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A Breathing Space






Source: Hebrew Heroes

The captive was not taken back to prison-chamber which she had occupied
during the preceding night, but to an apartment in the palace--one
belonging to the suite appropriated to Pollux. She was confined within
a room so luxurious, that, save from the door being fastened to prevent
her exit, and there being no possibility of escaping through the
latticed window, Zarah could scarcely have realized that she was a
prisoner still. The floor of the apartment was inlaid with costly
marbles; on the walls were depicted scenes taken from mythological
subjects; luxurious divans invited to repose; and vases, wreathed with
brilliant flowers and filled with rose-water, were surrounded by others
loaded with a profusion of fruit and a variety of dainties. The young
Hebrew maiden, accustomed to the simplicity of Hadassah's humble home,
gazed around in wonder.

When left alone by the guards, the first impulse of the captive was to
kneel and return thanks to her heavenly Protector for the merciful
respite granted to her. Zarah was young, and hope was strong within
her. What might not happen in the space of twenty-four hours to effect
complete deliverance! She then laved her face, hands, and arms, and
the tresses of her long hair, in the cool, fragrant water, and found
great refreshment from her ablutions. It was then with a sense of
enjoyment, at which she herself was surprised, that Zarah partook of
the fruit before her. Nature had been almost exhausted, not only by
the terrible excitement and alarm which the maiden had had to endure,
but by sleeplessness and abstinence from food. Coarse bread had indeed
been brought to her in her prison, but had remained untouched, not only
because the poor captive had had no appetite for eating, but because
the bread, being leavened, was not at that season lawful food for a
Jewess. Zarah now carefully abstained from any part of the collation
which she deemed might contain anything which Moses had judged unclean,
and chiefly partook of the fruits, which were pure, as God Himself had
made them, and which were, of all kinds of food, that most refreshing
to her parched and burning lips.

"How good is my Lord, to spread a table for me thus in this wilderness
of trial!" murmured Zarah; and she felt much as the Israelites must
have felt when they first saw the glistening bread of heaven lying on
the face of the desert. The maiden's spirit was soothed and cheered,
as well as her frame refreshed; and, reclining on one of the luxurious
divans, she was able with tolerable calmness to review the exciting
events of the day.

"How thankful I am that, with all my cowardice and weakness, I was
preserved by my Lord from doing anything very wicked!" thought Zarah.
"I was not suffered either to betray my friends or to deny my God; and
yet my faith almost failed me. I could scarcely endure the terror: how
could I endure the pain? But will not He who supported me under the
one sustain me also through the other, if I must die for my faith
to-morrow before that terrible king? I will not weary myself by
thinking; I will just trust all to my God. It is so sweet to rest in
His love, like a babe on her mother's bosom."

Zarah lay perfectly still for some time, letting her overstrained
nerves regain their usual tone. It was such a comfort to be quite
alone, with no sound to disturb save the cooing of doves from a garden
which separated the palace of Epiphanes from Mount Zion.

The young captive then arose, went to the lattice, and looked forth.
Pleasant to the sight was the rich foliage of the juniper and acacia,
the terebinth and the palm, the orange, almond, and citron, watered
from marble-bordered tanks by artificial irrigation, which counteracted
the effects of a season sultry and dry. Here and there fountains threw
up their sparkling waters, transformed to diamonds in the sun. But the
eyes of the maid of Judah wandered beyond this paradise of beauty,
created for the pleasure of a tyrant, and rested on the holy Mount and
the sacred Temple on its summit. If the very stones, nay, the dust, of
Jerusalem have an interest to Gentile strangers, with what feelings
must a child of Abraham regard the spot on which the Temple was reared!
As Zarah gazed on the holy pile before her, words of Scripture came
into the mind of Hadassah's grand-daughter, which filled her with a joy
which was indeed nourished by the dew of heavenly hope, but had its
root in earthly affection. Slowly and emphatically Zarah repeated to
herself: "_Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the
Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his
servants, every one that keepeth the Sabbath from polluting it, and
taketh hold of My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain,
and make them joyful in My house of prayer: for Mine house shall be
called an house of prayer for all people_" (Isa. lvi. 6, 7).

"Oh, blessed promise!" exclaimed Zarah. "Israel has been, like Joseph,
the chosen amongst many brethren, to wear the many-coloured robe
prepared by his Father, and to go first, through bondage and
tribulation, to dignity and honour. But his brethren are not
forgotten: he shall yet be a blessing to them all, even to them who
have hated and sold him. Through Israel shall light spread throughout
the dark world, and with the bread of life shall the hungry nations be
fed."

Zarah was interrupted in her musings by the entrance of Nubian slaves,
who silently replenished the vases, lighted silver lamps as the day was
closing, placed rich garments upon the divan, and then retired from her
presence. Their coming had caused a flutter in the timid heart of the
captive; and it was a relief when they had left her again to that
solitude which scarcely seemed to be loneliness, so sweet were the
thoughts which had been her companions. Zarah went up to the divan,
and looked admiringly on the silken robes and richly-embroidered veil.

"These are meant for my wear," said the maiden; "but I will not touch
them. The Gentiles would allure me, as the serpent allured Eve our
mother, by the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Embroidered
robes are not for the prisoner, nor silver zone for the martyr. This
simple blue garment, spun and woven by my own hands, is good enough to
die in."

Zarah watched the sun as it sank beneath the western horizon, its last
beams lingering on the pinnacles of the Temple.

"Perhaps this will be my last evening on earth," thought the prisoner.
"Ere the sun set again, I may have entered into eternal rest." A deep
sense of holy peace stole into the maiden's heart, though the
expression of her beautiful countenance was pensive as she meditated on
the future. "I shall no more join in worship with my brethren below;
but perhaps, while they gather together in secret, with perils around
them, my eyes shall see the King in His beauty, shall behold the land
that is very far off. And will not He for whom I die hear now my
feeble prayers for those whom I leave behind? Never have I felt that I
could plead with such child-like confidence before Him as I do now;
praying not only for myself, but for those who are dearer than self.
Oh, may the Lord hear, and graciously answer, the supplications of His
child!"

Zarah knelt down, and poured out her simple Prayer. First, she
besought God for Hadassah; that He would comfort the bereaved one,
grant her rest from her tribulation, and give her the desire of her
heart. Tears mingled with this prayer, as Zarah thought of the
desolation to which the aged widow was left. "Let her not weep long
for me," murmured the maiden; "and oh, never let her want a loving one
to tend her in sickness and comfort her in sorrow, better than I could
have done." The Hebrew girl then prayed for her country, and for those
who were fighting for its freedom; especially for Judas Maccabeus, that
God would be his shield and defender, and cover his head in the day of
battle. Zarah forgot not her unknown father. She now pleaded for him
more fervently than she had ever pleaded before; and, by some
mysterious connection in her mind, thoughts of her lost parent linked
themselves to remembrance of the generous courtier to whose
intercession she had owed her present respite from torture and death.
The young prisoner implored her Lord not to let the Syrian suffer for
his kindness to a stranger, but to requite it sevenfold into his own
bosom.

Zarah did not yet rise from her knees. Her supplications became yet
more fervent as she prayed for another, dearest of all. No fear of
displeasing God now marred the comfort which the maiden found in
supplication for a Gentile. It was not sinful, she thought, for the
dying to love. Her misery might be the means which God would deign to
employ in winning Lycidas from the errors of idolatrous worship. She
might be permitted, as it were to beckon to her beloved from the other
side of the grave.

Zarah arose from her devotions feeling almost happy. It seemed to her
as if the worst bitterness of death were already passed. She again
partook, with a thankful spirit, of needful refreshment, and afterwards
laid herself down to rest. The prisoner had had no refreshing sleep
during the preceding terrible night, and now her eyelids were heavy.
Soft slumber stole over Zarah, as the Psalmist's words were on her
lips, _I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for Thou, Lord, only
makest me dwell in safety_.





Next: Found At Last

Previous: The Maiden's Trial



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