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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 reither 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 unguilty 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 confections, 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 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 over-lavishly spoken ; but doubles and triples 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 action, 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, Ő 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 would she have endured the greater, and yet so abhor 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 Agagite, 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.” Illdeserving greatness doth in vain promise to itself a perpetuity of applause. If our ways be foul, the time shaīl come, when, after all vain flattery, after all our momentary glory, our sins shall be ript 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 enstyled, 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 by 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 subtilty 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 solemn oaths, 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 aught 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; show mercy to him, that never meant but loyalty to thee. As ever thou wouldst oblige an humble and faithful vassal to thee, as ever thou wouldst honour thy