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into matters of state. That, which perplexed all Shushan, was not yet known to her. Her followers, not knowing her to be a Jewess, conceived not how the news might concern her, and therefore had forborne the relation. Mordecai first informs her, by her messenger, of the decree, that was gone out against all her nation; of the day, wherein they must prepare to bleed; of the sum, which Haman had proffered for their heads; and delivers the copy of that bloody edict; charging her, now, if ever, to bestir herself; and to improve all her love, all her power, with king Ahasuerus, in a speedy and humble supplication, for the saving of the life (not of himself so much, as) of her people.
It was tidings able to confound a weak heart; and hers, so much the more, as she could apprehend nothing, but impossibility of redress. She needs but to put Mordecai in mind of that, which all the king's servants and subjects knew well enough, that the Persian law made it no less than death for whomsoever, man or woman, that should press into the inner court of the king, uncalled. Nothing, but the royal sceptre extended, could keep that presumptuous offender from the grave. For her, thirty days were now passed, since she was called in to the king; an intermission, that might be justly suspicious. Whether the heat of his first affection were thus soon, of itself, allayed towards her ; or, whether some suggestions of a secret enemy, perhaps his Agagite, might have set him off; or, whether some more pleasing object may have laid hold on his eyes ; whatever it might be, this absence could not but argue some strangeness, and this strangeness must needs imply a danger in her bold intrusion. She could bewail therefore, she could not hope to remedy, this dismal day of her people.
This answer, in the ears of Mordecai, sounded truth, but weakness ; neither can he take
with so feeble a return. These occasions require other spirits, other resolutions, which must be quickened by a more stirring reply: Think not with thyself, that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but 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?
The expectation of death had not quailed the strong heart of faithful Mordecai. Even while he mourns, his zeal droops not. There could have been no life in that breast, which this message could not have roused.
" What then? Is it death, that thou fearest, in this attempt of thy supplication? What other than death awaits thee, in the neglect of it? There is but this difference ; sue, and thou mayest die; sue not, and thou must die. What blood hast thou, but Jewish? And if these unalterable edicts exempt no living soul, what shall become of thine ? And canst thou be so vainly
timorous, as to die for fear of death? to prefer certainty of danger, before a possibility of hopes ? Away with this weak cowardice, unworthy of an Israelite, unworthy of a queen. But if faintheartedness or private respects shall seal up thy lips, or withhold thine aid from the hand of thy people; if thou canst so far neglect God's Church ; know thou, that God will not neglect it. It shall not be in the power of tyrants, to root out his chosen seed. That Holy One of Israel shall rather work miracles from heaven, than his inheritance shall perish upon earth. And how just shall it then be for that jealous God, to take vengeance upon thee and thy father's house, for this cold unhelpfulness to his distressed Church! Suffer me therefore to adjure thee, by all that tenderness of love, wherewith I have trained up thine orphan infancy; by all those dear and thankful respects, which thou hast vowed to me again; by the name of the God of Israel, whom we serve ; that thou awaken and stir up thy holy courage, and dare to adventure thy life, for the saving of many. It hath pleased the Almighty, to raise thee up to that height of honour, which our progenitors could little expect : why shouldst thou be wanting to him, that hath been so bountiful to thee? yea, why should I not think that God hath put this very act into the intendment of thine exaltation; having, on purpose, thus seasonably hoisted thee up to the throne, that thou mayest rescue his poor Church from an utter ruin?”
Oh the admirable faith of Mordecai, that shines through all these clouds; and in the thickest of these fogs descries a cheerful glimpse of deliverance ! He saw the day of their common destruction enacted; he knew the Persian decrees to be unalterable ; but, withal, he knew there was a Messiah to come. He was so well acquainted with God's covenanted assurances to his Church, that he, through the midst of those bloody resolutions, foresees indemnity to Israel ; rather trusting the promises of God, than the threats of men. This is the victory, that overcomes all the fears and fury of the world, even our faith.
It is quarrel enough against any person or community, not to have been aidful to the distresses of God's people. Not to ward the blow, if we may, is construed for little better than striking. Till we have tried our utmost, we know not whether we have done that we came for.
Mordecai hath said enough. These words have so put a new life into Esther, that she is resolute to hazard the old ; Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day : 1 also and my maidens will fast likewise ; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish. Heroical thoughts do well befit great actions. Life can never be better adventured, than where it shall be gain to lose it. There can be no law, against the humble deprecation of evils. Where the necessity of God's Church calls to us, no danger should withhold us, from all honest means of relief. Deep humiliations must make way, for the success of great enterprises. We are most capable of mercy, when we are thoroughly empty. A short hunger doth but whet the appetite ; but so long an abstinence meets death half way to prevent it.
Well may they enjoin sharp penances unto others, who practise it upon themselves.
It was the face of Esther, that must hope to win Ahasuerus ; yet that shall be macerated with fasting, that she may prevail. A carnal heart would have pampered the flesh, that it might allure those wanton eyes : she pines it, that she may please. God, and not she, must work the heart of the king. Faith teaches her rather to trust her devotions, than her beauty.
CONTEMPLATION VI.-ESTHER SUING TO
The Jews are easily entreated to fast, who had received in themselves the sentence of death. What pleasure could they take in meat, that know what day they must eat their last ?
The three days of abstinence are expired. Now Esther changes her spirits, no less than her clothes. Who, that sees that face and that habit, can say she had mourned, she had fasted ! Never did her royal apparel become her so well. That God, before whom she had humbled herself, made her so much more beautiful, as she hath been more dejected.
And now, with a winning confidence, she walks into the inner court of the king, and puts herself into that forbidden presence; as if she said,
66 Here I
life in my hand. If it please the king to take it, it is ready for him. Vashti, my predecessor, forfeited her place, for not coming when she was called. Esther shall now hazard the forfeiture of her life, for coming when she is not called. It is necessity, not disobedience, that hath put me upon this bold approach. According to thy construction, O king, I do either live or die : either shall be wel
The unexpectedness of pleasing objects makes them, many times, the more acceptable. The beautiful countenance, the graceful demeanour, and goodly presence of Esther, have no sooner taken the eyes, than they have ravished the heart of king Ahasuerus. Love hath soon banished all dreadfulness; and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre, that was in his hand. Moderate intermission is so far from cooling the affection, that it inflames it. Had Esther been seen every day, per
haps that satiety had abated of the height of her welcome ; now, three-and-thirty days' retiredness hath endeared her more to the surfeited eyes of Ahasuerus.
Had not the golden sceptre been held out, where had queen Esther been? The Persian kings affected a stern awfulness to their subjects. It was death, to solicit them, uncalled. How safe, how easy, how happy a thing it is, to have to do with the King of Heaven ; who is so pleased with our access, that he solicits suitors : who, as he is unweariable with our requests, so is he infinite in his beneficences !
How gladly doth Esther touch the top of that sceptre, by which she holds her life! and now, while she thinks it well that she may live, she receives, besides pardon, favour: What wilt thou, queen Esther ? and what is thy request ? it shall be given thee, even to the half of the kingdom. Commonly, when we fear most, we speed best. God then most of all magnifies his bounty to us, when we have most afflicted ourselves. Over-confident expectations are seldom but disappointed; while humble suspicions go laughing away. It was the benefit and safety of but one piece of the kingdom, that Esther comes to sue for; and behold, Ahasuerus offers her the free power of the half. He, that gave Haman, at the first word, the lives of all his Jewish subjects, is ready to give Esther half his kingdom, ere she ask. Now she is no less amazed at the loving munificence of Ahasuerus, than she was before afraid of his austerity. The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water he turneth it whithersoever he will.
It is not good to swallow favours too greedily ; lest they either choke us in the passage, or prove hard of digestion. The wise queen, however she might seem to have à fair opportunity offered to her suit, finds it not good to apprehend it too suddenly; as desiring, by this small dilation, to prepare the ear and heart of the king, for so important a request.
Now, all her petition ends in a banquet ; If it seem good unto the king, let the king and Haman come this day unto the banquet, that I have prepared for him. It is an easy favour, to receive a small courtesy, where we offer to give great. Haman is called ; the king comes to Esther's table ; and now, highly pleased with his entertainment, he himself solicits her to propound that suit, for which her modesty would, but durst not, solicit him. Bashfulness shall lose nothing, at the hand of well-governed great
Yet still, Esther's suit sticks in her teeth ; and dares not come forth, without a further preface of time and expectation. Another banquet must pass, ere this reckoning can be given in. Other suitors wait long, for the delivery of their petition ; longer, for the receipt of their answer : here, the king is fain to wait for his suit. Whether Esther's heart would not yet serve her
to contest with so strong an adversary, as Haman, without further recollection ; or, whether she desired to get better hold of the king, by endearing him with so pleasing entertainments; or, whether she would thus ripen her hopes, by working in the mind of king Ahasuerus a fore-conceit of the greatness and difficulty of that suit, which was so loth to come forth ; or, whether she meant thus to give scope to the pride and malice of Haman, for his more certain ruin : howsoever it were, tomorrow is a new day, set for Esther's second banquet and third petition.
The king is not invited without Haman. Favours are sometimes done to men, with a purpose of displeasure. Doubtless, Haman tasteth of the same cates with his master ; neither could he in the forehead of Esther read any other characters, than of respect and kind applause ; yet had she then, in her hopes, designed him to a just revenge. Little do we know, by outward carriages, in what terms we stand, with either God or man.
Every little wind raiseth up a bubble. How is Haman now exalted in himself, with the singular graces of queen Esther ; and begins to value himself so much more, as he sees himself higher in the rate of others' opinion.
Only surly and sullen Mordecai is an allay to his happiness. No edict of death can bow the knees of that stout Jew: yea, the notice of that bloody cruelty of this Agagite hath stiffened them so much the more. Before, he looked at Haman as an Amalekite; now, as a persecutor. Disdain and anger look out at those eyes, and bid that proud enemy do his worst. No doubt, Mordecai had been listening after the speed of queen Esther ; how she came in to the king, how she was welcomed with the golden sceptre, and with the more precious words of Ahasuerus; how she had entertained the king; how she pleased : the news had made him quit his sackcloth, and raised his courage to a more scornful neglect of his professed adversary.
Haman comes home, I know not whether more full of pride or of rage ; calls an inward council of his choice friends, together with his wife ; makes a glorious report of all his wealth, magnificence, height of favour, both with the king and queen ; and, at last, after all his sunshine, sets in this cloudy epilogue, Yet all this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate. It is seldom seen, that God allows, even to the greatest darlings of the world, a perfect contentment. Something they must have to complain of, that shall give an unsavoury verdure to their sweetest morsels; and make their very felicity, miserable.
The wit of women hath wont to be noted, for more sudden and more sharp. Zeresh, the wife of Haman, sets on foot that motion of speedy revenge, which is applauded by the rest : Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to-morrow speak thou to