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MORDECAI AT THE KING'S GATE.
SOON after Artaxerxes Longimanus had ascended the throne of Persia, he celebrated at Susa the general rejoicing, which usually attended the settlement of a new king on the throne. He prepared a public banquet, and, being heated with wine, he sent for the queen, Vashti, that all present might be witnesses of her great beauty. This mandate, however, was repugnant to the customs of women in the East, and the queen ventured to disobey; for which cause she was deposed, and, ultimately, a beautiful Jewish damsel, named Esther, was promoted to her place.
Esther was an orphan, and she had been brought up under the care of Mordecai, her cousin, who appears to have held some office at the Persian court. During her residence with him, she had paid him the obedience due to a parent, and her duty was continued even after her exaltation.
It was, doubtless, the wish of Esther to seek the advancement of Mordecai at the Persian court. This, however, was forbidden by the captive Hebrew. From some unknown motive, indeed, he even advised her to conceal the knowledge of her kindred from her consort. Notwithstanding, Mordecai, without seeking the honours of this world, received advancement. While holding office at the palace, he discovered and disclosed a plot, which had been formed against the life of Artaxerxes by two discontented courtiers, and this led the way to future preferment.
Shortly after these events, Haman, a descendant of the Amalekites, was raised to the high office of prime minister of Persia, and he so ingratiated himself with Artaxerxes that he both obtained the government of the empire, and an edict for all persons to do him homage. All obeyed the mandate except Mordecai, and he deigned not to bow his head to the proud courtier. Haman discovered this, and he immediately resolved to take revenge, and that of the most sanguinary nature. For a single offence, acting in the true spirit of the Amalekites, those ancient enemies of Israel, he sought the destruction of an entire people.
Having resolved upon this barbarous deed, Haman, after the manner of the sons of idolatry, caused lots to be cast from day to
day, and from month to month, in order to determine the month and the day most propitious for the undertaking, or most calamitous to the Jews. All this time his revenge slumbered not, and when at length he imagined he had discovered the auspicious season, he ventured to propose the measure to the king, and, having represented the Jews as enemies to the state, he obtained a decree to destroy them utterly.
When this fulminating decree became known, great consternation prevailed among the Jews. As for Mordecai, he expressed the anguish of his heart by every external sign of sorrow, and by his loud and bitter cries throughout the city. The report of his sorrows was carried to the queen, and she sent a messenger to him, and was told the cause of them.
Mordecai felt that Esther might become an instrument in the hands of the Almighty to effect the deliverance of her people, and he charged her to exert all her influence with Artaxerxes on their behalf. Esther was anxious to do so; but she represented to Mordecai that the Persian laws forbade her and every person, on pain of death, to approach the sovereign without his mandate. Mordecai replied, that she, as well as her nation, was involved in the ruin, and that, if she refused to mediate, deliverance for the Jews in general might arise from another quarter, while she and her kindred might perish. He also encouraged her to hope that her exaltation had been appointed by Heaven as the means of deliverance.
Thus urged to action, Esther, after having clothed herself in sackcloth, and fasted and prayed for success during three days, ventured, uncalled, into the presence of the king. As she approached, he extended towards her the sceptre of peace, and, thinking that something extraordinary must have been the occasion of her appearance, he offered her whatever she might ask, even to the half of his dominions. She requested that he and Haman would come to a banquet she had prepared for them; and while at this banquet she solicited their attendance at another on the morrow.
Haman was elated by this high honour. He hastened to his house, and collecting his friends together, boasted in loud terms of the peculiar favour. Amidst all this honour, however, one thing mortified him: "All this," said he, "availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate."
MORDECAI AT THE KING'S GATE.
It has been intimated that Mordecai held some office at the Persian court. What that office was is a matter of uncertainty. Some have supposed, from the frequent mention of him at the gate of the palace, that he was merely a porter; but this supposition is ill-founded. From time immemorial, it has been the custom in the East for officers of the court to wait about the gates of their princes till their attendance is required. Mordecai, therefore, may yet have been a person of some consideration at the court of Artaxerxes. Under this impression, the artist has delineated Mordecai as such, and the view is borne out by many ancient authorities. In the engraving, Mordecai is seated, after the manner of both ancient and modern Persians, waiting his sovereign's commands in the courtyard of the palace, at the 'king's gate," while the haughty Haman is deeply chagrined because he bows not his head, nor does him reverence.
The history of Esther has been a favourite theme with painters, but it does not appear ever to have been treated with ordinary truth. The audience-chamber of Windsor Castle is decorated with a suite of Gobelin tapestries of the principal events therein recorded, but these are dressed throughout in Greek and fanciful pastoral costumes. Even the judicious Poussin, whose mind is said to have been so deeply imbued with the spirit of antiquity that he even lived and thought after classic models, has attired Esther and Artaxerxes in the garments of heathen Rome.
Haman, on returning home, expressed deep feelings of wounded pride; his friends advised him to destroy Mordecai, and he ordered a gallows to be erected that he might be executed thereon. His fate seemed inevitable; but it has been truly observed, that man designs, and God defeats his schemes. On the night intervening between the banquets of Esther, the king could not sleep, and, probably attributing his want of rest to some duty unfulfilled, he commanded the records of the kingdom to be brought and read before him. In these records were registered, according to Oriental custom, all passing events, and all the king's own words. A portion of these was read, and it so happened that Mordecai's discovery of the conspiracy was included in that portion. The king inquired what reward had been bestowed upon him, and being answered, None, he resolved to atone for his neglect. He did so in a munificent manner. As soon as Haman appeared in the morning, he interrogated him as to what honour should be put upon the man
in whom the king delighted. Haman, conceiving that the favoured person was himself, advised that the royal apparel should be put upon him, that the king's own crown should be placed upon his head, that he should ride upon the king's horse, and that he should be conducted by one of the noblest princes of the realm through the streets of Shushan, by a herald, who should proclaim: "Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour." Haman's advice was approved, and, to his confusion, he was directed thus to herald Mordecai through the streets of the city.
Unwelcome though this mandate was, Haman obeyed, and when he had performed his commission he returned home to relate the occurrence. He was yet unfolding it to his friends, when he was summoned to attend the banquet which Esther had prepared. Thither he accordingly repaired; and Esther now remonstrated against the cruel edict gone forth against her people, and charged Haman with the crime. This was sufficient. As a sign of death to the offender, Artaxerxes arose from the banquet in wrath, and went out into the garden. He soon returned, and found Haman supplicating the queen on his behalf. But it was to no purpose. On discovering that he had prepared a gallows for the execution of Mordecai, Artaxerxes ordered the proud and inveterate Haman himself to be hanged thereon.
Thus, reader, the virtuous Mordecai was exalted, and the wicked Haman abased, by an overruling Providence. Seeing this, let it be your study to seek the Divine favour, and your delight to promote the welfare of the people of God. Live a life of faith in Christ, and you will not only be blessed in this world, but glorified in that which is to come.
The following is a sketch of a Persian king, from the sculptures at Nakshi-Roustan.