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The blood, that is once inflamed with wine, is apt to boil with rage; Ahasuerus is very wroth with this indign repulse. It was the ostentation of bis glory and might that he affected before these princes, peers, people; and now that seems eclipsed, in the shutting up of all his magnificence, with the disgraceful affront of a woman. It vexes him to think that those nobles, whom he meant to send away astonished with the admiration of his power and majesty, should now say, What boots it, Ahasuerus, to rule afar off, when he cannot command at home? in vain doth he boast to govern kings, while he is checked by a woman.
Whatever were the intentions of Vashti, surely her disobedience was inexcusable. It is not for a good wife to judge of her husband's will, but to execute it; neither wit nor stomach may carry her into a curious inquisition into the reasons of an enjoined charge, much less to a resistance; but, in a hood-winked simplicity, she must follow, whither she is led, as one that holds her chief praise to consist in subjection.
Where should the perfection of wisdom dwell, if not in the courts of great princes? or what can the treasures of monarchs purchase more invaluably precious, than learned and judicious attendance? or who can be so fit for honour as the wisest?
I doubt how Ahasuerus could have been so great, if his throne had not been still compassed with them that knew the tiines, and understood the law and judgment. These were bis oracles in all his doubts, these are now consulted in this difficulty; neither must their advice be secretly whispered in the king's ear, but publicly delivered in the audience of all the princes. It is a perilous way that these sages are called to go, betwixt an husband and wife, especially of such power and eininency: yet Memucan fears not to pass a heavy sentence against queen Vashti ; “Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and all the people, that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus.' A deep and sore crimination ; injuries are so much more intolerable, as they are dilated unto more; those offences, which are of narrow extent, may receive an easy satisfaction; the amends are not possible, where the wrong is universal : “ For this deed of the queen shall come abroad to all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes.” Indeed so public a fact must needs fly; that concourse gave fit opportunity to diffuse it all the world over.
The examples of the great are easily drawn into rules. Bad lessons are apt to be taken out; as honour, so contempt, falls: down from the head to the skirts, never ascends from the skirts to the head.
These wise men are so much the inore sensible of this danger, as they saw it more likely the case might prove their
Likeways shall the ladies of Persia and Media say this day unto all the kings and princes.” The first precedents of evil must be carefully avoided. If we care to keep a constant order in good, prudence cannot better bestir itself, than in keeping mischief from home.
The foundation of this doom of Memucan is not laid so deep for nothing. “ If it please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and Medians, that it be not altered, that Vashti come no more before Ahasuerus ; and let the king give her royal estate to another that is better than she.” How bold a word was this, and how hazardous ! Had Ahasuerus more loved the beauty of Vashti than his honour, Memucan had spoken against his own life. Howsoever, a queen of so great spirit could not want strength of favour and faction in the Persian court, which could not but take fire at so desperate a motion. Faithful statesmen, overlooking private respects, must bend their eyes upon public dangers, labouring to prevent a common mischief, though with the adventure of their own.
Nature bad taught these Pagans the necessity of a female subjection, and the hate and scorn of a proud disobedience. They have unlearned the very dictates of nature, that can abide the head to be set below the rib. I cannot say but Vashti was worthy of a sharp censure ;
I cannot say she was worthy a repudiation. This plaister drew too hard : it was but Heathen justice to punish the wife's disobedience, in one indifferent act, with a divorce. Nothing but the violation of the marriage-bed can either break, or untie the koot of marriage. Had she not been a queen, had not that contemptuous act been public, the sentence had not been so hard; now the punishment must be exemplary, lest the sin should be so. Many a one had smarted less, if their persons, if their place had been meaner.
The king, the princes approve this heavy judgment of Memucan; it is not in the power of the fair face of Vashti to warrant her stomach. No doubt many messages passed ere, the rigour of this execution. That great heart knows not to relent, but will rather break, than yield to an humble deprecation. When the stone and the steel meet, fire is stricken : it is a soft answer that appeaseth wrath. Vashti is cast off. Letters are sent from the king, into all bis provinces, to command that every man should rule at home: the court affords them an awful pattern of authority. Had not Ahasuerus doted much upon Vashti's beauty, he had not called her forth, at the feast, to be wondered at by his peers and people; yet now be so feels the wound of his reputation, that he forgets lie ever felt any wound of his affection. Even the greatest love may be overstrained : it is not safe presuming upon the deepest assurances of dearness. There is no heart that may not be estranged. It is not possible that great princes should want soothing up in all their inclinations, in all their actions. While Ahasuerus is following the chase of his ambition, in the wars of Greece, his followers are providing for his lust at home. Nothing could sound more pleasing to a carnal ear, than that all the fair young virgins, throughout all his dominions, should be gathered into his palace at Shushan, for his assay and choice. The decree is soon published: the charge is committed to Hege, the king's chamberlain, both of their purification and ornaments.
What strife, what emulation was now amongst all the Persian dainsels, that either were, or thought theinselves fair? Every one hopes to be a queen, and sees no reason why any other should be thought more excellent. How happy were we, if we could be so ambitious of our espousals to the King of heaven!
Amongst all this throng of virgins, God hath provided a wife for Ahasuerus, having deterinined his choice, where most advantage shall rise to his forlorn people.
The Jews were miserably scattered over the world, in that woeful deportation under Jeconiah; scarce an handful of them returned to Jerusalem, the rest remain still dispersed, where they may but have leave to live. There are many thousands of them turned over, with the Babylonian monarchy, to the Persian : amongst the rest was Mordecai the son of Jair, of the tribe of Benjamin, a man of no mean note or ability, who living in Shushan, had brought up Hadassah, or Esther, his uncle's daughter, in a liberal fashion: it was happy for this orphan, that, in a region of captivity, she light into such good hands. Her wise kinsman finds it fit, that her breeding and habit should be Persian-like: in outward and civil forms, there was no need to vary from the Heathen; her religion must be her own ; the rest was so altogether theirs, that her very nation was not discerned.
The same God, that had given incomparable beauty to this Jewess, gave her also favour in the eyes of Hege, the keeper of the women: she is not only taken into the Persian court, as one of the selected virgins, but observed with more than ordinary respect; all necessaries for her speedy purification are brought to her ; seven maids are allowed for her attendance, and the best and most honourable place in that seraglio is allotted to her; as if this great officer had designed her for a queen, before the choice of his master.
What strange preparation was here for the impure bed of an heathen! every virgin must be six months purified with the oil of myrrh, and six other months perfumed with sweet odours, besides those special receipts that were allowed to each upon their own election. O God, what care, what cost is requisite to that soul which should be addressed a fit bride for thine own holy and glorious Majesty!
When we have scoured ourselves with the most cleansing oil of our repentance, and have perfumed ourselves with thy best graces, and our perfectest obedience, it is the only praise of thy mercy, that we may be accepted.
The other virgins passed their probation unregarded. When Esther's turn came, though she required nothing, but took what was given her; though she affected nothing, but brought that face, that deineanour which nature had cast upon her, no eye sees her without admiration : the king takes such pleasure in her beauty, that, contemning all the other vulgar forms, his choice is fully fixed upon her. All things must prosper, where God hath intended the success.
The most wise providence of the Almighty fetches his projects from far : the preservation and advantage of his own people is in hand ; for the contriving of this, Vashti shall be abandoned, the virgins shall be chosen ; Esther only shall please Ahasuerus, Mordecai shall displease Haman; Haman's ruin shall raise Mordecai. The purposes of God cannot be judged by his remote actions ; only the accomplishment shews his designs; in the meantime, it pleaseth him to look another way than he moves, and to work his own ends by arbitrary and unlikely accidents.
None but Esther shall succeed Vashti, she only carries the heart of Ahasuerus from all her sex ; the royal crown is set upon her head; and as Vashti was cast off at a feast, so with a soleinn feast shall Esther be espoused: here wanted no triumph to express the joy of this great bridegroom, and, that the world might witness he could be no less loving than severe, all bis provinces shall feel the pleasure of this happy match, in their immunities, in their rich gifts.
With what envious eyes do we think Vashti looked upon her glorious rival! how does she now, though too late, secretly chide her peevish will, that had thus stript her of her royal crown, and made way for a more happy successor! Little did she think her refusal could have had so heinous a construction ; little did she fear, that one word, perhaps not ill-meant, should have forfeited her husband, her crown, and all thas she was. Whoso is not wise enough to forecast the danger of an offence, or indiscretion, may have leisure enough of an unseasonable repentance.
That mind is truly great and noble that is not changed with the bighest prosperity ; queen Esther cannot forget her cousin Mordecai; no pomp can make her slight the charge of so dear a kinsman: in all her royalty she casts her eye upon him amongst the throny of beholders, but she must not know him; her obedience keeps her in awe, and will not suffer her to draw him up with her, to the participation of her honour : it troubles her not a little to forbear this duty, but she must; it is enough for her that Mordecai hath commanded her not to be known, who, or whose she was.
Perhaps the wise Jew feared, that, while her honour was yet green and unsettled, the notice of her nation, and the name of a despised captive, might be some blemish to her in that proud court, when as afterwards, upon the merit of her carriage, and the full possession of all hearts, her name might dignify her nation, and countermand all reproaches.
Mordecai was an officer in the court of Ahasuerus, his service called bim daily to attend in the king's gate ; much better might he, being a Jew, serve a Pagan master, than his foster-daughter might ascend to a Pagan's bed.
If the necessity or convenience of his occasions called him to serve, his piety and religion called him to faithfulness in his service : two of the king's chamberlains, Bigthana and Teresh, conspire against the life of their sovereign. No