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it not that either he durst do no other, or that he thus stooped for an advantage. It is a thankless respect that is either forced or for ends. True subjection is free and absolute, out of the conscience of duty, not out of fear or hopes.
All Shushan is in amaze at this sudden glory of Mordecai, and studies how to reconcile this day with the thirteenth of Adar.
Mordecai had reason to hope well. It could not stand with the honour of the king to kill him whom he saw cause to advance; neither could this be any other than the beginning of a durable promotion; otherwise, what recompense had an hour's riding been to so great a service!
On the other side, Haman droops, and hath changed passions with Mordecai. Neither was that Jew ever more deeply afflicted with the decree of his own death than this Agagite was with that Jew's honour. How heavy doth it lie at Haman's heart that no tongue but his might serve to proclaim Mordecai happy! Even the greatest minions of the world must have their turns of sor
With a covered head and a dejected countenance doth he hasten home, and longs to impart his grief where he had received his advice.
It was but cold comfort that he finds from his wife Zeresh and his friends ; If Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, before whom thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him. Out of the mouth of pagans, O God, thou hast ordained strength, that thou mayest still the enemy and the avenger. What credit hath thy great name won with these barbarous nations, that they can out of all experience make maxims of thine undoubted protection of thy people, and the certain ruin of their adversaries ! Men find no difference in themselves. The face of a Jew looks so like other men's, that Esther and Mordecai were not of long taken for what they were. He that made them makes the distinction betwixt them; so as a Jew may fall before a Persian, and get up and prevail; but if a Persian, or whosoever of the Gentiles, begin to fall before a Jew, he can neither stay nor rise. There is an invisible hand of Omnipotency that strikes in for his own, and confounds their opposites. O God, neither is thy hand shortened nor thy bowels straitened in thee. Thou art still and ever thyself. If we be thy true spiritual Israel, neither earth nor hell shall prevail against us.
We shall either stand sure or surely rise while our enemies shall lick the dust.
HAMAN HANGED; MORDECAI ADVANCED.
Esther vii, viii, ix. Hainan's day is now come. That vengeance which hath hitherto slept is now awake, and rouseth up itself to a just execution. That heavy morning was but the preface to his last sorrow, and the sad presage of friends is verified in the speaking. While the word was in their mouths the messengers were at the door to fetch Haman to his funeral banquet.
How little do we know what is towards us! As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
It was, as Haman conceived, the only privilege of his dearness, and the comfort of his present heaviness, that he only was called with the king to Esther's banquet, when this only was meant for his bane. The face of this invitation is fair, and promiseth much; and now the ingenuous man begins to set good constructions upon all events. “Surely," thinks he, “the king was tied in his honour to give some public gratification to Mordecai. So good an office could deserve no less than an hour's glory. But little doth my master know what terms there are betwixt me and Mordecai. Had he fully understood the insolencies of this Jew, and should notwithstanding have enjoined me to honour him, I might have had just cause to complain of disgrace and disparagement; but now, since all this business hath been carried in ignorance and casualty, why do I wrong myself in being too much affected with that which was not ill meant? Had either the king or queen abated aught of their favour to me, I might have dined at home: now this renewed invitation argues me to stand right in the grace of both : and why may not I hope this day to meet with a good occasion of my desired revenge? How just will it seem to the king, that the same man whom he hath publicly rewarded for his loyalty should now be publicly punished for his disobedience ?”
With such like thoughts Haman cheers up himself, and addresseth himself to the royal banquet with a countenance that would fain seem to forget his morning's task. Esther works her face to an unwilling smile upon that hateful guest, and the king, as not inguilty of any dignity that he hath put upon his favourite, frames himself to as much cheerfulness as his want of rest would permit. The table is royally furnished with all delicate confec
tions, with all pleasing liquors. King Ahasuerus so eats as one that both knew he was and meant to make himself welcome, Haman so pours in as one that meant to drown his cares.
And now, in this fulness of cheer, the king hungers for that long-delayed suit of queen Esther. Thrice hath he graciously called for it; and, as a man constant to his own favours, thrice hath he in the same words vowed the performance of it, though to the half of his kingdom. It falls out oftentimes, that when large promises fall suddenly from great persons they abate by leisure, and shrink upon cold thoughts: here king Ahasuerus is not more liberal in his offer than firm in his resolutions, as if his first word had been like his law, unalterable. I am ashamed to miss that steadiness in Christians which I find in a pagan. It was a great word that he had said, yet he eats it not, as overlavishly spoken, but doubles and trebles it with hearty assurances of a real prosecution; while those tongues which profess the name of the true God say and unsay at pleasure, recanting their good purposes, contradicting their own just engagements upon no cause but their own changeableness.
It is not for queen Esther to drive off any longer. The same wisdom that taught her to defer her suit now teaches her to propound it. A well-chosen season is the greatest advantage of any actions, which as it is seldom found in haste, so is too often lost in delay. Now therefore, with an humble and graceful obeisance, and with a countenance full of modest fear and sad gravity, she so delivers her petition, that the king might see it was necessity that both forced it upon her and wrung it from her: If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my request.
Expectation is either a friend or an enemy, according to the occasion. Ahasuerus looked for some high and difficult boon: now that he hears his queen beg for her life, it could not be but that the surplusage of his love to her must be turned into fury against her adversary, and his zeal must be so much more to her as her suit was more meek and humble : For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage.
Crafty men are sometimes choked with their own plots. It was
the proffer of ten thousand talents wherewith Haman hoped both to purchase his intended revenge and the reputation of a worthy patriot. That sum is now laid in his dish for a just argument of malicious corruption; for well might Esther plead, “ If we Jews deserved death, what needed our slaughter to be bought out? and if we deserved it not, what horrible cruelty was it to set a price upon innocent blood? It is not any offence of ours; it is only the despite of an enemy that hath wrought our destruction.”
Besides now it appears the king was abused by misinformation. The adversary suggested that the life of the Jews could not stand with the king's profit, whereas their very bondage should be more damage to the state than all Haman's worth could countervail. Truth may be smothered, but it cannot die; it may be disguised, but it will be known; it may be suppressed, but it will triumph.
But what shall we say to so harsh an aggravation ? Could Esther have been silent in a case of decreed bondage who is now so vehement in a case of death ? Certainly to a generous nature death is far more easy than bondage ; why should she have endured the greater, and yet so abhors the less ? Was it for that the Jews were already too well inured to captivity, and those evils are more tolerable wherewith we are acquainted? or was it for that there may be hopes in bondage, none in death? Surely either of them were lamentable, and such as might deserve her humblest deprecation.
The queen was going on to have said, “ But alas ! nothing will satisfy our bloody enemy save the utter extirpation of me and my nation,” when the impatient rage of the king interrupts her sentence in the midst, and, as if he had heard too much already, and could too easily supply the residue of her complaint, snatches the word out of her mouth with a furious demand, Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so ? the interest of queen Esther's person that raised this storm in Ahasuerus. Set that aside, how quietly, how merrily, was the determined massacre of the Jews formerly digested! Actions have not the same face when we look upon them with contrary affections.
Now queen Esther musters up her inward forces, and with an undaunted courage fixing her angry eyes upon that hated Agagite, she says, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. The word was loath to come forth, but it strikes home at the last.
Never till now did Haman hear his true title. Before, some liad
styled him ' noble,' others' great;' some 'magnificent, and some perhaps 'virtuous;' only Esther gives him his own, wicked Haman. Ill deserving greatness doth in vain promise to itself a perpetuity of applause. If our ways be foul, the time shall come, when, after all vain flattery, after all our momentary glory, our sins shall be ripped up, and our iniquities laid before us, to our utter confusion.
With what consternation did Haman now stand ! How do we think he looked to hear himself thus enstiled, thus accused, yea, thus condemned! Certainly death was in his face and horror in every of his joints. No sense, no limb knows his office. Fain would he speak, but his tongue falters, and his lips treinble. Fain would he make apologies upon his knees, but his heart fails him, and tells him the evidence is too great, and the offence above all pardon. Only guiltiness and fear look through his eyes upon the enraged countenance of his master, which now bodes nothing to him but revenge and death.
In what a passionate distemper doth this banquet shut up! King Ahasuerus flies from the table as if he had been hurried away
with a tempest; his wrath is too great to come forth at his mouth, only his eyes tell Haman that he hates to see him, and vows to see his despatch.
For solitariness, and not for pleasure, doth he now walk into his garden, and thinks with himself, “What a monster have I favoured! Is it possible that so much cruelty and presumption should harbour in a breast that I thought ingenuous ? Could I be so bewitched as to pass so bloody a decree? Is my credulity thus abused by the treacherous subtlety of a miscreant whom I trusted ? I confess it was my weak rashness to yield unto so prodigious à motion ; but it was the villany of this Agagite to circumvent me by false suggestions. He shall pay for my error. The world shall see that as I exceeded in grace so I will not come short in justice. Haman, thy guilty blood shall expiate that innocent blood which thy malice might have shed.”
In the mean time Haman, so soon as ever he could recover the qualm of his astonishment, finding himself left alone with the queen Esther, loseth no time, spareth no breath to mitigate her anger, which had made way to his destruction. Doubtless with many vows and tears and dejerations he labours to clear his intentions to her person ; bewailing his danger, imploring her mercy, confessing the unjust extent of his malice, proffering endeavours of