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his execration: “ Also I shook my lap, and said, So God shake out every man from his house, and from his labour, that perforineth not this promise, even thus he be shaken out, and emptied; and all the congregation said, Amen.” A promise, an oath, a curse, are passed upon this act; now, no Israelite dares faulter in the execution. When we have a sin in chase, it is good to follow it home, not slackening our pursuit
, till we have fully prevailed; and when it is once fallen under our hands, we cannot kill it too much.
Now Nehemiah having thus happily delivered his people from a domestical captivity, commends bis service to the gracious remuneration of the Alınighty;
“ Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people;” therefore doth he refuse the bread of the governor, that he may receive the reward of the Governor of heaven. Had he taken a temporary recompense, both he and it had been forgotten ; now he hath made an happy change for eternity. Not that he pleads bis merit, but sues for mercy ; neither doth he pray to be remembered for his work, but according to his work.
Our good deeds, as they are well accepted of God, so they shall not go unrewarded ; and what God will give, why may not we crave? Doubtless, as we may offer up our honest obedience unto God, so we may expect and beg bis promised retributions ; not out of a proud conceit of the worth of our earnings, who, at the best, are no other than unprofitable scrvants, but out of a faithful dependence upon his pact of bounty, who cannot be less than his word. O God, if we do ought that is good, it is thine act, and not ours; crown thine own work in us, and take thou the glory of thine own mercies.
While Nehemiah is busy in reforming abuses at home, the enemy is plotting against him abroad; Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, conspire against his life, and, in him, against the peace of Jerusalem. What open hostility could not do, they hope to effect by pretence of treaties: four several messages call Nehemiah to a friendly meeting. Distrust is a sure guard. The wise governor hath learned to suspect the hollow favours of an enemy, and to return them with safe and just excuses: “I cannot come down; why should the work cease, while I leave it, and come down to you?" I do not hear him say, You intend mischief to me, I will not
come forth to you, though this were the proper cause of his forbearance; but he turns them off with an answer, that had as much truth as reservedness. Fraud is the fitliest answered with subtilty. Even innocency is allowed a lawful craft; that inan is in an ill case, that conceals no truth from an adversary.
What entreaties cannot do, shall be attempted by threats ; Sanballat's servant comes now the fifth time with an open letter, importing dangerous intimations, wherein is written, " It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that the Jews think to rebel ; for which cause thou buildest the wall that thou mayest be their king.” “ It is reported :” and what falsehood may not plead this warrant? what can be more lying than report? Among the Heathen:” and who is more ethnic than Sanballat? what Pagan can be worse than a mongrel idolater? “And Gashmu saith it,” ask my fellow else: this Arabian was one of those three heads of all the hostile combination, against Jerusalem, against Nehemiah. It would be wide with innocence, if enemies might be allowed to accuse. " That the Jews think to rebel:” a stale suggestion, but once powerful; malice hath learned to miscal all actions ; where the hands cannot be taxed, very thoughts are prejudged ; "For which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king:
He was never a true Israelite, that hath not passed spiteful slanders and misconstructions. Artaxerxes knew his servant too well, to believe any rumour that should have been so shameless. The ambition of Neherniah was well known to reach only to the cup, not to the sceptre of his sovereign; and yet, to make up a sound tale, “Prophets are suborned to preach. There is a king in Judah ;" as if that loyal governor had corrupted the pulpits also, and had taught them the language of treason.
But what of all this ? what if soine false tongue have whispered such idle tales ? it is not safe for thee, O Nehemiah, to contemn report: perhaps this news shall fly to the court, and work thee a deadly displeasure, ere thou canst know thyself traduced; come, therefore, and let us take counsel together. Surely that man cannot be sparing of any thing, that is prodigal of his reputation. If ought under heaven can fetch Nehemiah out of his hold, it is the care of his fame. But that wary governor sees a net spread near unto this stall, and therefore keeps aloof, not without contempt of those sly devices; “There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.” Some imputations are best answered with a neglective denial. It falls out often, that plain dealing puts craft out of countenance.
Since neither force por fraud can kill Nehemiah, they will now try to draw him into a sin, and thereby into a reproach : O God, that any prophet's tongue should be mercenary! Shemaiah the seer is hired by Tobiah and Sanballat, to affright the governor with the noise of his intended murder, and to advise him, for shelter, to fly to the forbidden refuge of the temple. The colour was fair. Violence is meant to thy person; no place but one can promise thee safety; the city hath as yet no gates : come, therefore, and shut thyself up in the temple, there only shalt thou be free from all assaults.
And what if Nehemiah had hearkened to this counsel ? sin and shame had followed : that holy place was for none but persons sacred, such as were privileged by blood and function; others should presume and offend in entering: and now what would the people say? What shall become of us, while our governor hides his head for fear? where shall we find a teinple to secure us? what do we depending upon a cowardly leader
Well did Nebenriah forecast these circumstances, both of act and event; and therefore, resolving to distrust a prophet that persuaded him to the violation of a law, he rejects the motion with scorn; “Should such a man as I fly? should I go into the temple to save my life? I will not go.' It is fit for great persons to stand upon the honour of their places; their very stations should put those spirits into them, that should make them hate to stoop unto base conditions.
Had God sent this message, we know he hath power to dispense with his own laws; but well might the contradiction of a law argue the message not sent of God: God, as he is one, so doth he perfectly agree with himself. If any private spirit cross a written word, let him be accursed.
CONTEMPLATION IV. Ahasuerus feasting—Vashti cast off-Esther chosen. What bounds can be set to human ambition? Ahasuerus, that is, Xerxes, the son of Darius, is already the king of an hundred and seven and twenty provinces, and now is ready to fight for more. He hath newly subdued Egypt, and is now
addressing himself for the conquest of Greece. He cannot hope ever to see all the land that he possesseth, and yet · he cannot be quiet while he hears of more. Less than two ells of earth shall ere long serve him, whom, for the time, a whole world shall scarce satisfy: in vain shall a man strive to have that which he cannot enjoy, and to enjoy ought by mere relation : it is a windy happiness that is sought in the exaggeration of these titles which are taken upon others' credit, without the sense of the owner. Nothing can fill the heart of man, but he that made it.
This great monarch, partly in triumph of the great victories that he had lately won in Egypt, and partly for the animation of his princes and soldiers to his future exploits, makes a feast, like himself, royal and magnificent.
What is greatness if it be not shewed ? and wherein can greatness be better shewn than in the achievements of war, and the entertainments of peace?
All other feasts were but hunger to this of Ahasuerus, whether we regard the number of guests, or the largeness of preparation, or continuance of time. During the space of a whole half year, all the tables were sumptuously furnished for all comers, from India to Ethiopia ; a world of meat; every meal was so set on, as if it should have been the last : yet all this long feast hath an end, and all this glory is shut up in forgetfulness. What is Ahasuerus the better, that his peers then said, he was incomparably great? what are his peers the better, that they were feasted? Happy is he that eats bread, and drinks new wine, in the kingdom of God; this banquet is for eternity, without intermission, without satiety!
What variety of habits, of languages, of manners, met at the boards of Ahasuerus ? what confluence of strange guests was there now to Shushan? And, lest the glory of this great king might seem, like some coarse picture, only fair afar off, after the princes and nobles of the remote provinces, all the people of Shushan are entertained for seven days, with equal pomp and state. The spacious court of the palace is turned into a royal hall, the walls are of rich hangings, the pillars of inarble, the beds of silver and gold, the pavement of porphyry, curiously checkered; the wine and the vessels strove whether should be the richer, no men drunk in worse than gold; and, while the inetal was the same, the form of each cup was diverse. The attendance was answerable to the cheer, and
the freedom matched both: here was no compulsion, either to the measure or quality of the draught; every man's rule was his own choice. Who can but blush to see forced healths in Christian banquets, when the civility of very Pagans commands liberty.
I cannot but envy the modesty of heathen dames; Vasliti the
queen, and her ladies, with all the several ranks of that sex, feast apart, entertaining each other with a bashful courtesy, without wantonness, without that wild scurrility which useth to haunt promiscuous meetings. O shameful unchastity of those Joose Christians, who must feed their lust, while they fill their bellies, and think the feast imperfect, where they may not satiate their eye no less than palate !
The last day of this pompous feast is now come; king Ahasuerus is so much more cheerful, by how much his guests are nearer to their dismission. Every one is wont to close up his courtesy with so much more passion, as the last acts use to make the deeper impression. And now, that he might at once amaze and endear the beholders, Vashti the queen, in all her royalty, is called for: her sight shall shut up the feast, that the princes and people may say, How happy is king Ahasuerus, not so inuch in this greatness, as in that beauty!
Seven officers of the chamber are sent to carry the message, to attend her entrance, and are returned with a denial : perhaps Vashti thought, What means this uncouth motion? More than six months hath this feast continued ; and, all this while, we have enjoyed the wonted liberty of our sex. Were the king still himself, this command could not be sent; it is the wine, and not he, that is guilty of this errand : is it for me to humour him in so vain a desire ? will it agree with our modest reservedness, to offer ourselves to be gazed at by millions of eyes? who knows what wanton attempts may follow upon this ungoverned excess ? This very message argues, that wit and reason have yielded their places to that besotting liquor. Nothing but absence can secure us from some unbeseeming proffer; neither doubt I, but the king, when he returns to himself
, will give ine thanks for so wise a forbearance.
Thus, upon the conceit, as is likely, that her presence would be either needless or unsafe, Vashti refuseth to coine ; although, perhaps, her great spirit thought much to receive a command from the hand of officers.