A Breathing Space

: 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

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


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


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


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_.