« PreviousContinue »
greatness can secure from treachery or violence: be that ruled over millions of men, through an hundred and seven and twenty provinces, cannot assure himself from the hand of a villain; he, that had the power of other men's lives, is in danger of his own. Happy is that man that is once possessed of a crown incorruptible, unfadable, reserved for bim in heaven: no force, no treason can reach thither; there can be no peril of either violence, or forfeiture there.
The likeliest defence of the person of any prince, is the fidelity of his attendants : Mordecai overhears the whispering of these wicked conspirators, and reveals it to Esther; she (as glad of such an opportunity to commend unto Ahasuerus the loyalty of him whom she durst but secretly honour) reveals it to the king: the circumstances are examined, the plot is discovered, the traitors executed, the service recorded in the Persian annals. A good foundation is thus laid for Mordecai's advancement, which yet is not over-hastened on either part: worthy dispositions labour only to deserve well, leaving the care of their remuneration to them whom it concerns; it is fit that God's leisure should be attended in all his designments. The hour is set, when Mordecai shall be raised if in the meantime there be an intervention, not only of neglect, but of fears and dangers, all these shall make his honours so much more sweet, more precious.
CONTEMPLATION V. Haman disrespected by Mordecai ;— Mordecai's Message
to Esther. BESIDES the charge of his office, the care of Esther's prosperity calls Mordecai to the king's gate, and fixes him there: with what inward contentment did he think of his so royal pupil! Here I sit among my fellows; little doth the world think that mine adopted child sits in the throne of Persia, that the great empress of the world owes herself to me: I might have more honour, I could not have so much secret comfort, if all Shushan knew what interest I have in
Wbile bis heart is taken up with these thoughts, who should come ruffling by him, but the new-raised favourite of king Ahasuerus, Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite! him hath the great king unexpectedly advanced, and set his seat above all the princes that were with him. The gracious 1 respects of princes are not always led by merit, but by their le own will, which is ever affected to be so much the freer, as
themselves would be held more great.
When the sun shines upon the dial, every passenger will
be looking at it; there needed no command of reverence, 2013 where Ahasuerus was pleased to countenance; a!l knees will
bow alone, even to forbidden idols of honour, how much more where royal authority enjoins obeisance! All the servants,
all the subjects of King Ahasuerus, are willingly prostrate mis before this great minion of their sovereign; only Mordecai
stands stiff, as if he saw nothing more than a man in that Fire proud Agagite.
They are not observed that do as the most, but if any one man shall vary from the inultitude, all eyes turned upon him: Mordecai's fellow-officers note this palpable irreverence, and expostulate it; “Why transgressest thou the king's commandments ?" Considerest thou not how far this affront reacheth ? it is not the person of Haman whom thou refusest to adore, but the king in him: neither do we regard so much the
man, as the command ; let hiin be never so vile whom the
king bids to be honoured, with what safety can a subject examine the charge, or resist it? his unworthiness cannot dispense with our loyalty.
What a dangerous wilfulness should it be to incur the forfeiture of thy place, of thy life, for a courtesy? If thou wilt not bow with others, expect to suffer alone; perhaps they thought this omission was unheedy, in a case of ignorance or incogitancy; it was a friendly office to admonish; the sight of the error had been the remedy.
Mordecai hears their challenge, their advice, and thinks good to answer both with silence, as willing they should imagine his inflexibleness proceeded from a resolution, and that resolution upon some secret grounds, which he needed not impart; at last, yet he imparts thus much, Let it suffice that I am a Jew, and Haman an Amalekite.
After a private expostulation, the continuance of that open neglect is construed for a sullen obstinacy; and now the monitors themselves grow sensible of the contempt: men are commonly impatient to lose the thank of their endeavours, and are prone to hate whom they cannot reform. Partly therefore to pick a thank, and partly to revenge this contumacy,
these officers turn informers against Mordecai, neither meant to make the matter fairer than it was ; they tell Haman, how proud and stubborn a Jew sat amongst them; how ill they could brook so saucy an affront to be offered to his greatness; how seriously they had expostulated, how stomachfully the offender persisted, and beseech him that he would be pleased, in his next passage, to cast some glances that way, and but observe the fashion of that intolerable insolency.
The proud Agagite cannot long endure the very expectation of such an indignity: on purpose doth he stalk thither, with higher than his ordinary steps, snuffing up the air as he goes, and would see the man that durst deny reverence to the greatest prince of Persia,
Mordecai holds his old posture, only he is so much more careless, as he sees Haman more disdainful and imperious; neither of them goes about to hide his passion ; one looked, as if he had said, I hate the pride of Haman; the other looked, as if he had said, I will plague the contempt of Mordecai. How did the eyes of Haman sparkle with fury, and, as it were, dart out deadly beams in the face of that despiteful Jew! how did he swell with indignation, and then again wax pale with anger ! shortly, his very brow and his motion made Mordecai look for the utmost of revenge.
Mordecai foresees his danger, and contemns it; no frowns, no threats, can supple those joints : he may break, he will not bow.
What shall we say then to this obfirmed resolution of Mordecai? what is it, what can it be, that so stiffens the knees of Mordecai, that death is more easy to him than their incurvation? Certainly, if mere civility were in question, this wilful irreverence to so great a peer could not pass without the just censure of a rude perverseness. It is religion that forbids this obeisance, and tells him, that such courtesy could not be free from sin; whether it were, that more than human honour was required to this new erected image of the great king, as the Persians were ever wont to be noted for too much lavishiness in these courtly devotions, or whether it were, that the ancient curse, wherewith God had branded the blood and stock of Haman, made it unlawful for an Israelite to give him any observance: for the Amalekites, of whose royal line Haman was descended, were the nation, with which God had sworn perpetual hostility, and whose memory he had straitly charged his people to root out from under heaven ; how may I, thinks he, adore where God commands me to detest? how may I profess respect, where God professeth enmity ? how may I contribute to the establishment of that seed upon earth, which God hath charged to be pulled up from under heaven? Outward actions of indifferency, when once they are felt to trench upon the conscience, lay deep obligations upon the soul, even while they are most slighted by careless hearts.
In what a flame of wrath doth Haman live this while ? wherewith he could not but have consumed his own heart, had be not given vent to that rage in his assured purposes of revenge. Great men's anger is like to themselves, strong, fierce, ambitious, of an excessive satisfaction. Haman scorns to take up with the blood of Mordecai, this were but a vulgar amends; poor men can kill where they hate; and expiate their own wrong with the life of a single enemy. Haman's fury shall fly an higher pitch, millions of throats are few enough to bleed for this offence: it is a Jew that hath despited him; the whole nation of the Jews shall perish for the stomach of this one. The monarchy of the world was now in the hand of the Persian; as Judea was within this compass, so there was scarce a Jew upon earth without the verge of the Persian dominions : the generation, the name shall now die at once; neither shall there be any memory of them but this, There was a people, which having been famous through the world for three thousand four hundred and fourscore years, were, in a moment, extinct by the power of Haman, for default of a courtesy.
Perhaps that hereditary grudge and old antipathy, that was betwixt Israel and Amalek, stuck still in the heart of this Agagite; he miglit know that God had commanded Israel to root out Amalek from under heaven; and now therefore an Amalekite shall be ready to take this advantage against Israel. It is extreme injustice to dilate the punishment beyond the offence, and to enwrap thousands of innocents within the trespass of one. How many that were yet unborn, when Haman was unsaluted, must rue the fact they lived not to know? How many millions of Jews were then living, that knew not there was a Mordecai! all of them are fetched into one condition, and must suffer, ere they can know their offence. ( the infinite distance betwixt the unjust cruelty of mnen, and the just mercies of the Almighty! Even Caiaphas himself could say, " It is better that one man die, than that all the people should perish;” and here Haman can say, “ It is better that all the people should perish, than that one man should die.” Thy inercy, O God, by the willing death of one that had not sinned, hath defrayed the just death of a world? of sinners : while the injurious rigour of a man, for the supposed fault of one, would destroy a whole nation that had not offended. It is true, that, by the sin of one, death reigned over all; but it was, because all sinned in that one; had not all men been in Adam, all had not fallen in him, all had not died in him; it was not the man, but mankind that fell into sin, and by sin into death. No man can complain of punishment, while no man can exempt himself from the transgression. Unmerciful Hainan would have imbrued his hands in that blood, which he could not but confess innocent.
It is a rare thing, if the height of favour cause not presumption; such is Haman's greatness, that he takes his design for granted, ere it can receive a motion : the fittest days for this great massacre are determined by the lots of their common divination ; according whereunto, Haman chooseth the hour of this bloody suit; and now, waited on by opportunity, le addresseth himself to king Ahasuerus : “ There is a certain people scattered abroad, and dispersed among the people, in all the provinces of the kingdom, and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king's laws, therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them ; if it please the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of the officers.” With what cunning hath this man couched his malice! he doth not say, There is a Jew that hath affronted me, let me be avenged of his nation; this rancour was too monstrous to be confessed ; perhaps this suggestion might have bred in the mind of Ahasuerus a conceit of Haman's ill nature, and intolerable immanity: but his pretences are plausible, and such as drive at no other than the public good: every
word hath its insinuation, “ It is a scattered people :” were the nation entire, their maintenance could not but stand with the king's honour; but now since they are but stragglers, as their loss would be insensible, so their continuance and mixture cannot but be prejudicial: it was not the fault, it was the misery of these poor Jews that they were dispersed, and now their dispersion is made an argument of their extirpation;