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favor in the sight of the Merciful Being, who has no pleasure in the affliction of His creatures; but by abstinence from all corporeal enjoyments to give the spirit ascendancy over the clay, and better enable us to attain that perfect commune with our God, which, in periods of supplication, we so much need. Though in the Book of Esther only fasting is named, yet evidently prayer is understood, for to the Hebrews the first was wholly useless without the second; and in the beautiful prayer written by the author of the remaining chapters of Esther in the Apocrypha, we read in what light her character was regarded. We will transcribe it entire, entreating our readers at the same time to remember, that we do not regard it as inspired, and therefore as the actual prayer used by Esther on the occasion, but simply as a proof of the feeling with which she was considered by the ancient writers; and that they too supposed with us, that her queenly state was a matter far more of loathing and repugnance, than of pride and joy.
“ And she prayed unto the Lord God of Israel, saying, O my Lord, thou only art our King. Help me, desolate woman, which have no helper but Thee. danger is in mine hand. From my youth up, I have heard in the tribe of my family, that Thou, O Lord, tookest Israel from among all people, and our fathers from all their predecessors, for a perpetual inheritance; and Thou hast performed whatsoever Thou dost promise them. And now we have sinned against Thee; therefore hast Thou given us into the hands of our enemies, because we worshipped their gods. O Lord, Thou art righteous. Nevertheless it satisfieth them not that we
are in bitter captivity; but they have stricken hands with their idols, that they will abolish the thing that Thou with Thy mouth hast ordained, and destroy Thine inheritance, and stop the mouth of them that praise Thee, and quench the glory of Thine house, and of Thine altar; and open the mouths of the heathen to set forth the praises of the idols, and to magnify a fleshly king for ever. O Lord, give not Thy sceptre unto them that be nothing; and let them not laugh at our fate, but turn their device upon themselves; and make him an example that hath begun this against us. Remember, O Lord, make Thyself known in time of our affliction; and give me boldness, O King of the nations, and Lord of all power. Give me eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion: turn his heart to hate him that fighteth against us, that there may be an end of him, and all that are like-minded with him. But deliver us with thine hand, and help me that am desolate, which have no other help but Thee. Thou knowest all things, O Lord; Thou knowest that I hate the glory of the unrighteous, and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and the heathen. Thou knowest my necessity; for I abhor the sign of my high estate which is upon my head, in the days wherein I show myself, that I abhor it, and that I wear it not when I am private by myself. And that thine handmaid hath not eaten at Haman's table ; and that I have not greatly esteemed the king's feast, nor drunk the wine of drink-offerings. Neither had thine handmaid any joy since the day I was brought hither to the present, but in Thee, O Lord God of Abraham. () thou Mighty God above all, hear the voice of the forlorn, and deliver us out of the hands of the mischievous, and deliver me out of my fear.”
Well, indeed, must the writer of the above prayer have been acquainted with the female heart, and consequently with all the secret suffering which Esther's exaltation occasioned her individually. No thought of her own influence-no recollection that the king loved her above all others, could give her confidence sufficient in herself. Taught from her youth up to recognise the God of Israel as the guardian of her fathers—as the only Being who could come forward in their help-to Him she looked alone-and she could look to Him with confidence; for in the years she had been compelled to hide her parentage, she had sought Him as her only pleasure and only consolation. She had worn her crown because it was His will ; but it was but a weight and sadness; for in her private hours it was ever laid aside-she felt now, in her hour of intense supplication, the full comfort of previous and intimate commune with her God, and her trembling heart was strengthened.
Some natures could not have borne the delay of three days, in the full anticipation of a trial; they must have gone at once to the king, or failed in power to go at all. Yet such natures, in a mere casual view, would seem far stronger and bolder than Esther's; and therefore demand and obtain greater admiration. But it is the exquisitely feminine character of Esther that is to me her peculiar and touching charm ;—it is the still undercurrent of deep feeling, which betrays itself throughout her history, and which is so peculiarly woman's—the power of uncomplaining endurance-the firm reliance
a higher and all-inerciful power for individual happiness—the absence of all trust in her own gifts of beauty and eloquence, unless so blessed by Him as to
soften the heart of the king towards her-the courage, not natural, but acquired through prayer—the conquest of her own weak tremblings, and venture of her own life, for the welfare of her people—and this not the mere impulse of the moment, but pondered on through three days' incessant prayer; these are traits which surely must rivet our interest and our love.
Clothed in unwonted gorgeousness, and radiant in her extraordinary beauty, but her heart, at that awful moment, scarcely able to realise the holy strength and trust which prayer had wrought, on the third day Esther stood in the dreaded presence of the king: and though uncalled, and therefore disobedient to the law of the Persian kings, God gave her grace in the monarch's sight; and, instead of displaying anger, he held forth his sceptre towards her, and she drew near and touched it, in sign that she implored a boon. In the Apocrypha we are told that faintness overpowered her, a natural portraiture of feminine weakness, and depriving her at once of all those attributes of a heroine, which would divide her from our sympathy as a being differently endowed to ourselves. Prayer had given her strength, else had she not thus stood uncalled before Ahasuerus; but the mind, strong as it may be, cannot always bear up its mortal shrine: and by the description of the deadly terror, depriving Esther of sense and speech, given by our ancient fathers, we see at once the awful struggle she was enduring.
Her beauty, her very terror, all strongly excited the king's affection; and, hastening towards her, he soothingly exclaimed, “ What wilt thou, Queen Esther, and