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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 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 agree with our modest reservedness to offer ourselves to be gazed at by millions of eyes ? who knows what wanton attempts may follow upon this ungoverned excess ? This very message argues, that wit and reason have yielded their places to that besotting 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 come: although, perhaps, her great spirit 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, 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 hood-winked 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 courts of great 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 go, 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 kings and 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 the 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 more loved the beauty of Vashti than his honour, Memucan had spoken against his own life. Howsoever, a queen of so great spirit could not want strength of favour and faction in the Persian court, which could not but take fire at so desperate a motion. Faithful statesmen, over-looking 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 publish 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 Memucan: 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 doated 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 be 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 woful deportation under Jeconiah ; 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 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 the 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