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profit or loss; neither have they grace to know, that nothing is profitable but what is honest, nothing so desperately incommodious as wickedness; they must needs offend by rule that measure all things by profit, and measure profit by their imagination. How easy is it to suggest strange untruths, when there is nobody to make answer! False Haman, how is it not for the king's profit to suffer the Jews ? if thou construe this profit for honour, the king's honour is in the multitude of subjects; and what people more numerous than they? If for gain, the king's profit is in the largeness of his tributes ; and what people are more deep in their payments ? If for service, what people are more officious ? How can it stand with the king's profit to bereave himself of subjects, his subjects of their lives, his exchequer of their tributes, his state of their defence ? He is a weak politician that knows not to gild over the worst project with a pretence of public utility. No name under heaven hath made so many fools, so many villains, as this of profit.
Lastly, as Ahasuerus reaps nothing but disprofit by the lives of the Jews, so he shall reap no small profit by their deaths : “I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the king's treasury for this execution.” If revenge were not very sweet to the malicious man, he could not be content to purchase it at so high a rate. How do we see daily, that the thirst hereof carries men to a riotous prodigality of estate, body, soul !
Cruel Haman, if thou couldst have swimmed in a whole sea of Jewish blood, if thou couldst have raised mountains of their carcases, if thou couldst have made all Persia thy shambles, who would have given thee one farthing for all those piles of flesh, for all those streams of blood ? yea, who would not rather have been at charge for the avoiding of the annoyances of those slaughtered bodies which thou offerest to buy at ten thousand talents ? It were a happy thing if charity could enlarge itself but so much as malice : if the preservation of mankind could be so much beholden to our bounty as the destruction.
Now when all these are laid together, the baseness and dispersedness of the people, the diversity of the laws, the irregularity of their government, the rebellion of their practice, the inconvenience of their toleration, the gain of their extirpation; what could the wit or art of man devise more insinuative, more likely to persuade? How could it be, but Ahasuerus must needs think, (since he could not suspect the ground of this suit,) what a zealous patriot have I raised, that can be content to buy off the incommodity of the state at his own charge! how worthy is he rather of the aid, both of my power and purse! why should I be fee'd to ease my kingdoms of rebels ? “The silver is given to thee, the people also, to do with them as seemeth good to thee.” Without all delay, the secretaries are called to write the warrants, the king's ring is given to seal them, the posts are sent out to carry them into all provinces. The day is set wherein all Jews, of all ages, of both sexes, through the hundred and seven and twenty provinces of the king, shall be sacrificed to the wrath of Haman.
In all the carriage of Ahasuerus, who sees not too much headiness of passion ? Vashti is cast off for a trifle, the Jews are given to the slaughter for nothing ; his rage in the one, his favour in the other, is too impotent. He is not a worse husband than a king: the bare word of Haman is enough to kill so many subjects. No disposition can be more dangerous in great persons than violence of affection mixed with credulity. Oh the seeming inequality of human conditions ! “The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed.” It is a woful thing to see great ones quaff the tears of the oppressed, and to hear them make music of shrieks.
With what lamentation do we think all the synagogues of Jews, through the world, received this fatal message of their proclaimed destruction ! how do they bemoan themselves each to other ! how do their conjoined cries fill heaven and earth! But, above all, what sackcloth and ashes could suffice woful Mordecai, that found in himself the occasion of all this slaughter? what soul could be capable of more bitterness than he felt ? while he could not but think, Wretched man that I am ! it is I that have brought all this calamity upon my nation ; it is I that have been the ruin of my people : woe is me that ever I put myself into the court, into the service of a Pagan; how unhappy was I to cast myself into these straits, that I must either honour an Agagite, or draw vengeance upon Israel! yet, how could I imagine, that the flame of Haman's rage would have broken out so far? might that revenge have determined in my blood, how happy should I have been ! now, I have brought death upon many thousands of innocents, that cannot know wherefore they die. Why did I not hide myself rather from the place of that proud Amalekite? why did I stand out in contestation with so over-powerful an enemy? Alas! no man of Israel shall so much as live to curse me, only mine enemies shall record my name with ignominy, and say, Mordecai was the bane of his nation. On that my zeal should have reserved me for so heavy a service! Where now are those vain ambitions, wherewith I pleased myself in this great match of Esther ? how fondly did I hope, by this undue means, to raise myself and my people! yea, is not this carnal presumption the quarrel that God hath against me? do I not therefore smart from these Pagans, for that I secretly affected this uncircumcised alliance ? Howsoever it be, yet, O God, what have thy people done ? Oh let it be thy just mercy, that I may perish alone!
In these sad thoughts did Mordecai spend his heart, while he walked mournfully in sackcloth before that gate wherein he was wont to sit : now his habit bars his approach, no sackcloth might come within the court. Lo, that which is welcome in the court of heaven, is here excluded from the presence of this earthly royalty: “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Neither did it a little add to the sorrow of Mordecai, to hear the bitter insultations of his former monitors : “ Did we not advise thee better? did we not fore-admonish thee of thy danger ? see now the issue of thine obstinacy:" now see what it is for thine earthen pitcher to knock with brass. Now, where is the man that would needs contest with Haman ? hast thou not now brought thy matters to a fair pass ? thy stomach had long owed thee a spite, and now it hath paid thee: who can pity thy wilfulness ? since thou wouldst needs deride our counsel, we will take leave to laugh at thy sackcloth. Nothing but scorns, and griefs, and terrors present themselves to miserable Mordecai. All the external buffets of adversaries were slight, to the wounds that he hath made, and felt in his own heart.
The perpetual intelligences, that were closely held betwixt Esther and Mordecai, could not suffer his public sorrow to be long concealed from her. The news of his sackcloth afflicts her, ere she can suspect the cause ; her crown doth but clog her head, while she hears of his ashes. True friendship transforms us into the condition of those we love ; and, if it cannot raise them to our cheerfulness, draws us down to their dejection. Fain would she uncase her foster-father of these mournful weeds, and change his sackcloth for tissue; that yet, at least, his clothes might not hinder his access to her presence, for the free opening of his griefs.
It is but a slight sorrow that abides to take in outward comforts : Mordecai refuses that kind offer, and would have Esther see that his affliction was such, as that he might well resolve to put off his sackcloth and his skin at once ; that he must mourn to death, rather than see her face to live. The good queen is astonished with this constant humiliation of so dear a friend ; and now she sends Hatach, a trusty, though a Pagan attendant, to inquire into the occasion of this so irremediable heaviness. It should seem Esther inquired not greatly 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
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