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A Retrospect

Source: Hebrew Heroes

Hadassah had, in the meantime, been enduring the martyrdom of the heart.

When Zarah, under the escort of Abishai, left her home to attend the
celebration of the holy feast, Hadassah sent her soul with her, though
failing health chained back the aged lady's feeble body. In thought,
Hadassah shared the memorial feast; in thought, partook of the
sacrifice and joined in the hymns of praise. Her mind dwelt on the
circumstances attending the celebration of the first Passover, when,
with loins girded and staff in hand, the fathers of Israel had taken
their last meal in Egypt, before starting for the Promised Land.

"Is not this the _Promised Land_ still?" thought Hadassah; "though
those who are as the Canaanites of old now hold it--though unhallowed
worship be offered on Mount Zion, and images be set up within the walls
of Jerusalem. Yea, it is to Israel the Promised Land, till _every_
prophecy be fulfilled; till the King come to Zion, _lowly and riding on
an ass_ (Zech. ix. 9); till--oh, most mysterious word!--the thirty
pieces of silver be weighed out as the price of the Lord and cast to
the potter (Zech. xi. 12, 18); till He shall speak peace to the
heathen, and His dominion be from sea to sea, and from the river to the
ends of the earth (Zech. ix. 10). Faith looks backward on fulfilled
prophecy with gratitude, on yet unfulfilled prophecy with hope. Zion's
brightest days are to come. Her Lord crowned her with glory in the
days of old; but in the days which will rise on her yet, He shall
Himself be to her as a diadem of beauty!" (Isa. xxviii. 5.)

Absorbed in such high contemplations, with hopes intensified by the
victories of Maccabeus--which seemed to her types and pledges of
greater triumphs to come--time did not pass wearily with Hadassah until
the hour arrived for Zarah's expected return. Even the delay of that
return did not at first seriously alarm Hadassah; circumstances might
render it safer for the maiden to linger at Salathiel's house; she
might even be pressed to remain there during the night, should Syrians
be lurking about in the paths amidst the hills. Hadassah had so often
attended meetings in the elder's dwelling, with or without her
grand-daughter, that habit had made her regard such attendance as less
perilous than it was now to be proved to have been.

But Hadassah on this night could not retire to rest. She could not
close her eyes in sleep until they had again looked upon her whom the
Hebrew lady fondly called her "white dove."

Midnight stole on, and Hadassah's heart, notwithstanding her courage
and faith, became burdened with heavy anxiety. She made Anna lie down
and rest; while she herself, notwithstanding her state of
indisposition, kept watch by the door.

Presently her ear caught the sound of footsteps, hurried yet stealthy.
Hadassah heard danger in that sound, and opened the door without
waiting to know who came, or whether the steps would be arrested at her
threshold. The light which the widow held in her hand fell on a
countenance ghastly with fear; she recognized the face of Salathiel,
and knew before he uttered a word that he had come as the messenger of

"The enemy came--we fled over the roofs--Abishai is slain--Zarah in the
hands of the Syrians!"

Such were the tidings which fell like a sentence of death on the ear of
Hadassah! Salathiel could not wait to tell more; he must overtake his
family and with them flee for his life; and he passed away again into
darkness, almost as swiftly as the lightning passes, but, like the
lightning, leaving behind a token of where it has been in the tree
which it has blasted!

Hadassah did not shriek, nor sink, nor swoon, but she felt as one who
has received a death-blow. She stood repeating over and over to
herself the latter part of Salathiel's brief but fearful announcement,
as if it were too terrible to be true. Had Zarah been taken from her
by natural cause, the Hebrew lady would have bowed her head like Job,
and have blessed the name of the Lord in mournful submission; but the
thought of Zarah in the hands of the Syrians caused an agony of grief
more like that of Jacob, when he gazed on the blood-stained garment of
his son and refused to be comforted.

For Hadassah loved the young maiden whom she had reared with the
intensity of which a strong and fervent nature like hers perhaps alone
is capable. Zarah was all that was left to her grandmother in the
world, the sole relic remaining of the treasures which she once had
possessed. It may be permitted to me here, as a digression, to give a
brief account of Hadassah's former life, that the reader may better
understand her position at the point reached in my story.

Few women had appeared to enjoy a brighter lot than Hadassah, when
beautiful, gifted, and beloved, a happy wife, a rejoicing mother, she
had dwelt near Bethsura in Idumea, the possessor of more than
competence, and the dispenser of benefits to many around her. Hadassah
had in her youthful days an ambitious spirit, a somewhat haughty
temper, and a love of command, which had to a certain degree marred the
beauty of a character which was essentially noble.

Grief soon came, however, to humble the spirit and to soften the
temper. Hadassah was early left a widow, and heavily the grief of
bereavement fell upon one whose love had been passionate and deep. Two
children, however--a daughter and son--remained to console her. Around
these, and especially her boy, the affections of Hadassah clung but too
closely. Abner was almost idolized by his mother. If ambition
remained in her heart, it was ambition for him. He was her pride, her
delight, the object of her fondest hopes; Abner's very faults seemed
almost to become graces, viewed through the medium of Hadassah's
intense love.

Many years now flowed on, with little to disturb their even tenor.
Miriam, the only daughter of Hadassah, was married to Abishai; Abner
was united to a fair maiden whom his mother could receive love as a
daughter indeed.

The Hebrew widow lived her early days over again in her children, and
life was sweet to her still.

Then came blow upon blow in fearful succession, each inflicting a deep
wound on the heart of Hadassah. Both the young wives were taken in the
prime of their days, within a few weeks of each other--Miriam dying
childless, Naomi leaving but one little daughter behind. But the
heaviest, most crushing stroke was to come!

When Seleucus, King of Pergamos, with the concurrence of the Romans,
had placed Antiochus on the throne of Syria, the new monarch had
speedily shown himself an active enemy of the faith held by his
subjects in Judaea. Onias, their venerable High Priest, was deposed,
and the traitor Jason raised to hold an office which he disgraced. A
gymnasium was built by him in Jerusalem; reverence for Mosaic rites was
discouraged. Both by his example and his active exertions, Jason, the
unworthy successor of Aaron, sought to obliterate the distinction
between Jew and Gentile, and bring all to one uniformity of worldliness
and irreligion. In the words of the historian:[1] "The example of a
person in his commanding position drew forth and gave full scope to the
more lax dispositions which existed among the people, especially among
the younger class, who were enchanted with the ease and freedom of the
Grecian customs, and weary of the restraints and limitations of their
own. Such as these abandoned themselves with all the frenzy of a new
excitement, from which all restraint had been withdrawn, to the license
which was offered to them. The exercises of the gymnasium seem to have
taken their minds with the force of fascination."

To temptations such as these, a disposition like that of Abner was
peculiarly accessible. His religion had never been the religion of the
heart; his patriotism was cold, he prided himself upon being a citizen
of the world. Unhappily, after the death of his wife, Abner had become
weary of Bethsura, and had gone up to Jerusalem to divert his mind from
painful associations. He there came under the influence of Jason, and
plunged into amusement in a too successful effort to divert his mind
from sorrow.

Ambition soon added its powerful lure to that of pleasure. Abner met
the newly-made king shortly after his accession, and at once attracted
the attention and won the favour of the monarch. There was nothing but
the Hebrew's faith between him and the highest distinctions which a
royal friend could bestow. Abner yielded to the brilliant temptation;
he parted with his religion (more than nominal it never had been),
changed his name to that of Pollux, abandoned all his former friends
and pursuits, and attached himself entirely to the Syrian court, then
usually residing at Antioch.

Abner, or, as we have called him, Pollux, dared not face his mother
after he had turned his back upon all which she had taught him to
revere. The apostate never went near Bethsura again; he kept far away
from the place where he had passed his innocent childhood, the place
where slept the relics of his young Jewish wife. Abner wrote to
Hadassah to inform her of what he termed the change in his opinions;
told her that he had given up an antiquated faith, commended his little
daughter to her care, and asked her to forget that she herself had ever
given birth to a son.

Hadassah, after receiving this epistle, lay for weeks at the point of
death, and fears were at first entertained for her reason. She arose
at last from her sick-bed a changed, almost broken-hearted woman. As
soon as it was possible for her to travel, the widow left Bethsura for
ever. She could not endure the sight of aught to remind her of happier
days; she could not bear to meet any one who might speak to her of her
son. Hadassah's first object was to seek out Abner, and, with all the
persuasions which a mother could use, to try to draw him back from a
course which must end in eternal destruction. But Abner was not to be
found in Jerusalem, nor in any part of the country around it. He had
carefully concealed from his mother his new name--the Hebrew was lost
in the Syrian--Abner was dead indeed to his family and to his
country--and to Hadassah the courtier Pollux was utterly a stranger.

It was long, very long, before Hadassah gave up her search for Abner,
and she never gave up either her love or her hope for her son.
Affection with her was like the vein in the marble, a part of itself,
which nought can wash out or remove. There was scarcely a waking hour
in which the mother did not pray for her wanderer; he was often present
to her mind in dreams. And the character of Hadassah was elevated and
purified by the grief which she silently endured. The dross of
ambition and pride was burned away in the furnace of affliction; the
impetuous high-spirited woman refined into the saint. Exquisitely
beautiful is the remark made by a gifted writer:[2] "Everything of
moment which befalls us in this life, which occasions us some great
sorrow for which in this life we see not the uses, has nevertheless its
definite object.... It may seem but a barren grief in the history of a
life, it may prove a fruitful joy in the history of a soul."

Hadassah's intense, undying affection for her unworthy son, led her to
regard with peculiar affection the child whom he had left to her care.
She loved Zarah both for his sake and her own. Zarah was the one
flower left in the desert over which the simoom had swept; her smile
was to the bereaved mother as the bright smile of hope. Hadassah, as
she watched the opening virtues of Abner's daughter, could not, would
not believe that the parent of Zarah could ever be finally lost. God
would surely hear a mother's prayers, and save Abner from the fate of
an apostate. All that Hadassah asked of Heaven was to see her son once
again in the path of duty, and then she would die happy. The love for
Abner which still lived in the widow's bosom, was like the unseen fires
that glow unseen beneath the surface of the earth, only known by the
warmth of the springs that gush up into light. Even as those springs
was the love of the widow for Abner's daughter.

[1] Dr. Kitto.

[2] Lord Lytton.

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