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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 bis 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 would 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 ? It was 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 Agag, ite, she says, The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. The word was loth to come forth, but it strikes home at the last.
Never, till now, did Haman hear his true title. Before, some had styled him, noble; others, great ; some, magnificent; and some, perhaps, virtuous: only Esther gives him his own, wicked Haman. İll 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 tremble. 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 dispatch.
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 a 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 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 satisfaction : « Wretched man that I am, I am condemned before I speak; and when I have spoken, I am condemned. Upon thy sentence, O queen, I see death awaits for me. In vain shall I seek to avoid it. It is thy will, that I should perish; but let that little breath
I have left acquit me so far with thee, as to call heaven and earth to record, that, in regard of thee, I die innocent. It is true, that mine impetuous malice miscarried me against the nation of the Jews, for the sake of one stubborn offender; but did I know there was the least drop of Israelitish blood in thy sacred person? Could I suspect, that Mordecai or that people did ought concern thee? Let not one death be enough for me, if I would ever have entertained any thought of evil against nation or man, that should have cost but a frown from thee. All the court of Persia can sufficiently witness, how I have magnified and adored thee, ever since the royal crown was set on thy head; neither did I ever fail to do thee all good offices unto that my sovereign master, whom thou hast now mortally incensed against me. O queen, no hand can save my life, but thine, that hath as good as bereaved it. Shew mercy to him, that never meant but loyalty to thee. As ever thou wouldest oblige a humble and faithful vassal to thee, as ever thou wouldest honour thy name and sex with the praise of tender compassion, take pity upon me; and spare that life, which shall be vowed to thy service: and whereas thy displeasure may justly allege against me that rancorous plot for the extirpation of that people, whom I, too late, know to be thine ; let it suffice that I hate, I curse my own cruelty ; and only upon that condition shall beg the reprieval of my life, that I shall work and procure, by thy gracious aid, a full defeazance of that unjust execution. Oh, let fall upon thy despairing
servant one word of favour to my displeased master, that I may yet live.”
While he was speaking to this purpose, having prostrated himself, for the more humility, before the queen, and spread his arms in a vehement imploration up to her bed, the king comes in ; and, as not unwilling to misconstrue the posture of him, whom he now hated, says, “What, Will he force the queen also before me in the house p» "That, which Haman meant as an humble suppliant, is interpreted as from a presumptuous offender. How oft might he have done so, and more, while he was in favour, uncensured! Actions are not the same, when the man alters. As charity makes a good sense of doubtful occurrents, so prejudice and displeasure take all things, though well meant, at the worst. It is an easy thing to pick a quarrel, where we intend a mischief.
The wrath of the king is as a messenger of death. While these words were yet in the mouth of Ahasuerus, Haman, in turning his head towards the king, is suddenly muffled for his execution. He shall no more see either face or sun : he shall be seen no more, but as a spectacle of shame and horror.
And now he thinks, “Woe is me, whose eyes serve me only, to foresee the approach of a dishonourable and painful death! What am I the better to have been great? Oh, that I had never been ! Oh, that I could not be ! How too truly have Zeresh and my friends foretold me of this heavy destiny! Now am I ready to feel, what it is, that I meant to thousands of innocents. I shall die with pain. and ignominy. Oh, that the conscience of mine intended murder could die witb me !"
It is no marvel, if wicked men find nothing but utter discomforts in their end. Rather than fail, their former happiness shall join with their imminent miseries, to torment them. It is the just judgment of God, that presumptuous sinners should be swallowed up of those evils, which they would not fear. Happy is that man, who hath
grace to foresee and avoid those ways, which will lead him to a perfect confusion. Happy is he, that hath so lived, that he can either welcome death as a friend, or defy it as an enemy.
Who was ever the better for favour past ? Those, that had before kissed the feet and smiled in the face of Haman, are now as ready to cover his head and help him to the gallows. Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, seasonably tells the king, how stately a gibbet Haman had newly set up, for well-deserving Mordecai, within his own palace. I hear not one man open his mouth, to intercede for the offender, to pacify the king, to excuse or lessen the fact. Every one is ready to pull him down, that is falling ; to trample on him, that is down : yet, no doubt, there were some of these courtiers, whom Haman had obliged. Had the cause been better, thus it would have been. Every cur is ready to fall upon the dog, that he sees worried. But here, it was the just hand of God, to set off all hearts from a man, that had been so unreasonably merci. less; and to raise up enemies, even among friends, to him, that had professed enmity to God's Church. So let thine enemies perish, O Lord, unsuccoured, unpitied.
Then the king said, Hang him thereon. There can be no truer justice, than in retaliation. Who can complain of his own measure? Behold, the wicked travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood. He made a pit and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch that he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate.
There hangs Haman, in more reproach, than ever he stood in honour; and Mordecai, who is now first known for what he was, succeeds his favour, and changes inheritances with his enemy; for while Haman inherits the gibbet of Mordecai, Mordecai inherits the house and honour of Haman. ( Lord, let the malice of the wicked come to an end; but establish thou the just.
One hour bath changed the face of the Persian court. What stability is there in earthly greatness ? He, whom, in the morning, all knees bowed unto, as more than a man, now hangs up, like a despised vermin, for a prey to the ravens. He, who, this morning, was destined to the gallows, now rules over princes: neither was it for nothing, that he this day rode in triumph. The king's ring, that was taken from Haman, is now given to Mordecai, as the pledge of his authority ; and he, that even now sat in the gate, is called up next to the throne. Wickedness and honest innocence have now paid their debts, to both their clients.
Little joy would it yet have been to Esther, that her enemy was dead, her kinsman advanced, if still her people must for all this expect their fatal day. Her next suit therefore is for the safety of her nation, in the countermand of that bloody decree, which Hainan had obtained against them. That, which was surreptitiously gotten and rashly given, is so much more gladly reversed, by how much mercy is more pleasing to a good nature, than cruel injustice. Mordecai hath power to indite, seal, send out letters of favour to the Jews, which were causelessly sentenced to the slaughter. If a Persian law might not be reversed, yet it might be counterchanged. Mordecai may not write, “Let no Jew be slain;" he may write, “Let the Jews meet, and stand for their lives against those that would slay them.” This command Aies after the former, so fast, as if it would overtake that, which it cannot recall. The Jews are revived with this happy tidings, that they may have protection, as well as enmity; that authority will not be their executioner ; that their own hands are allowed to be their avengers.
Who would imagine, that, after public notice of this alteration at the court, when the world could not choose but know the malicious ground of that wrongful edict, the shameful death of the procurer, the power of the party opposite; any one should be found, throughout all the provinces, that would once lift up his hand against a Jew? that, with his own danger, would endeavour to execute a controlled decree? The Church of God should cease to be itself, if it wanted malicious persecution. There needs no other quarrel, than the name, the religion of Israel.
Notwithstanding the known favour of the king and the patronage of Mordecai, the thirteenth of Adar is meant to be a bloody day. Haman hath too many abettors in the Persian dominions. These join together to perform that sentence, whereof the author repented. The Jews take heart to defend themselves; to kill their murderers. All the provinces are turned into a field of civil war ; wherein innocence vanquisheth malice. The Jews are victors; and not only are alive, but are feared. The most resist them not; many assist them, and some become theirs. The countenance of the great leads the world at pleasure. Fear of authority sways thousands, that are not guilty of a conscience.
Yea, besides the liberty of defence, the Jews are now made their own justices. That there may be none left from the loins of that accursed Agagite, who would have left none of the Jewish seed, they slay the ten sons of Haman; and obtain new days of further executions. Neither can death satisfy their revenge. Those ten sons of Haman shall, in their very carcases, bear the reproach of their father, and hang aloft upon his gallows.
Finally, no man doth, no man dares frown upon a Jew. They are now become lords in the midst of their captivity. No marvel, if they ordain and celebrate their joyful Purim, for a perpetual memory, to all posterities, of their happy deliverance. It were pity, that the Church of God should not have sunshines, as well as storms; and should not meet with interchanges of joy in their warfare, before they enter upon the unchangeable joy of their endless triumph.
Esther vi, vii, ix'.