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Our Young Folk's Josephus by  William Shepard
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THE STORY OF ESTHER

[247] AFTER the death of Xerxes, the kingdom of Persia passed into the hands of his son, Artaxerxes. In the third year of his reign Artaxerxes made a costly feast for his friends and for the princes of his kingdom, which lasted for one hundred and eighty days. After this he made a feast for the rulers of other nations and for their ambassadors, which lasted seven days. The way in which this feast was celebrated was as follows: Artaxerxes caused a great tent to be pitched, which was supported by pillars of gold and silver, with curtains of linen and purple spread over them, and this tent was large enough for many ten thousands to sit down in. The cups out of which the guests drank were of gold adorned with precious stones; but Artaxerxes gave orders that, while the wine was to be given in such abundance that every one might drink all he wanted, no one was to be forced to drink, for it was the custom in Persia to oblige every one to drink to excess at a public feast.

Vashti, the queen, also made a feast for the women in the king's palace. Now, on the seventh day of the king's feast, being merry with wine, he was desirous of showing the queen to those that feasted with him, because he was proud of her beauty, which exceeded that of all other women. So he sent a messenger to command her to appear before him. The laws of Persia forbid any women to be seen by strangers without a veil over her face, and Vashti, out of regard to these laws, refused to obey the king. Then Artaxerxes was [248] so angry that he broke up the entertainment, and he called to him the wise men of his kingdom, and accused the queen of disobedience, and asked how he should punish her. One of the wise men answered,—

"Vashti has done wrong not only to thee, O king, but to all the Persians, for wives will no longer obey their husbands when they learn that the queen has refused obedience to the king."

So the wise man told Artaxerxes to punish his queen in a sever manner, and, when he had done so, to announce the fact publicly, so that it would be an example to all the people. And the king decided that he would put away Vashti, and take another queen in her place.

When Vashti had been put away, messengers were sent over the land announcing the fact, and also ordering that all the young and beautiful unmarried women should be sent to Susa, in order that the king might choose the one he liked best as his wife. Among the maidens who came in this way was a Jewess named Esther. She was an orphan, and had been brought up in Babylon by her uncle Mordecai, who was the principal man among the Jews that had not returned to their own land. Now, of all the maidens Esther pleased the king most; so he chose her out, and made a wedding-feast for her, and placed a diadem on her head, and she came to live at the royal palace as his queen.

As Mordecai loved Esther very much, he came from Babylon to Susa, in order that he might be near her, and obtained employment in the palace. But he did not let anyone know that he was the queen's uncle, and he advised Esther not to tell the king that she was a Jewess.

Some time after this, two of the king's servants plotted together to kill Artaxerxes, but Mordecai discovered the plot, and made it known to the king through Esther. The king seized the servants and put them to death. He gave no reward to Mordecai at the time, but he bade the scribes set [249] down his name in the public records, where all the great events of the kingdom were written.

There was at the royal palace a man named Haman, an Amalekite by birth, who was in great favor with the king. All the other servants of the king bowed down to Haman when he appeared in their presence, but Mordecai would not bow down to him. When Haman observed this, he was angry, and he asked, "Who is that man?"

And he was answered, "It is Mordecai the Jew."

Then Haman was still more angry, for he said to himself, "The Persians, who are free men, bow down to me, but this man, who is no better than a slave, will not do so."

He made up his mind to punish Mordecai, and, being himself an Amalekite and an enemy of the Jews, he determined to ask the king to destroy the whole nation. So he came to Artaxerxes, and said,—

"O king, there is a certain wicked nation called the Jews, who are dispersed all over thy kingdom. The men of this nation are the proudest and most unsocial of all men; they will not mingle with other nations, nor worship their gods, and they have laws of their own which they will obey, but they will not submit themselves to the laws of thy kingdom. Therefore they are dangerous men, and if thou wilt be a benefactor to thy subjects thou wilt give orders to destroy them utterly."

The king believed what Haman said to him, and told him he might do what he wished to the Jews. So Haman sent out a decree, and sealed it with the king's seal, and this decree ordered that all the Jews in the Persian empire should be put to death, with their wives and children, on a certain day named in the decree. When this decree was brought to the cities and countries over which Artaxerxes ruled, the governors everywhere prepared to carry it out, and everywhere there was great mourning and distress among the Jews.

Mordecai grieved with the rest; but he contrived to let Queen Esther know of the danger that threatened her nation, [250] and he charged her to go to the king's palace and beseech him to save the Jews.

Now, the king had made a law that no one should come into his presence unless he was called, and men with axes in their hands stood around his throne to punish those that came without being summoned. But the king held in his hand a golden sceptre, and if he wished the offender to be spared, he held out his sceptre, and he who touched it was free from danger.

Esther prayed to God for assistance, and fasted for three days. Then she adorned herself as became a queen, and took two of her handmaids with her, and came thus into the presence of the king. But as she saw him sitting on his throne, in all the splendor of his royal robes, she trembled with fear, especially as he looked at her with a severe and angry frown; her knees failed her, and she fell in a swoon in the arms of her maidens. But God touched the heart of the king, so that he forgot his anger and sprang from his throne and raised the queen, and placed the golden sceptre in her hand. Then he besought her to be of good cheer, for that no harm would befall her. And she, having revived under these soothing words, said to him,—

"My lord, it is not easy for me on the sudden to say what hath happened; for as soon as I saw thee to be great and comely and terrible, my spirit departed from me, and I had no strength left."

It was with difficulty and in a low voice that the queen could say this, and the king, still anxious to console and support her, told her she might ask any boon of him, even to the half of his kingdom. Then Esther asked that he with his friend Haman should come to a banquet which she had prepared for him. He consented, and sent for Haman, and they went in together to the banquet. And while they were feasting, Artaxerxes asked Esther to let him know what she desired, saying again that he would part with one-half his kingdom [251] for her sake. But she only asked him to come the next day to another banquet, and to bring Haman with him.

Haman went away that day in great joy, because he alone had had the honor of supping with the king at the queen's banquet. But as he passed out of the palace he saw Mordecai, who again refused to bow to him, and Haman was filled with anger. When he reached home, he called to him his wife and his friends, and told them what honor he had enjoyed, not only from the king, but from the queen also, and that he was invited to another banquet on the morrow.

"Yet," said he, "am I not pleased to see Mordecai the Jew in the palace."

Then Haman's wife advised him to give orders that a gallows should be made fifty cubits high, and that in the morning he should ask of the king that Mordecai might be hanged thereon. And Haman commended her advice, and ordered his servants to prepare the gallows in his own court.

That night God took away the king's sleep, and, as he wished to occupy his time with some useful matter, he called to his servant to read to him the book in which was kept the account of what things had happened during his reign. And after the servant had read about many great battles and how the victorious generals had been rewarded for their services, he came at last to the conspiracy which had been discovered by Mordecai. Here the king stopped him, and asked,—

"Is it not put down that Mordecai had a reward given him?"

But the servant answered that it was not so put down.

Then the king bade him leave off his reading, and, finding that it was nearly day, he gave orders that if any of his friends had already come to wait upon him and were standing in the court, the servants should tell him. Now, it happened that Haman was found there, for he had come earlier than usual to petition the king to have Mordecai put to death. [252] The king at once summoned Haman into his presence, and, when he was come in, he said to him,—

"Because I know thou art one of my best friends, I desire thee to give me advice how I may honor one whom I greatly love in a manner suitable to my magnificence."

Haman at once thought the king meant to honor him, and he answered,—

"If thou wouldst truly honor a man whom thou dost love, give orders that he may ride on horseback clothed in the royal robes and with a gold chain about his neck, and let one of thy intimate friends go before him and proclaim throughout the whole city that in this way doth the king honor those whom he loves."

The king was pleased with this answer, and he said to Haman, "Make haste and take the robes and the chain and the horse, and do to Mordecai the Jew as thou hast said. And because thou art one of my intimate friends and hast given me this advice, do thou go before the horse and make proclamation of the words thou hast advised."

At this unexpected order Haman was confounded, and at first knew not what to do. But he dared not disobey; so he took the king's robes and his horse and his chain, and went to Mordecai and told him what the king had said. Mordecai at first thought that Haman was mocking him, but when he was convinced of the truth of what he said, he put on the royal robes and got on horseback, and was led through the city by Haman. The Mordecai returned to the palace, but Haman, full of grief and shame, went home and informed his wife and friends of what had happened. And his wife told him that he would never be able to be revenged on Mordecai, for certainly God was with him.

Just then a servant came and summoned Haman to Esther's banquet. So he sat down with the king and the queen, and after they had all eaten and drunk, Artaxerxes asked Esther what was her request, for he would grant her anything she [253] demanded. Then Esther confessed that she was a Jewess, and said that she and all her nation were condemned to death, and besought the king to spare her and them.

The king asked, "Who hath condemned thy people to death?"

Esther answered, "Haman."

The king rose hastily from the table in anger and confusion and went out into the garden to compose himself. Then Haman threw himself down before the queen, begging her to spare his life. But when the king returned and saw him in this position, he was only angrier. Just then the servant who had been sent to summon Haman to the banquet came in and said that he had seen a high gallows in the court of Haman's house, and that when he had inquired who was to be hanged on it, he was answered, "Mordecai the Jew."

The king at once gave orders that Haman should be hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, and Haman was taken out and hanged accordingly.

Then the king told Esther to write letters in his name and to seal them with his seal, and these letters gave permission to the Jews on the day that had been mentioned in the former decree to arm them selves and resist all efforts that might be made for their slaughter, and to slay their enemies. Horsemen were sent all over the kingdom with these letters, and on the appointed day the Jews took down their armor and their weapons, and gathered themselves together in every city, and fought for their lives, and gained the victory over all who came against them. And for two days following they feasted and rejoiced, and the Jews have ever since held those days to be holy days, and celebrate upon them the feast they call Purim.

Mordecai became a great and illustrious person with the king, and assisted him in the government. He also lived with the queen, so that the affairs of the Jews were by their means better than they could ever have hoped for. And this was the state of the Jews during the reign of Artaxerxes.


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