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´╗┐Title: Notable Women of Olden Time
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration]



NOTABLE WOMEN

OF

OLDEN TIME.


WRITTEN FOR THE AMERICAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION.


PHILADELPHIA:
AMERICAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION,
1122 CHESTNUT STREET.



_Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1852, by the
AMERICAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania._

_No books are published by the AMERICAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION without the
sanction of the Committee of Publication, consisting of fourteen
members, from the following denominations of Christians, viz. Baptist,
Methodist, Congregationalist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and
Reformed Dutch. Not more than three of the members can be of the same
denomination, and no book can be published to which any member of the
Committee shall object._



CONTENTS.


                                               PAGES

THE WIFE--(SARAH)                                  7

THE WIFE UNLOVED--(HAGAR)                         35

THE PARTIAL AND INTRIGUING MOTHER--(REBEKAH)      63

THE RIVAL SISTERS--(LEAH AND RACHEL)              89

THE AFFECTIONATE SISTER--(MIRIAM)                119

THE PROPHETESS--(DEBORAH)                        171

THE ARTFUL WOMAN--(JEZEBEL)                      187

THE AMBITIOUS WOMAN--(ATHALIAH)                  205

THE ORPHAN QUEEN--(ESTHER)                       231



THE WIFE--SARAH.


[Illustration]

Within a few centuries after the flood, while some who had witnessed the
sin and the destruction of the antediluvian world were still living,
Jehovah saw fit, in accordance with his designs of eternal wisdom, to
separate Abraham from his brethren, calling upon him to leave the land
of his birth and go out into a strange land, to dwell in a far country.
He was to pass the rest of his days as a sojourner in a land which
should be thereafter given to a people yet unborn,--to a nation which
was to descend from him.

Abraham was a lineal descendant of Shem, who was doubtless still living
while "the father of Abraham yet abode with his kindred in the land of
the Chaldees;" and from the lips of his venerable progenitor, Abraham
himself may have first received the knowledge of the true God, and have
learned lessons of wisdom and obedience, as he sat at his feet. Shem may
have conversed with Methuselah; and Methuselah must have known Adam; and
from Adam, Methuselah may have heard that history of the creation and
fall, which he narrated to Shem, and which Shem may have transmitted to
Abraham; and the history of the world would be thus remembered as the
traditional recollections of a family, and repeated as the familiar
remembrances of a single household.

Tales of the loveliness of Eden,--of the glories of the creation,--of
the blessedness of the primeval state,--of the days before the fall;
remembrances of the "mother of all living" in the days of her holiness,
when she was as beautiful as the world created for her home, in all the
dewy sweetness of the morning of its existence,--of the wisdom of man
before he yielded to the voice of temptation, when authority was
enthroned upon his brow, and all the tribes of the lower creation did
him homage;--of the good spirits who watched over to minister unto and
bless them;--of those dark, unholy and accursed ones, who came to tempt,
betray and destroy them,--were recounted as events of which those who
described them had been the witnesses. And from the remembrances thus
preserved and transmitted by tradition, each generation obscuring or
exaggerating them, have descended what we call fables of
antiquity,--great facts, now dimly remembered and darkly presented, as
shadowed over by the mists of long ages.

How must the hearts of the descendants of Shem have thrilled as they
heard from him the history of by-gone times--of a world which had passed
away! How much had the great patriarch of his race, himself, beheld? He
had seen the glory and the beauty of the world before the flood. It was
cursed for the sin of man, in the day of his fall--but slowly, as we
measure time, do the woes denounced by God often take effect, and,
though excluded from Eden, the first pair may have seen little change
pass over the face of the earth. The consummation of this curse may have
been the deluge; and those who dwelt on the earth, before this calamity
swept it with its destroying wing, may have seen it in much of its
original beauty; while those who outlived that event witnessed a
wonderful change.

From that frail fabric, the ark, which proved the second cradle of the
race, Shem had beheld a world submerged,--a race swept off by the floods
of Almighty wrath. He had heard the shrieks of the drowning, the vain
prayer of those who had scoffed the threatened vengeance, the fruitless
appeal of those who had long rejected mercy. As the waves bore up his
frail vessel, he had seen the black and sullen waters settle over
temples, cities and palaces; and he had gazed until he could behold but
one dark expanse of water, in whose turbid depths were buried all the
families of the earth--save one.

Those he had loved and honoured, and much which, perhaps, he had envied
and coveted--the pride, the glory, the beauty of earth--all had passed
away. And after the waters subsided, and the ark had found a
resting-place, what a deep and sad solemnity must have mingled with the
joy for their preservation.

How strange the aspect the world presented! How must the survivors have
recalled past scenes and faces, to be seen no more! How much they must
have longed to recognise old familiar places,--the Eden of Adam and
Eve,--the graves in which they had been laid! For doubtless Seth and his
descendants still remained with their first parents, while Cain went out
from their presence and built a city in some place remote. The earth
which Noah and his descendants repeopled was one vast grave; and what
wonder that those who built above a race entombed, should mingle fancy
with tradition, and imagine that the buried cities and habitations were
yet inhabited by the accursed and unholy. Such have been the fancies of
those who darkly remembered the flood; and as the wind swept through the
caverns of the earth, the superstitious might still imagine that they
heard the voices or the shrieks of the spirits imprisoned within.

Shem seems to have far exceeded his brothers in true piety, and the
knowledge of Jehovah was for many generations preserved among his
descendants, while few or none of them ever sank into those deep
superstitions which debased the children of Ham. And it is beautiful to
remark, that the filial piety which so pre-eminently marked him has ever
been a prominent trait among all nations descended from him. Thus
receiving his impressions of the power, the truth, the awful justice of
Jehovah, from one well fitted to convey them,--and taught the certain
fulfilment of promises and of threats,--Abraham was early inspired with
that deep reverential and yet filial love, that entire confidence,
which led to the trusting obedience which distinguished his character.

Yet, from his very piety, sad must it have been when the command came to
leave the plains of Mesopotamia, and go out a stranger and a pilgrim
into distant lands, to become a dweller among those who were fast
apostatizing from the true faith. "But by faith he obeyed," and by his
obedience he has given us an example and illustration of faith, which
has been held forth through all succeeding ages. To be the child of
Abraham, to walk as he walked, is, after the lapse of thousands of
years, the characteristic of the true worshipper of God.

Guided by an Omniscient hand, trusting in an Almighty power, cheered by
that mysterious promise, which, as a star of hope shining in the hour of
deepest darkness, still rose to higher brightness as it guided the long
line of patriarchs, kings, and prophets, until it settled over the
manger of Bethlehem, and was lost in the full glory of the Sun of
righteousness,--Abraham girded his loins and prepared for a departure to
far distant lands.

At first, attended by his father and brother, he sojourned with them in
Haran; and the family pitched their tents in that spot which was to
become in future ages the battle-ground of nations, when the proud eagle
of imperial Rome was trailed in the dust, and her warriors and her
nobles fell before their fiercer foes. Long ages have intervened since
the tents of this Syrian family were pitched by the side of the waters
of Charan; and midway between their days and ours, were these waters
discoloured with the blood of those who fell in the battle of Charae, so
disastrous to Rome, ever haughty, and then exulting in the height of her
prosperity. A few wandering shepherds now lead their flocks in the plain
in which Sarah and Abraham dwelt, and where Cassius and his legions
fell. But a short sojourn was permitted Abraham here. "Arise and depart,
for this is not your rest"--and again he listened to the command from
above, and gathered his flocks and servants, and girded his loins, and
set his face towards the land promised to him, and to his seed after
him. And now he left his father and his brethren, and went with his own
family, the head of his house, the future patriarch of his race.

Yet he was not alone. The wife of his youth was by his side. In all his
wanderings, in all his cares, there was one with him to participate in
his joys and to alleviate his sorrows. With him and for him, his wife
forsook home, kindred and country. We doubt not that she too shared the
faith of Abraham; that she too trusted and loved and worshipped the God
of Abraham, and of Shem, and of Noah. Like Abraham, a descendant of
Shem,--like him too, she had been trained in the worship of Jehovah. Yet
to the faith of the true believer, there was added the strong affection
of the wife; and while Abraham went out obeying God, Sarah followed,
trusting God indeed, but leaning still upon her husband. In all her
future life, she is presented to us the wife; devoted, affectionate,
submissive; loving her husband with a true affection, and honouring him
by a due deference.

With a beauty that fascinated kings, preserving the charms of youth to
the advanced period of her life, she still lived but for her husband;
and when even the faith of Abraham failed, and he withdrew from the wife
the protection of the husband, and said, "She is my sister," Sarah
appears to have acquiesced in a deceit so unworthy of her husband and of
herself, merely to insure his safety among the lawless tribes around
them.

As we read the story of Abraham's wife, we catch glimpses of ages and
nations that were hoar with antiquity, and had passed away when our
ancient historians began the record of the past. Nation after nation had
perished and been forgotten before the profane historian began his
annals. Yet childless, still trusting in the promise of Jehovah, Abraham
wandered for many years through the land which was to be given to him,
and his seed after him. Now pitching his tent in Moreh; then building
his altar at Bethel; then driven by famine into Egypt; then returning to
his altar at Bethel,--and there separating from his nephew Lot, because
"the land could not bear" both, he fixes his abode in Hebron.

No pictures of pastoral life are more beautiful than those presented in
Genesis; and while we contemplate the character of Abraham, we catch
occasional glimpses of his household, and of the manners of his age. We
see him exercising forbearance and relinquishing the rights of a
superior, that there might be no strife between him and his too worldly
relative. We see him leading out his own band as a prince, to rescue
that same relative,--who, tempted by the promise of large wealth, had
chosen a location full of dangers,--and, in the hour of victory,
refusing all spoil and showing all honour to the priest of the most high
God.

Again he is before us, sitting in his tent in the heat of the day, and
hastening to receive strangers,--"thus entertaining angels
unawares,"--and then interceding for that city doomed to destruction for
the wickedness of the dwellers therein.

And again he appears as the prince, the patriarch, the head of his own
family, and high in honour with those around him, ever observing all the
decorum and proprieties of oriental life. We see him, too, as one who
walked with God; as the priest of his household, presenting the morning
and the evening sacrifice; as holding high communion with God in the
hours of darkness; entering into that covenant which is still pleaded by
those who claim the promise, "I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed
after thee."

This promise of a seed, from which was to spring a great nation, "like
to the stars of heaven in number," was frequently repeated, yet still
deferred. Youth, manhood, middle age, all had passed, and still no child
blest the tents of Sarah; and while Abraham still believed, and it "was
accounted to him for righteousness," Sarah seems to have felt that not
upon her was to be conferred the distinction of becoming the mother of
the promised seed. With the warm impulse of the woman, she sacrificed
the feelings of the wife and the instincts of the heart, to promote
what she doubtless believed to be the plan of God and the happiness of
Abraham. There is a deficiency of faith as much to be manifested in the
forestalling the plans of Providence as in the denial of the promises of
God: and while Abraham still trusted and waited the fulfilment of the
promise, Sarah sought, by her own device, to accomplish prophecy and
insure the blessing.

In accordance with the usages of those around her, she gave her handmaid
to her husband to be his wife, "that their children might bless her
age." She doubtless felt herself strong enough in love to Abraham and to
Hagar to believe that her affection would embrace their children. But
when the trial came, and all the instincts of the heart, all the
feelings of the wife revolted, she proved that this violation of a
heaven-appointed institution brings only sorrow and strife. Yet there
was no alienation between Sarah and Abraham. The wife of his youth was
ever dearer to him than the mother of his child.

At length, however, the promise was fulfilled. Sarah became a mother.
Many years had passed since she had left the home of her fathers. The
days of man were now much abridged, and she was fast approaching the
ordinary limit of human life; but we may suppose her cheek was still
fair and her brow smooth, and that she still retained much of the beauty
of youth.

With a wondering joy, Sarah gazed upon the child so long desired--the
child in whose seed "all the nations of the earth" were to be "blessed."
And she said, "God hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear shall
laugh;" and while those that heard that Sarah "had borne Abraham a son
in his old age," wondered at an event so strange, Abraham must have
pondered the prophecy which had revealed to him the destiny of his
race,--perhaps foreseeing that Star which was to rise in a still distant
age, and apprehending, however dimly and faintly, something of the
mysterious connection between the birth of the child and the promise
given in the hour of the curse--the blending of the fate of his race
with the eternal plan of mercy and redemption.

There is an instinct in our natures which leads us to rejoice at a
birth; but, could Sarah have foreseen the destiny of her race, tears
would have mingled with her smiles. Wonderful has been the past history
of that people, strange their present condition, while the future may
develop mysteries still more incomprehensible.

In the hour of rejoicing over the new-born babe, past transgression
brought forth its legitimate fruits. Sullenness and strife were
brooding in the bosoms of the Egyptian bond-woman and her son; and the
quiet eye of the mother saw all the danger arising from the jealous hate
and rivalry of the first-born of Abraham.

If the decision was stern, it was needful. "Cast out the bond-woman and
her child, for her son shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac."
Harsh words,--but it is better to dwell peacefully asunder, than
together in strife and bitterness. The malignant passions which led
Ishmael to mock, might soon be stimulated by the mother to
murder,--chafed and irritated as she was by the constant presence of the
child who had supplanted her own. From the time of the departure of
Hagar from the household of Abraham, peace seems to have rested upon it.
Prosperity attended him. He no longer wandered from place to place. He
remained in Hebron, sojourning with Sarah and her child.

Many years passed,--years of peaceful quiet and happiness seldom
allotted to such an age,--while they trained their child in the nurture
of the true God, and were honoured by the princes around him, who sought
to enter into league with him, for they saw that "God blessed him in all
that he did."

Once again God saw fit to test the faith of Abraham by calling upon him
to offer his son--his only son Isaac, whom he loved--as a sacrifice; and
Abraham obeyed the divine command, and thus doing, uttered that prophecy
which has thrilled so many souls, "God will himself provide a
sacrifice." In this trial, Sarah seems not to have been called to
participate. The mother was spared the agony of feeling that her only
child was to be offered as a sacrifice--that the hope of her life was to
perish.

"Sarah was an hundred and twenty years old, and she died." The dark
shadow of death is, sooner or later, to fall upon each household.
Abraham seems to have been at a distance--perhaps in the charge of some
of his numerous flocks--when he was recalled to Hebron by news of
Sarah's death. And he came to mourn over her. The remembrance of her
maiden beauty and modesty, the grateful recollection of all her conjugal
devotedness, filled his soul. If light and immortality were brought to
light in the gospel, still the divine rays were faintly reflected in the
former dispensation, and the eye of faith even then penetrated the thick
darkness of the grave.

And now, after these long years of promise and waiting, Abraham takes
possession of the land which God had given to him and to his seed. He
asks, however, but a small portion,--a tomb, a place for his dead,--and
a more beautiful description of a scene of mutual deference, of regard
for rights and respect for character and position, was never penned
than that which records the negotiation between the bereaved patriarch
and the children of Heth. With the touch of magic, the whole scene is
before us. The bereaved patriarch, courteous in grief, bowing in the
presence of the sons of Heth,--the deep respect, the kindly sympathy,
manifested by those who, strangers to his religion, felt the claims of
his character,--mingled with that deep awe which the visitation of death
ever inspires.

The last scene was now over, and Sarah has first taken possession of
that home to which she was to be followed by her husband and their
descendants. One by one they take their places by her side,--unwelcomed,
unquestioned,--

    "Where none have saluted and none have replied,"--

and yet where all are gathered at last. We see her not as a sister or a
daughter. She is not known to us in the house of her father. Sarah is
only presented to us as the wife of Abraham. And as a wife the apostle
has held her up to her own sex as a model and example. "Even as Sarah
obeyed her husband, calling him lord,"--exclaims the apostle, exhorting
the wife to due deference. The deep, fervent affection of the heart led
to that outward manifestation of honour so beautiful and becoming; and
as the only love which can be enduring is that which is founded on
respect, so it is the highest happiness of the wife to be able truly to
honour him whom she is bound to love and obey.

When the heads of a household are thus united in warm affection and
mutual respect, the influence will pervade the whole circle, and the
family of Abraham presented a beautiful picture of such a household. The
numerous members composing a large family were governed by one who
provided for their sustenance, led them forth for the defence of
rights, or the redress of injuries, or the rescue of the captive; and
who officiated as the priest as well as ruler of his household. In such
a community, the character of the head would be impressed upon the whole
people; and it was with obvious meaning that Jehovah exclaimed, "I know
him that he will command his household after him." It was by example
that admonition was made availing. And the wife was ever ready, with her
ardent and trusting love, to aid and co-operate. Hastening, when he
welcomed the stranger, to prepare the feast, she was ever ready to
receive his guests and add her efforts to his hospitality.

Hatred, strife, and mutual alienation so often cloud over the unison of
wedded life, and cause its sun to set in darkness, that few spectacles
can be presented more beautiful or more delightful than the old age of
wedded life, soothed by true affection and mutual kindness. It is more
touching than the glow of youthful passion. It proclaims the presence of
high moral worth. It is never found in the habitations of the unholy.
The love which thus survives the glow of youth, which bears the storms
and the trials of life, must be founded on truth, on unimpassioned
esteem, on approved integrity; and those alone who love God supremely,
love each other unselfishly.

While Sarah honoured her husband, she too was treated with proper
deference. Her counsels were ever heeded, her voice had its due
influence, and he still deferred to her wishes. It is beautiful to note
the increasing estimation in which she is held. Sarai, "the mistress,"
betokened her station as the head of a household; and as years brought
honours, and an enlarged sphere of duty, and a more elevated position
among the people around them, Sarai was changed into Sarah--_my lady_.
Her husband, in addressing the former Sarai as Sarah, "my lady,"
gracefully returned the honour she bestowed when she called him "lord."
By such manifestation of mutual respect and love, the chain of family
affection is kept bright.

As the household of Abraham was the household of faith, ordained as the
model for all ages, it is well to analyze the elements which composed
it, and to trace their combined influence. There was the conjugal union
of the true worshippers of Jehovah, animated by the same hopes, governed
by the same principles, whose hearts were united in the strong bonds of
natural affection. There was the confiding, unfailing affection, the
deep, reverential respect, and due obedience of the wife. There was the
tender love, protecting care, the unwavering faith, the honourable
deference of the husband. The religion of this household was the
religion of faith and of obedience,--a religion which led them to
forsake all at the command of God, which taught them to rely upon his
promises, to fear his threatenings, to plead his grace, to trust his
mercy, while it was a religion which led to a due observance of all the
relative duties of life, which taught the exercise of that impartial
justice, careful benevolence, disinterested kindness, and ready
hospitality to those without the family; and of steady love, of
affectionate kindness, of sympathetic forbearance to the members of the
household within. The family of faith, where faith is pure, will ever be
a family of love; and as true piety is the best security for family
happiness, so family love is the best nurse for family piety.

There are many families among us who aim at being families of faith, who
profess to walk in the steps of Abraham, to imitate his example. Let
such not confine themselves to the manifestation of his peculiar faith,
to his trust and dependence alone. Let them walk as he walked before his
household, in the fear of God and the love of man, in the careful
fulfilment of every relative and social duty, in the daily
exemplification of a tender and loving spirit, carefully avoiding or
removing all sources of division. Let that piety which unites them to
God, be a bond, encircling all and drawing them near to each other.

By the cultivation of the simple domestic virtues, by the daily, quiet,
self-denying trials, by the observance of the thousand decencies, the
unaffected proprieties, the unostentatious efforts to bless and
comfort,--by the elevating influence of personal example,--by the
breathing atmosphere of a holy spirit,--the family is to be made the
household of faith, the nursery of the church.

Direct instruction and formal efforts and stated observances are
neither to be forgotten nor to be remitted; but these can only be made
effectual by the living exemplification of a spirit of love, a life of
holiness. It will ever be found true that he who prays most loves
most.

[Illustration]



HAGAR--THE WIFE UNLOVED.


The Hebrew patriarch led his flocks and herds, surrounded by his large
household, from Haran to the land of the Canaanites; from thence to that
of the Philistines, down into Egypt; wherever so numerous a family and
such large flocks could find sustenance--water and herbage. And as he
thus sojourned, many of the poor of these lands flocked to him for
employment and support; and while he bought the services of the parents,
the children born in his house became members of his family, were
trained as his servants, and were subject to his authority as the master
of the household, the prince among his people, the patriarch of his
tribe.

And among these was Hagar, the Egyptian. We are not told whether she was
born in the house of Abraham, or rescued from those who may have stolen
her from her home, or given by her parents to the wealthy and childless
Sarai. She was Sarah's handmaid--a relation, according to the customs of
the East (almost immutable) nearly as dear as that of a child. She was
the personal attendant, the constant companion of her mistress; and by
her was doubtless instructed in the principles of the true religion,
while she was thus accustomed to the accomplishments and occupations of
the age. The tasks of the favourite handmaids of Eastern families are
still light. To sit at the feet of her mistress with her embroidery; to
cheer her with the simple music of the shepherd's tent; to aid her in
those domestic duties to which Sarah gave her own superintendence; to
assist in preparing the wool of the flocks for the garments of the
family; to watch her tent as she reposed by day, and keep by her side as
the camels slowly wandered through the valleys in search of pure streams
or more abundant herbage, were probably the occupations and duties of
Hagar.

Years thus passed on--and the dark-browed and dark-eyed Egyptian maiden
had grown into womanhood, and the freshness of youth, the joyousness of
health and early life were her's, while her mistress was passing into
age. Sarah no longer hoped to become a mother, and, believing that the
promise was not intended for her, she urged Abraham to take another
wife, offering for his acceptance her own handmaid, the Egyptian Hagar.

The authority of the mistress of the East over her own establishment is
so absolute, the husband so interdicted from all interference, that,
although Hagar had passed her youth with Sarah, she may have been
hardly noticed by Abraham until Sarah proffered her. According to the
usage of the east, Sarah had a right (the right then claimed by the
parent) thus to dispose of her handmaid; and a marriage with her master
was the highest honour which could be bestowed on Hagar. She was given
to Abraham to be his wife, and, the relation was--according to the usage
then prevailing--as legal as that sustained by Sarah, although the
station was inferior. No injury was intended to Hagar. No higher
distinction could have been conferred upon her, and, strong in love to
both Hagar and Abraham, Sarah doubtless supposed she might be able to
welcome and love their children, though denied offspring of her own.

But such departure from the law, precept, or institution of God,
involves a long train of sin and sorrow, no matter what the
intention--and the union of Abraham with Hagar was a direct violation
of the institution of marriage in all its principles and intentions, and
it could not but bring confusion and strife to the tent of the
patriarch.

It was merely a marriage of interest and convenience, unhallowed by
love. The heart of Abraham never departed from the wife of his youth,
nor could Sarah ever have intended to relinquish her hold upon his
affection. It is the last claim a woman foregoes. And on the other hand,
Hagar could have felt no love for her master, so much her superior in
age and station. Unholy pride and rank ambition were all the feelings
which such an alliance could awaken in the heart of Hagar. Yet Hagar was
the least blameworthy, and, perhaps, not eventually the greatest
sufferer. By the customs of society, she had no voice in the disposal of
herself. Her heart was never consulted. She was only allowed to receive
the husband allotted to her--to acquiesce in the decision of others.

The natural results of such a union followed. The exaltation of Hagar
excited her pride and led to arrogance; and when she knew that she
should become a mother, her childless mistress was despised.

It is hard to bear contempt from those upon whom we have lavished
kindness; to feel that we have exalted those who despise us: and all the
indignation of Sarah was roused by the assumption and ingratitude of
Hagar; and, with the quick instinct of the woman, she retorted upon her
husband, "My wrong be upon thee."

A stranger indifference could not have been manifested than that showed
by Abraham towards the youthful wife who should have now received his
protection and kindness. "Behold thy handmaid is in thy hands." He
recognised no tie--he felt no obligation. What was Hagar, that she
should occasion strife between him and the wife of his youth, the
partner of his life, the daughter of his own people!

Hagar was from this hour abandoned by Abraham to her mistress. When
Sarah resumed the authority belonging to her station, she assumed with
it a power never before exercised. Forgetting all the love of past
years, all the claims of the present hour upon her kindness and
forbearance, she treated the unhappy Hagar with such intolerable
harshness, that the wretched woman fled from the face of her mistress
and from the tents of her master, and sought refuge in the wilderness.

We can conceive what bitter, despairing thoughts, what a keen sense of
injustice and injury may have pressed upon her, as she sat alone by the
fountain in the desert. Probably a little spot of green herbage denoted
the presence of water, while, all around, lay the sandy, rocky desert.
The stars, in the brightness of an oriental night, were looking down on
her as she sat alone, her face buried in her hands, unheeded, there to
die. Then came the visions of her youth, the remembrances of her
childhood, the sound of her mother's voice, the dream of her smile--then
the tent of Sarah--then the alliance with her master, the excitement of
her pride, the flush of hope, the exultation of a fancied triumph over
the childless, but still honoured wife; succeeded by the cold withdrawal
of all the kindness of the patriarch, and the entire abandonment of her
whom he had taken to his bosom, to the implacable resentment of her
former mistress!

The temper of Hagar, the feelings thus excited--dark, sullen, bitter,
revengeful--when she fled from all, may have been impressed upon her
offspring, and thus marked the future character of her race.

Still, Hagar was not alone. The wanderer was not forgotten. In the hour
of darkness and of desolation, there is One nigh even to those who
forget him. "And the angel of the Lord found her by the fountain in the
wilderness, and he said: Hagar, Sarah's maid, whence camest thou? And
whither wouldst thou go?"

She was not addressed as the wife of Abraham. The conventional usage, so
opposed to the positive institution, was not recognised and thus
hallowed by Him who had established marriage; and while Hagar was
pitied, she was reminded of her real condition. "And she said, I flee
from the face of my mistress, Sarah. And the angel of the Lord said unto
her, Return unto thy mistress and submit thyself under her hands. And
the angel of the Lord said, Thou shalt have a son, and shalt call his
name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard thy affliction. He shall be a
wild man. His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand
against him--and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And
she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me,
for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?" implying
a recognition of the unexpected interference, protection and blessing of
God.

The promises of God are always preceded by his commands, and the faith
which clings to the promises is to be tested by the obedience which
alone can make them availing. And when the words of the angel came to
the desolate soul of the woman in the desert, there were admonition,
reproof, and command mingled with promise and blessing. "Return to thy
mistress." Return to thy duty, is the first requirement made of those
God seeks out.

And Hagar humbled herself and obeyed the voice of the Lord. She
returned to her mistress. Trying as it must have been to one so
aggrieved, she submitted to her authority, and again became a member of
the household of Abraham. Had she disobeyed the angel, she and her child
had doubtless perished in the wilderness; but in yielding her proud and
arrogant temper, she secured the future blessing to her race, and
insured the safety of her child, while her submission and gentleness
must have won back Sarah to a kinder temper, to a more forbearing
treatment.

After the birth of Ishmael, there intervened years--long years--in which
Hagar tasted the bitterest cup ever presented to the lips of woman. A
wife unloved, neglected--a mother disregarded--a woman held in bondage
by one who had made her a rival--dwelling in the presence of him who had
put her from him! Her very presence brought reproach and sorrow to
Sarah and Abraham--the violation of the divine institution ever
entailing its penalty.

The wife deserted, neglected, whose hopes have been crushed, ever turns
to her offspring for comfort and sympathy; and ardent was the love,
strong were the ties, which bound the Egyptian mother to the son of the
patriarch; and in Ishmael must all the hopes and affections of Hagar
have centred. Could she, indeed, have penetrated the future, could she
have seen her race, the seed of her son, filling the desert and dwelling
as princes; while the seed of Sarah and of Abraham were held, as if in
retribution of her own sufferings, in bondage in her own native
land,--could she have passed through the intervening ages and seen the
children of Ishmael issuing from their desert and setting their feet
upon the necks of the proudest and mightiest, imposing their faith upon
a world, while they marched forth conquering and to conquer--could she
have contrasted the triumphant warriors of Arabia, the caliphs of the
east and the west, with the wandering, desolate, persecuted,
trodden-down tribes of Israel--the proudest expectations of the woman
and the mother would have been all answered. Could she have penetrated
the meaning of the words she must have so often pondered, she would have
found that the loftiest dreams of the rankest ambition were to be more
than realized.

But dimly and faintly must she have apprehended the meaning of the
mysterious prophecy, even while she trusted the accompanying promise. As
she saw Ishmael, the only child in the tent of the patriarch, and loved
by the father, she perhaps allowed herself to hope that he was yet to be
the heir, and that in his future honours she was to find a full
recompense for all the trials of her blighted youth.

After long years of waiting, Sarah embraced a son, and the event, so
joyous to the parents, awoke afresh the bitter remembrances of Hagar,
while it roused her to the consciousness of her present lot and of all
the injuries inflicted upon her.

In all the trials and sorrows through which she had passed, she had had
none to sustain or sympathize with her. Her child remained her only
earthly hope; and now she felt that another was to supplant him, and
thus disappoint all her expectations.

Her spirit rose in pride and wrath, and she infused her own bitter
feelings into the heart of her child. When Isaac was hailed as the heir,
while all rejoiced, Hagar and Ishmael mocked both the infant and the
aged parents.

Forbearance was no longer safe, and the decision of Sarah was wise,
though harsh--yet it was sad to Abraham. Ishmael was still his son--his
first-born. He had been ever dear to him; and when the angel of the Lord
had again confirmed the promise of a seed in whom all the nations of the
earth were to be blessed, he had almost seemed to overlook it as he
pleaded for the son of the bond-woman, "Oh that Ishmael might live
before thee!" while to Abraham was then confirmed the promise given
before the birth of her child to Hagar. There was sorrow and perplexity
in the heart of Abraham, but a message from heaven confirmed the decree
of Sarah.

The patriarch arose, after a night of conflict and prayer, while the
stars were still shining in the heavens, while the flocks lay in
stillness around the tents, and before those who had revelled and
rejoiced were awake, and called Hagar and her child. Can we not see
them in the gray of the morning? The father, the mother, the
child,--the patriarch, aged, but not bowed by age, still retaining the
vigour of manhood--the boy shy, yet half-defying--the mother! In such an
hour, all distinctions of rank and station would be forgotten, and all
the feelings of the woman be roused. Then and there Hagar might well
forget that she was Sarah's bondmaid, and only remember that she had
been Abraham's wife--that she was still Ishmael's mother.

In that hour must have risen the memory of her wrongs, of her saddened
youth, her darkened womanhood--of the selfishness with which he had
wedded her; of the heartlessness with which he had deserted her; of her
long years of trial and contempt. And her eye might speak reproach,
although the lips were closed and there was no voice. Should we not
rejoice to believe that the patriarch whispered some regret for the
past, and spoke of sorrow and repentance to her whose happiness he had
so selfishly sacrificed, even as he consummated his work by casting her
out, a homeless exile. Such is the enslaving power of custom, so easily
do we blind ourselves to our own delinquencies, that Abraham probably
aggravated Hagar's faults while he overlooked her injuries. He saw in
her but the despiteful, revengeful handmaid; he forgot that she was an
injured wife--a neglected mother.

Yet no words of reproach, of entreaty, or explanation of the past, or
promise for the future, are recorded as having passed between them. He
pronounced the decree, and laid upon the bondmaid, and not upon his
noble boy, the provision for the journey. She turned from the tents, and
thus they parted!

But the connection of Abraham and Hagar had woven a thread into the
destiny of nations, still to be traced. She left the patriarch in
sorrow, in bitterness of soul; but she went out to found nations, to
punish rulers, to establish a long line who should transmit the name of
her son and the influence of her character to remotest ages--even to the
end of time.

Accustomed to the wandering life of the desert, and provided for the
journey, Abraham probably deemed Hagar competent to guide her steps to a
place of safety. But sorrow may have blinded her eyes, or despair made
her reckless, and she was lost in the desert. The water was spent in the
bottle--tons of gold could not open a fountain in the desert--and she
saw her child parched with thirst, "faint and ready to die; and she cast
him under one of the shrubs, and went and sat a good way off, as it were
a bow-shot, for she said, Let me not see the death of the child; and as
she sat over against him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God
heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of God called to her out of
heaven and said unto her, What aileth thee Hagar? Fear not! For God hath
heard the voice of the child where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and
hold him in thy hand, for I will make of him a great nation. And God
opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled
the bottle with water, and gave the lad to drink." What an inimitable
description of a mother's love! What a display of the watchful
benevolence of Jehovah!

In this hour of desolation, when no human aid was near, there was again
the Divine interposition, while there was no reproach, no allusion even
to that sinful temper which had led to the banishment of both mother and
child, and caused them to come here to perish in the wilderness. Blessed
be God that he does not suffer the unworthiness of his children to
separate them from his love; that in the hour of extremity he is still
nigh; that his ear is ever open to hear and his arm ready to save.

"And God was with the lad: and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and
became an archer; and he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran." And his
mother still dwelt with him; and in all his wanderings, wherever his
footsteps were turned, there was her home. There is a touching
remembrance of her early life, in the fact that Hagar chose a wife for
her son from among the daughters of her own people: "She took him a wife
out of the land of Egypt." And from this union have sprung the tribes
who still fill the deserts where Hagar sought a refuge. A wild race,
dwelling in the presence of all their brethren, whose hand is against
every man, while every man's hand is against them.

Ishmael rose rapidly to rank, and Hagar lived to rejoice in his
prosperity. The life which commenced in want, privation and wandering in
the wilderness, conducted her to wealth and honour. So dark and
inscrutable are the ways of Providence, that at each step we are taught
but to seek the path of duty and obey the direction of Heaven.

The children of Ishmael seem to have long preserved the knowledge of
Jehovah. Hagar, who had received so many proofs of the being, power, and
providence of the God of Abraham, might well instruct her descendants in
the principles of the true faith. The race of Ishmael have still
preserved the rite which Abraham received as the seal of faith. Often
may Hagar have recounted the providences of God--the account she had
heard, in the tent of Abraham, of the creation, the fall, the deluge,
the re-peopling of the world; and often, in the course of their
wandering lives, she may have led her descendants to those deep waters
which covered the guilty cities of the plain, and then described them as
she knew them before the wrath of God fell upon them.

The tribes of Ishmael have ever recognised their descent from Abraham;
and the instructions of Hagar are preserved as national traditions to
this very day, though exaggerated by Eastern fancy, and mingled with
wilder romance, as they have been transmitted from one generation to
another by the children of Ishmael, who still lead their flocks in the
same valleys, and pitch their tents by the same fountains to which Hagar
resorted with Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael were no more members of Abraham's household, yet the
relationship of father and son was ever recognised. Doubtless Abraham
imparted of his wealth to his first-born; and as Abraham often sojourned
afterwards in Beer-sheba, probably not far from the spot where Hagar and
Ishmael so nearly perished, the father and son may have often met; and
Isaac and Ishmael may have held kindly intercourse, when the bitter
feelings of rivalry and of conscious wrong had subsided. The ties of
kindred were still allowed, and Esau sought a wife from the family of
his own kindred, as a means of conciliating his father and mother; thus
showing that a purer morality and a higher religious feeling were
cherished than those among surrounding tribes. And when Abraham died,
having attained a full age, his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, both far
advanced in years, buried him. The strifes, the bitterness, the hate of
early life seem to have been forgotten, and they united in the last
offices of filial love and duty.

The son of the bondmaid had attained, during the life of Abraham, a
distinction beyond that of the son of the wife; and his immediate
descendant rose to wealth and honour, while, if one branch of Isaac's
family tasted prosperity, those recognised as the heirs of that
mysterious blessing were long known as wanderers, and then despised as
slaves. Their long line of descent has run parallel, side by side,
distinct, unmingled; recognising a common origin, but never
acknowledging a common brotherhood. The oldest nations of the
earth,--the one exiled from the land given them, dwelling as outcasts
and strangers among all the nations of the earth, yet still separate,
apart, a peculiar people; the other living at this day in the deserts
where Hagar wandered, and where she fainted--a never-conquered people.
And while Assyrian, Greek, and Roman have swept the world and exacted
tribute of the nations around them, and other tribes have been swept
with the besom of destruction, the sons of Ishmael have still dwelt in
the presence of their brethren, ever enforcing, but still refusing to
pay tribute--free and wild as the lad who first became an archer in the
wilderness. Unconsciously confirming prophecy, and still attesting the
truth of a revelation which they contemn and deny,--thus strangely
dwelling so different from all other nations,--preserving the initiatory
rites and the mystic symbols of the faith of Abraham, the customs and
traditions of the age of the patriarch,--these nations dwell distinct,
separate from each other and from all other nations, awaiting the day
when blindness shall be removed from the eyes of the children of
promise, and the descendants of Sarah and of Hagar shall be both
gathered with the fold of Christ.

There are Hagars of modern, as well as of ancient days,--of western as
of eastern lands. She who is wedded from interest and convenience; she
who forms a heartless union from pride and ambition; she who awakes from
her dreams of bliss to find herself an unloved, and perhaps to become a
deserted wife--all these prove the bitterness of the lot of the Egyptian
Hagar. He who has ordained marriage has graciously implanted the
affections which are to make it a source of happiness; and those who
form this union under other motives and influences run fearful risks.
There are many Hagars in the highest ranks of life, and even where the
artificial distinctions of society are most highly regarded and
carefully recognised.

When youth is wedded to age or sacrificed to decrepitude to promote some
State policy, though the victims are not clothed in the garb of the
Egyptian slave, but arrayed in the pomp of regal vestments, yet the
diamond often rests upon an aching brow, and the pearls press a
saddened bosom; and when the holiest of earthly institutions is thus
violated, each relation of life is profaned; and polluted streams
descend from the highest sources and diffuse their poison through all
the ranks of life--through all the gradations of society.

There will still be Hagars--women who marry for a home, or a support;
and especially while woman is educated to be helpless--unable to provide
for her own wants; or while that prejudice is cherished which leads her
to deem useful employment a degradation.

       *       *       *       *       *

HAGAR'S EXILE.

    She fled, with one reproachful look
      On him who bade her go,
    And scarcely could the patriarch brook
      That glance of voiceless wo:
    In vain her quivering lips essay'd
      His mercy to implore;
    Silent the mandate she obey'd,
      And then was seen no more.

    The burning waste and lonely wild
      Received her as she went;
    Hopeless, she clasp'd her fainting child,
      With thirst and sorrow spent.
    And in the wilderness so drear,
      She raised her voice on high,
    And sent forth that heart-stricken prayer
      "Let me not see him die!"

    Her beautiful, her only boy,
      Her all of hope below;
    So long his father's pride and joy,
      And yet--from _him_ the blow!
    Alone she must his head sustain,
      And watch his sinking breath,
    And on his bright brow mark the stain
      Of the destroyer, Death.

    "Let me not see him die," and lo!
      The messenger of peace!
    Once more her tears forget to flow,
      Once more her sorrows cease.
    Life, strength, and freedom now are given
      With mighty power to one
    Who from his father's roof was driven,
      And he--the outcast's son.

    How often we, like Hagar, mourn,
      When some unlook'd for blight
    Drives us away, no more to turn
      To joys we fancied bright!
    Forced from our idols to retreat,
      And seek the Almighty's care,
    Perchance we are sent forth to meet
      A desert-angel there.

[Illustration]



THE PARTIAL AND INTRIGUING MOTHER--REBEKAH.


[Illustration]

After the departure of Hagar and her son from the tents of Abraham,
peace seems to have returned, and it became the abode of filial and
parental as well as of conjugal affection. Sarah's days were still
prolonged, that she might exercise the duties and enjoy the pleasures of
a mother.

The heir of wealth, and the child of love and indulgence, the character
of Isaac seems to have been the reverse of his brother, the restless,
wandering Ishmael. The one, cast off from the care of the father and
taught to rely upon his own energies, early distinguished himself, and
became the leader of a band, and a prince among the nations around;
while the other, cherished and cared for, was content to dwell in the
peaceful enjoyment of wealth and prosperity. Thus do we find that trials
are necessary to develope the higher qualities and to call them into
action. The truly great and noble, the eminent in talent or usefulness,
are never nursed in the bosom of ease.

Sarah died; and while the bereaved husband felt his loss, the son could
not have been insensible. There was a dreary void in the home of the
patriarch when the wife and the mother had been laid in the sepulchre.
There was no one to fill the place of Sarah--no one to bless their
simple meals. She no longer appears to welcome them as they returned
from the field or the flock. The tribe is without a mother, the
household without a mistress. Many considerations led Abraham to desire
the marriage of his son, and he cast around his thoughts for a wife
worthy of being the mother of the promised seed, and one who could well
fulfil the duties which must devolve upon her as the head of his large
household. The people around him would have courted his alliance, and as
yet no command from God forbade his forming family ties with the
inhabitants of the land. But Abraham too well knew the influence of the
wife and the mother, to choose a wife for the child of promise from a
race apostate from the religion of Jehovah. He knew the ensnaring
influence which would there be brought to bear upon his family, and he
resolved to seek a wife for Isaac among his far-distant kindred--those
who yet retained the knowledge and clung to the worship of the God of
Shem, of Noah, and of Adam. Though far separated from his brethren, yet
communications seem to have passed, and Abraham had been told of the
enlargement of the family of his brother; and he resolved, not only to
seek a wife for his son from among his own kindred, but, while making
arrangements for such a marriage, he solemnly guarded against the return
of his descendants to the land from whence he had been called.

Trying as might be the long journey, and uncertain as seemed the issue,
no inferior motives were allowed to be put in competition with the
perpetuity of the worship and knowledge of God. A connection with any of
the families of the Canaanites would have been at once ensnaring to the
household of Abraham and injurious in its influence upon the heart of
Isaac. Had Isaac married the daughter of an idolater, irreligion and
immorality would soon have pervaded the family of the patriarch, and
the knowledge of the true God have departed from the earth. Thus the
beacon light of nations had been extinguished, and the last altar
erected to Jehovah had been broken down: for the other descendants of
Shem were fast departing from the God of their fathers,--and if the
children of Keturah and Ishmael for a period retained the faith of
Abraham, the torch which kindled the fire on their altars was lighted at
that which was kept burning on those of Isaac and Jacob, and the example
of their families preserved alive the remembrance and the acts of the
living God in the nations around them.

With a train which became the suitor of a prince, with costly presents
of gold and ornaments according to the custom of both ancient and modern
days, but more particularly conforming to Eastern usage, the
confidential servant of Abraham was sent on his embassy to the kindred
of his master, there to receive a bride for the son of the patriarch. We
gain a delightful impression both of the piety and intelligence of the
household of Abraham from the account of the messenger to whom this
important transaction was intrusted. The faith of the patriarch animated
the other members of his household, and a strong chain of love encircled
all. After a long journey, the train reached the plains of Mesopotamia,
and then the tents of Nahor appeared in view; and then, in the prospect
of the immediate discharge of his commission, the messenger of the
patriarch sought explicit direction from the God of Abraham.

While the description of the interview at the fountain, "without the
gate of the city," gives a most beautiful view of the manners of the age
and the people, and an unsurpassed picture of the freshness and
simplicity of pastoral life, it proves at once the piety and the clear
discrimination of the agent employed. The beauty of the youthful Rebekah
caught his eye, while the test he devised afforded a safe criterion of
the character of the woman. Weary with the labours of the sultry day,
after tending her own flocks, had she been indolent or inactive, selfish
or sullen, she had turned from his request, and suffered his attendants
to administer to his wants. But as she looked upon them--dusty, weary,
parched by thirst, worn down by long travel--the sympathies of a kind
nature were awakened, as the servant ran to meet her, saying, "Let me, I
pray thee, drink a little water from thy pitcher." She said, "Drink, my
lord," and she let down the pitcher upon her hand and gave him to drink;
and when he had done drinking, she said, "I will draw water for thy
camels also, until they have done drinking." Thus did the maiden clearly
prove that she possessed some of the qualities most necessary for a
wife--that ready self-forgetfulness, that kindness, cheerfulness, and
desire to promote the happiness of others, that sunshine of the heart
which sheds its brightening beams over all the clouds that darken
domestic life. Through all the ages of the world, in all the
circumstances in which mankind are placed, the wife has ever need of
them, and wisely may the suitor look for them. But the servant of the
patriarch, "still wondering, held his peace." Not until assured that she
was of the race of the true worshippers of the God of Abraham, that she
had been trained in the fear of the Lord, did he feel assured that the
fair and kind Syrian damsel was to be chosen for the wife of his
master's son. He had felt that the prayer was answered. He had taken out
the rich gifts intended for her, but he seems to hesitate as he says,
"Whose daughter art thou! Tell me, I pray thee, is there room in thy
father's house for us to lodge in?" And she answered, "I am the daughter
of Bethuel, the son of Milcah, whom she bore unto Nahor."

"And the man bowed down and worshipped the Lord, and he said, Blessed be
the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master
of his mercy and his truth. I being in the way, the Lord hath led me to
the house of my master's brethren."

The negotiation between the servant of Abraham and the father and
brothers of Rebekah was soon concluded. They deferred not the answer to
be given, when the messenger had laid before them his errand, and told
them of the wealth and honour of his master; and the whole transaction
impresses us with an idea of the piety and kindness of the family of
Bethuel.

The thing is from the Lord--while the rich gifts, made to all the
members of the family, proved the truth of the statements of the
messenger, and perhaps enforced his plea. Yet, when he urged the
immediate departure of the bride for the tent of her husband, the hearts
of the mother and of the brothers yet clung to the youthful maiden. They
shrank from a separation so sudden, so complete--and they said, Let the
damsel stay with us a few days--at least ten. Oh, do not snatch her away
from us so suddenly. But after that, she shall go.

And he said, "Hinder me not. Seeing that the Lord hath prospered me,
send me away that I may go to my master." And they said, "We will call
the maiden, and inquire at her mouth." And they called Rebekah, and said
unto her, "Wilt thou go with this man?" And she said, "I will go."

Are we not, even at this period, taught lessons of parental wisdom, in
the care displayed by the ancient patriarch respecting the choice of a
wife for his son? In the care taken to secure an unstained parentage in
one who had been early trained in the habits of piety and godly
principles of action? The character of the family is often stamped upon
each member, and the marked features are transmitted from generation to
generation, even where the character of the woman may be modified by her
new relations. As she advances in years she often returns to the habits
of her youth, while she almost invariably adopts the practice of her own
mother in the early nurture and training of her children.

He who would have reformed France was taught that he must begin his work
by training mothers. And thus the ancient patriarch foresaw that the
great nation that was to descend from him, like to the stars of heaven
for multitude, would long bear the impress of the character of the
mother who rocked it in the first cradle of its existence, and his
wisdom was manifested in the pains which he took to secure a good
lineage and right habits and principles. The foresight of the father
could go no farther. Time must test the individual character.

After they left the tents of Bethuel, the train, now augmented by the
presence of the bride and her immediate attendants, her nurse and
handmaids, slowly wended its way back to the tents of the patriarch,
pursuing the natural highways of the country,--now by the stream, then
across the plain, then through the desert, sandy, barren, trackless;
then winding through the mountain pass, encamping during the heat of the
day by the fountain and under the shade, and pursuing their journey in
the cool of the evening and of the morning.

Love or devotion, or the mingling of both, led Isaac out into the fields
at eventide to meditate, and his feet turned towards the route by which
his messengers might be expected, and the eye of his servant descried
him afar off, and he pointed him out to the stranger. And while the
messenger seems to have hasted to meet his master and give an account of
his mission, Rebekah descended from her lofty seat and covered herself
with a veil.

Henry the Fourth, of France, met his bride soon after she entered his
kingdom, and mingled with her attendants, that he might watch her
unobserved; and when his presence was announced she kneeled, and he
gracefully raised her up. Napoleon entered the carriage of his Austrian
bride, and announced himself, while she gazed with wondering eyes upon
one, long only known as the enemy of her father's house and the terror
of his kingdom. The meeting of the heir of the patriarch and his
youthful bride is quite as interesting a scene as any of those recorded
of more modern days.

And Isaac went out to meditate in the fields at eventide, and he lifted
up his eyes, and, behold! the camels were coming. And Rebekah lifted up
her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she lighted off the camel. For she had
said unto the servant, "What man is this that walketh in the field to
meet us?" And the servant said, "It is my master;" therefore she took a
veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all things that he
had done. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took
Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.

Rebekah seems to have made an affectionate, happy wife. Many years
passed before children were born to Isaac; and when the twin boys, Esau
and Jacob, were in childhood, there was evidently a marked difference in
their characters. Esau was active, restless, and enterprising, He grew
up a hunter,--daring and bold,--loving a life of change and adventure;
while Jacob was a "plain man, dwelling in tents." Blindness was
stealing over Isaac and unfitting him for the cares which rested upon
him, for the supervision of his numerous servants and his many flocks
and herds. During the frequent absences of Esau upon his hunting
expeditions, these cares must have devolved upon Rebekah and Jacob. Her
heart clung to the child who was ever with her in sympathy; while the
tales of peril and adventure with which Esau enlivened the wearisome
days of his father, were as acceptable to blindness and loneliness, as
were the presents of the game he so frequently brought. "And Isaac loved
Esau." Thus the injudicious fondness of the parents sowed the seeds of
bitterness and alienation between the two brothers, and led to their
mutual estrangement. The birth-right, which implied the inheriting of
the blessing promised to the seed of Abraham, was despised by Esau,
who, doubtless, in his prolonged wanderings from home, and his frequent
associations with the inhabitants of the land, had been led to feel
contempt for the worship and the promises of God, and in his reckless
levity he transferred it to Jacob for "_a mess of pottage_," while he
further alienated himself from his parents and brother by marrying the
daughter of a Hittite. "This was a grief and sorrow of mind to Isaac and
Rebekah." Forgetting the respect due to them as his parents; forgetting
his own position as the eldest son of the heir of the promise; heedless
of the example of filial deference shown by Isaac, and of all the care
that preserved the family free from the corruption around them, he
formed an union with those who were strangers to the faith of Abraham
and of a race apostate from the worship of Jehovah. Yet, while mourning
the perverseness of his favourite child, the father, aged and blind,
did not propose to withdraw his favour from him; and, feeling that his
infirmities increased, Isaac bade Esau with his own hands prepare him a
favourite dish, that he might eat and bless him before his death. Did we
better understand the customs of that age, we might find that Isaac was
not merely influenced by bodily appetite, but that there might be a
peculiar significance in the act.

We do not love to dwell upon Rebekah's deceit and the lessons of
falsehood she taught her son--and the prophecy uttered before the birth
of the children, neither justifies nor extenuates her guilt; for God has
never taught his people, that to promote his plans they are to violate
his laws.

Alienated from her elder son, we see Rebekah, by intrigue and treachery,
seeking to advance the interests of the younger at the expense of the
rights of his brother. As we read the sacred narrative, every sympathy
is awakened in favour of the injured Esau, and we hear, with burning
indignation against the author of his wrong, his pathetic cry, "Hast
thou no blessing for me! Bless me, even me, my father!" But the artifice
of the mother and wife was successful. She secured all she sought--and
her success brought its own punishment. Dark clouds of hate settled over
the household, and Esau waited only for the death of his father that he
might destroy the life of his brother; and to save the life of her son,
the mother was forced to send him into banishment. Again the intriguing,
managing character of the mother appears. She assigned what might be a
reason, but not the true reason, to Isaac. "I am weary of my life,
because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the
daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land,
what good shall my life do me?" The plea of the mother prevailed, and
Isaac blessed Jacob, and he left the land of his father, ostensibly to
seek a wife, but in truth to flee from the vengeance of his brother.

The son of the wealthy patriarch went not out like an Eastern
suitor--not with a train such as Abraham sent when he wooed Rebekah for
his son. To avoid the hate of Esau, he stole like a fugitive from the
tents of Isaac; and, a foot-worn pilgrim, unattended, he sought the
kindred of his mother. And here the mother and her favourite child
parted. She had alienated his brother to promote his interests. She had
sacrificed her integrity to secure his fortune, and her plan had
succeeded. She had secured the object at which she had aimed, and yet in
the result she had been forced to send forth her darling child--a
homeless wanderer.

There is no reason to believe that the mother and the son ever met
again. From this time she disappears. Surrounded by the alienated Esau's
hated wives and ill-loved children, separated from the child of her
affection, she may have sunk into a premature grave, or she may have
lived many sorrowful years to feel the miseries she had drawn upon
herself by her violations of the rules of rectitude, and an eager desire
to promote the happiness of one child at the sacrifice of that of
another.

There are still too many families involved in all the bitterness of
domestic strife from the unjust partiality of one or both of the parents
for favoured children. If, as children advance in life and their
characters are formed, a calmer feeling succeeds the trembling
tenderness which guarded their infant days, and our love to them (as to
all other mortal beings) results from an appreciation of their
characters, so that one may awaken a purer regard than another, this
feeling is very different from that partial fondness which adopts one
and gives him a place in our affection to the exclusion of another. That
instinctive justice which compels a higher regard for the purer moral
worth, will, of itself, prevent that parental partiality which leads to
injustice or to an infringement of established rights and recognised
principles. An unjust parent presents one of the most revolting pictures
of human nature. The character involves a disregard of the most sacred
ties and the tenderest relations. And whoever exhibits parental
injustice, or that partial fondness which leads to injustice, at once
destroys the affections and violates the moral sense. Families trained
under such influences, still exhibit revolting scenes of human
depravity--of bitterness, strife, alienation and revenge. Who can tell
how much of the estrangement of Esau, and this early introduction of the
worship of strange gods among his descendants, may have been induced by
the conscious alienation of his mother, and the unjust preference of the
interests of his brother? Had Rebekah, with a mother's love, striven to
win her eldest son back to his father's tent and the altar of his
God--had she still respected his rights and preserved his regard by
undeviating truth and faithfulness, she would have retained a strong
hold upon him, and her influence might have been long felt by her
descendants, in restraining them from the sins of those around them.

We cannot yet part with the two principal actors in these sad scenes of
treachery and deceit. We think of Rebekah, the companion of her blind
husband--deprived of the son who had shared and alleviated her cares,
and conscious of having awakened that bitter hate which would seek the
blood of a brother--still following in her thoughts the footsteps of the
wandering Jacob, feeling that by her own intrigues she had banished him
from his home and her presence.

And we may follow Jacob, as he stole from the tents of Isaac, a wanderer
like the first fugitive, with his brother's curse upon him. Until this
hour all Jacob's views and feelings seem earthly and grovelling. Until
now, there has been no indication of that trust and piety which
afterwards marked his life. He had seemed worldly, cunning, ready to
snatch any personal advantage. From this period he seems to awaken to a
higher--a spiritual life. He seems to have comprehended the deeper
meaning of promise and prophecy. We cannot tell what remorseful and
despairing thoughts filled his soul as he left his home--how strange
and inexplicable may have seemed all the ways of God toward him. Yet he
must have felt that, in punishment of his deceit and falsehood, he was
thus sent forth with but his scrip and staff, while he left Esau to
inherit the possessions of his father.

He had wandered until he was faint and weary, and then he had lain
himself down on the earth, with stones for his pillow and the heavens
for the curtains of his tent. In the silence of the night his soul was
opened to spiritual revealings--to those influences from heaven which
marked the change in his future life. He _saw_ the angels of God
ascending and descending upon him. Often before this may they have
visited him--constantly may they have hovered over him--but now he was
made conscious of the presence, watch and interposition of the heavenly
intelligences of the higher presence of the God of Abraham. From this
hour we trace a different influence pervading the heart and life of
Jacob. He was awakened to higher motives--and from this hour he entered
into covenant with God, and took Him to be his God.

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and said, "Surely the Lord is in this
place, and I knew it not;" and he was afraid, and said, "How dreadful is
this place! This is none other than the house of God--and this is the
gate of heaven." And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the
stone that he had put for his pillow, and set it for a pillar, and
poured oil upon the top of it. "And he called the name of that place
Bethel." And Jacob vowed a vow, saying "If God will be with me, and will
keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment
to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then
shall the Lord be my God, and this stone, which I have set for a
pillar, shall be God's house, and of all that thou shalt give me I will
surely give the tenth unto thee."

The future life of Jacob was not free from the infirmity of human
purpose--the imperfection of human nature. Yet from this time he walked
with God, and all his deportment was marked by deep and humble piety. We
doubt not that at this period he passed through that transforming change
by which, in every age, and under every dispensation, the human soul has
been enabled to enter into the mysteries of the spiritual life and enjoy
communion with the Author of its existence, through that Spirit which
breathed the first breath of life by which man became a living soul.

[Illustration]



THE RIVAL SISTERS--LEAH AND RACHEL.


[Illustration]

There are two characters, which by some associations of memory, or
caprice of fancy, are ever blended in our recollections--the one of
ancient, the other of modern days--the one of sacred, the other of
profane history. Catharine of Arragon, the unloved consort of the King
of England, and Leah, the daughter of the Syrian shepherd, the hated
wife of the Hebrew patriarch. There may seem to be as little
assimilation of character and destiny, as there is of condition, between
the daughter and the wife of a Syrian shepherd, and the daughter of one
of the proudest monarchs of Spain and the wife of the haughtiest king of
England; but they were both women, and both wives of those who loved
them not; and this fact, whatever the condition of woman, stamps her lot
as one of wretchedness. The wife neglected and despised is a woman
sorrowful, whether she be the inmate of a tent or the dweller in a
palace--whether she tend the flock or grace the throne.

Catharine of Arragon, the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, seems a
truth-loving, devout woman, well prepared to welcome the great
principles advanced by the Reformers, had she not been placed in
circumstances most adverse to their influence. Had Henry embraced the
doctrines and the principles of the Reformation from a conviction of
their truth and importance--had he sought to regulate his own life by
the pure precepts of the Bible, and thus striven to disseminate a pure
faith among his people--had the conscientious Catharine been the
patroness and the friend of the Reformers, instead of the trifling, if
not guilty, Anne Boleyn--the English church and the state of religion in
the English nation would doubtless have presented a different history
for the past, and a different aspect for the future.

But these are vain speculations. Catharine lived and died in the Papal
faith. From the circumstances in which she was placed, she clung to it
as to her womanly honour, her queenly dignity--as she would preserve her
name from blight, her child from shame. And when she saw herself
supplanted, when she was disgraced, divorced, her child declared
illegitimate, and she knew her death was desired by one to whom she had
been a devoted, faithful wife, what words could be more touching than
those the dramatist gives as her last message to the king! "Tell him,
his long sorrow has passed away." Oh, none but a wife dying thus, with
the bitter consciousness that her life was undesired and that her death
would be unregretted, can feel their full import.

The bells which had tolled for Catharine of Arragon had hardly ceased to
vibrate when the roar of the cannon announced the execution of Anne. The
one died in January, the other was beheaded in May; and she who, by
exciting and encouraging the unholy love of the king, had unchained his
fierce passions and taught him to break through all restraints, was
herself, full early, their victim.

Shall we pass from the palaces of England to the tents of
Mesopotamia--from the last days of chivalry to those of the ancient
patriarchs and shepherds of the earliest of recorded ages?

When the wandering Jacob reached the abode of his mother's kindred, the
land of Haran, he met, at the same fountain at which Rebekah had watered
the flocks of the messenger of Abraham, the daughter of her brother
Laban. He had seated himself by the well, and when the maiden came, he
aided her to water her flocks; and he was thus introduced to his kinsmen
by Rachel; and he told them that he was the son of Rebekah, of whom,
perhaps, they had long lost the recollection; and with all the
hospitality of the East--that hospitality which ever prevails among a
simple and pastoral people--he was welcomed by the kindred of the
mother.

The brother of Rebekah had two daughters. Leah, the elder, was
tender-eyed, but Rachel was beautiful; and both sisters loved their
cousin, while the heart of Jacob clung to the younger, the fair damsel
who first welcomed him; so that he overlooked the claims of the
elder,--the plain, if not disfigured, Leah. He brought no offerings with
him to conciliate the favour of the father, and, according to the custom
of the East, to facilitate his marriage. But he offered his personal
service as an equivalent. And the son of Isaac served seven years for
the daughter of Laban. But this long period was passed; and dwelling, as
Jacob did, in the presence of Rachel, a member of the household of her
father, they seemed but as a few days, for the love he bore her.

But the time had now arrived when the marriage should be celebrated, and
Jacob claimed his bride. But he who had wronged his brother, who had by
disguise deceived his father, was now imposed upon by guile and
treachery; and all the hopes and expectations of these long years were
defeated. The customs of Eastern marriages favoured the deceit, and
Jacob found that he was wedded to Leah, and not to the object of his
affection. The deceit was most unjustifiable. The disappointment and the
resentment must have been proportionally great; and miserable was the
excuse of Laban, and wretched the device which was offered as an
atonement. Yet Jacob must have bowed before the retributions of an
avenging God, and the remembrance of his own treachery may have stayed
his anger.

Thus commenced the family of Jacob, with all the elements of dissension,
strife and bitterness incorporated into its very earliest existence. The
daughters of Laban both became the wives of Jacob, and they were rivals
as women, as sisters, as wives and as mothers--forced to dwell
together, yet ever in sullen hatred or bitter strife. When the ties of
natural affection are severed, the heart never ceases to bleed; and
there is no hatred so deep, so implacable as that which springs up where
hearts once knit are thus alienated and forced asunder: and the sorrows
and evils which sprang up in the family of Jacob may have led to that
command so explicitly given by Moses--"Neither shalt thou take a wife to
her sister to vex her, in her lifetime."

The heart of Jacob never departed from Rachel. She was the chosen bride.
He loved her with a deep and true affection, while the forced claims of
Leah awoke only the remembrance of the deceit. In the emphatic language
of the Bible, "he loved Rachel, but he hated Leah," and it was in
accordance with the constant exhibitions of human nature that it should
be thus. He had never sought her love. No love, no devotedness, could
efface the remembrance of her connivance at that deep-laid plot which
had imposed her upon him as a wife. Yet the lot of Leah was peculiarly a
lot of reproach and trial--and as we behold her wretchedness, we are
led, not to extenuate her fault, nor to palliate her sin, but to forgive
and pity her sorrows.

In early youth the sympathies are all awakened for the beautiful and the
beloved Rachel, the only chosen, the betrothed bride. As we advance in
years, in deeper acquaintance with human hearts, in truer fellowship in
human suffering, we learn to feel for the plain and hated Leah. There is
something deeply touching in the quiet sorrow which marks her lot; in
her deep consciousness of her husband's alienation and her sister's
hate. We feel how difficult it might have seemed to resist the
authority of the father, when it was aided by the pleadings of her own
affection and the customs of her people. We glance into the tents of
Jacob, and contrast Leah with the beautiful, the loved, the indulged,
the self-willed Rachel. There we see her, plain and unattractive in
person, broken in spirit, bowed down by the consciousness of her own sin
and her husband's hate--her sister's bitter contempt--striving, though
scarce hoping, to win the love of her husband; and welcoming the anguish
of a mother, with the fond assurance, "Now will my husband love me, for
I have borne him a son."

We follow the sisters, as, still side by side, but with alienated hearts
and estranged affections, they depart from the tents of their father to
follow the footsteps of their husband,--Rachel and her offspring are the
first objects of the care, as of the affection, of the patriarch. Yet
we find Rachel, the loved and indulged wife, more murmuring, more
repining, more fault-finding than Leah. By sorrow and trial, Leah may
have learned submission; and the dearest earthly hopes disappointed--all
her affections as a wife crushed and despised--in her hour of grief, and
in the desolation of a widowhood of hate, she may have sought and found
that love which never faileth, which giveth liberally and upbraideth
not.

And He whose ear is ever open to the cry of his creatures, who forgives
even while he punishes their iniquities, pitied Leah, and, without
upbraiding her for that deceit by which she became a wife, gave her the
joys of a mother; and in all the names bestowed upon her children, Leah
at once recognises the mercy of God, while she still remembers that she
is hated of her husband--attesting at once her conscious sorrow and her
trusting faith.

Rachel was childless--and when she saw Leah rejoicing as a mother, it
awoke all the bitterness of envy. With the unreasonable pettishness of a
wife ever indulged, she reproached her husband. For once, the anger of
Jacob was kindled against the idolized Rachel. "Am I in God's stead?"
said he. The consciousness of being the loved and the cherished one--the
overflowing tenderness and the ready indulgence which Rachel received,
made her only more exacting and imperious; and while Leah seemed
softened by trials and sorrows, her sister grew more unreasonable by
indulgence, and was at once haughty and insolent. So corrupt is human
nature, that the gratification of our desires too often merely excites
the pride and haughtiness of the human heart, and the prosperous claim
the blessings of Heaven as a matter of right; while it is mercifully
ordained that the very sorrow which ever follows transgression, the
evils which await all departures from duty and right, should, by their
very tendency, awaken repentance and lead to a penitent and humble
spirit.

When the daughters of Laban left the house of their father, either from
a latent superstition, or from a family cupidity, Rachel stole the
household gods of Laban and secreted them; and with an art worthy of the
daughter of Laban, she prevented her father from reclaiming them; thus
paving the way for the introduction of idolatry into the household of
Jacob. He had already introduced polygamy by his marriage with her, and,
to secure her, and thereby gratify her rivalry of her sister, he had
multiplied his wives, and brought upon himself still heavier sorrows and
trials. It was the beauty of Rachel which first captivated the eye, and
then enthralled the heart of Jacob; and the wisest of men, thus
ensnared, are still led into sin and folly. All the influences of Rachel
upon his heart and life seem to have been unhappy; and the narrative
shows that the strongest passion, gratified in defiance of prudence and
previously imposed obligation, can only lead to disappointment and
vexation. The two sisters both proved the love of the wife, in leaving
all at the command of the husband; and the God in whom Jacob still
trusted, guarded him against all the designs of Laban, averted the wrath
of his brother, and guided him to the land of Isaac. He had passed
Jordan with his staff and his scrip--he went out an outcast, and a
fugitive; he returned with the train of a chief, the retinue of an
Eastern prince; and his heart swelled with thanksgiving as he recounted
the mercy and remembered the faithfulness of Jehovah. His father was
still living--the nurse of Rebekah, who so long since had left the
family of Bethuel, came to close her eyes in the tents of the
grand-daughter of her former master; but the mother who had led her son
into sin, who had taught him to practise that deceit which had recoiled
upon himself, is not mentioned. She, doubtless, was laid by the side of
Abraham and of Sarah, in the cave of Machpelah. She had anticipated a
short absence, a transient separation from her son. She purposed to send
for him to return to his father, that he might yet be heir of the
estate; but when Jacob did return in wealth and honour--yet bearing that
bitter burden of care and sorrow, from which no honour, no wealth are
exempt,--she who would have assuredly exulted in the one, and
sympathized with the other, was not in the tent of Isaac. She came not
forth to welcome her son, to embrace her relatives and daughters or
caress their children. Her place in the tent and at the board was
vacant--her voice was hushed--her heart cold. The places that had known
her, knew her no more. And thus it often is. Before man attains wealth
or honour, those who had most rejoiced to witness it have passed away;
while still, fair as is the outward lot, there are internal sorrows,
imbittering every pleasant draught, and casting a shadow over all the
brightness of human existence. Thus it is that the most prosperous are
often followed by a cloud, reflecting glory and radiance upon such as
are without, but covering with gloom and darkness those who fall within
its shadow.

And soon followed the bitterest trial of Leah's life,--the shame,
sorrow, and widowhood of her only daughter; avenged by those who
neglected to guard her--while the husband, though indifferent to the
sorrow and love of the wife, must have felt the anguish of the father.

And the rivalry and strife of the sisters was over. "Give me children or
else I die," was the cry of the wife whose wishes had been laws--and the
prayer prompted by hate and envy was answered. Yet Rachel died. And in
that hour of mortal agony, of bitter suffering, Leah probably stood by
her sister. With affections estranged, love turned into bitterness, with
hearts alienated, but fates inseparably united, they had passed their
days. Their tents had been pitched side by side,--the voices of their
children had been mingled together as they fell upon their mothers'
ears,--they had been called to worship at the same altar,--they had been
members of the same household.

Forced thus to dwell together, constantly to meet, to be familiar with
the same objects, to have the same interests, they were alienated, but
not separated; and if their feelings were crushed, they were not all
uprooted. As Leah saw her younger, her beautiful sister in the hour of
extremity, in the agonies of a mother's sufferings, the sympathies of a
woman must have risen with the love of a sister, and bitter tears of
repentant sorrow must she have shed upon the pallid brow and quivering
lips, as the hopes and the memories of youth and childhood gathered
around, to reproach her for that deceit by which she had sown their path
through mutual life with thorns, and made their joys to be but ashes.
There are no tears so bitter as those which are shed by affection, too
late revived, over those whom we have loved and yet injured,--over those
from whom we have suffered ourselves to be estranged.

Rachel was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. She was
not laid in the sepulchre of Abraham. The children were left to the
fostering care of her hated sister. Her sons passed through trials from
which she could not guard them, and they came to honours while she knew
it not. At this distance, her life seems to us a dream--a few years of
pleasant childhood, a short vision of youthful love,--then comes the
strife of life, its stern discipline, its bitter trials, its
disappointed hopes, and its termination in the grave.

As we dwell upon the characters so truthfully delineated in the word of
God, and follow the record of human pride, passion and infirmity, we are
taught at once to magnify and adore the patience, the forbearance and
the mercy of Jehovah. And let us remember that it is because these
characters are reflected in the pure mirror of truth that the dark
shades so plainly appear. In every age the heart of man is the same;
but the temptations which especially evince this depravity may be
peculiar to some particular age or condition.

We know not how long Leah survived her sister. Her advancing years were
not exempt from affliction, and age brings its own trials; yet
prosperity rested upon Jacob--and in the decline of life she may have
known happiness desired, but not realized, in youth.

After the death of his beloved Rachel, the heart of Jacob may have
turned to Leah, and a peaceful friendship have succeeded the storm and
the conflicts of youthful passion. Sorrow may have knit hearts softened
by the mutual consciousness of error and by the tears of repentance, and
strengthened by the hopes of pardon, and drawn to each other by the
strong ties of parental love for their mutual offspring. When the
patriarch was called into Egypt, Leah went not with him. He had laid
her in the gathering-place of his sons, in the tent of his fathers. From
the touching expression of the dying patriarch--himself far from the
land of his fathers' sepulchres--"And there I buried Leah," we feel
that, in age and bereavement, the heart of Jacob turned to Leah. The
repudiated wife of his youth became the solace of his age, and her
memory awoke the last tender recollections in the dying patriarch. As we
have read the book of God, we have been taught that good, inordinately
coveted, or obtained by injustice and deceit, ever brings a curse. The
principal actors in the events recorded in these chapters of Genesis,
may have secured the object which they sought, yet the attainment did
not avert or mitigate the punishment of the treachery by which it was
secured.

Rebekah obtained the birth-right and the coveted blessing for her
favourite child, and by that act separated him from herself and doomed
him to a banishment from his father's house, and from that hour she saw
his face no more. Laban secured by his deceit the marriage of his
unattractive daughter and the establishment of the beautiful Rachel, but
he thus alienated the children he still seems to have loved, and that
wealth which he so coveted.

Leah, by her connivance at her father's deceit, married the man she
loved, but it was to lead a life of bitter, of heart-consuming sorrow.
Jacob, departing from the institution of marriage that he might yet
possess Rachel, entailed upon himself a career of strife, bitterness and
disappointment; and introduced into his family an example that became a
fruitful source of individual depravity and national corruption; while
he first witnessed the evil effects of his complicated domestic
relations in the conduct of his eldest son, and felt at once his shame
as a husband and his reproach as a father. And are not these things
written for our edification? Are we not, in every page of God's word,
taught explicitly that for man there is neither safety nor happiness
save in the path of duty and of literal obedience? That each departure
from the rule of right, whatever be the motive, and crowned as it may
seem to be with success, draws a long succession of sin and sorrow in
its train? Many have studied the word of God to justify sin, or palliate
guilt, by the examples of the former dispensation. Let it be carefully
studied, and it will show that the transgression which secured a
positive object, still brought its punishment,--if delayed, never
remitted--although successful, never justified. The word of God never
justifies crimes, though in infinite wisdom He over-rules them to
promote the designs of his eternal providence.

Modern days and Christian institutions allow no examples of the exact
type of the strife and rivalry exhibited in the household of the
patriarch of Israel. Yet, while human nature remains as it is, there
will ever be the jealousies, the strifes, the bitterness arising from
misplaced affection, or alienated hearts, or jarring interests. There is
still to be found the coquetry which would win love from a sister or a
friend, and the treachery that would supplant the rival--as there are
still fathers who, for motives of interest, would sacrifice their
daughters, regardless of their hearts or their happiness. Youthful
beauty still attracts the eye and wins the heart, and the best and
wisest of men are too often enthralled by mere personal attraction.

Human nature is ever the same, and the motives and feelings which swayed
the generations who have mouldered back to dust are still felt and
acknowledged.

While we thus attempt to trace the outlines of the domestic history of
these individuals, we cannot but feel that there is a surpassing beauty
and excellence in the character of Abraham. He bore the fresh impress of
a renovated world, and was truly worthy of the pre-eminence which is
always allotted to him. Isaac seems to have dwelt in quiet, peaceful
prosperity. Inheriting great wealth, dwelling until mature age with his
parents, there seem to have been few occasions in which the prominent
traits of the character are displayed. His life offers less of interest,
less to excite, less to praise and less to blame than either Abraham's
or Jacob's. The father's energy, patience, faith and obedience had
prepared the way for the prosperity of the son; and Isaac, nursed in
affluence and cherished by maternal affection, seems to have exhibited
less energy, enterprise and decision than either his father or his
descendants. His premature blindness doubtless conduced to this inactive
life. Yet he trusted and obeyed the God of his father, though he enjoyed
neither the exalted faith of Abraham, nor was he favoured with the
enlarged prophetic views of Jacob.

In all the trials and infirmities of Jacob--from the day in which he
left his father's house until the hour in which "he gathered his feet in
his bed and died" in Egypt--we see the evidence and the growth of true
piety, of enlarged faith. He was encompassed with infirmities, and these
infirmities betrayed him into sins, which brought in their train the
sorrows which, through Divine grace, purified and sanctified him. Thus
his character excites our increasing love and sympathy, and his
advancing piety our veneration.

From the glimpses we obtain of the families of Nahor, Bethuel, and
Laban, we trace a gradual departure from Jehovah among the descendants
of Shem. Nahor and Abraham were possessors of like faith. They both
worshipped the God of their fathers--of Shem, of Noah, of Methuselah, of
Enoch, of Seth, of Adam. Bethuel's household still remained a household
of faith, but in Laban we see the beginning of a departure from the true
God. The first steps towards idolatry were taken. There was the resort
to a sensible representation,--some image probably used as a symbol of
the true God at first, but certainly ensnaring the heart, and ending in
idolatry. Thus the gods of Laban, which Rachel stole, were leading him
and his family rapidly to idol-worship, and to forgetfulness of the true
God. Still he had not sunk into gross idolatry. Laban still pledged
himself, and invoked the name of the God of Abraham and of Nahor, and
of their fathers, when he entered into covenant with Jacob. He had not
yet altogether abjured the worship of Jehovah: he had begun to mingle a
false worship with it, and thus prepared the way for the full apostasy
of his descendants.

That the chosen people might be kept from the taint of idolatry, Jacob
left Laban; yet Rachel had stolen her father's images--and there is then
great significance in that act by which Jacob renewed his covenant with
God, when called upon to build the altar at Bethel.

"And Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put
away the strange gods that are among you and be clean, and change your
garments: and let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an
altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with
me in the way which I went. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange
gods which were in their hand, and all their ear-rings which were in
their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem."

Probably the ear-rings were used as heathen charms or amulets. While
idolatry, as a leprosy, was thus beginning to infect the household, he
saw the need of their purification; and there seems no accidental
connection between this searching out and putting away of idolatry in
the household of Jacob and the following death of Rachel: "With
whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live."

The cherished wife of Jacob, deeply tainted with the superstitions by
which her family were corrupting the religion of Jehovah, may have been
thus removed to prevent further contagion. While the apostle may refer
to this example in his promise: "Nevertheless she shall be saved in
child-bearing, if she continue in the faith." And this sin may have
excluded Rachel from the sepulchre of Abraham. The plague-spot
disappears from this time, and the purification of the household was
availing. For many generations, whatever their other sins, the children
of Jacob were kept from idolatry.

[Illustration]



MIRIAM.

THE INFLUENCE OF WOMEN UPON THE DESTINY AND CHARACTER OF MAN, AS
EXEMPLIFIED IN THE LIFE OF MOSES.


[Illustration]

There were designs of infinite wisdom to be accomplished by the long
sojourn of the children of Jacob in Egypt. The people of Israel were
appointed to guard the name and worship of Jehovah, until He who was to
bring life and immortality to light should rise from among them. Until
the "Star" that was to come from Jacob should shed its glorious radiance
over this darkened earth. When all the children of men were departing
from God, He chose this family to perpetuate the memory of his works and
his mighty acts in preserving the first history of the race, and to
prepare the way for the fulfilment of the designs of infinite mercy
toward a sinful and apostate world. By miracles and judgments, by type
and prophecy, by altars and sacrifices, he kept before this people the
mysterious promise given in the hour of transgression.

From this family was to descend him who was to be the light of the
Gentiles, and the glory of Israel, him who was at once the Almighty
Saviour, the everlasting Father, the wonderful Counsellor, the man of
sorrows and acquainted with grief, who bore our sickness, and took upon
himself our iniquities. And while from the family of Israel that high
spiritual influence was to emanate, which was to renovate men's moral
nature and change the aspect and condition of the race, restoring the
knowledge of the true God; and again, through the great atoning
sacrifice, opening the gates of eternal life and bringing spiritual
blessings to all mankind,--the character of the children of Israel,
their civil institutions, their legislation, their history, their laws,
their literature, were to leave their impress upon all the nations of
the earth.

The apostle accounts it the chief honour of the Jews that unto them were
committed the oracles of God. They were employed to transcribe and
preserve the inspired books. From them went forth those who first
announced the great truths of a Saviour crucified and a Comforter
promised. For successive ages the nation of Israel stood surrounded by
the heathen world,--stood the witnesses of the faithfulness of Jehovah,
the monuments of his truth and power, the only nation upon the face of
this earth who worshipped the true God.

Thick moral darkness shrouded all other lands--the nation of Israel
alone had light in their dwellings, and the beams of the rising Sun of
righteousness fell upon them and revealed the gross darkness around
them.

And he who had chosen the people of Israel for such a high purpose, in
infinite wisdom devised the means to fit them for their destination, and
he guided and guarded them in each stage of their national existence.
Egypt was one of the first kingdoms founded after the deluge, and it is
probable that those who repeopled it after this event, had retained many
impressions of the former world. Her monuments, yet remaining, attest
the high antiquity of her arts and sciences, and her early advancement
in refinement and civilization.

Her priests and wise men were the instructors of the ancient world, and
the philosophers of Greece resorted to Egypt to study legislation and
philosophy, and Egypt imparted to Greece, and Greece to Rome, the arts
and sciences by which they refined and elevated Europe.

God designed Egypt to be the nursery of the nation of Israel. The
granary of the ancient world offering abundant sustenance, he brought
Jacob and his sons into it as one family, and here they remained until
they multiplied and increased, and became like the stars of heaven for
number; and He who led them into Egypt ordained all the events of their
national history so as to promote his own eternal plans.

The patriarch led his children, with their flocks and herds,--the wealth
of a pastoral people,--into this land as the invited guests of Pharaoh,
the monarch of Egypt. And as he bowed before the king, the aged
patriarch taught him at once the brevity of man's life and the
unsatisfying nature of all earthly enjoyments, as recalled at the close
of a long pilgrimage: "Few and evil have been the days of the years of
my pilgrimage." Pharaoh received the aged man with respect, and showed
him all honour; while in consideration of the pastoral habits of his
sons, a portion of land, separate from the Egyptians, was allotted them
for a place of abode. Thus they were kept a distinct, unmingled people,
and enabled to maintain their own peculiar institutions, practise the
rites of their own religion, and preserve the worship of the God of
Abraham. And in all the oppression which they here sustained, we do not
find that their religion was ever persecuted or their rites forbidden.
And as Egypt was the cradle of the nation of Israel, so it was to be the
school in which the children of Jacob were to form a national character.
The wandering, pastoral tribes, transformed into an agricultural people
and settled residents, and instructed in the arts of civilized life,
were fitted to take possession of the allotted heritage. After fostering
their infancy and feebleness, the monarchs of Egypt gradually changed
their course as the increasing numbers of the Israelites excited jealous
apprehension. Yet all this varying policy and every cruel edict advanced
the designs of Jehovah and promoted the welfare of his chosen people.
The cruelty of the Egyptians alienated the hearts of the Israelites from
the nation and from the land of Egypt, and kept freshly before them the
remembrance of the inheritance promised. While considered as strangers,
treated as aliens, and surrounded by enemies, the bonds of brotherhood
were more closely drawn, and they clung together, a distinct and
separate people.

The tribes were one nation. While the people of Israel were oppressed,
they were not enslaved. They were tributary, but not reduced to
personal bondage. They dwelt together in that portion of Egypt assigned
to them. They spoke their own language. They seem to have regulated
their internal affairs by their own elders. They maintained their own
worship. Their family relations were unbroken. They must have amassed
riches, for they brought great wealth out of Egypt, as the offerings at
the tabernacle show--and although in part this may have been received
from the restitution which the conscience-smitten Egyptians offered upon
their departure, all could not have been thus derived. The whole
narrative of the Israelites shows that they were rich in silver and
gold, and possessed much cattle. Yet all their property was
personal--they owned no land. And much of the tribute was, doubtless,
exacted as rent, paid by many in personal labour; and while they thus
erected, perhaps, the proudest monuments of Egyptian art by this
enforced labour, they were acquiring the various knowledge needful to a
nation; while their very task-masters, by compelling them to acquire the
habits of industry, to which a pastoral people are always averse, were
school-masters, needful though harsh, teaching them to develop their
energies and forcing them to exercise patience and to acquire skill.

Learning and wisdom have departed from Egypt. She has long been the
basest of kingdoms. The race of the Pharaohs has passed away. She has
been for ages governed by slaves. Temple and palace are in ruins. Her
tombs, sacred and precious, have been pillaged; And the bones of her
great and noble ones, her priests and kings, feed the fire by which the
wandering Arab prepares his food. Yet many monuments of her ancient arts
remain, interesting as attesting her power, grandeur, and high
advancement in civilization, and still more valuable as corroborating
the sacred history and throwing light on many passages of the inspired
word,--at once showing the former residence of the Israelites in Egypt,
the close connection of these ancient people, and affording proofs of
that wisdom which selected Egypt for the cradle and school of the chosen
race.

The Egyptians, gradually after the flood, lost the knowledge of Jehovah
and departed from his worship.

At the time Joseph married the daughter of the priest of On, the
Egyptians could not have sunk into that gross idolatry which contrasted
so strangely with their wise legislation and scientific attainments; and
their priests are supposed to have concealed, under mystic symbols,
mysterious truths, which they imparted to the initiated, while they
taught a grosser system to the common mind. While in Egypt the
Israelites seem never to have been exposed to the debasing immoralities
which prevailed among the nations around the promised land.

The children of Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham four hundred years.
When Jehovah called his people out of Egypt they were fitted to receive
the laws and institutions which he designed to give them, and to take
the high position he assigned them among the nations of the earth. And
lest, during their long sojourn in the wilderness, they should lose the
arts of civilized life, they were employed in the construction of the
tabernacle. By the minute enumeration of all that was required for the
completion of this work, we see that the erection involved an extensive
acquaintance with the mechanical arts, and of those, too, which indicate
a high degree of advancement in the luxuries of polished life. Thus the
generation born in the wilderness were instructed, and preserved from
degenerating into mere shepherds, hunters, or warriors. The restless
were occupied, and the work proved a bond of union for the whole people,
exciting the interest and employing the energies of all the different
classes of the great multitude.

The long ages of the sojourn of the children of Jacob were drawing to a
close. The iniquity of the Canaanites was now full; the children of
Israel were prepared to be numbered among the nations of the earth; and
the events dictated by the craft and policy of men were ordained to
promote the infinite designs of Jehovah. For four hundred years the
descendants of Jacob had dwelt in Goshen. From a pastoral they were
already become an agricultural people; they had learned to prize the
comforts of an established life, of quiet, peaceful homes, of pleasant
places of abode. Dwelling in the richest portion of Egypt, protected
from all foreign aggression, they there enjoyed abundance, peace, and
prosperity, to which their wanderings in the desert furnished a sad
contrast.

The policy of Egypt had excluded the Israelites from her crimes. The
energy, the love of change and adventure, which a martial life imparts,
were unfelt; and had not oppression driven the Israelites from Egypt,
the promise of that goodly land destined for their race had hardly
induced the nation to leave their present abundance and protection.
Thus, by the various dispensations of his providence, Jehovah was at
once preparing a guide, leader, ruler, and future lawgiver for his
people, while by the continued vexation, oppression, and cruelty of the
Egyptian rulers, he was suffering them to alienate the affections of the
children of Jacob from a country which had become the native land of the
Israelites, which was the birth-place of generation after generation.

At the time Miriam, the sister of Moses, appears before us, the children
of Israel had reached the fourth generation. A family had become a
nation, a people in the bosom of another, dwelling together, distinct,
separate, too numerous to be easily or safely held in subjection, too
valuable as tributaries to be relinquished. Thus to hold them safely in
bondage and to prevent their further increase, it became the settled
policy of Egypt to oppress and degrade them. As their jealous
apprehensions were at length awakened, by a policy as profound as it was
cruel, the Egyptian monarchs endeavoured, in destroying the sons of this
people, to force the daughters of Israel to intermarry with their
oppressors, that they might obtain the wealth of the sons of Jacob,
while the name and memory of his family would be swept from the earth.
Yet dwelling, as the Israelites did, in a separate province, it was not
easy for Pharaoh to find those who would execute his purposes; and the
first efforts to cut off the race of the chosen, failed. He was however
so intent upon their extermination, that he did not hesitate to direct
that all the male children of the Israelites should be cast into the
river as soon as they were born.

While there were so many to court the favour of the monarch and ever
ready for the darkest deeds, how could the sons of the Hebrews now
escape? When Moses was born, his mother hid him three months; and when
concealment was no longer possible, she sought for the babe a strange
place of safety--in the very element which was indicated for its
destruction. The slender ark is framed by the mother's hands, and
deposited among the flags on the bank of the Nile. The morning was
perhaps dawning, and the sky yet gray, when the anxious mother
withdrew.

In a few hours after, the chant of the boatmen is suddenly hushed, and
the passing labourers shroud their heads in token of reverence, as,
surrounded by her attendants, the daughter of Pharaoh approaches the
river. The slight ark, with its precious burden, floating among the
reeds, attracts her eye, and, as her maidens draw it from the water, the
wail of the desolate infant strikes her ear.

"The babe wept"--and full fountains of womanly tenderness were broken up
in the heart of the princess of Egypt. "This is one of the Hebrew
children," said she; and as she drew him from the waves, she resolved to
save and adopt the child.

Miriam, the sister, had lingered near to watch, if not to save the
child. We may fancy the Hebrew maiden at a little distance, eagerly
bending forward, and gazing with intense and breathless interest. And
when the princess announces her intention to protect the infant, in all
the gladness of childhood she bounds forward, and, mingling with the
royal train, asks, "Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew
women, that she may nurse the child for thee?" And Pharaoh's daughter
said unto her, "Go;" and the maid went and brought the child's mother!

Thus had the God of Israel overruled all the designs of evil to his
people, by providing in the very family of Pharaoh a shelter and a home
for the child--doomed by the impious monarch to destruction--but
designed by Jehovah to be the saviour of his people. He who was thus
drawn from the water was the ordained deliverer, guide, legislator, and
prophet of Israel.

As Jehovah had appointed him to this high vocation, he not only guarded
his life, thus threatened, but made the instruments intended for the
extermination of the race the means of the full accomplishment of all
its mysterious destiny.

The child thus adopted into the royal family was not only saved from
death, but was thus placed under influences most propitious for the
attainment of all the various knowledge which could fit him for the high
station to which he was destined. That helpless infant was not only to
be the deliverer of Israel, but by his political institutions, his
legislative enactments, his moral precepts, his inspired teachings, he
was to mould the character of his own people, and to influence other
nations down through all coming ages. High was the honour allotted him
as the deliverer and the lawgiver of Israel--still higher that as the
prophet of the Lord. He was the promulgator of the great moral laws of
the universe, originally engraven on the hearts of men, but now so
effaced by sin as to be scarcely legible;--he was to establish those
institutions which were to perpetuate the name and the worship of
Jehovah among the children of men; and that memorial which, by a long
line of types and sacrifices, was at once to prefigure and prepare for
the great atoning sacrifice, offered for a lost world.

Of all the fallen sons of Adam, none were ever destined to a station of
more arduous responsibility, of more extensive and long-continued
influence than that appointed to this Hebrew infant; and He who had
marked out his destiny ordained the means which were to prepare him for
it. Transplanted into the family of Pharaoh, he was there instructed in
all the "wisdom of the Egyptians," and Egypt (as we know) was the
fountain of ancient learning, science, and philosophy. While Jehovah
communicated by direct inspiration to Moses, yet the mind of the ruler
and leader of Israel had been prepared by that instruction which
develops the capacity, expands the mind, and enlarges the apprehension
to receive and understand the institutions Jehovah gave his people, and
he was thus enabled to co-operate with an enlightened mind in all the
designs of God. But if the schools of Egypt imparted that intellectual
attainment, mental discipline and knowledge of legislation in its
various forms, so necessary for the lawgiver, there were other
influences which were needful for the perfection of the character. There
was a knowledge higher and holier than that ever taught by priests or
Grecian philosophers,--a wisdom beyond that of the Egyptians, "the
knowledge of the Lord," the God of his fathers, and the first great
truths of religion should be breathed into the soul in the whispers of
parental love. The earthly parent should lead the child to the feet of
the great Creator.

And then in the formation of a character which was to leave its impress
upon all future ages to the close of time, the affections were to be
cultivated, the sympathies awakened, and all that is pure and kind and
elevated in the nature of man drawn forth. And where is the influence
which so gently moulds the character, refining, softening, and elevating
it, as the affectionate, intelligent sister? As a man advances in life,
the continual influence and association of virtuous and accomplished
women is felt in all the relations he is called to sustain.

We see in the various circumstances of the life of Moses a Divine
recognition of the value of the family relation and of the importance of
the influence of women in the formation of character.

Before Moses was admitted to the schools of Egyptian learning, before he
was exposed to the snares and the splendours of a court, before he was
called to a throne, he had learned lessons of the deepest wisdom from
the lips of his parents. One higher than the royal of earth spoke
through the princess, when she said, "Take this child and nurse it for
me, and I will give thee wages." And faithfully did the mother fulfil
her charge. She strove to imbue the soul of her child with living faith,
while upon that infant heart she impressed the maxims of eternal
truth--she imparted those lessons of trust and confidence, and
inculcated that deep conviction of the power of truth, which led the
man, by the grace of God, in the prime and flush of life, to refuse to
be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer
affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for
a season.

Had that mother been unfaithful to her high trust, had she infused into
that infant heart lessons of ambition and worldliness, he had perhaps
failed in the hour of trial, and another had led the tribes of Israel to
the chosen land. A little band guarded Moses; the princess of Egypt,
the mother of Moses, and his sister Miriam. Each one exerted her
peculiar influence upon his character, while his future destiny attested
the varied power of these influences and their relative value.

As the saviour of the young Hebrew, as his protectress and adopted
mother, the daughter of Pharaoh had a large claim upon him, and to her
he was indebted for many of those high attainments which fitted him for
his office. The slight incidental notices of the daughter of Pharaoh
give us a delightful impression of her character.

There is something higher and nobler than a princess. She was a true
woman, filled with all the quiet sympathies and kind affections of her
sex, and possessing an energy and a persevering constancy which led her
to fulfil her generous purposes, and made her impulses bear the fruits
of benevolent action.

Such women show what women should be, and such women in all ages make
the influence of their characters to be felt. To her fostering care
Moses owed life and advancement, education, honour, the standing of a
prince, the polish and the refinement of the court. She proved her
appreciation of knowledge, and we may well infer her own cultivated
intelligence from the care with which she provided for the instruction
of her charge. She showed that she could feel and that she cherished all
the sympathies of domestic love, by providing for their indulgence, by
allowing their continuance, and yielding to their claims, even though
she was a princess of Egypt, the daughter of the haughty Pharaoh, and
her adopted child belonged to a race studiously oppressed, degraded, and
exposed to all contumely, and while, doubtless, she was no stranger to
the prejudices which led her countrymen to look upon the sons of Israel
as an outcast and despicable race. Still the bonds of national
affection, of kindred and brotherhood, were all respected. The whole
narrative shows that Moses was never alienated from his family, never
taught to forget that he was a Hebrew. His patroness felt that there
were holy ties never to be disregarded nor trampled upon.

And while the princess of Egypt surrounded her infant charge with right
influences, while she provided wisely for his intellectual culture, she
likewise brought the influence of her own personal character to bear
upon him. The influence of a pure woman, who unites refinement to
intelligence, and adds to them the polish of the court without its
corruption, would be as powerful as it would be salutary, and when to
the higher qualities, mental and moral, the polished refinement and
graceful attention to all the proprieties of life are imparted, a high
finish is given to the character. Nor was that acquired grace and
courtly manner a thing of frivolous import. It exerted an important
influence upon the future destiny of the individual. The successful
leaders of great multitudes have often owed almost as much to that high
bearing and dignified demeanour which should be the distinct badge of
those who are numbered with the great, as to their skill and
discernment; and while treated in the court of Pharaoh as a scion of
royalty, the young Hebrew acquired that air of conscious authority to
which inferior minds always defer. He gained there that knowledge of
courtly splendour and gayety which forced in him the conviction of their
perfect insufficiency for the high demands of the spiritual nature, and
that knowledge of the heart of man and its depraved qualities most
needful to one who was at once to lead and control a multitude, and who
was to stand before kings as the envoy of Jehovah.

The Israelites never seem to have entered the Egyptian armies. It would
have been contrary to the policy of the kings either to have encouraged
a martial spirit or to have placed arms in the hands of this multitude;
yet as one of the family of Pharaoh, Moses led the armies of Egypt. And
needful it was that the future leader of Israel should be well
instructed in all the tactics of war--should understand all the
providing for, the ordering, and the encamping of vast hosts. It was
perhaps only by arduous military service that he could have developed
that capacity indicated by the vast skill with which an army of six
hundred thousand men, encumbered with their wives and little ones, could
be encamped in regular order, whether marching or resting. Ever
desiring peace and acting on the defensive, yet ready to repel
aggression, for forty years the nation of Israel were encamped as the
hosts of an army. Each tribe with its own banner, marching and
countermarching, taking down and putting up their tents, with all the
skill and regularity of a disciplined army, and often engaged in actual
warfare. He who could thus order and regulate such a host must have
possessed the skill and science of the general. While the habits of long
command, added to the consciousness of authority and Divine reliance,
enabled him to prevent or control turbulent outbreaks.

While the legislator of Israel owed so much to the fostering care of the
daughter of Pharaoh in preparing him for his high destination, we cannot
but feel a deep interest in her who so unconsciously contributed toward
an influence and prepared an instrumentality quite adverse to the
apparent interests of her people. We cannot but hope that, while she
thus hastened the accomplishment of promise and prediction, she was
herself led to the knowledge and worship of Israel's God.

Might not one who thus adopted the brother, encircle in her affection
the sister whose affectionate entreaty gave the babe a mother for its
nurse? The fraternal affection which marks the family seems to indicate
more than occasional intercourse. Between Miriam and her brother there
was that sympathy which always results from an intimate association. The
princess of Egypt may have imparted to Miriam many of the
accomplishments of the courtly circle, for we find that she was skilled
in music, that she led the dance; while, in return, Miriam may have
imparted that higher knowledge and those deep truths of which her people
were the appointed conservators, and the daughter of Pharaoh may have
tasted the blessings which were held in trust for future ages.

Miriam was the only sister of Moses, and she first appears as watching
the fate of that child in whose destiny all the ages and all the nations
of earth were to have an interest. The tender care which watched the
cradle on the Nile continued through life, and from the day Moses was
saved, down to the day when Miriam died in the wilderness, she seems
ever associated with her brothers in all their efforts and designs. The
influence of the sister is peculiarly her own. It is felt in early life
in its softening, refining, and purifying tendency--in diverting opening
manhood from rude sports or gross pursuits to the enjoyments of a more
elevated and pure nature, and shedding a charm around the pleasures of
home; while, if no other ties intervene, the bonds of affection grow
stronger with each successive year.

We cannot trace the course of Miriam's life. She appears before us for a
season and then we lose sight of her for many years. She may have passed
them in the retirement and obscurity of her rural home in the land of
Goshen. She may have been counted in the train of the princess of Egypt
and shone in the court of Pharaoh. Princes may have flattered her and
nobles sued for her love. She seems never to have married,--yet her
heart may have had its own history of love, perhaps unrequited,
disappointed, or sacrificed at the altar of prudence, of conscience, or,
it may be, ambition. Oh what a tale of suffering and of enjoyment would
the history of one human heart present, if faithfully recorded!

Years had passed: childhood was gone--youth was fleeing. The brother had
attained a high distinction in the court of Egypt. He had tasted the
pleasures of wisdom and the enjoyments of science and knowledge, while,
as the adopted child of Pharaoh's daughter, he stood before the people,
the prospective heir to the crown.

Thus, in the prime of life, endowed with the richest gifts of mind and
the attractions of manly beauty, adding the polish of the courtier to
the wisdom of the philosopher--and all the adventitious advantages of
royal birth received by his adoption--there lay before the young Hebrew
a bright vista of prospective glory and honour and earthly happiness.

But not to sit on the throne of Egypt had Jehovah raised this child of
the chosen people from the death designed by their oppressor. Not to fit
him for the throne of Egypt had he surrounded him with all that was
propitious to intellectual and moral attainments and guided and watched
each step of his course from his infancy.

Deep and inscrutable must have seemed the designs of Jehovah, as, when
all was brightest, the dark clouds gathered around this favoured son of
the Hebrews, and all the promise and purpose of his saved life seemed
defeated. The hour of trial came--probably, as it generally comes,
suddenly and unexpectedly. It was the hour which was to test his
principles and prove his faith. The hour in which all the allurements of
sense, the gratification of ambition, and (it may have seemed) the
claims of grateful affection, were brought into conflict with the stern
claims of duty and principle, and in this hour he did not fail. He chose
rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the
pleasures of sin for a season. He refused to be called the son of
Pharaoh's daughter. His choice was made. He abjured the throne and left
the court. What disappointment must have fallen upon hearts who had
looked to his exaltation as a pledge of good for his race, and who saw
in his downfall the prolonged dominion of tyranny and persecution!

Yet Moses was not permitted to remain in peace, although he had sunk
into obscurity. He who was to lead the hosts of Israel through the great
and terrible wilderness--who was to endure toil, labours, and privation,
needed the nerve, the hardihood, the physical training, which could not
be gained in the luxurious courts of the Pharaohs, or in the quiet, and,
doubtless, comfortable and abundant homes of the husbandmen of Goshen.
Amid the enjoyments of home, the pleasures of study, he need not have
regretted the loss of a throne.

For many years he, who had been trained in luxury and elegance, led the
flocks of Jethro, and knew all the privations and the endurances of the
shepherd in the desert. And while his frame was thus hardened and
invigorated, while he learned to forego pleasure and endure bodily
toil, his soul was nourished by solitary meditation and high communion
with God. The philosopher can find instruction and interest in the works
of creation, but only he who adds the adoration of the worshipper to the
wisdom of the philosopher is prepared to study the works of Jehovah
aright.

What deep thought, what high imaginings, what profound reverence must
have filled the soul of the Hebrew shepherd as he watched the stars in
the silence and loneliness of the desert. As he sat, a solitary and
banished man, under the shadow of the rocks of the wilderness, how
strange, how incomprehensible must have seemed the events of his past
life. The visions of his youth, the splendour and warlike pomp of the
army or the pageant of courts, must have come over his soul like a
dream. Even to us how strange seems this long sojourn in the
wilderness, this enforced inactivity and apparent uselessness. Yet the
God of Israel was promoting his own designs both among his people and in
the heart of him who was to be their leader--weaning them from their
place of abode, and preparing them for their departure, and fitting
Moses to be their leader, guide, ruler, and lawgiver. Each dispensation
of his providence, each passing occurrence, all the thoughts, the
emotions, the solitary meditations, the reverential communion, the
occasional intercourse with the few dwellers of the desert,--like the
strokes, slight and almost imperceptible in their effect, which the
block receives from the hand of the sculptor,--all were fitting the
apparently exiled Hebrew for his high vocation as a prophet and
legislator.

And it is often thus. For many years may Jehovah be preparing his
instruments for that event to which he destines them, and which they
may then speedily accomplish. Yet this work in the soul, by which man is
prepared to co-operate with his Maker, is silent, unseen, unmarked, so
that often we may account this time as lost. And man, ignorant of his
future destiny, and of the state to which he is to be called, will ever
find it his true wisdom carefully to fulfil the present duty and to aim
at deriving instruction and benefit from each dispensation of Divine
providence, and from the ordering of each event of his life.

In the careful provision made for the training of Moses, in the various
instrumentalities used to prepare him for his appointed trust, we are
taught that by no miraculous intervention does God supersede the
necessity of the improvement of the faculties he has bestowed. The more
enlightened the understanding, the more the powers of reason are
cultivated, the more intelligently can man serve his Creator, and the
more entirely does he co-operate in the designs of Infinite Wisdom. God
does not bestow, by direct inspiration, that wisdom or knowledge which
is to be gained by the diligent cultivation of the natural faculties, to
save man the fatigue and labour of the acquirement. Those upon whom he
has most richly bestowed the gifts of spiritual wisdom have been most
careful to cultivate their natural endowments.

Both Paul and Moses were learned before they were inspired, but God did
not supersede the use of the powers of the mind by the higher gift of
the Spirit. The providential dealings of God are adapted to the laws of
the human mind, and in the government of his creatures he never violates
the principles which he has established.

The occupation of the shepherd was at length to be abandoned. By
oppression and suffering and ignominious exactions, the children of
Israel were prepared to leave their homes--the land in which they had
dwelt for centuries--and venture across the sea and into the desert.
When we remember that husbandry had been the national occupation, when
we consider how strong is the instinct which binds man to the land of
his birth and the graves of his fathers, and how strong is that bond
which attaches one to the spot he has cultivated, to the land he has
ploughed and sowed and reaped, we cannot wonder at the coercion needful
to rouse a people whose energies were all depressed, and who had been
held in check and kept stationary for ages.

But the people were ready to depart. The oppression of Pharaoh had
prepared the way for the display of the Divine faithfulness and power.
Jehovah sent his ambassador from the desert to the court of the King of
Egypt, to demand their freedom. During his long exile, most who had
known Moses in his early days, had passed away; and the few that were
left would hardly recognise in the shepherd of the desert, with his
staff for his badge of office--bearing the marks of toil and exposure,
of deep thought and solitary meditation--the young and gallant prince,
the courtier and the warrior of former days. She who had cherished him
had probably been laid in the tomb of her royal race, and the name and
the memory of Moses may have been forgotten in the palace and the court.
Yet there he stood, before the throne which might have been his seat,
the ambassador of the King of kings, bearing the stern message of
Jehovah--"Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the
wilderness." Yet wo after wo was denounced and executed--pledge after
pledge given and violated--and not until one long wail over the dead and
dying resounded through the land were the children of Israel permitted
to leave the land of Egypt. The loss of three millions of subjects, of
their labour, their tribute, and the removal of all their personal
property, would weaken and impoverish the kingdom. Every motive of
policy and pride urged the monarch to resist the demand, and thus he
suffered the penalty due to his contumelious defiance of the God of
Israel, while the judgments inflicted upon him strengthened the faith of
the Israelites. The expulsion of the Moors and of the Jews from Spain,
the banishment of the Huguenots from France, furnish similar though not
parallel cases, in modern ages; and these show that the loss of
peaceful, industrious subjects to a kingdom is like taking the
life-blood from the system. Centuries have passed, yet these nations
have not recovered--and thus Egypt must long have felt her loss.

After the tribes of Israel had passed through the Red Sea, the sister of
Moses again appears before us. When he poured forth that chant of
triumphant thanksgiving--the oldest song of nations--Miriam gave a
response worthy of the sister of the leader of the hosts encamped before
the Lord. With timbrel she led the daughters of Israel in the dance. And
well might the prophetess of Israel teach the dance of ancient Egypt to
the daughters of her people on this occasion. The representations
preserved in painting and sculpture show that this was not the gay and
voluptuous movement of modern days, but rather a succession of graceful
gestures, regulated by music, expressive of joy and emotion. Thus the
maidens of Israel offered praise and adoration; nor was it unseemly in
the warlike monarch of after ages thus to worship before the ark of the
Lord, although his pious act provoked the ridicule of the daughter of
Baal.

From this time until the day of her death, Miriam is found co-operating
with her brothers in their designs and efforts. However the earlier
years of her life had passed, she had attained to a high distinction
among her people. While she seems to have neither claimed nor exerted
authority, her rank and position, in her sphere, were as well defined
and as elevated as that of her brothers. Throughout the whole narrative
we find proofs of the high consideration with which she was regarded.

While in early life her influence as a sister had refined and softened
the rudeness and roughness of their boyhood and youth, and similar
associations with the brothers in mature years had enlarged her mind and
imparted intelligence and strength to her understanding.

During the long sojourn in the wilderness, Miriam, "the prophetess of
Israel," was probably the counsellor of the mothers and the instructress
of the daughters of her people; while between the sister and the
brothers there ever seems to have subsisted the most tender,
confidential friendship.

But, alas for imperfect woman! There was a time in which the dark
passions and malignant tempers of our evil nature so triumphed in the
hearts of Miriam and Aaron, that they arrayed themselves against Moses.
The dissension which troubled the camps of their leaders threatened to
spread and involve the multitude of Israel in all the evils of rebellion
and civil war.

During his exile, Moses had married the daughter of the priest of
Midian. The descendant of Abraham, Jethro was a worshipper of the God of
his fathers, and we have recorded proofs of his piety and wisdom. Yet
the marriage of Moses was not apparently in accordance with the views
either of his brother or sister. There is a selfish tenderness sometimes
exhibited, which leads the dependent mother or single sister to regard
with jealousy one who claims a closer tie, and Miriam may not have been
free from the infirmities of weaker natures. Yet the notices, slight as
they are, of the "Ethiopian" woman, perhaps impress few minds
favourably; and we cannot but feel that in herself she may not have been
all that the friends of the lawgiver of Israel could have wished in a
wife. Bred in the seclusion of the wilderness, she was probably
deficient both in the intelligence and the accomplishments which
distinguished Miriam. And Miriam and Aaron seem at last to have
cherished feelings of bitterness toward their sister-in-law, which were
fast extending to the brother himself.

They evidently disliked the foreigner. They may have compared the
toil-worn daughter of Midian with the high-bred maidens of Egypt, who in
former days would have welcomed the addresses of one numbered with the
princes of Egypt, or with the daughters of his own people, as offering
an alliance more worthy the ruler of Israel; and Miriam, elevated by the
distinction conferred upon her as the prophetess of Israel, conscious of
superiority in all feminine accomplishments, seems to have forgotten the
love of a sister and to have lost the humility befitting a woman.
Domestic bitterness was fast preparing the way for political
disaffection, and the dark clouds which had gathered around the tents of
the leaders threatened to burst upon the whole camp of Israel.

Then Jehovah himself interposed. As the principal offender, the
prophetess of Israel was publicly rebuked before all the congregation of
the Lord; and then, as a leper, expelled from the camp, shut out from
all human associations, in shame and solitude, Miriam, diseased and
suffering, lay for seven days. In this time she doubtless humbled
herself and repented of her sin. Yet, during this interval, the vast
multitude showed their respect by remaining stationary; and while Aaron
confessed their sin, Moses interceded for his faulty, erring, but still
be loved sister.

If the conduct and fault of Miriam are to be censured and deplored, it
is to be confessed that it was not peculiar to the sister of the leaders
of the hosts of the Lord. Women of later ages, conscious of intellectual
superiority, elevated by position, or merely distinguished by
usefulness, have sometimes been proud enough to despise the inferior of
their own sex, and to arrogate to themselves the power allotted to man;
and their awakened pride and vanity have introduced strife and confusion
into the counsels of those who were appointed to guide the people of
God.

There is meaning in this record of the faults of those whose hearts had
been, from infancy to age, knit together. While God has implanted the
natural and domestic affections, they are still to be guarded,
cherished, and cultivated. The jealousies, the petty strifes of domestic
life, the little dislikes, the unguarded tempers of those who dwell
together, have sometimes alienated hearts that have been united from
childhood. The love that has grown strong by the mutual endurance of
oppression, toil, privation, and danger, has been turned to gall by the
infusion of the constant droppings of domestic strife. Pure, unselfish
love is the spontaneous growth of a holy heart. It must be nurtured and
tended, or it will wither and die in our corrupt nature.

The afflictions and punishments which harden the hearts of those who
reject God, bring such as love his laws and character to submission and
penitence. Miriam was restored to her former usefulness, probably better
fitted for her high position, while the hearts of the brothers seem
united anew to each other and to her; and the authority of Moses,
vindicated by God, was strengthened by his own forbearing love and
disinterested gentleness. And from thenceforth, while a due subjection
was observed, there seems to have been an entire co-operation between
them.

Miriam died in the wilderness of Zin, and the brothers buried her. There
is a peculiar sadness in this separation, occurring, as it evidently
did, not long before the close of their various pilgrimages.

As we follow the inspired narrative, we are naturally impressed by the
care with which Jehovah selects and prepares those whom He intends as
the instruments of advancing the welfare of his people and his own
glory; and while this may be more clearly traced in the case of the
highly distinguished legislator and prophet of Israel, we may be
assured that it extends not less certainly to the lowest and the
humblest.

The influences by which the lawgiver of Israel was so early surrounded,
we are willing to accept as a divine attestation to the power and value
of female culture in the formation of the character.

Three women are brought distinctly before us, as connected with the
early history of Moses. The mother's high duty and privilege it was (as
it ever is) to instil into his opening mind those great truths and first
principles which are at the foundation of all excellence. Had the nurse
of Moses been an Egyptian idolatress, the character of the man had
doubtless been very different. While Moses owed all his worldly
advancement to the princess of Egypt, he derived other advantages from
being brought under the familiar influence of one who preserved, amid
the corruptions of a court, the best sympathies of our nature. A
knowledge of human character and a power of adaptation to all the
circumstances of his eventful life were thus imparted, and which could
be hardly elsewhere acquired, yet they were very needful to one who was
to fill the office allotted to him.

God has graciously ordered that while the parents and guardians are to
pass away, there are early ties which are enduring. Where families are
properly regulated, added years strengthen the bonds of natural
affection. Through all the vicissitudes of his life, the brother and
sister of Moses clung to him. We first see Miriam watching the
cradle-ark in which the infant was concealed, and she never appears
except some event in his career brings her into view. Yet, through their
long lives she was his companion and helper, participating in his
labours, soothing his sorrows, and aiding and encouraging him in his
work. She is a type of a large class--we mean the daughters and the
sisters who are not wives. Her life shows that a woman may be
honourable, useful, distinguished, and happy, and yet remain
single--that the holy duties of the wife and the mother are not the only
duties. How many homes would be comparatively unblessed but for the
presence of a dutiful daughter or a loving sister! How largely our own
age is indebted to women as teachers; women, who, like the prophetess of
Israel, while assisting their brothers to proclaim the oracles of God,
devote themselves to the instruction of their own sex, and bless men by
instructing women!

[Illustration]



DEBORAH--THE INFLUENCE OF WOMAN.


The book of Judges gives a concise view of the people of Israel for a
period of four hundred years, extending from the death of Joshua to the
birth of Samuel.

It is peculiarly interesting as showing how God deals with the nations
of the earth in visiting national sins with national punishments. It has
ever been the painful office of the historian to record the crimes and
misfortunes of mankind, and to present the outbreaks of society rather
than to note its gradual advance and improvement, or to dwell upon the
periods of peaceful prosperity. Like the records of a court of justice,
it presents the criminals and the offences and those implicated, while
the thousands of peaceful citizens are never brought to view. The flow
of human life is, like that of a mighty river, unmarked during its mild
course; but when it bursts its bounds and overflows its channel and
spreads a wide destruction, it is watched with interest and its
desolating ravages are all recorded.

Of the many women who have attained honour and celebrity amidst the
intrigues of courts and cabinets and the revolutions of empires, few
have retained the purity and the peculiar virtues of their sex. Deborah
seems to have united the sagacity and courage of man to the modest
virtues of woman. She appears before us affecting no pomp, assuming no
state. The wife of Lapidoth--one known only as the husband of Deborah,
but thus known never to be forgotten--she abode with her husband in
their own dwelling, under that palm-tree distinguished, when Samuel
wrote this book, as "the palm of Deborah," between Ramah, where Rachel
died, and Bethel, where Jacob worshipped. "And all the children of
Israel came up to her there for judgment."

The people of Israel had departed from God and from the laws of Moses,
and for twenty years they had been mightily oppressed by Jabin. During
this long period no priest called the people to repentance, no prophet
was commissioned to promise them relief.

We may imagine Deborah dwelling among her people, a devout,
strong-minded, enlightened woman. She saw their sins, she participated
in their trials, and she warned those around her of the evil of
departing from Jehovah. She recalled His past acts of judgment and of
mercy. She was well acquainted with the laws of Moses, and she
recognised in the punishment of the people the fulfilment of prophecy.

The influence of such a woman--a woman instructed in the religion of
Jehovah--a woman of faith and of prayer--would be felt, first, in her
own family, or in her immediate circle of friends; and then would
commence the reformation and the repentance and putting away of past
sins and the return to the God of Israel. And as the influence spread,
the circle extending, the whole nation would seem to have been affected,
and they naturally resorted to one whose wisdom and piety were so well
established, when any questions of their law, either civil or religious,
were to be settled. Thus the children of Israel came up to her for
judgment. They came to her--for her feet abode within her own dwelling.
Her influence extended throughout all the borders of her land, but her
presence still blest her own house. The prophetess of Israel was still
the wife of Lapidoth, and her only authority was that of piety, wisdom
and love. A more beautiful instance of a woman's true, legitimate
influence cannot be given. Quietly, unostentatiously exercised, it
penetrated through the nation and brought them back to Jehovah, and
prepared the way for the removal of their yoke.

For many years she was doubtless employed in reclaiming and instructing
her people. Through this influence the children of Israel were prepared
to assert their liberty; and then Deborah was inspired to call upon
"Barak the son of Abinoam," to gather an army, and take his station on
Mount Tabor, where the Lord would deliver the enemies of Israel into his
hands. She did not propose to attend--certainly not to lead--the army;
but, giving her message, her counsel and her prayers, would still abide
under the palm-tree and remain with her husband. But the appointed
general knew so well the value of her presence in inspiring the people
with confidence, and felt so much the need of her prayers, that he
refused to go unless she sanctioned the expedition with her attendance.
"And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, I will go; but if
thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go."

Thus appealed to, the answer was immediate: "I will surely go with thee;
notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine
honour, for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hands of a woman."

Mount Tabor, chosen for the encamping-place of the army of Barak, still
rises like a tall cone in the vast plain of Esdraelon, which, stretching
across the land to the sea, has since been the battle-ground of nations.
From the wide plain on its lofty summit, Deborah and Barak could look
over almost all the land. The view of the hills of Judea, of the sea of
Tiberias, and of a country of wide extent, still repays the toil of
those who climb to its summit.

But since the days of Deborah and of Barak, Tabor is generally supposed
to have witnessed another scene. The Man of grief, who bore our sins and
took upon himself our sorrows, climbed its steep ascent with his
favoured disciples--And Moses and Elias appeared unto him there, and
there "they talked with him." Of what? Not of the battle of Deborah and
Barak with Sisera--although they stood where the leaders of Israel had
watched the hosts of their enemies encompassing them. It was a converse
of high things, not meet for us to know. And there he was transfigured
before his wondering disciples, and his "raiment became exceeding white
as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them." And there was a cloud
that overshadowed them, and a voice out of the cloud, This is my beloved
Son--hear him. Alas! the Divine command has been ill obeyed. Tabor yet
retains the remains of a fortress and preserves the marks of warfare;
but no trace of the meeting there of the great lawgiver and reformer of
Israel with Him who came both to fulfil and to abolish. No temples have
yet been there erected to Him whose mission was far above all who were
sent either to announce or prepare for his forthcoming.

From Mount Tabor the leaders and hosts of Israel watched their enemies
gathering from afar and encompassing them. With the chariots of iron, so
much dreaded by the Israelites, came the archers, and the spearmen, and
the multitude that were with them--all assembled to surround and to
destroy the allies of Barak.

But when Deborah gave the signal, "Up! for this is the day in the which
the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hands: is not the Lord gone
out before thee?" Barak went from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men. The
victory was complete--"Jehovah triumphed, His people were free." The
hosts of the enemy were vanquished. The river Kishon, that ancient
river, swept them away. And the victory was celebrated by a song of most
triumphant, yet grateful exultation, in a strain of the loftiest, purest
poetry, such as the prophets and psalmists of Israel alone could pour
forth:--

      Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel,
    When the people willingly offered themselves.
    Hear, O ye kings!
    Give ear, O ye princes!
    I, even I, will sing unto the LORD;
    I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.
    LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir,
    When thou marchedst out of the field of Edom,
    The earth trembled, and the heavens dropped,
    The clouds also dropped water.
    The mountains melted from before the LORD,
    Even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
      In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,
    In the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied,
    And the travellers walked through byways.
    The inhabitants of the villages ceased,
    They ceased in Israel,
    Until that I Deborah arose,
    That I arose a mother in Israel.
    They chose new gods;
    Then was war in the gates:
    Was there a shield or spear seen
    Among forty thousand in Israel?
      My heart is toward the governors of Israel,
    That offered themselves willingly among the people.
    Bless ye the LORD!
    Speak,
    Ye that ride on white asses,
    Ye that sit in judgment,
    And walk by the way!
      They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the place of
        drawing water,
    There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD,
    Even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in
      Israel:
    Then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.
    Awake, awake, Deborah!
    Awake, awake, utter a song!
    Arise, Barak!
    And lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
    Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the
      people:
    The LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.
    Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek;
    After thee, Benjamin, among thy people;
    Out of Machir came down governors,
    And out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.
    And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
    Even Issachar, and also Barak:
    He was sent on foot into the valley.
    For the divisions of Reuben
    There were great thoughts of heart.
    Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds,
    To hear the bleatings of the flocks?
    For the divisions of Reuben
    There were great searchings of heart.
    Gilead abode beyond Jordan:
    And why did Dan remain in ships?
    Asher continued on the sea shore,
    And abode in his breaches.
    Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives
    Unto the death in the high places of the field.
      The kings came and fought,
    Then fought the kings of Canaan
    In Taanach by the waters of Megiddo;
    They took no gain of money.
    They fought from heaven;
    The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
    The river Kishon swept them away,
    That ancient river, the river Kishon.
    O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
    Then were the horsehoofs broken
    By the means of the prancings, the prancings of their mighty ones.
      Curse ye Meroz! said the angel of the LORD,
    Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof;
    Because they came not to the help of the LORD,
    To the help of the LORD against the mighty.
      Blessed above women
    Shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
    Blessed shall she be above women in the tent!
    He asked water, and she gave him milk;
    She brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
    She put her hand to the nail,
    And her right hand to the workmen's hammer;
    And with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head,
    When she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
    At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
    At her feet he bowed, he fell:
    Where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
      The mother of Sisera looked out at a window,
    And cried through the lattice,
    Why is his chariot so long in coming?
    Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
    Her wise ladies answered her,
    Yea, she returned answer to herself,
    Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey;
    To every man a damsel or two;
    To Sisera a prey of divers colors,
    A prey of divers colors of needlework on both sides,
    Meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?
    So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD!
    But let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his
      might.

One such strain preserved from any other ancient nation would establish
their claims to the highest order of poetic genius, and lead to the most
industrious and painful research for all that could throw light upon
their literature. It comes over the soul now like the full burst of
martial music. It stirs the blood and quickens the pulses with its
strain of triumph, while it melts us to pity, as it brings before us so
graphically, with such exquisite power--yet such slight allusion--the
distress and desolation of Israel. It is a finished picture of the age.
We see the judges, those that ride on white asses (still reserved for
royal stables) that walk by the way; while it gives us a full character
of Sisera and the mother who trained him. We see the mother--haughty,
proud, avaricious, surrounded by "her wise ladies," who are flatterers
rather than counsellors--ready to exult in the rapine and plunder of the
army of her son; her natural fears awakened by his delayed return, yet
hushed and soothed by the enumeration of the spoil. No feeling of pity
softening the love of vengeance,--the desire for the plunder of a
conquered people engrossing all.

And in Sisera we see the proud, cruel, licentious spoiler--all the
powers of his evil nature called into exercise by success and the long
indulgence of every evil passion and gross appetite--arrogant,
oppressive and cruel in success; abject, cowardly and overreaching in
adversity. We can well imagine the state of an oppressed people ruled by
such a man at the head of a licentious soldiery. And harsh as may seem
some of the expressions of Deborah, in her joyous outbursts of praise
and thanksgiving, they arise from the ineffable miseries, the deep
degradation, the oppressive cruelties, to which all the daughters of
Israel would have been exposed had he been triumphant; and a mother in
Israel might well exult in a deliverance from one whose desolating track
was marked by lust and carnage.

We do not love to dwell on the treachery of Jael--we do not feel called
upon to justify the act, although Deborah might well rejoice in the
deliverance of her people from so stern a foe, so foul an oppression.
Sisera appears as abject in the hour of defeat as he had been insolent
and arrogant and cruel in the hour of triumph.

After Israel was restored to liberty we hear no more of Deborah; but
"the land had rest forty years." She again returns to her own sphere, to
the unostentatious, yet all-pervading usefulness of domestic life. No
honours, no triumphs, no statues were awarded to her. No monuments seem
to have been erected to her memory. The palm-tree was her fitting
memorial; delighting the eye, affording shade, shelter and nourishment;
asking and securing nought from man, watered by the dew and rain of
heaven, and rejoicing in the beams of the sun--still pointing to heaven
while sheltering those beneath it.

Jehovah seems to permit such examples to stimulate woman to usefulness
and to vindicate their capacity; and thus there ever have been and are
still Deborahs--mothers in Israel--those who, dwelling under their own
roof, in the seclusion of domestic life, yet send forth an influence
which extends far and wide.

The sound, rational piety of such women, and their lives of humble
faith, of prayer, and of consistent usefulness, have often awakened a
high tone of religious feeling and led to extensive revivals of pure
religion.

Without departing from their allotted sphere, without forgetting the
delicacy and proprieties demanded from their sex, they have been greatly
instrumental in elevating the moral and religious standard of a
community by their faithfulness in reproving the erring and reclaiming
the backsliding, while by their kindly sympathy and effectual
co-operation, they have aided, encouraged, and, by their prudent,
judicious counsel, guided--the appointed leaders of Israel.

[Illustration]



JEZEBEL.


[Illustration]

Although the family of Jeroboam were soon swept from the throne of
Israel, yet those who succeeded still pursued the policy by which he had
been governed; and through all the contention and bloodshed which marked
the reigns of different dynasties, they all persisted in the idolatry
established by him. "They all did evil in the sight of the Lord, and
walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin, wherewith he made Israel
to sin." But of Ahab, the son of Omri, it is written that "he did more
to provoke the God of Israel than all that were before him." He pursued
the path which had been marked out by his predecessors when he married,
and he found in his wife an efficient aid. By the strength of her mind,
by the energy of her character, by the introduction of an idolatry at
once more corrupt and more ensnaring, she did more to complete and seal
the apostasy of Israel than all who had gone before her.

The name of Jezebel has descended to us as one of the most opprobrious
epithets which can be applied to a woman. Little did the haughty queen
who bore it imagine what a reproach and offence it was to become for
future ages, in unknown lands, and among unborn nations.

We think of her always as old, withered, thirsting for blood, and
incapable of the finer sentiments and all the softer emotions of human
kind. There was a time in which she shone as the centre of a splendid
and luxurious court, where minstrels sang to her and poets praised her
and princes flattered her, while statesmen confessed her influence and
cabinets adopted her plans. Fascinating, artful, able, ambitious, and
unprincipled, she may be regarded as chief among many of the most
celebrated of this class of her sex of ancient or modern days.

There have been queens, not of heathen lands and barbarous Asia, but of
refined and christianized Europe, upon whose memories rest quite as dark
shadows as those which cover the character of the Queen of Israel. It is
sad to remember how many of the most atrocious acts which disgrace the
annals of our race are to be traced to the influence of female ambition,
jealousy, hate, or revenge. Larger possessions than that of the vineyard
of Naboth have been obtained by perjury and blood; and few modern courts
could consistently condemn the principles or the policy by which the
monarchs of Israel attempted to consolidate and perpetuate their
dominion. In the estimation of many statesmen and many historians,
greatness has sanctified all the means by which power is either to be
attained or preserved, and the splendour of the court has fully atoned
for all the oppression of the people.

While she was fitted to co-operate with her husband, and ready to
promote his designs and to embrace the policy which had guided the court
of Israel, she soon assumed and ever maintained that influence which the
stronger mind, the more powerful will, ever exerts over the inferior and
weaker. Through all his reign, Ahab ever deferred to her; and while she
goaded him onward in his career of crime, she stimulated and upheld him
by her daring defiance of the commands and threatenings of the prophets
of the Lord. She possessed all the energy, power, and constancy which
ever belongs to minds of a high order, and which fit them for greatness
in virtue or crime--insuring widespread usefulness or leading to
desperate wickedness. She never was turned from her course. She never
faltered, trembled, or hesitated in the pursuit of her object. She
witnessed, unawed and unmoved, miracles of judgment and of mercy. She
saw unpitying a land consumed by drought and a people perishing by
famine; and when the parched earth drank the showers of heaven, while
she rejoiced, she was neither softened nor made penitent by the
blessing.

Ahab could not entirely divest himself of every national characteristic,
or the remembrances and associations of his faith and his people. There
still clung to him some remains of the fear of the "Lord God of his
fathers," some feelings of reverence and awe for the name and worship
of Jehovah. No such compunctions troubled Jezebel. When Elijah visited
Ahab, the impious monarch quailed before him and trembled at the
denunciation of Divine wrath. Jezebel answered his reproofs by scorn and
threats, and her menaces drove the prophet from the altar where he had
triumphed.

Yet her history is replete with sad interest. While it declares the
certain ruin which follows national sins and national corruption, it
displays also much of the wonderful forbearance of Jehovah. As we
retrace his dealings even with the guilty house of Ahab and the apostate
people of Israel, we are reminded of _One_ who, ages after, wept over
Jerusalem. "Oh, if thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which
belong to thy peace--but now they are hidden from thine eyes."

During the earlier years of the reign of Ahab, while Jezebel was engaged
with all zeal and activity in proselyting the people of Israel to the
worship of Ashtaroth and Baal, she was constantly resisted by the
prophets sent as messengers from Jehovah. And many miracles of mercy and
of judgment, wrought before her by the power of the Lord God of Israel,
should have convinced her of the truth of His messengers--His
indisputable claim to be the God--the Lord God. She resisted all--not
from the want of evidence or the power of believing, but from the
perverseness of a determined will and a hardened heart. Yet he who
styles himself a God merciful and gracious, long strove with her, though
at last she provoked him to depart and leave her to her chosen way.

The seizure of the vineyard of Naboth seems to have consummated the
iniquity of Jezebel, while it brought all the distinguishing traits of
her character into full light.

Judah was a land of rocky hills and narrow though fertile valleys. The
possessions of Israel were broader and more luxuriant; and in the
beautiful plain of Jezreel the kings of Israel had built their favourite
city of Samaria. In that city, Ahab erected the temple consecrated to
Baal, and there he maintained four hundred and fifty priests for his
service, while the Queen of Israel kept four hundred in the groves
consecrated to Ashtaroth. "But the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite was
hard by the palace of Ahab, King of Samaria."

The King of Israel desired the vineyard of Naboth, either to enlarge his
grounds or to add to their beauty and variety. Yet, despotic and
unprincipled as he was, the laws of possession were so fixed, the rights
of property so established, that, on the refusal of Naboth to sell his
inheritance, he dared not use violence; and he sank into sullen
despondency.

It has ever been characteristic of wives like Jezebel to maintain their
ascendency by arts and blandishments, and by ministering to every
corrupt propensity of their husbands. With the watchfulness of a devoted
wife, she saw the vexation of her husband.

"Why is thy countenance so sad?"

"And he said unto her, Because I spake unto Naboth the Jezreelite, and
said unto him, Give me thy vineyard for money; or else, if it please
thee, I will give thee another vineyard for that."

Naboth had said, God forbid that I should give the inheritance of my
fathers unto thee.

The faithful Israelite may have recoiled from the thought of its passing
into the hands of the unholy worshippers of Baal and Ashtaroth and being
polluted by their orgies. But Ahab did not give the denial in its full
force. He represents Naboth as simply refusing. "I will not give thee my
vineyard."

We seem to see the actors before us, in the spirited, yet simple
narration, as it proceeds. Ahab, heavy, sullen, morose--with clouded
brow and furrowed cheek. Jezebel, with her flashing eye, her queenly
gait, her haughty aspect, and all the workings of pride and craft and
ambition expressed in her faded but still striking features. With what
utter contempt would she look upon the husband who sank into despondency
because he had not the skill to devise, or the will to perpetrate, the
iniquity which would insure the attainment of his desires!

"Dost thou govern Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be
merry. _I_ will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."

And a darker plot, or one more artfully devised, has seldom been
unravelled among all the iniquitous intrigues of courts and statesmen.
Naboth was doubtless a true worshipper; and for once Jezebel professed
all honour to the laws of Jehovah. He was arraigned and tried by the
laws of Moses--long trampled upon and disused. And all the solemnities
of religion were resorted to, to aid her plans and advance her purpose.

Falsely arraigned, accused, and condemned, Naboth was executed, and his
sons perished with him. The hands of his brethren were imbrued in their
blood. She who managed the plot found other agents to execute her
designs. With impious hypocrisy, she insulted heaven by ordaining a
solemn fast, for God and the king had been blasphemed. These
transactions display the deep depravity of the Queen of Israel, while
they show the influence of her character and example upon her people.
The very ministers of justice were made the abettors of her guilt; and
law, with all its formalities and solemnities, was made to sanction
crime. How many sins were committed to gratify one idle, covetous
desire! God was insulted and defied and blasphemed; justice was
corrupted; and falsehood, perjury, and murder were all used to
accomplish the wicked will of Jezebel. And how many victims have been
thus arraigned, and perished thus, in later days! This deed awoke the
vengeance of Jehovah. Even as Ahab took possession of his blood-stained
field, the prophet of the Lord met him and denounced the doom of the
perpetrators of the dark crime. All were to perish, and all were to die
deaths of blood and shame. Husband, wife, parents, and children--all, to
the latest generation, were to be cut off--to be rooted out of the earth
as an abominable stock, and to rot in the sight of the heavens. Ahab
humbled himself, as he received the message of the prophet, and showed
an outward reverence: and his doom was so far softened that the
destruction of the family was not immediate: but Jezebel seems still as
bold and unmoved as ever. Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, entered into
alliance with Ahab, and visited his court to witness the splendour and
share the hospitalities of Jezebel; and while both were warring against
Syria, Ahab was slain in battle.

Jezebel doubtless would have scouted the folly of those who saw the
fulfilment of both prophecy and sentence in the dogs licking the blood
from the chariot and the armour, as they were washed in the pool, which
probably was on the lands of Naboth; yet she might have foreseen thus
her certain fate--and as Ahab had died, so she should die. Her doom was
yet deferred. She long survived her husband, and prosperity and such
honours as attend the prosperous were her's. She was the daughter, wife,
and the mother of kings. Her sons ruled Israel. Her daughter sat on the
throne of Judah. She dwelt in royal state at Jezreel, and enjoyed
possessions which had been obtained by revolting crimes. Ahab had died a
bloody death. Jehoshaphat was gathered to his fathers; the King of Syria
perished by the hands of his servant; and Elijah was taken up to
heaven--but Jezebel still lived.

What were the occupations of her old age? Was she still busy, restless,
and intriguing? Or did the past haunt her with dark remembrances of
shame and crime, and the avenging future cast its shadow over her soul?
Did the stern decree of the prophet ring in her ears, and late remorse
drive her to the dark cruelties of her bloody idolatry, in the idle hope
of expiation? Such an old age could not have been happy. She was left to
fill up the measure of her iniquity, while memory told of past sins, and
conscience whispered of the coming retribution, and the avenging justice
of heaven hung like a dark cloud over her guilty house. Past the season
of pleasure, deprived of the power she had so abused, without the honour
and sacred reverence due to virtuous age, she may have had a foretaste
of her future retribution, though surrounded by all the splendour of
royalty, with trembling and abject slaves ministering to all her wants.

One son after another quietly took possession of the throne of Israel,
and Jezebel may have derided the prophecy of Elijah; yet the sentence,
long delayed, was fully executed. The hour of foretold vengeance
arrived. In one day, the King of Israel was dethroned and murdered, and
the race of Ahab was swept from the face of the earth. The last act of
her life was worthy of Jezebel herself,--of the Queen of Israel in the
days of her prime. She heard of the death of Jehoram and of the
insurrection of Jehu. Neither the timidity of a woman nor the yearnings
of a mother had a place in her soul. In the hour of carnage, surrounded
by all the horrors of death, the pride of her nature prevailed, and all
the daring of her character was displayed. She forgot neither the
proprieties due to her rank nor the embellishments needful for her
person. With the vanity of the woman and the pride of a queen, "she
painted her face and tired her head," and then haughtily presenting
herself before the murderer of her children, she uttered a maddening
taunt and defiance. By the hands of her servants she was cast from the
windows of the palace of Israel into the very grounds which had been the
vineyard of Naboth; and as she was dashed to the earth, the wheels of
the chariot of the destroyer of her race passed over her, and the feet
of the horses trampled upon her. "And the dogs ate Jezebel by the walls
of Jezreel." Thus her doom was accomplished!

[Illustration]

There have been many like her. Her crimes have been sometimes equalled
in atrocity. Her ruling passions were pride and ambition; and she
doubtless clung to the idols of her land from the unbounded license
their worship gave to sensuality, and the opportunities it afforded, in
its feasts and festivals, for display and gayety.

But she clung more tenaciously to her idolatry from motives of
self-interest and national aggrandizement. It was the test of loyalty
for Israel. It was in perfect consistency with such a character to turn
away from all evidence and to reject what she did not wish to believe.
In the expressive language of the Bible, she "hardened her heart;" and
doubtless, like skeptics of later days, she could ascribe what she could
not disprove to the working of natural causes, or to the arts of
priestcraft.

We can all stifle the convictions of conscience and contemn the
principles which conflict with our interest or our inclination; and
there are in every station unconscious imitators of the Queen of Israel.

[Illustration]



ATHALIAH.


[Illustration]

The pious king of Judah not only formed a political alliance with
Israel, but he even permitted, and probably encouraged, his son, and the
heir to his throne, to marry the daughter of the impious Ahab and the
idolatrous Jezebel. Jehoshaphat saw not the Queen of Israel as we see
her--as unlovely as she was unholy. Dazzled by the splendour of her
court, won by her grace and queenly bearing, he may have overlooked her
crimes. The most unprincipled have sometimes carefully and successfully
cultivated much that gives grace and attraction to social life. Some,
whose hearts have been utterly selfish and callous, and whose lives have
been one dark record of crime and cruelty, have yet shone as the centres
of splendid circles, diffusing all around them pleasure and gayety. And
men, themselves unstained, have been won by these fascinations to a
close association with those whose principles were worthy only of
reprobation, and whose association should have been shunned as in the
last degree contaminating.

The intimacies between those who love and worship God and those who
reject him are ever full of danger. And while the courtiers of Ahab and
the flatterers of Jehoshaphat may have applauded the liberal policy of
the King of Judah, and his freedom from the bigotry of the prophets who
would reform Israel, he was pursuing a course which was to involve his
family in calamity and bring corruption into his kingdom. Jerusalem and
Samaria were not very remote from each other, and the kings of Israel
and Judah seem at this period to have maintained frequent personal
intercourse: an intercourse which appears not to have elevated the moral
character of Israel, while it surely led to the deterioration of the
piety of Judah; for when godly persons mingle freely with the
impious,--especially if this intercourse originates from mere motives of
ambition or worldly expediency,--the former will be much more ready to
sink to the level of the worldling than to raise the worldling to their
own.

The influence of this association with the depraved court of Israel
doubtless had its effect upon the heart of Jehoshaphat. He was not drawn
into idolatry, but he probably was less zealous in the service of
Jehovah and in the vindication of his ways. He may have rather
sympathized with the monarchs of Israel in their attempts to establish
their own faith and maintain their own authority, than with the
persecuted people of Israel in their efforts to preserve the worship of
their fathers. While he regretted the idolatry of Jezebel, he may have
censured what would be called the uncourtly intolerance or the bigoted
zeal of the prophets, who uttered such denunciations and threatenings
against the reigning family. Perhaps he pointed out to the few faithful
Israelites whom he might meet in the train of Ahab or at the court of
Israel the propriety of a more gentle mode or a more conciliating
policy. As the friend of Ahab, he betrayed the cause of God, and upheld
his iniquities. In all the persecutions they sustained, we do not find
that the prophets of the Lord ever sought a refuge among their brethren
of Judah. Hardly could they have expected shelter and protection from
the king who was allying his own family with the house of Ahab. They
found shelter among the heathen; they were nourished by miracles; they
were hid in the coverts of the rocks, and were fed by ravens, while
Jehoshaphat and his court were rejoicing in the alliance of Jehoram with
Athaliah--the royal son of Judah with the royal daughter of Israel; and
the worshippers of Jehovah and the devotees of Ashtaroth and Baal were
mingled in their train.

There might have been heavy forebodings and low, suppressed murmurs
among those who remembered the statutes of the Lord, and who recalled
his dealings with his people; but the multitude could rejoice in the
splendour and the festivities of the occasion; the court could exult in
the pomp and display; and wise politicians could talk of the benefits to
the two countries of speaking one language, springing from a common
origin, and preserving their own national integrity, and yet presenting
one united front to the common enemy. And Jehoshaphat may have hailed
this marriage as the master-stroke of his policy, while
religiously-disposed courtiers whispered that a scion of Israel,
transplanted to Judah and nurtured by Jehoshaphat, under the influences
of Zion, must indeed prove a plant of righteousness in this garden of
the Lord.

Did Jezebel fear this? Did this strong-minded, politic, crafty woman
feel that her daughter was placed under influences which might draw her
from the idols of her mother, and make her recreant to the policy of her
father's house?

Jezebel was too strong in the consciousness of her own power, to fear
that her children would oppose her wishes or her plans. All experience
proves that the wife exerts a powerful influence upon the character of
her husband. Even where she has apparently little mental strength, she
may possess great moral power, for evil or for good. This influence
pervades her family, and is felt even while it is despised and
disavowed. When holy and pure, it is as reviving, strengthening,
invigorating as the pure breath of the morning. When it has its source
in a selfish, polluted heart, it comes like the midnight miasma or the
blast of the desert, prostrating and destroying all over which it
passes.

The character of the mother often determines the course and the destiny
of her children. She imprints her own moral lineaments upon her
offspring. She moulds their habits and she transfuses into them the
feelings, motives, and principles which actuate herself. The influence
of the mother is often so perpetuated in her daughters that the
individual seems multiplied as she is faithfully reflected by them.
Where the mental and moral characteristics are marked, they are almost
sure to descend; and the character of Jezebel was one to leave its
impress.

Thus we find Athaliah worthy of the stock from which she sprang. She was
the true, as she seems to be the only daughter of Jezebel. Though early
allied to Jehoshaphat and removed into the kingdom of Judah, she
retained all the idolatrous prepossessions of her father's house, and
she exhibited all the traits which marked her race. She possessed the
qualities which had been so prominently displayed by the course and life
of Jezebel. The same desperate will, the same determined energy, the
same daring courage and dauntless resolution, and the same proud
ambition; and she was even more devoid than her mother of all the kinder
feelings, affections, and sympathies.

Jezebel had resolutely crushed all those affections and sympathies of
her nature which would be likely to check her progress in her career of
crime and power. She had trampled upon all that would obstruct her in
the attainment of her object. Yet some of the feelings of the woman, the
tenderness of the wife, the fondness of the mother, still seem to linger
in her proud heart. Unprincipled as she was, she did not abandon herself
to utter selfishness. In her most atrocious acts she seems to have had
some regard to the aggrandizement of her family and to the gratification
of her husband. The daughter was more depraved than her mother. Athaliah
was utterly selfish, devoid even of the instinct of natural affection. A
character more revolting is not presented to us in the pages of the
historian, sacred or profane.

A woman rioting in blood that she might gratify her ambition! A mother
destroying her offspring that she might possess their inheritance!
Jezebel was a depraved woman, but Athaliah was a monster--a woman
destitute of all the feelings of humanity, working all evil, and only
evil, from the mere love of self. With selfish desires which absorbed
all consideration, and in their intensity prompted to unnatural crimes,
having no object in view beyond her personal gratification or
aggrandizement, there was not even the extenuation to be offered for
Athaliah which could be urged for Jezebel; for the policy of Judea was
opposed to idolatry, and in the family of Jehoshaphat she was surrounded
by influences most favourable to a virtuous course, and influences which
had never rested upon her mother. Under the very shadow of the Temple
she perpetrated her most flagrant crimes.

Although the depravity of Jezebel led her to adopt a corrupt religion,
to reject a pure and holy worship, and to cling to the dark and cruel
rites of heathenism, the voice of conscience was not silenced, the light
of the soul was not entirely extinguished. She felt the need of some
faith--she clung to the altars of her gods. But Athaliah seems to have
sunk into the brutishness of those who own "no God." She seems to have
trampled upon all faith, as she violated all obligation--insensible
alike to the calls of conscience and the aspirations of devotion. She
had no womanly sympathies. She had high mental endowments--she had a
powerful will and strong passions--but she had no affections. There have
been many Jezebels--but few Athaliahs. The affections compose so large a
part of a woman's nature that we disown one who is without them. In her
deepest guilt, in her lowest debasement, they still cling to her; and
raised to the summit of power, they do not often wholly desert her.

The princess of Israel must have been married at an early age, and she
was long restrained by the character of Jehoshaphat from the public
display of her wishes and inclinations. While he lived, Judah still
retained the outward show of reverence for the God of Israel, and
doubtless Athaliah often led her train to the temple of Jehovah; yet the
infection of the character and principles of the daughter of Ahab was at
work. A poisonous leaven spread through the royal family. The younger
princes of Judah were contaminated; and when Jehoshaphat died, this
influence of Athaliah was first manifest in the character of Jehoram. It
is written of him that "he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel,
after the house of Ahab, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife, and he
did evil in the sight of the Lord."

He commenced his reign by the murder of his brethren, the sons of his
father. Jehoshaphat had provided for all his sons, giving them wealth
and appointing them to offices of trust, while he left the kingdom to
Jehoram. And without pretext or apology, Jehoram put them all to death;
and their families were involved, as we may well believe, in their ruin.
They were probably proclaimed outlaws, and then murdered wherever found,
perhaps while dwelling in perfect security and in profound peace; and
with them fell many of the other princes of Judah not so nearly
connected with the royal family. The very commencement of his reign, the
occasion of so much joyful festivity to the court, was thus marked by
crimes which brought utter desolation to the families and terror to the
hearts of the people of his kingdom; and we may well presume that the
woman who afterwards proved herself so reckless and heaven-defying,
prompted to this first crime. She who was herself so ready to commit
deeds of blood would be quick to instigate others.

The whole reign of Jehoram was impious and disgraceful. He erected
altars on all the hills of Judea, to draw his people into the worship of
Baal and Ashtaroth; while he compelled the inhabitants of Jerusalem to
join in the corrupt festivals and the abominable rites of this Syrian
goddess.

Elijah, the prophet of Israel, was commissioned to reprove Jehoram, and
to denounce the impending doom of his house. He was not ordered to
present himself at the court of the King of Judah, but to write his
message. "There came a writing to Jehoram;" and probably the King of
Judah scoffed at the warning, and perhaps referred him to the unexecuted
judgments denounced upon the house of Ahab, and to the present
prosperity of the family, and the continued stability of the kingdom, as
a proof of the fanatical delusion of the pretended prophets of the Lord.
Yet the doom of the guilty Jehoram was accomplished even before the
woes denounced upon Jezebel were fulfilled. Tributary kingdoms revolted,
and in vain he sought to bring them back to obedience. The Philistines
and the Arabians made an incursion into Judah, and carried away all his
wealth, while they took his family captive; and Jehoram, smitten by a
most loathsome and painful disease, died. He was buried without the
usual honours paid to royalty. His memory and his person were alike
offensive.

Upon the accession of Ahaziah, the next king, the influence of Athaliah
is soon recognised. He was the youngest and the only son not carried
into captivity. It is said that "his mother's name was Athaliah, the
daughter of Omri. He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab, for
his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly,"--as wife and mother,
alike unholy. "Wherefore he did evil in the sight of the Lord, like the
house of Ahab, for they were his counsellors, after the death of his
father, to his destruction."

The second son of Ahab had succeeded to the kingdom of Israel, and
Jezebel was surrounded by all the splendours of royalty. Peace and
prosperity still attended her family. The death of Naboth and his sons,
and the denunciations of the prophet, were probably forgotten, or
remembered only to be despised. The royal houses, so closely allied,
maintained a familiar intercourse, and the King of Judah was on a visit
of sympathy to the King of Israel, who was sick and wounded, when the
rebellion of Jehu broke out. It came upon the house of Ahab like a
hurricane: in the midst of security and of apparently profound peace,
the storm swept over and destroyed them.

While the kings were in the palace of Israel, the rapid approach of a
messenger awoke the curiosity rather than the apprehension of the King
of Israel. With the rashness of a doomed man, he rushed upon his own
destruction. As the messengers, whom he had sent to meet the approaching
foes, returned not, the two kings hastened to meet the advancing troop.
And they met Jehu by the vineyard of Naboth, and there the King of
Israel was slain, while the King of Judah fled, mortally wounded, to
Megiddo, where he died. All that belonged to the house of Ahab in Israel
perished in this hour of vengeance and righteous retribution. Jehu
murdered those of the descendants of Jehoram who fell in his way; and
Athaliah hastened to complete the fulfilment of the prophetic doom of
her house by herself instigating the murder of all who remained of the
royal family of Judah, although they were her own descendants! In her
ruthless ambition she destroyed her grandchildren, that she might
herself ascend the throne of Judah. She seems to have exulted in the
blood and carnage which opened her way to royal power. Unmoved by the
fate of her mother, with her sons and her brothers scarce cold in their
untimely graves, by her cruel treachery she consummated the destruction
of her family; and, stained with blood and polluted by crimes, she
seated herself upon the throne of David, and usurped the inheritance of
her children!

For eight years Athaliah held this usurped position. No compunctious
visitings of conscience seem to have haunted her. She felt neither pity
nor remorse. She may have well sustained her ill-gotten power while she
resided amidst the pomp and pageantry of royalty. Her resolute despotism
seems to have held her subjects in awe, and to have quelled them all
into subjection. She had herself wrought the fulfilment of the doom of
her race. As the last of Ahab's children, the sword of divine vengeance
was suspended over her head, and in the time appointed it fell. She was
to die the death of her house--a death of blood.

When the kings of Judah apostatized, while the individuals were
punished, the race was spared. God still remembered his covenant with
David; and, amid all the sin and desolation of Judah, the line of
hereditary descent was unbroken. The root remained, and some scion
worthy of the stock sprang from it.

When Athaliah was ingrafted on the stock of royal Judah, she so debased
it, that it seemed needful to purify it by cutting off all the branches
to the very root. Yet one was saved. And, as if to display his own power
and grace, God is at times pleased to select from the families the most
apostate and unholy, the instrument of his work and the trophy of his
grace. So he made the daughter of Athaliah the nurse and the
instructress of him who was to reform the kingdom of Judah.
Jehoshabeath, wife of the high-priest of the Lord, seems to have escaped
the character and the doom of her family. Her's was a task most
difficult. She was called to oppose the depravity of her mother and to
thwart her bloody policy, and yet not to appear as her accuser and as
hastening the execution of the Divine vengeance. Hard is it to the
virtuous child to reprobate the character and course of the unholy
parent, and yet preserve the reverence due to the relation. Jehoshabeath
appears before us in a light which leaves a most favourable impression.
The saviour of the infant heir of Judah, the son of her brother, she
cherished, instructed and guarded him. At the proper time the
high-priest communicated the secret of the existence of the child to the
princes of the land, and the son of Ahaziah was proclaimed king. No
assault was made upon Athaliah. She rushed, like others of her family,
upon her doom, as if she were infatuated. The tumult of the people, the
triumphant strains of sacred and martial music, the clashing of the
shields of the soldiers as they bore their king aloft, brought the first
tidings of the existence of the last of her race to Athaliah.

The daughter of Jezebel was not easily daunted. Her courage rose in the
hour of danger. She had purchased the throne at a price too great
readily to relinquish the possession of it. She forced her way through
the crowds who surrounded the Temple, and through the bands of soldiers
who guarded the young king, until she confronted the child whose brow
already bore the crown of Judah--a heavy weight for the infant king. In
vain she rent her royal robes, and in vain she cried, "Treason!
Treason!" None adhered to her--none followed her--none perished with
her. She died by the sword,

        "And left a name to other times
    Link'd with no virtue, but a thousand crimes."

The history of modern nations is not without examples of similar evils
entailed upon those who, professing themselves the heads of a purified
church and a reformed faith, choose (from motives of pride or policy) to
seek an alliance with the adherents of a dark, cruel, and persecuting
superstition. Such a marriage precipitated the Stuarts from the throne
of England, cost one king his life, and the family a kingdom; and the
marriages of policy among princes, contravening the rules of God's word,
are often followed by most disastrous results, and hasten the evils they
are contracted to prevent.

In private life, also, the marriage of those who have renounced this
world for a higher portion, with the worldly and the ungodly, is
generally a source of sin or of sorrow. There can be little congenial
feeling between the spiritual and the earthly; and the servant of God
who chooses a wife from the daughters of sin and the devotees of
pleasure, places himself in a position of peculiar trial.

The spirit of the wife pervades the household. The husband may rule, but
the wife influences. His voice is obeyed, but the wishes of the wife are
consulted. Her friends are the welcome guests. His associates gather
around his board and claim his leisure hour, but her voice whispers to
him in his retirement. She comes between God and his soul. The strongest
of men was shorn of his might by the companion of his bosom; the wisest
was led into foolishness and idolatry by the influence of a corrupt
woman.

We are prone to think of the period to which we have been referring as
one of barbarism, and of the nations of Israel and Judah as ignorant and
uncivilized. Does it not seem as if the very heavens must have been
shrouded and the course of nature changed during the perpetration of
such bloody crimes? Does it not seem as if a natural darkness must have
overspread the land? And yet it was not so. The sun shone in his
brightness, the skies were as serene, the rain and the dew descended,
the vine and the olive ripened, and the flowers shed forth their
sweetness, and all the bustle and show of life went on, as at other
times. The people were oppressed, but the courts of Israel and Judah
were splendid and luxurious; and they doubtless boasted of their
advancing refinement, even when they were sinking into corruption and
depravity. It has ever been the policy of the monarchs who are guilty of
the most atrocious crimes, who shrink from no acts of cruelty, to
promote that despotism which may banish the remembrance of their
enormities, and to dazzle and blind the eyes of their people by the
glare and splendour which surrounds their court. And thus these guilty
monarchs, by the patronage of the licentious festivals of heathen
worship and the alluring rites of a corrupt religion, compelled their
people to sin. They drowned the voice of conscience and prevented all
reflection.

All history has shown us that, as nations have been verging to their
ruin, they have yielded themselves to criminal excess and sensual
indulgence; and the boasted periods of splendour and high refinement
have been but the preludes to long seasons of national calamity or
entire overthrow. Thus we may suppose it to have been with the ancient
descendants of Israel. The courts were splendid and all the arts were
patronized, while the thin veil of refinement was thrown over deeply
corrupt manners. The people, departing from a holy faith, were sinking
into a sullen debasement, or giving themselves to sensual indulgence
and brutal ferocity.

Modern nations have followed in the footsteps of the ancient world. The
same idols are still worshipped under other names--the same passions
rule the unholy heart.

[Illustration]



ESTHER.


[Illustration]

When Isaiah wrote, Babylon sat a queen among the nations, in the pride
of pomp and power, in the full security of strength; yet he graphically
depicted her desolation and foretold her present state, while he
pronounced her doom--a perpetual desolation. She shall never be rebuilt!
Her towers are fallen and her site marked by ruins.

The decline of Babylon had begun. It was certain, although slow. Years
were to pass before the sentence should be fully executed. At the
period, when the transactions recorded in the book of Esther took place,
Shushan was the royal city of Persia. We are told that in this--the City
of Lilies--the king Ahasuerus held a great feast, probably in
celebration of some recent success, or in commemoration of some great
national event. He assembled all the princes and nobles of his vast
empire, extending from Egypt to India, and gave a feast or succession of
festivities, which continued for more than the third of a year.

All that oriental splendour and magnificence could contribute, all the
expedients that eastern luxury could desire, to multiply the resources
and to heighten the enjoyment of pleasure, were brought to aid the
designs of the monarch and to add to the festivities of his court.

Yet motives of policy may have combined with the designs of pleasure. In
all ages the despot has sought to blind and dazzle the people by a
display of power and magnificence; and the princes and nobles around,
from distant provinces, have swelled the retinue of their attendants.

The amusements of monarchs and of courts have, through all varieties of
manners and degrees of refinement, been much the same. The ancient
Syrian or Persian, like the modern British or French monarch, had his
royal parks and forests for hunting.

All nations have patronized the various trials of skill and strength,
and the mimic fight has ever been an amusement where war was the great
business of life. And the royal pageantry was doubtless intermingled
with the religious ceremonies which allowed a license to criminal
indulgence and at the same time offered a supposed expiation for crime.

While these employed the day, the games of chance, the wine, the music,
the movements of the degraded dancing-girl, and the tricks of the
buffoon and the jester, amused the late hours and varied the festive
scenes of the night.

The feast was drawing to a close, and, at the termination of this long
season of hilarity, Ahasuerus extended the pleasures of the occasion to
all classes of his subjects at Shushan.

He threw open his palaces and pleasure-grounds, his parks and
gardens--always of vast extent around eastern palaces--and admitted all
the citizens to a feast prepared for them. Tents had been erected within
the precincts of the palace for the tables--and these tents were
furnished with all the luxurious appendages of the east--with white and
green and blue hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to
silver rings and marble pillars; while the beds--the couches around the
tables, against which the ancients reclined--were of gold and silver,
upon a pavement of red and blue, and black and white marble; while they
gave them to drink in vessels of gold. Until these last days the princes
and nobles alone had participated in the festive scenes; but now, as we
have said, all ranks were allowed to share, and the citizens of Shushan,
subjects of Ahasuerus, thronged the palace and trod the royal gardens,
and, entering the tents, enjoyed all that royalty could offer in ancient
Persia--far surpassing in costly splendour and elegance the
entertainments of modern courts. And surely the monarch must have had
strong confidence in the security of his government and the loyalty of
his people, as he thus from day to day, for successive days, flung open
to them the recesses of his palace.

While the king thus feasted the men in the gardens and parks of the
palace, Vashti, the queen, held a festival for the women within the
secluded apartments appropriated to the female part of the royal
household. She made them a feast within the house of Ahasuerus; and this
queenly entertainment was conducted with all that regard for retirement
and decorum which accords with Eastern manners. But whatever the
amusements of the queen and her train of attendants, no rumours passed
the carefully guarded bounds of the women's apartments. At length the
long season of pleasure came to a harmonious close. No outbreak of the
people of Shushan, no rising of distant provinces, no plotting of
high-born traitors had marred the festal pomp. Yet the season of
pleasure is always a period of trial, and the seeds of remorse and
repentance are almost invariably sown in the hours of gayety. Amid all
this brightness, a dark cloud hung over Ahasuerus. On the seventh and
last day, when the heart of the king was merry--when he had forgotten
royalty dignity and personal decorum, by sitting too long at the festive
board--excited by pride and vanity, and stimulated by wine, he resolved
to dazzle the eyes of the people by presenting to their admiration a
gem, brighter and more lovely than any which sparkled in the royal
crown. To verify his loud boasts of her matchless charms, he sent his
chamberlain to bid the queen array herself in that royal attire which
befitted her state while it displayed her beauty and proclaimed her
rank, and thus present herself, that the assembled multitudes might
admire her loveliness and confess his happiness.

In Western lands, and in modern days, this command would convey no idea
of shame or impropriety. The royal consort and her train of fair
attendants have often graced the presence and shared the honours of the
monarch and his court, and added refinement to luxury. But no offer
could be more opposed to all ideas of Eastern delicacy and
propriety--more degrading to the woman, or more offensive to the queen.

By thus unveiling herself before the crowd, she would sink herself to
the level of the most unworthy of her sex--while the violation of an
established usage, in the time of such excitement and excess, might lead
to the wildest disorder, and the queen might be exposed to every insult
from crowds maddened by wine and ripe for disorder; while the monarch
himself might not be able to protect her in a position so strange and
unfitting.

The modesty of the woman and the dignity of the queen alike forbade
compliance with the strange order--and Vashti might well presume that,
in the hour of reflection, when his senses had returned, the monarch
would thank her for a prudence which probably alone preserved her
dignity and his honour.

But the passions of the king were inflamed. His reason was blinded, and
artful courtiers, from motives of intrigue or pique, stimulated his
anger. There are ever those who stand ready to administer to unholy
passions, and who are watching for the fall of such as are high in place
or favour. And still under the influence of wine, the rash monarch, by
his own act, placed an inseparable barrier between himself and her whose
charms had so lately been his proudest boast, and whose conduct had
proved that she well deserved all honour and all affection. Vashti was
separated from the king's favour; and flattering sycophants extolled the
act of folly, as a measure which gave peace and security to every
household in the realm. "All the wives shall give to their husbands
honour, both to great and small." And thus the day closed by an edict
that brought sorrow to many hearts, and desolation even to the gates of
the palace.

The excitement was past. The hour of reflection arrived, and "the king
remembered Vashti." His resentment was appeased. "He remembered what she
had done, and what was decreed against her." That which had been
magnified into a crime and had given such deep offence, was now seen to
be an act of wisdom and prudence--the result of true modesty, and that
deep affection which sought alone the love of her husband, which shrank
from the admiration of the crowd, and which ventured to disobey rather
than forfeit self-respect and womanly pride--preferring to lose his love
rather than expose his honour. An immutable decree--his own--separated
him from one lately so beloved, and so truly worthy of high honour.

The darkened and saddened aspect of the monarch declared his late
repentance; and those who had precipitated the fall of the queen, to
screen themselves, were prompt to devise methods of banishing the
remembrance of the divorced Vashti. They would replace her by a new
favourite. Yet, so surpassing was her loveliness, and so rare her
beauty, that the courtiers could with difficulty find one whose charms
might banish from memory the repudiated consort, until they sought
through all the provinces of that vast empire for the fairest of the
daughters of men.

Hadassah, a daughter of Israel, a descendant of Benjamin, of the house
of Kish, the family of Saul, first king of Israel, won the monarch's
favour, and was promoted to the place of the disobedient but high-minded
Vashti. Esther was an orphan, but she had been carefully guarded and
instructed by her kinsman Mordecai; and while we are told that the
maiden was exceeding fair, we may believe that her beauty was of a high
order, stamped too by intellect and feeling, and that the soul which
often sustained and impelled her in her trying exigencies, breathed
through her features and animated her form. Yet Ahasuerus merely bowed
to the fair shrine. He sought not to awaken the response of the soul
that dwelt within.

When the daughter of Israel was placed upon the throne of Persia, and
another royal feast proclaimed the triumph of Esther and the happiness
of Ahasuerus, the king displayed his royal magnificence by the bestowal
of gifts upon his favourites; and the name of Esther was blended with
other and higher associations, as, upon her elevation, the taxes of the
burdened provinces were remitted and pardons granted to the condemned.

Mordecai, the relative who had supplied the place of parents to Esther,
was, as we have said, of the house of Kish. Mordecai was the Jew rather
than the Benjamite. His heart was devoted to his country. When the child
of his adoption was taken to the palace, Mordecai displayed his wise
forethought in cautioning her against making her parentage and kindred
known. He had been as a father to her, and a deep interest in the orphan
of his care led him, day by day, to watch the gate of the palace--to
mingle with the attendants, that he might catch a view of her train or
gather tidings of her welfare. And thus, unknown as the relative of the
fair queen, or as especially interested in the king, Mordecai was
enabled to detect and reveal a plot for the assassination of Ahasuerus.
Esther being informed of the plot, disclosed it to the king--the
criminals were defeated and punished--but no reward was conferred upon
Mordecai.

The passion of Ahasuerus for his fair bride seems to have soon declined.
The fickle voluptuary sought new pleasures, and the bride so lately
exalted to a throne was no longer an object of envy. Many bitter tears
have been shed by the victims of family pride or state policy, when thus
allied to greatness and splendour. The sacred rite has often been
prostituted to purposes of ambition and selfishness, and has thus become
a source of guilt and misery. Esther, in her elevation, may have shed as
bitter tears as fell from Vashti in her banishment and disgrace.

Thus each state has its own trials and its own griefs--and it has its
peculiar alleviations too. Perhaps the progress of the narrative will
show us the source of that influence which seems early to have
estranged Ahasuerus from his bride.

Among the courtiers of the king there was the descendant of a race long
at variance with the Jews. The Amalekites had been the enemies of the
Israelites from the infancy of the nation. When the tribes came up from
Egypt, faint and weary in the desert, the Amalekites had fallen upon
them and attempted to destroy them; and during a series of ages there
had been a war of extermination between the races. Nor had Amalek been
subjected until Saul was raised to the throne and Israel had become a
kingdom.

When Israel and Judah had been destroyed or carried captive by the hosts
of the Assyrians, the remaining Amalekites seem likewise to have been
carried into the east, either as prisoners or allies. And now, from
among all his courtiers, Ahasuerus had chosen, as his chief favourite
and counsellor, Haman, the son of Hammedatha, a descendant of Agag--that
king of Amalek who, as the prisoner of Saul, was condemned to death by
Samuel, the judge of Israel. The descendant of a royal line and of an
ancient race, Haman was as crafty as he was unprincipled and malignant,
and his evil influence seems to have first drawn the king's favour from
Esther. He did not know her lineage, but by plunging the king in every
excess, by keeping all safe counsellors at a distance, he intended to
increase his own influence and perpetuate his own power, while he was
accumulating great wealth from the prodigality of his master and from
the presents offered as bribes to obtain his favour.

As he did not know the lineage of Esther, he did not persecute her; but
as he feared an influence that might compete with his own, he strove to
alienate the heart of Ahasuerus from her. Haman was advanced to honours
far above all the native princes of the kingdom; even to the first seat
in counsel, to the highest honours in the realm, and to constant
companionship of the monarch.

As, with trains of slaves and flatterers, he was hastening to the
audience of the monarch, or returning loaded with marks of royal favour,
he passed Mordecai the Jew, seated alone--unknown, unheeded, without
rank or wealth--by the gate of the palace. "Yet Mordecai bowed not,
neither did reverence to Haman." The two men seemed to represent to each
other their respective nations; as if all the hate and malice of the
race, and of long ages of national bitterness, were concentrated in an
individual. They met as the Israelite and the Amalekite; and the
memories of centuries of aggression and injuries, of shame and defeat,
were crowded into the present moment. Mordecai saw in Haman, not only
the foe to his race, but the crafty, unprincipled, unholy counsellor,
who had already alienated the heart of the monarch from his youthful
bride, and whose pernicious influence was spreading blight and
corruption, misery and destruction--through an empire.

Every feeling of the Jew, every principle of an upright, sincere heart
forbade Mordecai to pay the homage demanded of him by Haman. Every
sentiment of national pride, of family honour, of personal dignity, of
self-respect, arose to deter the descendant of Israel from showing
honour to the hereditary foe of his people and the persecutor of his
faith.

Haman, at the same time, saw in Mordecai the descendant of those who had
triumphed over his nation and destroyed his ancestors. The descendant of
Agag, the captive of Saul, he might naturally vent his indignation upon
the tribe that humbled his house and subjected his nation and destroyed
his ancestors. The contempt with which Mordecai regarded him roused all
the ancient malignity of the Amalekite, and his hot blood called for
vengeance.

Yet he thought it a foul shame to lay hands on Mordecai alone. The ruin
of one man would not heal his wounded pride. He meditated a deeper and
more deadly revenge. He resolves to sweep the remnant of the Jews from
the face of the earth!

The proposed plan displays at once all his cruelty and malignity, and
all his crafty influence over Ahasuerus, while it proves the king too
much immersed in pleasure, or too much subjected to his artful
favourite, to regard the welfare of his subjects or the interests of his
kingdom.

Superstitious and idolatrous, Haman cast lots day after day, for
successive days, that a fortunate one might decide the day to be chosen
for the work of death on which he was bent. And this accomplished, he
hastened to secure the edict from the king. Surely the monarch must have
been sunk in wine and debauchery who could thus unhesitatingly accede to
the proposition to murder, in cold blood, thousands of unresisting
subjects, when the worst allegation preferred by their enemy was "that
their laws were diverse from all people." Yet here was the very
principle of religious persecution; and as sanguinary edicts as these,
enacted against God's ancient people, have been too often issued in more
modern days, and no Mordecai has sat at the gate of the palace, mutely
to plead for mercy--no Esther has staked her life upon the attempt to
avert the doom!

By the offer of an enormous bribe, to be collected from the plunder of
those doomed to death, Haman sought the acquiescence of the king in his
scheme. And though he refused the bribe, yet he bade Haman do with the
people and their possessions as seemed best to him; giving him his
signet ring, he seems to have divested himself of all care and
responsibility, and Haman having issued the edict and commanded the
couriers to distribute the royal mandate, they both returned to their
pleasures. "The king and his counsellor sat down to drink."

No elaborate essay upon the character of Ahasuerus, no analysis of the
arts of Haman, could so display the indolent, luxurious, self-indulgent,
voluptuous monarch, or so illustrate the secret of the favourite's
power. The companion of his pleasures, he was careful to minister to all
the sensual indulgence that could lead him to forget his duty and the
obligations of right and justice incumbent upon the ruler of a great
people.

Of all the cruel and bloody mandates issued by despotic monarchs, and
designed to answer either the purposes of private malice or unholy
policy, few, if any, have exceeded this which was directed against the
ancient people of Jehovah. The Jews who had returned to their own land
were included in this proscription, for Judea was at this time a
tributary of the Persian empire.

"Then were the king's scribes called, the thirteenth day of the first
month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded,
unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every
province, and to the rulers of every people of every province, according
to the writing thereof; and to every people after their language, in the
name of King Ahasuerus, was it written, and sealed with the king's ring.
And the letters were sent by posts into the king's provinces, to
destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews--both young and old,
little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of
the twelfth month."

Thus we see all the machinery of this powerful government put in motion
to crush the Jews--a people widely dispersed and weak from their recent
captivity and overthrow. As no crime was specified, so there was no
offer of pardon or exemption on any terms; while to make it more
distinctly understood, the terms which indicated their fate were
singularly multiplied. "To _destroy_, to _kill_, to _cause_ to
_perish_." And while the murder of a nation was thus made a legal
execution, the mode was left to the option of the executioners; and
every torment that malignity could devise might be inflicted, while all
were stimulated by the promise of the plunder of their victims--"and to
take the spoil of them for a prey."

What scenes of horror, of suffering, would have followed the execution
of this barbarous edict! The whole empire had probably been deluged in
blood--for man, like the inferior animals, seems maddened by the taste
of blood--and one cruelty is but the prelude and provocation of another;
and in the time of strife, while all were made executioners of the law,
private malice would confound others with the proscribed, and few could
be safe in the hour of commotion.

When this edict was published, and while Ahasuerus and Haman sat down to
indulge in the pleasures of the table, all the city of Shushan was
perplexed, confounded, and troubled--wondering what motives, what state
policy, what strange conspiracy, had led to this sanguinary enactment
against a people long dwelling among them--a nation who had furnished
counsellors and ministers to their wisest monarchs.

When Mordecai saw what was done, he rent his clothes and put on
sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and cried
with a loud and bitter cry. He published--he could not conceal--his
grief and terror; and his crafty foe perhaps exulted in his misery. The
long struggle between the Amalekite and the Israelite seemed now to be
concluded. The fall of the Jews seemed to be sealed. All the power of
the Persian empire was arrayed against them. They were prisoners in her
different provinces, appointed to execution! All human power and
authority and presumption of success was on the side of Haman, and
against his intended victims.

Mordecai had no hope on earth. His trust was alone in the God of his
fathers--the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob--the God often
defied by Amalek. In his distress he presented himself, clothed in
sackcloth, at the gate of the royal palace; but no one arrayed in the
garb of sorrow might enter the haunts devoted to luxurious pleasure. Yet
the sight of his distress and the tones of his deep grief arrested the
attention of the attendants of the queen, and her chamberlain reported
the circumstances to her.

No tokens of sympathy, no expression of condolence, however grateful,
could assuage the grief of Mordecai in this hour of terror and alarm;
and even though commanded by the queen, he declined to lay aside the
tokens of wo, while he diligently sought to convey to the secluded
Esther an account of all the machinations of Haman, and the assurance of
the imminent danger to which her nation was exposed, and in which she
was involved. He not only sent her a copy of the edict which condemned
the Jews, but he charged her to supplicate the king on their behalf.

The young queen must have felt like one awakened from a sleep to find
herself upon the brink of a precipice. Her situation was full of danger.
The flush of royal favour was past. She was neglected and forgotten. Her
splendid palace was indeed but a prison, and her lordly consort might
prove her executioner. For a long time she had not seen the king or
received the least token of royal favour or remembrance, and a new
favourite might have succeeded her in the court of the capricious
voluptuary. Yet she was sternly charged by Mordecai to rouse herself,
meet the peril, and, if possible, save her people, while he taught her
to recognise the designs of a wise Providence in her elevation.

"Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that
thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if
thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there
enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but
thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether
thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

In the appeals of Mordecai to Esther, we may recognise the principles
upon which he had trained her. The sense of duty, the obligations of
religion, the call to self-sacrifice and exertion, had all been
instilled while Esther was in private life, and they bear their fruit on
the throne. Yet there must have been a conflict in the heart of Esther,
before she could adopt the decision which might accelerate the doom of
her people, while, if her appeal failed, her own fate was scaled with
their's.

Surrounded by all the splendour of the court, with all the pleasures
that pomp and power can command, with troops of menials treading marble
halls, with the more genial luxuries of fair flowers and pure fountains
and soft music--Esther felt the insufficiency of all that earth can
yield in the hour of sorrow and trial. We may almost fancy that we see
her, with lofty brow and pale cheek, her dark soft eye fixed in thought,
and the compressed lip telling of the firm resolve. She has decided! She
will venture the loss of royal favour, and life itself, to secure the
safety of her people. "I WILL GO IN TO THE KING, AND IF I PERISH--I
PERISH." Words more simple, yet sublime in their high meaning, have
seldom been recorded. Strong purpose and high resolve call for but few
words.

Yet Esther relied upon a power higher than that of Ahasuerus. She may
have recalled the history of her nation; she may have remembered all the
interpositions of Divine mercy in past extremities; and doubtless she
relied upon those promises for the future which induced in Mordecai a
confident hope of deliverance. She remembered that Jehovah--the God of
Israel--hears the prayers of the humble and the contrite. She appointed
a solemn fast of three days, in which the Jews of Shushan should humble
themselves and remember her before the God of their fathers.

A more eminent instance of simple dependence upon the Divine
interposition, or of entire reliance upon the voice of prayer, has
seldom if ever, occurred. There was no resort to outward ceremonies to
awaken a deeper feeling, or to atone for the want of it by a formal
observance. There was no altar, no sacrifice, no long procession, no
promised offering, no resort to temple or priest, but there was the call
upon God from the depth of the soul--the simple, unfailing trust of the
heart, the personal humiliation, the individual prayer, the united
offerings of supplication and confession from a whole people. There was
the simple faith that relies on the Divine power and pleads the Divine
promises with submission to the Divine will. It was a strange contrast
to the sensual, gross, superstitious, and unholy rites of the heathen,
while from its deep spiritual meaning, and from the entire absence of
all merely formal observance, it was both a precedent and a model for
future ages, and for the holy spiritual worshipper of other days.

It was no heartless service, no formal act of worship rendered by the
Jews of Shushan, when Esther called upon them to pray and to fast with
her and for her. While the queen and her maidens fasted in the recesses
of the palace, in many a lowly home or quiet chamber were gathered the
race of Esther, to commit her and themselves to Jehovah, to beseech him
to forgive the sins of his people and save them, for his mercy's sake,
in this hour of their extremity. Mingled with their personal
apprehension and anxiety for their wives and their children would be
thoughts of "the daughter of their people"--their beautiful queen--so
young, so fair, so lately exalted to the pinnacle of honour and glory;
adorned with gems and wreathed with flowers, the pride of a monarch and
the ornament of a court; now, neglected, abject, forsaken--included in
the doom of her race, prostrate in some secluded apartment of the
palace--her royal apparel exchanged for sackcloth and ashes--still
cleaving to the God of her fathers, and still identifying herself with
her kindred and countrymen. Whether they regarded her royal state, her
tender years, her bitter desolation, or her heroic resolution, all the
sympathies of the heart, all the purest feelings of the nation, would be
called forth in her behalf.

Other feelings would find a place in the hearts of the Jews as they
contemplated their present state. The last deed of the Amalekite would
bring to recollection the injuries of ages. This Haman, who now, in a
time of profound peace and full security--while both races were exiles
from the land of their fathers--had plotted the ruin of their nation,
the total extermination of their race; who had doomed the feeble and
helpless, the little one and the aged, to perish with the strong man in
his might; this Haman was the son of those who fell upon the tribes,
faint and weary, in the wilderness; who had pursued them with inveterate
hatred; who had ever joined with their foes or stood ready to attack
them in their defenceless state.

When we recollect that the conspiracy of Haman but closed the long train
of injuries inflicted on Israel by Amalek, we shall not so much wonder
at the feelings sometimes expressed by the Jew. The character of the
tribe was still the same--their course through all years was unaltered.
And now, while Amalek has perished and the Jew survives, we can form no
just estimate of that national feud. Haman was a type of his
race--artful, cruel, treacherous, and bloody; and what the Roman was to
Hannibal, what the ancient Persian was to Greece, what the Turk is to
modern Greece, what Russia is to the Pole, such was the Amalekite to the
Jew.

While Esther had manifested her sense of dependence upon the eternal
Ruler of nations, and her faith and reliance upon the God of her
fathers, by humbling herself before him and relying upon his protection
and interposition in this hour of darkness, she showed, too, a knowledge
of the human heart, not often acquired at her age; an instinctive
insight into the character and the motives of those around her, with the
power of adapting herself to circumstances, that has seldom been
displayed in one so young, combined with so many of the higher qualities
of the woman.

She knew the weak point in the character of Ahasuerus, and she forgot
not the power of beauty, the influence of personal charms, as she
arrayed her fair form in the rich and splendid vestments that so well
became her, and summoned all the aid of oriental art and elegance to her
toilette, that her presumption might be forgiven in her loveliness--that
favour won by her beauty might be extended to her nation; and if she
felt the hope of pleasing, as she surveyed herself in the polished
metallic mirror, decked with the magnificence of a royal bride and
adorned with the gifts of him whose favour she would seek, her heart
might have sunk too at the remembrance of the favour she had once won
and lost. In assuming the crown placed upon her brow by Ahasuerus,
there was a tacit claim to her royal rights; for that gemmed circlet was
not only a badge of rank, but a pledge of affection--a token of honour
and royal favour, which elevated her above the throng of beauties who
filled the courts of the palace. Had she arrayed herself in sackcloth,
had she appeared as a mourner, an afflicted suppliant, she would
probably have found the royal voluptuary more anxious to banish one who
disturbed his pleasures, than to redress the grievances that appealed to
his justice.

Yet it must have been with trembling limbs and a beating heart that she
stood before Ahasuerus; and, by entering his presence unbidden, she made
her mute appeal to his mercy.

And strange, at that unwonted place and hour, must have appeared the
beautiful vision to the king, while courtiers and attendants stood in
silent amazement. There was but one anxious moment before the sceptre
was extended; the trembling queen touched it, and thus was encouraged to
prefer her petition for any favour that the royal hand could bestow. The
presence of Esther seems to have revived at once the fondness of the
monarch, and all his coldness and indifference vanished like the mist
before the rising sun. All the arts of Haman had been needed to wean him
from her and to teach him to forget her. How rarely does a vile, unholy
counsellor or companion seek to corrupt a private man, or a prince, or a
ruler, without striving first to undermine the influence of the virtuous
wife, mother, or sister!

Warily does the royal suppliant present her request, still uncertain of
the degree of favour on which she might rely. She offered no petition
that could embarrass the king. She made no complaint of past neglects.
She uttered no word of upbraiding for forgotten vows; but delicately
implying that his presence was the source of her happiness, that this
had constrained her to break through all the formal observances of
courtly restraint and endanger life itself, she besought him to honour
her by attending a banquet which she had prepared. Thus she avoided the
awakening of the suspicions of Haman by even asking to see the monarch
without his presence. Including him in her invitation, she allayed all
jealousy of a wish to exert an influence inimical to his, while she thus
offered an additional inducement to Ahasuerus to honour her feast.

By a strong effort and great self-command, the young queen retained her
calmness and preserved her grace and gayety. And even when the banquet
had closed and the guests had retired, and the king again asked her to
prefer her petition, she did not venture to prefer that which was
nearest her heart. His favour was too uncertain and his favourite too
powerful. She only besought his presence again as a guest, and again his
favourite was included in the invitation.

The Jews were still lying low before their God. When the feast in the
palace was broken up, and the gates were shut, the high walls cast their
shadows upon the moat. The sentinels still moved with measured tread.
The lights gradually disappeared, except those that told of some one
watching over the sick or dying, or some chance-beam betraying a late
carousal. In the palace, the soft footfall of the attendants in the
antechambers, could not disturb the slumbers of the monarch, while
strains of sweetest music were ready to lull him to repose, as warder
and sentinel kept watch over his safety. But still "that night the king
could not sleep;" and wakeful, restless, solitary, he commanded his
attendants to bring him the archives of his kingdom, and read to him
the records of his reign. Strange request! How few monarchs would care
thus to review the past, and force themselves to the judgment awaiting
them from a higher tribunal and from future ages!

It was not chance which held the eyes of the king waking. It was not
chance which drew his attention to the conspiracy defeated by Mordecai,
and to the investigation of the treatment he had received for so high a
service. No reward, no honour had been conferred upon one who had saved
the life of the sovereign. A strange forgetfulness or neglect of the
prime minister of the realm! While Ahasuerus was devising some mode of
requiting the obligation due to one who had rendered the state important
service, he called for a counsellor, and was told that Haman was
without, in the court.

Haman left the banquet of Esther in all the assurance of royal favour.
He had attained to honours which distinguished him above all the
subjects of the Persian empire. He had received distinctions which
elevated him above even the princes and nobles of the kingdom; and in
his pomp and power he passed, with his train of attendants, menials,
flatterers, and followers, through the gates of the royal palace, "the
observed of all observers;" and as he came into the thronged
thoroughfare that led from the royal abode, all did him homage and
showed him reverence--save one.

Mordecai, the Jew, still sat at the king's gate--probably, still wrapped
in sackcloth. His eye met that of Haman, but it quailed not. It was a
stern, reproving glance! And while all others did lowliest obeisance,
Mordecai neither bowed nor uncovered his head.

There was no word--there was no reproach--but there was a silent
defiance, that conveyed to the soul of Haman an assurance of disgrace
and defeat, and that told him he was despised, amid all his honours and
prosperity. He hastened to his home. He gathered his household around
him and told them of his riches, his honour, his prosperity, and the
assurance his large family afforded him that his riches would descend in
his own line, and that his ancient lineage and royal race should thus be
perpetuated. He told them of the high honour that day received at the
royal feast, and of a like honour in reserve for the morrow. But still
his pride was mortified by Mordecai's course. "All this availeth me
nothing," he said, "so long as I see Mordecai, the Jew, sitting at the
king's gate." Wretched, malignant man! What a picture of the power and
force of evil passions--of that selfishness which could find its
happiness in the misery and suffering of others!

His hatred of Mordecai seems the more insane, when we remember that
Haman held his fate in his hands, or rather had actually sealed his
doom. He might well forego forms of reverence from the man he had doomed
to death. Yet the desire for the humiliation of Mordecai, for some token
of abasement and fear, seems to have absorbed all other feelings; and as
this was the only thing withheld, so it was the only thing desired. To
soothe the disgust and allay the indignation of Haman, the family
council decreed the immediate death of Mordecai, and they doomed him to
the gallows--a most ignominious death. While this instrument of his
destruction was in preparation upon the grounds of Haman, he sought
Ahasuerus, that the sentence might be ratified. He who had given him the
power to murder a nation, would surely assent to forestalling the doom
of an individual; and Mordecai's disobedience to the royal order, his
disrespect to the minister who represented the authority of the
sovereign and the laws of the realm, seemed to offer a fitting pretext.

While Haman was waiting in the antechamber for audience, Ahasuerus was
resolving some mode of requiting Mordecai; and, ever prone to rely on
favourites and counsellors, he was unable to decide for himself; so he
sought advice from his favourite courtier, who was so near at hand. To
him the question was submitted: "What shall be done to the man whom the
king delighteth to honour?" Ever selfish, ever intent upon his own
promotion, and constantly loaded with marks of royal favour, Haman very
naturally presumed that fresh honours were destined for him, and that he
was to be allowed to designate the very marks of favour which he most
desired.

"Now Haman thought in his heart, to whom would the king delight to do
honour more than to myself?" And so he answered the king: "To the man
whom the king delighteth to honour, let the royal apparel be brought
which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon,
and the royal crown 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 delighteth to honour,
and bring him on horseback through the streets of the city, and proclaim
before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to
honour."

If Haman intended this as a mere vain-glorious display--an impressive
pageant, designed to publish to the people the high dignity of royal
favour which he personally enjoyed--it would not be without meaning; but
we cannot but think that, according to Eastern usage, there was a deeper
significance in the ceremony.

The customs of the East are almost immutable, and there was much
similarity between those of Egypt, Assyria and Persia. When Joseph was
exalted to be ruler of Egypt, he was clothed in royal vestments, and
passed in triumphant procession through the city, while all were called
upon to bow the knee before him. Daniel was clothed in scarlet and in
purple (the badges of royalty) while his honours were announced. But
Joseph rode in the second chariot of Pharaoh, and his distance from
royal state was clearly defined, while Daniel was declared third in the
empire of the Medes and Persians.

In appropriating all the badges of royalty--the crown, the robes, the
horse, the princely attendance--Haman seems to have been preparing a
claim to higher honour than those of Joseph or Daniel; to be even
preparing to ascend the throne. All the homage that could be shown the
subject had long been exacted. A nation was now under a dreadful doom
because only one of their race withheld it; and now he would take to
himself all the appendages of royal state!

A sudden tumult in the palace, a popular outbreak, so common with
despotic governments, might easily be accomplished, and Haman might
ascend the throne of Ahasuerus--for the lines of descent seem to have
been not unfrequently changed in the Persian empire; and in the
convulsions of despotic states, even slaves have mounted the thrones of
their masters.

Whether, in his designs, he merely sought the gratification of a present
vain-glorious ambition or was preparing for a higher destiny, the
revulsion must have been most overwhelming, the change and surprise
inexpressible, when the announcement and command of the king fell upon
his ear.

"Make haste!" said he, "take the apparel, and the horse, as thou hast
said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, who sitteth at the king's
gate. Let nothing fail that thou hast spoken." You have devised the very
highest honour that I can render: now confer it on the man I designate.

The Eastern despots are arbitrary; and Haman, confounded and petrified,
ventured no remonstrance. He bowed and obeyed. He departed as the
messenger of honour to Mordecai the Jew. Whatever the malignant and
bitter feelings of his heart, he dared not give expression to them. He
was compelled to serve the man he hated, to confer the highest honour on
the man he had doomed to the deepest obloquy, publicly to bow before one
whom he hoped to trample beneath his feet! With what contending
feelings must he have delivered the mandate of the king to Mordecai!
What strong emotion must have convulsed his soul! Yet the most powerful
feelings are seldom displayed. The green sod covers the pent volcano,
and a slight trembling alone denotes the action of the devouring
element. It is all repose and calmness on the surface while the billows
of flame are raging beneath.

Thus the aspect of the courtier was calm, though sullen, while with his
own hands he acted as chamberlain to the Jew and arrayed him in robes of
royalty and honour. We may imagine a group for a painter, in Haman,
dark, malignant, and sullen--and Mordecai, calm, proud, unbending,
receiving service from his enemy. And after having with his own hands
arrayed the new object of royal favour, Haman was placed at the head of
the proud war-horse, as he slowly bore the Jew through the multitude,
who thronged the street "to behold the man whom the king delighteth to
honour." We seem to see him--the proudest, the most arrogant of
men--with bowed head and averted eye, while Mordecai sits erect and
firm, in all the dignity of conscious worth.

As they slowly proceed through the thronged thoroughfare, obstructed by
crowds who came to gaze upon the pageant, many a significant sneer or
half-uttered jest would convey to Haman a sense of his degradation in
appearing as the groom of the despised Jew.

When the ceremonies were over, Mordecai again appeared at the gates of
the palace. Nothing in the apparent condition of the two was changed,
and the pageant may have seemed like a dream to Mordecai. He was only
anxious to know the proceedings and fate of Esther. Yet he must have
gathered hope for the future, as he still trusted and waited upon God.

But a dark cloud had fallen upon Haman. He foreboded his doom. He was
humbled, disappointed, degraded, disgraced. He had been paraded, before
the multitudes, the menial of the Jew. He had been forced to confer on
the man he hated the very honours his soul most coveted. "And Haman
hasted to his house mourning and having his head covered." And he told
his wife and the friends whom he had gathered to consult upon the fall
of the Jew, all that had befallen him. And clear, far-sighted, daring,
and unscrupulous, the wife who had counselled Mordecai's destruction,
foretold to Haman his own doom. "If Mordecai be of the Jews, before whom
thou hast begun to fall, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shall
surely fall before him."

And they were probably counselling some measures for his personal
safety; for when they were yet talking, came the king's chamberlain,
and hasted to bring Haman to the feast Esther had prepared.

As the feast proceeded, the king entreated Esther to ask some gift that
he might bestow as a token of favour, or a pledge of affection. And then
Esther, with a simple fervour, force, and dignity, and with the pathos
of true feeling, offered her supplication for herself and her nation.
"And Esther answered the king and said, If I have found favour in thy
sight, O king! and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my
petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold--I and my
people--to be destroyed, to be slain, to perish." She quotes the words
of Haman's edict, and then adds, "But if we had been sold for bond-men
and bond women, I had held my peace, although the enemy could not
countervail the king's damage," nor recompense the loss of so many of
the king's useful citizens and peaceful subjects. Nothing could be more
sweet, gentle, submissive, and truly dignified than her appeal. And the
imagination and astonishment of the king are graphically displayed in
his answer. Who is he? Where is he that hath presumed in his heart to do
so? Who has dared to conspire against one so near my person, so exalted
by my favour?

Confounded, amazed--and probably for the first time suspecting the
Jewish extraction of the queen--Haman was still speechless when Esther
made her direct and firm reply: "That adversary, that wicked man, is
Haman," here in the royal presence--here in the full blaze of royal
favour.

In the conscious justice of her cause, she had desired to be confronted
with the man she accused, and he was present, that he might enjoy every
opportunity of defence, if innocent; and if guilty, that he might
receive the just reward of his deeds. The king was filled with wrath at
this proof of the presumption and malice of his favourite, and he left
the banqueting-room and went into the palace-garden.

Haman, quick to read the feelings of his master, "saw that wrath was
determined." Unable to escape the watchful attendants, and moved by
terror, he approached the royal couch of Esther to beseech her, whom he
had greatly injured, to intercede for him. And while he was thus
engaged, the king re-entered the banqueting-house. His wrath was
rekindled. The imprudence of Haman hastened the doom his crimes had
provoked. The excited monarch, witnessing his apparent familiarity,
accused him of designs of which his previous presumption might show him
capable. His sentence was pronounced--his doom was sealed. The
attendants covered his face, (a most significant act, still retained in
Eastern courts,) and he was carried from the royal presence-chamber, and
hung upon the very gallows he had erected for Mordecai. The flowers
which were gathered for the feast and the wreaths entwined for his brow
were still fresh.

The succeeding interview of Ahasuerus with his still loved and more than
beautiful consort, must have been one of no slight interest. There was
much to unfold and to explain; there was something to confess and to
forgive; and as the character of Haman was now exposed and his acts were
revealed, the king may have regarded himself as the bird escaped from
the fowler. Esther revealed her lineage; while the rising favour of
Haman, the dangers to be anticipated from his hatred to her nation, well
justified the prudent caution of Mordecai. As the queen told the king in
what relation Mordecai stood to her, Mordecai was brought before him;
and the former honour proved but indeed the installation into the
highest offices of trust, while the vast possessions of Haman were
conferred on Esther, and Mordecai was appointed her steward.

Yet, while the royal favour and protection was extended to these
individuals, the edict was still in force against the race, and again
Esther besought the king to interpose his power and protection. The laws
of the Medes and Persians, however impolitic and unjust, could not be
repealed. The king had no power over the statutes he had made. Like the
deeds of life, once passed, they were unchangeable. He might regret the
act, he might deprecate the influence thus put in operation, but he
could neither recall nor cancel them; and one instance attempted might
have destroyed the royal power.

Although Haman was removed, his family were numerous, and there was
doubtless a large class of his ancient tribe who viewed him as the
lineal descendant of their monarchs and entitled to their allegiance.
They expected to share his triumphs, and, disappointed and exasperated,
they would be ready to avenge his death. Haman being recognised as the
highest officer of Ahasuerus and as his chief counsellor as well as
favourite, he had great power and influence, and doubtless had a large
party in his interests--either won by past favours or hope of future
wealth and honour. At the same time all the discontented and turbulent
of the land would be ready to join an outbreak which made the murder of
any Jew lawful, where it could be accomplished, and which gave their
possessions to those who were their destroyers.

All that Ahasuerus could do to avert the threatened extermination of the
children of Israel, was to allow them to defend themselves if any dared
to attack them. The whole empire was convulsed with the desperate
struggle between the Jews and the faction of Haman; and while the royal
authority aided the Jews in Shushan, so that they were entirely
victorious, seventy-five thousand of their assailants perished in the
provinces, where we are told the Jews gathered themselves together and
stood for their lives; and it is recorded to their honour, that upon the
spoil of their enemies they laid not their hands. And all this suffering
and blood was the result of the policy of Haman. The Jews were not the
aggressors, although they came off victors.

It was the last conflict between the nations of Amalek and Israel, and
threatening and prophecy were thus fulfilled while both nations were
strangers and exiles from their own lands; and while the tribe of Amalek
perished, the sons of Haman, who probably led the conflict in Shushan,
were condemned to the same ignominious death which their father had
suffered. We infer their actual guilt from the fact that they seem to be
unmolested until the day appointed for the extermination of the Jews. As
leaders of the tumult they deserved the doom they received.

The lot is from the Lord; and the day of vengeance thus deferred from
Haman's regard to the casting of the lot, gave the Jews full time to
prepare themselves to resist their foes, and defend themselves after the
issuing of the second edict, by which they were empowered to act on
their own defence, and to repel openly by armed resistance.

The book of Esther is one of the most beautiful and variously
instructive and interesting portions of the Old Testament. While it
illustrates the providential care of Jehovah over all his people, and
his readiness to hear their prayers and interpose for their deliverance,
it shows too that he ruleth over all the nations of the earth, and that
all the arts of intriguing men in courts and cabinets, the various
changes which occur, either affecting nations or individuals, are all
allowed to promote his infinite designs--all accomplishing his eternal
plans. While his people, like Esther and Mordecai, gladly co-operate in
the designs of the Almighty, his enemies are made the unwitting and
unwilling instruments of advancing the same designs, and are
accomplishing his purposes for the re-generation of a corrupt world--for
the establishment of the kingdom of the redeemed, and the complete
redemption of the children of God.

As we look at the book of Esther, through the long dark vista of
intervening ages, we are presented with a beautiful picture of a past
period. Nations have perished and left no memories; and while all the
other portion of our world, at that day, is shrouded in darkness or
buried in forgetfulness, the light of revelation falls upon the court
of Ahasuerus, and we see it in all the gorgeous splendour of oriental
magnificence.

The prosperous monarch of a powerful empire--munificent, prodigal, not
deficient in capacity or heart, but indolent, and fond of luxury and
feasting, he yields himself to the influence of the favourite; and when
ready to rush into the seductions of pleasure, he still, at times,
rouses himself and executes his own will, asserting his authority by
some act of despotic power, of justice or cruelty, as the impulse
prompts--he is a type of a large class of those to whom the destinies of
more modern nations have been committed.

In Haman we see the courtier--crafty, proud, vain, ambitious,
aspiring--intent upon personal aggrandizement, and the acquisition of
wealth; gaining his influence over the mind of the monarch by
ministering to his pleasures, and maintaining it by banishing all pure
influences and crushing all nobler feelings. The history of Haman is
replete, too, with instruction, in displaying the absorbing power of the
selfish and malignant passions, and their fatal influence upon character
and happiness.

One unsatisfied desire will embitter all the most coveted possessions.
There will ever be something to be achieved--some enemy to humble, some
higher elevation to attain, some Mordecai in the gate, whose reverence
withheld is more desirable than all the homage of the multitude
bestowed.

He who cherishes in his heart a hatred of a class or an individual, is
nursing a scorpion which will poison every kind feeling. We must love,
not only to make others happy, but that we may be happy ourselves. We
may withhold all marks of approbation from the unworthy, and still
regard them with the benevolence required by the law of love.

Thus while Mordecai saw in Haman the same persecuting spirit that had
marked all his race; while he saw him, unholy, unprincipled, securing by
his acts an influence over his master, which he abused; prostituting the
royal authority to the ruin of the kingdom, making it subserve the
purpose of his own unhallowed ambition; alienating the monarch from the
queen, and inducing the disregard of the duties of private life as of
sovereign power--Mordecai, as an upright, honourable, high-minded man,
refused to render one, whose course he deprecated, whose character he
abhorred, the honour accorded even by royal favour. He neither bowed nor
did him reverence. But he did not assail him. He did not form any dark
and treacherous plots against him. He did not revile him. All that he
sought was to lead the blinded monarch to a calm investigation into the
proceedings of his treacherous counsellor. And Haman had every
opportunity of repelling accusation and justifying himself, as he was
ever allowed to be present when Esther made her charges against him.
There is a world-wide difference between the firm, indignant
disapprobation with which a virtuous mind regards an evil man, working
ill to all, and that malignant hatred which arises from selfishness and
envy, and which pursues with bitterness and cruelty all that does not
minister to its indulgence.

If it should seem strange to us that the national antipathy should so
long be cherished, we may remember that it is quite as strange that
national character should be thus faithfully transmitted through so many
generations; and those who so confidently predict a change of character
from the mere change of the circumstances of a people, may do well to
ponder the facts presented by the past history of the races of the
earth.

There are other contrasts between the characters of Mordecai and Haman.
Haman was superstitious, yet not religious. He was artful, selfish,
treacherous, bloodthirsty, corrupt himself and corrupting others,
ambitious and vain-glorious. Mordecai was pious, upright, conscientious;
fulfilling every duty, yet seeking no selfish aggrandizement, no wealth,
no personal honour--even when placed in circumstances where he might
claim them as a just reward--and never exerting an influence for selfish
purposes; still ready to forego and sacrifice all that was demanded at
the call of duty.

While we see in Mordecai the devoted worshipper of the true God, the
high-minded patriot, the man of inflexible integrity--an integrity that
scorned the bad acts that would minister to the pride of false
greatness--and a nobleness that rose above the desire for court
favours, the strong features of his character are softened into beauty
by his love for the orphan relative, his watchfulness over her
childhood, and the interest displayed by his daily inquiries for her
welfare. His affections were kind and tender, while his principles were
unbending; and we feel that we love the man, though we are constrained
to render a deeper homage to the patriot.

Esther is one of the most beautiful characters in the gallery of
Scripture portraits. Her character is peculiarly feminine; and while her
path is marked by events of moment, it appeals to our hearts in each
vicissitude of her lot. Youth and beauty always throw a charm around the
possessor. Faint, perishing, transient as they are, they awaken all the
sympathies of our nature; a deep compassion, a foreboding of the future;
while the knowledge of the sorrows and trials which await those to whom
the present is so bright, heightens our interest. Thus in each stage of
the narrative, Esther comes to us with all that can awaken sympathy and
excite interest.

The fair flower is transplanted from Judea to the lands of the East--a
scion of a stock soon removed--sheltered, watched, nourished by the pure
dews of Divine truth; taken from seclusion and loneliness, where but one
eye beheld its opening beauty, to the gardens of royalty; and there,
among gayer and gaudier flowers, like the pure lily of the valley,
winning royal favour by purity, sweetness, and graceful loveliness.

We follow her from her lonely home to the palace, and think how many
fears and alarms mingled with the triumph of her beauty, the
consciousness of her power, when an empire blessed her name and
celebrated her beauty. And a deeper feeling is roused for the royal
bride, lately so flattered, caressed, and honoured, now suddenly
forgotten, neglected--left to the loneliness of her apartments or the
companionship of her formal attendants, while her lord pursued his
career of pleasure, apparently unmindful of her existence.

A bitter lot it is to the young, to be loved and then forgotten. And sad
the contrast to the royal Esther, between her late elevation and all the
incense of homage and affection then offered, and her present
desolation. Yet it was a season of needful humiliation. It awoke her
from the dream of splendour and gayety, and brought her back to the
sober realities of life and its stern duties; and it was also a season
of preparation for the trials that awaited her. It brought her to seek a
happiness higher than could be found in palaces or courts, a favour more
desirable than that of an earthly monarch, a love that is unfailing, a
faithfulness that should be enduring--and thus, when the day of trial
came, she was prepared. She could cast herself upon the arm that never
falters, she could seek the interposition of the God of her nation, and
of each individual who trusteth in him and relieth upon his mercy.

There was something beautiful in the blending of her conscious
helplessness, her sense of loss of the favour of her royal lord and of
the love and courtly honour she deserved, of her entire dependence upon
the protection and interposition of Heaven, and her resolution to
venture all for her people.

IF I PERISH--I PERISH! If we can recall the recollections of our
childhood, we shall remember the breathless interest with which we
attended her, in fancy, to the presence-chamber and awaited the extended
sceptre. All the excitement of romance is concentrated in the story of
Esther. And as we follow the narrative of her final triumph, her
restoration to the love of her husband, the salvation of her people, and
the exaltation of her family, we cannot but pursue the train of thought
and feeling, and fondly hope that the influence of Esther and Mordecai
might redeem Ahasuerus from the vices of youth, inspire him with higher
motives, elevate him to a loftier standard, and rouse one, not deficient
in natural kindness or nobleness of capacity, from a selfish voluptuary
to an enlightened, able, and just ruler of a great people.

The Jews still commemorate the feast of Purim, and celebrate their
deliverance from Haman; and in all the climes and lands to which the
race have been transported, they have carried the remembrance of the
daughter of their people--the beautiful queen of ancient Persia, who
ventured her life to ransom her race.

We would learn from the whole history lessons of sobriety, of
contentment with an humble lot, of the duty of cherishing the spirit of
love, of kindness, of benevolence, of repressing the first germ of
selfishness, of malignity, of envy; of dependence upon an over-ruling
Providence; of encouragement to prayer, to trusting and waiting upon
God.

"Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will answer thee," is said to
each contrite heart now, as truly as to Israel of old; and none who have
thus truly sought the Lord in lowliness and penitence, ever sought him
in vain. His care and protection are still around his people; and
although the enemies of his church may try her, they shall never triumph
over her.

[Illustration]





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