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would thus ripen her hopes, by working in the mind of king Ahasuerus a foreconceit 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, to-morrow 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
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 glo
rious 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 the king, that Mordecai may be hanged thereon; then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet.” I do not hear them say, Be patient a while, thou hast already set Mordecai his last day; the month Adar will not be long in coming; the determination of his death hath made him desperate; let him in the mean time eat his own heart in envy at thy greatness; but they rather advise of a quick dispatch. Malice is a thing full of impatience, and hates delay of execution, next unto mercy. While any grudge lies at the heart, it cannot be freely cheerful. Forced smiles are but the hypocrisy of mirth. How happy were it for us, if we could be so zealously careful to remove the hindrances of our true spiritual joy, those stubborn corruptions that will not stoop to the power of grace!
MORDECAI HONOURED BY HAMAN.
THE wit of Zeresh had like to have gone beyond the wit of Esther; had not the working providence of the Almighty contrived these events beyond all hopes, all conceits, Mordecai had been dispatched ere Esther's second banquet. To-morrow was the day pitched for both their designs; had not the stream been unexpectedly turned, in vain had the queen blamed her delays ; Mordecai's breakfast had prevented Esther's dinner; for certainly he that had given to Haman so many thousand lives, would never have made dainty upon the same suit, to anticipate one of those whom he had condemned to the slaughter. But God meant better things to his church, and fetches about all his holy purposes, after a wonderful fashion, in the very instant of opportunity. “He that keepeth Israel, and neither slumbereth nor sleepeth,” causeth sleep that night to depart from him that had decreed to root out Israel. Great Ahasuerus, that commanded a hundred and seven and twenty provinces, cannot command an hour's sleep. Poverty is rather blessed with the freedom of rest than wealth and power. Cares and surfeit withhold that from the great which presseth upon
diet and labour of the meanest. Nothing is more tedious than an eager pursuit of denied sleep, which, like to a shadow, flies away so much faster, as it is more followed. Experience tells us, that this benefit is best solicited by neglect, and soonest found when we have forgotten to seek it.
Whether to deceive the time, or to bestow it well, Ahasuerus shall spend his restless hours in the chronicles of his time. Nothing is more requisite for princes than to look back upon their own actions and events, and those of their predecessors: the examination of fore-past actions makes them wise ; of events, thankful and cautelous.
Amongst those voluminous registers of acts and monuments, which so many scores of provinces must needs yield, the book shall open upon Mordecai's discovery of the late treason of the two eunuchs: the reader is turned thither by an insensible sway of Providence. Our most arbitrary or casual actions are overruled by a hand in heaven.
The king now feels afresh the danger of that conspiracy; and as great spirits abide not to smother or bury good offices, inquires into the recompense of so royal a service; “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this ?" Surely Mordecai did but his duty; he had heinously sinned, if he had not revealed this wicked treachery; yet Ahasuerus takes thought for his remuneration.
How much more careful art thou, O God of all mercies, to reward the weak obedience of thine (at the best) unprofitable servants !
That which was intended to procure rest, sets it off: king Ahasuerus is unquiet in himself to think that so great a merit should lie but so long neglected; neither can he find any peace in himself till he have given order for a speedy retribution : hearing, therefore, by his servants, that Haman was below in the court, he sends for him up to consult with him, "What shall be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour ?" O marvellous concurrence of circumstances, drawn together by the infinite wisdom and power of the Almighty! Who but Haman should be the man ? and when should Haman be called to advise of Mordecai's honour, but in the very instant when he came to sue for Mordecai's hanging ? Had Ahasuerus but slept that night, Mordecai had been that morning advanced fifty cubits higher than the earth, ere the king could have remembered to whom he was beholden.
What shall we say then to reconcile these cross passions in Ahasuerus? Before he signed that decree of killing all the Jews, he could not but know that a Jew had saved his life : and now, after that he had enacted the slaughter of all the Jews as rebels, he is giving order to honour a Jew, as his preserver. It were strange, if great persons, in the multitude of their distractions, should not let fall some incongruities.
Yet, who can but think that king Ahasuerus meant upon some second thoughts to make amends to Mordecai? neither can he choose but put these two together; the Jews are appointed to death at the suit of Haman: this Mordecai is a Jew; how then can I do more grace to him that hath saved my life, than to command him to be honoured by that man who would spill his ?
When Haman heard himself called up to the bedchamber of his master, he thinks himself too happy in so early an opportunity of presenting his suit : but yet more in the pleasing question of Ahasuerus, wherein he could not but imagine that favour forced itself upon him with strange importunity: for how could he conceive that any intention of more than ordinary honour could fall besides himself? Self-love, like to a good stomach, draws to itself what nourishment it likes, and casts off that which offends it. Haman will be sure to be no niggard in advising those ceremonies of honour which he thinks meant to his own person.
Could he have once dreamed that this grace had been purposed to any under heaven but himself, he had not been so lavish in counselling so pompous a show of excessive magnificence. Now the king's own royal apparel, and his own steed, is not sufficient, except the royal crown also make up the glory of him who shall thus triumph in the king's favour ; yet all this were nothing in base hands. The actor shall be the best part of this great pageant. “Let this apparel, and this horse be delivered to one of the king's most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the streets of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.” Honour is more in him that gives than him that receives it. To be honoured by the unworthy is little better than disgrace: no meaner person will serve to