with anger ! Shortly, his very brow and his motion bad Mordecai look for the utmost of revenge.

Mordecai foresees his danger, and contemns it. No frowns, no threats can supple those joints : he may break; he will not bow.

What shall we say then to this obfirmed resolution of Mordecai? What is it, what can it be, that so stiffens the knees of Mordecai, that death is more easy to him, than their incurvation? Certainly, if mere civility were in question, this wilful irreverence to so great a peer could not pass, without the just censure of a rude perverseness. It is religion that forbids this obeisance; and tells him, that such courtesy could not be free from sin. Whether it were, that more than human honour was required to this new-erected image of the great king; as the Persians were ever wont to be noted, for too much lavishness in these courtly devotions : or whether it were, that the ancient

[ocr errors]

the eyes

66 How

[ocr errors]


curse, wherewith God had branded the blood and stock of Haman (Exod. xvii. 16. Deut. xxv. 19), made it unlawful for an Israelite to give him any observance ; for the Amalekites, of whose royal line Haman was descended, were the nation, with which God had sworn perpetual hostility, and whose memory he had straightly charged his people to root out from under heaven.

may ,” thinks he, “ adore, where God commands me to detest? How may I profess respect, where God professeth enmity? How may I contribute to the establishment of that seed upon earth, which God hath charged to be pulled up from under heaven?" Outward actions of indifferency, when once they are felt to trench upon the conscience, lay deep obligations upon the soul, even while they are most slighted by careless hearts.

In what a flame of wrath doth Haman live this while ! wherewith he could not but have consumed his own heart, had he not given vent to that rage, in his assured purposes of revenge.

Great men's anger is like to themselves, strong, fierce, ambitious, of an excessive satisfaction. Haman scorns to take


with the blood of Mordecai. This were but a vulgar amends. Poor men can kill, where they hate; and expiate their own wrong, with the life of a single enemy : Haman's fury shall fly a higher pitch. Millions of throats are few enough to bleed for this offence. It is a Jew, that hath despited him ; all the whole nation of the Jews shall perish, for the stomach of this one. The monarchy of the world was now in the hand of the Persian. As Judea was within this compass, so there was scarce a Jew

upon earth, without the verge of the Persian dominions. The generation, the name, shall now die at once. Neither shall there be any memory of them, but this ; " There was a people, which, having been famous through the world for three Thousand four hundred and fourscore years, were in a moment extinct, by the power of Haman, for default of a courtesy."

Perhaps, that hereditary grudge and old antipathy, that was betwixt Israel and Amalek, stuck still in the heart of this Agagite. He might know, that God had commanded Israel, to root out Amalek from under heaven ; and now, therefore, an Amalekite shall be ready to take this advantage against Israel.

It is extreme injustice, to dilate the punishment beyond the offence; and to enwrap thousands of innocents within the trespass of one.


many that were yet unborn when Haman was unsaluted, must rue the fact they lived not to know! How many millions of Jews were then living, that knew not there was a Mordecai ! All of them are fetched into one condition; and must suffer, ere they can know their offence.

Oh the infinite distance, betwixt the unjust cruelty of men, and the just mercies of the Almighty! Even Caiaphas him

« PředchozíPokračovat »