Far back in the past, wise men had foretold that the Jews would be kept out of Jerusalem for threescore and ten years, and at the end of that time a king, Cyrus, would let them go back to the land they came from. And he did so.
Not all the Jews went back to their own land, but some of them made their homes in Persia and elsewhere. And King Ahasuerus was on the throne.
In the third year of his reign he made a great feast. And he sent for Vashti, the queen, to throw off her veil and let his guests see how fair she was. But Vashti would not do it.
Then the king was in a rage, and said to his wise men, What shall we do to Queen Vashti to make her know that the king’s will is her law?
And the wise men said, Vashti hath done wrong to the king and to all the lords of the land.
For when this is told, wives will not do as their liege lords wish. They will say, The king sent word for Vashti, the queen, to be brought to him, but she came not. Let the king make a law and put Vashti from him and choose a new queen, that all wives, great and small, may take heed and do as they are told.
The king and all the lords thought these were wise words. And the king made it a law that a man should rule in his own house.
Then some of the king’s men, whose place it was to wait on him, came to him and said it would be a good plan for him to have all the fair maids in the land brought to his house, that he might choose one of them to be queen, in the place of Vashti.
And the king did as they said.
Now there was a Jew in the king’s house, whose name was Mordecai. He was a poor man, and was there to wait on the king.
And there was a maid named Esther, who was one of his kinsfolk. And she was “fair of face, and full of grace.”
And when the word went forth from the king, scores and scores of fair young maids came to the king’s house, and Esther came with them. And one of the king’s men had them all in his charge.
This man was so pleased with Esther that he was more kind to her than he was to the rest, and sent maids to wait on her, and put her and her maids in the best part of the house where the women were. But Esther had not let it be known that her folks were Jews, for Mordecai had told her not to tell it.
As soon as the king saw Esther he fell in love with her, and set the crown on her head, and made her queen in the place of Vashti.
Then the king made a great feast, and gave gifts to the poor for the new queen’s sake. And she had not yet made it known that her folks were Jews.
Now two of the king’s men, who stood on guard at the doors of his house, were wroth with the king and sought to kill him.
And their plot was known to Mordecai, who was a watchman at the king’s gate. And he told it to Esther, and she told it to the king, and both of the men were hung. And what Mordecai had done to save the king’s life was put down in a book.
And in this same book was set down all that took place in the king’s reign.
Now there was in the king’s house a man whose name was Haman. And the king gave him a high place, and bade those of low rank bow down to Haman.
But the Jew at the gate would not bow when Haman went in and out. And the rest of the men who stood by told Haman of it.
Now Haman was a vain man, and when he saw that Mordecai did not bow to him as the rest did he was full of wrath. It had been made known to him that Mordecai was a Jew.
And so he told the king if he would make a law that all the Jews should be put to death, he would give him a large sum of gold and silver.
The king heard what Haman said, and then took his ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, and told him to do with the Jews as he thought best. The king gave him his ring that he might use it as a seal. And Haman set the scribes to work, and they wrote just what he told them, in the king’s name. And when the wax was put at the end with the king’s seal on it, it was the same as if the whole had been writ by the king’s own hand.
Men were sent out in haste to make the law known throughout the land, that all the Jews in Persia were to be slain. And when this was done Haman and the king sat down to drink wine.
When Mordecai heard of the law that Haman had made, he rent his clothes and put on sackcloth, and went out and cried with a loud cry. And he came and stood in front of the king’s gate, though he could not pass through, for it was the law that none should pass who wore sackcloth. And all through the land the Jews were in deep grief, so full of tears that they could eat no food; and not a few of them put on sackcloth to show the depth of their woe.
Queen Esther had not heard of the law, but her maids came and told her of the state Mordecai was in. And her grief was great, and she sent food and clothes to him, and bade the men take the sackcloth from him. But Mordecai would take nought from their hands, nor change his clothes.
Then the queen sent one of her head men, Hatach, to ask Mordecai what was the cause of his grief, and why he had put on sackcloth.
And Mordecai told Hatach of the law that had been made, and what a large sum Haman had said he would give to the king if he would kill off all the Jews in the land.
And he told Hatach to tell the queen, and to show her what the scribes wrote, and bid her see the king and ask him to save the Jews.
And Hatach took the word to the queen.
Esther bade him tell her kinsman that it was well known that those who went in to the king when they had not been sent for, would be put to death. But if the king held out his gold wand it was a sign that he would spare their lives. The king has not sent for me for a month, said she. How then can I go to him?
Mordecai sent back word to the queen to think not that the king would spare her life if the Jews were put to death. And it might be that God had put her in the place she held that she might keep the Jews at this time.
Then Esther sent word to him that he and all the Jews in the king’s court should fast and pray for her, and not eat or drink for three days and three nights.
I and my maids will do the same, said the queen, and I will go in to the king in spite of the law; and if I die, I die in a good cause.
So on the third day after the queen put on her rich robes, and went in and stood very near to the throne on which the king sat.
And when the king saw her, God put it into his heart to be kind, and he held out to her the gold wand that was in his hand. And the queen drew near, and touched the tip of the wand.
Then the king said, What wilt thou, Queen Esther? and what wouldst thou ask of me? Were it half of my realm I would give it to thee.
The queen said, If it please the king, I would like him and Haman to come this day to a feast I have made for them.
And the king bade Haman make haste, and they both went to the feast. And while they drank the wine the king told the queen to make known her wish.
But she put him off and said she would tell him the next day, if he and Haman would come to the feast that she would spread for them.
And Haman’s heart was full of pride, since the queen chose him and no one else to feast with her and the king. And when he went out he felt that all men ought to bow down to him. But Mordecai would not. And Haman told all his friends how kind the king and queen were to him, and what high rank he held, and said that his life would be full of joy if it were not for the Jew at the king’s gate.
Haman’s wife told him to fix a rope to a tall tree, and speak to the king the next day and have him hang the Jew. And Haman made a slipnoose at the end of a rope, and had the rope made fast to a tall tree.
Now that night the king could not sleep. And he sent for the book in which was put down all that took place in the realm, and had it read to him. And when he who read came to the part which told what Mordecai had done to save the king’s life, the king said, How has Mordecai been paid for this deed?
And the man said he had had nought, and still kept watch at the king’s gate.
Then the king heard a step and sent one of his men to see who it was.
Now Haman had come to the king’s house to ask him to hang Mordecai. And the man came back and said that Haman stood in the court. And the king said, Let him come in.
So Haman came in. And the king said to him, What shall be done to the man who has won the praise of the king?
And Haman thought, That means me, of course, and no one else.
And he said to the king, Let the robes be brought that the king wears, and the horse he rides, and the crown which is set on his head. And let the robes and the crown be put on the man whom the king has in mind, and bring him on horseback through the street of the town, and have men cry out, Thus shall it be done to the man who has won the praise of the king.
And the king said to Haman, Make haste and take the robes and the horse as thou hast said, and do thus and no less to the Jew at the king’s gate.
But Haman went home, and was full of shame. And he told his wife and his friends of his hard fate. And while they yet spake the king’s men came for him to go to the queen’s feast. And while they ate and drank, the king bade the queen make known her wish. Ask what thou wilt; were it half my realm, I would give it to thee.
Then the queen said, If it please thee, O king, take my life and spare the lives of all the Jews. For we have been sold and the truth has not been told of us, and we are to be put to death. The king said, Who is he, and where is he who has dared to do this thing?
And the queen told him it was Haman. And Haman was in great fear as he stood face to face with the king and queen.
The king rose in great wrath and went out of doors, and when he came in he saw Haman at the feet of the queen, where he went to beg her to save his life.
And when the king was shown the rope and the tree on which Haman meant to hang Mordecai he said, Hang him on it. And they hung Haman, and the king’s wrath left him.
And on the same day the king gave Haman’s house to Esther, and Mordecai was brought in to the king, who had been told that he was a kinsman of the queen. And the king gave him the ring which Haman had worn, and the queen put him at the head of the house in which Haman had dwelt.
But Esther was still sad at heart because of the law that had been made, that all the Jews in the land should be put to death. And she went in once more to the king—though he had not sent for her—and fell down at his feet in tears. Then the king held out the wand of gold, and the queen rose, and stood before the king and asked him to change the law and save the lives of the Jews.
The king could not change the law, but he told Esther and Mordecai to make a law that would please them and sign it with the king’s seal. So they made a law that the Jews should kill all those who came to do them harm. And when Mordecai came out from his talk with the king he had on a robe of blue and white, such as the king wore, and a gold crown on his head.
And all the Jews were glad; and when the day came that Haman had set for the Jews to be slain, the Jews went out and fought for their lives and put their foes to rout. And grief gave place to joy, and a feast was held for two days. This feast was called the Feast of Purim, which the Jews keep to this day.
The Jews who had gone to Jerusalem to build up its walls were still at work there. But there were foes to watch, and the poor Jews found fault with the rich ones, and there was strife in their midst from year to year. But when Nehemiah went to their aid the Lord gave him strength to set things straight, and in a year the new wall was built and the gate put up. Then there was a great feast, and all the Jews gave praise and thanks to God.
But they went back to their sins, and did not serve God as they ought. And kings fought for Jerusalem and took it from their hands and made the Jews their slaves.
And at last the Romans came and took Jerusalem and broke down its walls, and made the Jews serve them. And Herod, who had led the Romans to war, was made their king. He was a fierce, bad man, who would let no one rule but himself. He put his own wife and two of his sons to death, and did all that he could to make folks hate and fear him.
He tried to make the Jews think that he was one of their race, but he was not. He thought it would please them if he built up their House of God, so he set men to work to tear down the old and to put up the new, and they made use of much gold and silver and fine white stones.
There was no ark to put in it, for that had been lost, but a large stone was put in the place where the ark should have been.
And it took Herod more than nine years to build this House of God on the top of Mount Moriah. And the way up to it was by a long flight of steps.
This ends the Old Testament, which was made up of all the books that were kept by all the scribes from the time the world was made.