« PreviousContinue »
officers; and she also “ was brought unto the king's house, to the custody of Hegai, the keeper of the women.”
That this distinction was more painful than pleasing, both to Mordecai and Esther, we cannot for a moment doubt: the former, whose unwavering faithfulness to his religion has marked him amongst the most deserving and distinguished of our ancestors, was not likely to have connived at a union for his adopted child, which must prevent her strict adherence to her father's faith. That Esther herself was equally repugnant, we have the authority of the oldest Jewish writers; if her prayer in the Apocrypha be written by them. That the Apocrypha is not divine, we are quite aware; but as the writers of the Talmud do not disdain to quote from the “ Wisdom of Solomon," as a good moral essay, not as divine, we may perhaps be permitted to regard the remaining chapters of the book of Esther in the same light; as an enlargement or commentary on the Biblerecord of the same events ;-not that Mordecai and Esther really did use the words of prayer which are there put into their mouths; but as a reflection of the opinions of our old writers on the subject.
To resist, or refuse compliance, would of course have been vain : and we find Esther winning such regard from Hegai, that he showed her more kindness and respect than to any other of her companions. Beauty alone could not have done this : for to loveliness, in all its varieties he had no doubt been accustomed. But the cultivated intellect, the spiritual graces, of the Hebrew woman, which so marked her superiority over the females of every other nation, gave to the mere
perishable beauty of face and form, an interest and a charm unlike every other; and this it was, which so powerfully attracted the regard of Hegai, and, in due time, the devoted love of the king.
Some time (probably two or three years) must have elapsed between Esther's being taken from her adopted father's care, and her public proclamation as queen. It was in the third year of Ahasuerus that Vashti was dethroned; and not till the seventh that Esther was raised to the royal dignity in her stead. During this interval, “ Esther had not showed her people, nor her kindred; for Mordecai had charged her that she should not shew it”—a charge which appears to us somewhat strange and irreconcileable with the constancy and dignity evinced by Mordecai, and at a time that, though captives in a strange land, concealment of their peculiar tenets was not necessary for their safety. But if this part of his conduct be incomprehensible, or, at least, unsatisfactory, not so is the paternal affection which is forcibly betrayed in the simple words, “ And Mordecai walked every day before the court of the women's house, to know how Esther did, and what would become of her.” His child was removed from under his own eye, but his watchful love was with her; and Esther must have felt comforted in the consciousness that he was near her—his thoughts and affections with her still.
And could she need comfort, surrounded as she was with state and luxury? Alas! these are not the ingredients of happiness. Esther had been brought up with the greatest tenderness from her earliest years ; from the situation of her people, perhaps, educated with
even more than usual care in her father's faith. Her affections, habits, associations, all were confined to the house of her childhood-the father of her love. Was it nothing, then, to be torn from all these, by an imperious mandate, and, at a moment's warning, debarred from the exercise of her faith, compelled to worship only in her own young heart, with no friend near to strengthen and to guide ? Even the very idea of becoming queen, had she been one likely to be dazzled by so high a dignity, must have been fraught with terror, when she recollected the fate of her predecessor.
Thoughts like these were quite sufficient to have clouded the heart and mind of Esther, and rendered the change in her earthly lot more sad than joyous. But, from the favour she received, it is evident that she did not allow herself to murmur: the buoyancy of youth too was her own; and the very respect and regard which she received from Hegai, must have strengthened her, to continue the same course of meek submission and trusting hope.
Her unambitious spirit and modest gentleness, we infer from her asking nothing but what the chamberlain appointed. Yet “ the king loved Esther above all the women, and she found grace and favour in his sight;" and " he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti. Then the king made a great feast unto all his princes, and his servants, even Esther's feast; and he made a release to the provinces, and gave gifts, according to the state of the king.”
This was in the seventh year of Ahasuerus, and it was in the seventh of Artaxerxes that Ezra obtained permission to go up from Babylon to Jerusalem, with a
new decree, authorising the return of all the Jews who wished it, and granting greater privileges to them, and more lavish gifts, than any king had yet bestowed.
Now, if this Artaxerxes of Ezra be the Ahasuerus of Esther, this event tallies exactly with the “ release to the provinces, and the gifts made according to the state of the king," of which we have just read. Esther's parentage and faith were, indeed, not yet disclosed ; therefore this favour to Ezra was not so much owing to her influence, as to the gracious mood and munificent rejoicing, with which the king greeted her accession as
The very words of Ezra, “Blessed be the Lord God of our Fathers, which hath put such a thing as this into the king's heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem; and hath extended mercy unto me, before the king and his counsellors, and before all the king's mighty princes !” imply that his request was made, and permission accorded, during some great public rejoicing, and in presence of all the king's counsellors and mighty princes. And thus, it is in exact agreement with the feasts and rejoicing which Ahasuerus gave unto all his princes and servants, when Esther was acknowledged queen.*
* We read in Ezra, that it was in the first month Ezra commenced his journey, and the fifth when he arrived in Jerusalem, " which was in the seventh year of the king;" and in Esther, that it was the tenth month when Ahasuerus first made her queen, in the seventh year of his reign, but this does not prove that Ezra's return to Jerusalem took place before the events of Esther. We will endeavour to make our meaning more distinct:-Queen Victoria, we all know, ascended the throne of England in 1837, on the 20th of June, which_is, counting by the solar months, the sixth month; on the 20th June, 1843, therefore, she entered the seventh year of her reign. In the tenth month, which is October, 1843, we read, an insurrection took place at Barcelona. In the
It was during the rejoicings attending the choice of Esther as queen, that it appears most probable that Mordecai obtained that situation in the royal household, which is implied by his sitting at the king's gate. What office it was, does not appear. · But he evidently had not occupied it before; preferring to remain in dignified retirement, as enabling him more strictly to attend to the ordinances and requirements of his faith. Affection and anxiety for Esther, was without doubt the real incentive to this change in his life. We have already read of his walking every day before the court of the first month, coeval with January, 1844, the Spanish Cortes was dissolved ; and in the fifth month, which was May, 1844, another revolution at Barcelona. Now, all these events took place in the seventh year of Queen Victoria's reign ; but the events of the first and of the fifth months, occurred after that of the tenth : and in exactly the same manner, Esther's accession as queen, and Ezra's migration, might both have taken place in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, and yet the event of the tenth month occur before that of the first and fifth. Tebeth was the tenth month; in the festive rejoicings which followed, lasting several weeks, as was the custom of royal amusements, and in presence of the princes and counsellors, Ezra made his request, encouraged by the release given to all the provinces. In Nisan, which is the first month, his preparations being completed, and the Jews wishing to depart collected together, he set off on his journey, and in the fifth month, which is Ab, he arrived in Judea; and still it might be all in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, granting, which is most probable, that that monarch ascended the throne, either in the sixth, seventh, or eighth month. This is of course differing with the Jewish calendar, which makes seventeen years elapse between Esther's being made queen and the departure of Ezra; but then, who is the Ahasuerus of Esther? And who is the Artaxerxes of Ezra ? They cannot be the same persons. Josephus, again, makes Xerxes the Artaxerxes under whom Ezra and Nehemiah go to Jerusalem, and asserts that this migration took place before Esther : this appears not only historically but scripturally in. correct. But to reconcile all the differing opinions is impossible ; we must leave it, as we have said before, to our readers to judge for themselves, only stating that the opinion we have advanced is founded on a careful research of both scriptural and ancient history, an examination of all the opposing points, and the adoption of that which appears most reconcileable with the narrations of both Profane History and the Word of God.