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natural hesitation, or rather a prudent discretion, in Esther's answer; she did not then entreat for mercy to the Jews, but requested that the king, together with Haman, would come that day to the banquet which she had prepared for them. The demand was granted, and the same day the king and Haman were the guests of Esther. At the feast, Ahasverus asked his queen again to name her petition. Perhaps still unable to summon the necessary courage, or thinking that she was not yet sufficiently sure of the king's clemency, Esther merely begged of him and Haman to come to another banquet on the morrow. With a proud and elated heart, Haman left the king's presence. As he passed the royal gate, he saw how Mordecai sat there without moving at his approach; but he cared not to upbraid his enemy at that moment; his revenge was certain and near; for was he not the signal favourite of both Ahasverus and Esther? When he arrived at his house, he related to his wife Zeresh, his children, and his friends, how he had been specially honoured that day by the queen's favour, and how to-morrow he was again her bidden guest. Yet, he continued, all this is of no avail to me, as long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate. Then his wife and his friends said to him, “Let a gallows be made fifty cubits high, and to-morrow speak to the king that Mordecai may be hanged thereon; then go merrily with the king to the banquet. The advice pleased Haman, and he caused the gallows to be erected forthwith.
In that same night the king was restless and could not sleep. To while away the time, he commanded the chronicles of the realm to be read to him. There he found recorded, how Mordecai had saved his life from the conspiracy of two chamberlains, and he asked, What honour and dignity has been done to Mordecai for this ?' There has nothing been done for him,' was the answer.
And the king said, “Who is in the court ?' Now Haman, agitated by his hatred of Mordecai, was already in the palace, eager to obtain the king's permission to hang his enemy. At Ahasverus command, Haman came before him, and was greeted with this question: What shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honour?' Haman thought in his heart, Upon whom should the king desire to confer distinctions more than upon myself? So he answered unhesitatingly, · For the man whom the king delights to honour—let the royal apparel be brought, which the king is wont to wear, and the horse that the king rides upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head. And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king's most noble princes that they may array the man withal whom the king delights to honour, and lead him on horseback through the streets of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour !' Then the king said to Haman, “Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew who sits at the king's gate: let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken. Haman was compelled to do the king's bidding: when all was finished, he returned to his house sick at heart, and full of despair and mourning. He related what had happened to Zeresh his wife, and to his friends, and they said with a true foreboding: If Mordecai, before whom thou hast begun to fall, is of the seed of the Jews, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him. While they were still speaking together, the king's servants came and hastened to take Haman to the banquet of queen Esther.
Again the king and Haman were sitting at the royal table, when Ahasverus asked for the third time, “What is thy petition, queen Esther ? it shall be granted thee; and what is thy request ? were it even to the half of the
kingdom, it shall be performed!' Esther felt that now, when the highest honours had been bestowed upon her relative Mordecai, the moment had come to speak; she took courage, and said, “Oh, king, let my life be given at my petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish. And if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I should have been silent, although the enemy could not repay the king's damage. “Who is he, and where is he,' Ahasverus burst forth in anger, that durst presume in his heart to do so ?' Esther replied, “The adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman. Then Haman trembled before the king and the queen. As Ahasverus rushed out into the garden in a paroxysm of wrath, the miserable Haman fell on his knees before Esther. There he was found by Ahasverus, who soon returned with his attendants. He was led away, and by the king's command hung upon the gallows he had raised for Mordecai.
Esther now confessed to the king that she was Mordecai's cousin. Ahasverus sent at once for the man who had saved his life, installed him in Haman's place, and gave him, as the symbol of his high office, the signet ring which had been taken from the hand of his foe. Then Esther fell down on her knees before Ahasverus, and implored him with tears to revoke the sanguinary edict which had gone out against the Jews; “for,' said she,
how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred ?' But the decrees of the Persian kings were irrevocable; once issued, they could not be changed. However, Ahasverus despatched messengers in all haste to every province of the empire, bidding the Jews prepare to resist their enemies. This new proclamation, which filled the Jews with ecstasy and their enemies with apprehension, was eagerly acted upon, and the thirteenth day of the
month of Adar was one of fearful bloodshed throughout Persia. The Jews defended themselves so vigorously, that they slew 75,000 persons in the provinces and 800 in Susa. The ten sons of Haman were among the victims. Unfortunately Esther, in the day of her triumph, showed but little clemency to the fallen, and gave free play to the spirit of revenge which, in that age, appears to have been a characteristic of all nations. Mordecai became the great favourite of the monarch, was dressed in the magnificent robes of a grand-vizier, and was laden with riches and honours.
From that time, the Jews kept the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month Adar with gladness and rejoicing, by sending mutual presents, and gifts to the poor, as a yearly commemoration of the lots (purim), which Haman had cast to ascertain the day most auspicious for the destruction of the Jews. This is the origin of the festival of Purim.
155. EZRA THE SCRIBE.
[EZRA VII. 899.]
In Jerusalem meanwhile the second High-priest Joiakim had died, and was succeeded by his son Eliashib, under whose supervision the fortifications of Jerusalem were commenced. The ever-watchful Samaritans considered this a good opportunity for renewing their accusations against the Jews at the Persian court; but they seem to have met with little success. The death of Xerxes (465), or rather the accession to the throne of his son Artaxerxes I. Longimanus, was an event of the greatest importance to the Jews, especially to those who were settled in their old Palestine homes. For the new king showed remarkable kindness to his Jewish subjects; and
he gave permission to all who lived scattered in his eastern provinces, to return to Palestine. Upwards of 1,500 persons availed themselves of it. At the head of this new colony the king placed a man who had obtained his entire confidence, and who was destined to exercise a very decisive influence upon his own countrymen-Ezra, of priestly descent, who was learned in the Law and all the knowledge required for its interpretation, anxious to teach and to diffuse it, pious and God-fearing. In the seventh year of Artaxerxes' reign (458), the emigrants set out from Susiana. They did not go empty-handed. They took with them much silver and gold and many costly vessels, which the king, and his nobles, and the wealthy Jews of Persia, gave them for the Temple of Jerusalem.
What was more important, they came armed with a royal decree enjoining upon the satraps west of the Jordan to deliver to Ezra whatever he might require up to 100 talents of silver, and 100 measures of wheat, of wine, and of oil. By that same decree, the priests, the Levites, and all ministers and servants of the Temple, were for ever exempted from paying any of the taxes levied upon Persian subjects; and Ezra was commanded to select competent judges for all tribunals, and to appoint efficient teachers of the Law for the whole people. The edict concluded with these words: And whosoever will not do the Law of thy God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.' After a journey of four months,
districts full of rapacious and warlike tribes, the Jews arrived safely in Jerusalem, without having required any military protection. Ezra gave up all the treasures
· Namely, 100 talents of gold, 650 talents of silver, 100 talents' worth of silver vessels, and 20 golden goblets worth 1000 darikes, and 2 vessels of shining brass of equal value as gold (Ezra viii. 26, 27).