Famine and Survival

Far into the distant horizon disappeared the Mayflower. She had been a fixture in the harbor for close to four months. In between their much needed explorations for a suitable place to settle in the expansive land before them, the tired men upon their return, found in her cabins and halls refuge from the wilderness and the unrelenting and cruel weather. The moored vessel was for many weeks their shelter in the absence of any other structure into which they would run to find relief from the assailing wind-driven snow. In her cramped spaces, the women also cared for their children and the sick, dealing daily with menacing challenges of their own. Fast spreading illnesses caught up with them in total unpreparedness. Yet, as they saw the vessel’s bow oriented eastward, her repaired sails bellied by auspicious western winds, none among the dwindling colony made his return to the great isle they loved.

With the departure of the Mayflower, the reality the Pilgrims knew was distressing; it was nothing but lack, sickness, diminishment, peril and death. With no ship on which to reverse their destiny once again, they instead sealed their resolve to endure and make do with what they had. When the spring greeted them, only 51 of the 102 who sailed from England had survived their first winter. The death of so many of them greatly impaired their work and production capacity. In addition, the dreadful circumstances obligated them to engage in work and tasks with which they had limited experience. Nonetheless, their arduous efforts were spent securing food, clothing, shelter and whatever else was needed for survival. Resolutely they went on.  As the weather warmed, with renewed vigor they planted corn, which, in spite of it being a smaller than expected harvest, they were able to supplement with fishing and some hunting. They had sufficient food in store, or the prospects of enough to last for the next several months. Their cautious optimism was challenged, as on November 21st, 1621 – exactly a year after the arrival of the Mayflower—another ship brought 35 more colonists.

The Fortune had been at sea almost five months, and her passengers had severely depleted their own supplies. Perplexed and seriously burdened, the Pilgrims’ hopes for increased food production capacity quickly proved unrealistic. With very few exceptions, these 35 young newcomers were mostly unmarried and lusty men whose attitudes and behavior demonstrated a lack of serious commitment and responsibility. With winter fast approaching, the Pilgrims, in an effort to avert famine, took inventory of their food stock, and decided that food supplies would not last the harsh, long season if rations were not controlled. A conservative accounting would only carry their food stores to no more than six months, if that long, possibly bringing them to a critical stage when supplies would be used up before food production could be stabilized. Half a ration was their lot per person. Still, starvation pressed them hard, threatening the colony. Surviving, the smitten but resolute colonists could not dismiss anxious food forecasting from their minds, as their second year and highly anticipated corn harvest was extremely light in yield. Adding to the ominous outlook in the fast approaching final months of the year, was the reckless way in which the newcomers took to the corn fields and helped themselves to unripe corn, bringing a light yield to almost nothing. Gaunt famine stalked them ahead, darkening their mood, as they would face it again weaker and with less fortitude. Averting death by starvation challenged their tenacity, and most times securing food during the winter months proved to be a draining and a lamentably unfruitful struggle.

With the coming of a new spring, their third in Plymouth, and having survived extreme food shortages and brief periods of famine, the Pilgrims implemented a new food production system. Up to this point, they had organized their food production and general industry in the colony following a communistic pattern. It had been each individual for all, and all for each, with constraints. This system proved to be a failure for all their efforts, especially since the young men among them were terribly uncooperative and highly disruptive in the colony’s general industry. With frivolous and unhelpful doings, they continually undermined the work the Pilgrims and other responsible individuals contributed for the benefit of all. As seeding time neared, they thought of ways to maximize corn yields aiming to avoid the pitiful and deficient yields which hardly had sustained them in prior years. After much consideration and debate, it was decided that each family would have a parcel of land to be worked in accordance to the number of its members, and all families and individuals were encouraged to plant and raise as much corn as they could. The results were highly promising. With many more individuals participating in the raising of their own supplies of corn, much more corn was planted. And whereas before some of the young men did not participate in the raising of corn for the colony, this time the incentive motivated them, and even some women,  who with their young children planted and raised as much corn as they could. An industrious and healthy sense of work and production became an encouragement for each family and individual. The more prudent and thrifty ones, as well as the stronger and dedicated ones, found more satisfaction in their toil. This in turn kindled a sense of welcomed rivalry by which more was sown and raised. Still, though more land had been devoted to the cultivation of corn, their current food supply remained perilously close to extreme shortage, such that all during the spring and summer months their sustenance was exclusively from hand to mouth as they foraged and gathered whatever they could find to eat. However, they anticipated their best harvest. To their horror, the famine that had indeed pinched them during the better part of their third year was accompanied by a drought which consumed them with worries and concerns.

Late May was followed by six weeks of incessant drought. The prolonged dryness would inevitably impact the corn and what they had planted in their gardens, produce on which they had naturally put much hope. Facing a fourth winter with insufficient food stores discouraged even the most courageous among them. In their dire circumstances, the fraught little colony convened a day of prayer and humiliation before the Lord, and falling on their knees they solemnly prayed. The day had started as it had for several weeks. No signs of weather changes were appreciable, and the sun and the heat continued to beat down on them as on the corn and gardens, further parching their fields and their expectations. For approximately nine hours the colonists gathered in their customary place of worship; burdened, tired and disconsolate the assembly prayed for mercy and favor. Fervently and with desperate pleas, they asked for relief, for otherwise, their new plan, their invested efforts and their hopes for a larger crop would of necessity come to naught. Gracious and speedy was the answer to their entreaties. As evening approached, the skies began to overcast and shortly thereafter, gentle and steady rain showers drenched the fields, reviving their dried out and brown corn, and watering the much needed beans and fruits, parched for almost two months. Their hearts previously weighed down by the oppressive heat were revived with hopes for a bigger and sustaining harvest once again. Satisfying and enormously relieving was the realization and approbation of their new system of corn farming and land-based food production. The success was so clear and unequivocal that the colonists, upon adopting it thereafter, never found themselves in want of food. It was a turning point in the struggles against the hunger and famine they had repeatedly faced.

The effects of their individual scheme of planting were well accepted by all, and those who had been more enterprising and consistent were able to produce larger amounts of food, a much needed relief to those whose production had partly failed. Some colonists were able to buy the surplus of others, such that during winter months, all had ample food supplies to last them until seed time. They had started the turn-around event with a day of prayer and humiliation before the Lord, and following such favorable results, they consecrated a day of thanks in which they intended to praise God for His goodness and tender care, and especially for their deliverance from certain starvation. Though they had not yet reached a state of more complete stability in their new homeland, and no luxuries surrounded them, they were never to work on an empty stomach.


The Mayflower Compact

When the Mayflower‘s anchor was dropped, and a full month before the Pilgrims set foot on the new world, these seemingly inconsequential people, small in number, without wealth and particular standing, and in a place remote from civilization, had a civil constitution and a government. They were a state. They had an organic law, written by them to which they subscribed; they had chosen rulers and a policy. The document was drafted and signed by forty-one men in the narrow cabin of the ship on the morning of the day when they entered the harbor and furled the sails.

The writing of the Mayflower Compact was precipitated for two main reasons. Insubordination and the breaking up of the colony; and having missed the Virginia territory by hundreds of miles to the north, there was essentially no civil or legal authority they could access for their own protection and that of their dependents and possessions. The land lease the Pilgrims had previously procured from the English authorities specified their eventual landing on a province that was under English rule and authority. But having landed in another territory, they were left without a law. Under these circumstances, the drafting of the Compact became a matter of extreme urgency, whereby they intended to immediately thwart the coming mutiny and lawlessness some among them had made known. Upon realizing that the Mayflower had not reached the shores of Virginia, some passengers who had boarded to either serve as crew, or to travel for their own reasons, spoke openly of their intentions. Landing somewhere else absolved them of their obligation to the company, they argued; and therefore, they attempted to incite mutiny, aiming at severing themselves from their obligations. In the face of this development, these astute statesmen on the ship concluded that a contract drawn up and signed by every responsible person of the company might be as binding as any government grant. In essence, they sought to find a way to enjoin men to rule and authority regardless of their landing location.

These men, in the absence of ruling authority, were in effect organizing themselves on the basis of common rights. They were enacting political equality, and were attempting to ensure stability and order in government by making each person a part and a participant of it. As for socio-economic differences, this document dealt a blow to social distinctions based upon the principle of personal responsibility and accountability. Age was the distinguishing factor. Forty-one adult men affixed their names in agreement to the document, which signatures themselves symbolized and were in essence a thrust against known social pretensions. It was man for man, and simple manhood was what counted. It was an unequivocal statement that man has rights because he is a man as opposed to earning his rights due to being of a certain class. On the Mayflower some men were better than others, some were more intelligent than others, some were richer and others possessed more wisdom, experience and capacity to rule the little and fledging state, but all men were recognized, and their rights protected.

These are the words that have inspired men to strive for freedom; these are the words that have given light and guidance to those who have pledged themselves and their fortunes for the cause of freedom and the pursuit of happiness under the canopy of the rule of law:

“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland; Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaking for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern part of Virginia; do by these present solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and, by virtue thereof, to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient, for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names. Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth; and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini, 1620.”

The Mayflower Compact’s ideals and concepts are enduring. It is generally considered to be one of the most important contributions to civic thought. Its relevance has endured 400 years of human history, in which time man has witnessed changes and radical departures from the Compact’s principles, but has not seen a more sustainable theory. It is a remarkably short and precise document. The Mayflower Compact birthed our popular constitutional liberty, and its depths have been plumbed for continuing guidance and inspiration. Though the text is not a political manifesto, there is no doubt that it ranks among the greatest ideals due to its emphasis in self-government. This fact lends an inescapable accuracy as to its intent and purposes. Not being a political manifesto, which King James would have taken as treasonous, this new world law was the document binding individuals to self-government, by which civil laws would apply to all equally, and give to all equal responsibility to pursue opportunities for personal betterment.

None among the passengers understood this ideal and principle better than the Pilgrims. By virtue of their exile for the sake of freedom, and by having in practice advanced a successful church government system, and by having through it modeled conduct beneficial to all, the Pilgrims’ contribution to the Compact bespeaks of their understanding of the document’s major underlying force: self-governance is the product of obedience to God and His Word. Self-governance, as the Pilgrims modeled, is an idea inherently alien to man apart from the guiding light of the Scriptures. No society had ever adopted such a radically different proposition, and it was upon their landing on distant shores, and due to the ever-present threat of lawlessness, that this document was drafted. It became the Colony’s law and authority that equally benefited the Pilgrims, and those who, in contrast, held not to the same Faith.

The liberty which poets have through the ages dreamed about; the liberty about which philosophers have discoursed and speculated; the liberty which tyrants abhor and treat with disdain; the liberty for which heroes have volunteered their possessions and lives; the liberty which is regulated by the rule of law, and which loses none of its appeal, vitality and rewards emerged in this short document to be the ruling ideal of a tiny colony embarking on an experiment unthinkable and daunting, yet exhilarating and utterly promising.  The issue of society ceased to be whether a man is master of another, or whether a man is a servant of another by virtue of his social class, material possession, name and status. Centuries later, the guiding principle of self-government and freedom inspired the country that was birthed from this ideal to find it necessary to shed its own blood to correct a terrible wrong, and to enshrine forever the noble cause of liberty for all men under God and under the rule of law. It is a high ideal worthy of all efforts which continues to demand attention and consideration, no matter if efforts at times fail, for its worth is not measured by the attempts but by self-evident Truth.

The Pilgrims

Not all Puritans were Pilgrims, but in general, all Pilgrims were Puritans. Puritanism, as expressed by the Pilgrims, was the desire for more holiness of character, for unhindered freedom for direct access to God, as well as freedom to spread the knowledge of truth as it is in Jesus Christ. This was the soil from which the Pilgrims sprang. Puritanism, non-conformity, separatism and exile were the successive degrees through which these men passed. It is not easy to determine the starting point of Puritanism. However, almost two centuries before Martin Luther, in the days of John Wycliffe, Puritanism was in the air. Wycliffe’s teachings and the Bible reached the English people in their mother tongue and were instrumental in influencing and shaping the issue that afterward became the advanced Protestantism of the Puritans. The Reformation in England was two-fold, religious and political. The movement to sever the English government from papal power was started and effectively concluded with Henry VIII. After breaking with Pope Clement VII over his marital problems, Parliament declared the monarch the head of the national church. Queen Mary did her best to repeal and reverse what her father and her brother Edward had done for the advancement of Protestantism. Her successor, Queen Elizabeth, ordered the reenactment of what her father had obtained. All church authority was hers. The people, on the other hand, lost their voice in all matters ecclesiastical. Inevitable discontent and vigorous protest followed.

Groups of disciples developed into strong Independents. Influential Separatists assembled in London; persecution almost ended them. So determined were Separatists to worship God freely and to live by the dictates of their consciences, that a quarter of a century of persecution failed to dissuade them. They grew stronger. The church in Scrooby gives abundant proof. Scrooby, located approximately one-hundred fifty miles north of London, was the meeting place of a group of Separatists who were guests of the hamlet’s postmaster, William Brewster. As Separatists, the congregation at Scrooby was aware that they were both in violation of ecclesiastical and civil law, and knew that in time they would be discovered and punished.

Five years later, after some had endured prison, leaving Scrooby became their main consideration. Although King James had vowed to harass the Puritans out of his realm, he was not willing to allow them safe and legal passage. Therefore, if sailing to Holland was the objective, it would have to be done in extreme secrecy. Their first attempt failed. Betrayal and unsuccessful evasion of the authorities hindered them. Several months later after some were released from prison, they tried again. The second attempt was not without problems. Only a portion of the men were able to board the Dutch ship they had hired, thereby separating the group. Wives and children wept in despair as they looked on their husbands and fathers on the deck of the departing ship. Their reunion came several months later.

Arriving in Amsterdam, among them William Brewster, John Robinson, their pastor, and seventeen-year-old William Bradford, these Scrooby Separatists found themselves in the midst of conflict and much consternation. Free from constraints, other English Separatists congregations started to advance faith issues that put them at odds with their flocks. As fellow Separatists, it was impossible for the new-comers to remain uninvolved. Showing the firmness, sensitivity and judgment that later characterized his ministry, Pastor Robinson led the majority of the group to relocate to nearby Leiden, where they were free to establish themselves on their own terms. Once established in Leiden, their sense of purpose renewed despite the challenges and difficulties of being exiles. Though freer, life and work in Leiden were hard and very different from their previous life of husbandry. However, these men and women of conscience and self -respect went to work in simple everyday tasks as offered to them by employers of manual labor. Some became carpenters, others weavers, brick layers, twine spinners, furniture and glass makers, and the like. As a group, the Pilgrims did honest work and conducted themselves in a way that met the hearty approval of the community. The small group prospered.

During their twelve-year stay, more than forty marriages were celebrated; their community increased with the addition of more children born to them; recognition and honor came from the city as many were awarded citizenship. Still, the most important preparatory activity was the increasing distinctiveness with which they were defining in their minds and in practical terms the system of church government which they had adopted. At Scrooby, this group had taken a stance for independence and self-government. In Leiden, they took the occasion to apply that standard. Later at Plymouth, they worked out, in a much larger scale and with demonstrable success, self-government, order, fellowship and efficient church management. They became habituated to, and perfected Congregationalism.

Three years before their 1620 sea voyage, the Pilgrims enumerated important reasons for leaving. Firstly, they sought to enlarge their church. And though grateful, exile and hard toil in Leiden had indeed taken its toll on the group’s leaders; they determined that the aging group would scatter or succumb to necessity. Their children’s moral and spiritual safety was paramount. The Pilgrims’ children were “oftentimes so oppressed with their heavy labors…their bodies bowed under the weight of the same, and became decrepit in their early youth.” The most lamentable thing was that in their youth, their children gave into the city’s many temptations, grieving their parents and imperiling their souls. War was another critical consideration. The truce between the Dutch and the Spaniards, which had been in force since 1609, was nearing its termination. War between Spain and Holland could erupt at any moment in 1619. In addition, the Continent was suffering the ravages of the Thirty Years’ War, and freedom appeared tenuous as the political landscape darkened with threats.

Deciding on Virginia, plans were started to secure passage and a land lease. After two years, the efforts were fruitless. Offers to finance their venture came from the Dutch, but the group of Pilgrims accepted one made by an association of English merchants and business men who had a solid financial condition. Articles of agreement were drafted and accepted by the two parties, and the necessary preparations were undertaken in earnest. It would be too late when significant changes were forced on them, and fearing tremendous loss, the Pilgrims accepted. The new agreement essentially made them to be at the employ of the financiers and gave them no legal latitude to occupy themselves in the settling and furthering of themselves and their families. Suddenly, they were to produce gains for the enlargement of the common stock, into which they had no great participation. Their personal time, their labor, their vigor and enterprising activities were to be the common property of the parties, favoring the financiers more according to the number of their shares. This represented a sure prospect for the Pilgrims’ eventual failure.

Meanwhile, two ships were secured for their transport. One was for the passengers and the other for their cargo. These were the Mayflower, the hired vessel, and the Speedwell, which had been purchased, and destined to be kept by the Pilgrims in the new world. Sadly, of this last vessel they were also dispossessed. Only a small group was to make the historical voyage, for many in the Leiden church were already advanced in age, some had not the means, and others had not enough time. On the day before departure, the little church in Leiden, under the direction of Pastor Robinson – whose death five years later thwarted plans for reunion – came together from the morning hours until night to pray and fast and to ask with many tears for the Lord to bless the travelers. Twenty-four miles away the Speedwell waited for the little band of Pilgrims to depart the Dutch port en route to Southhampton, where they were to join up with the Mayflower. Tears, prayer and the asking of God’s blessing and protection, was the scene among the two groups of Pilgrims. The small group was on its way to accomplish more than they would have ever imagined. If history and circumstances had not produced the Puritan, there would have been no Pilgrim to write a new chapter in the history of Christianity and of humanity.

Political Interpretations of Esther

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (Romans 13: 3).

When king Ahasuerus appeared to have secured his throne for three consecutive years, with perhaps no imminent threats from abroad or from within, a crisis arose that could potentially have undone much of what he sought to gain. In the course of a public relations campaign lasting six months, the king had entertained his high-ranking officials, military officers, the nobility and provincial governors and showed them his power and wealth. While concluding a second round of festivities on the grounds of his palace, the king’s merriment came to an abrupt end. What should have remained a private matter between him and his queen became a public crisis. As it was, his image as an indomitable monarch and his political clout were at stake. Impudence and lack of wisdom ruined his marriage and impacted all married women beyond his household. Queen Vashti’s reasons for refusing to parade herself at the command of her husband are not offered in the narrative, though it can hardly be too difficult to understand. Nevertheless, had king Ahasuerus not been under the influence of his impaired judgment, the violation could have been avoided altogether, or at the very least he could have stifled his resentment and deflated the incident. “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3: 19).  However, what ensued was a decree that banned Vashti and stripped her of her royal position, and caused all married women to come under the scrutiny of a new and narrower law. Political considerations are notorious for being agile; they do not remain in the imaginative calculations of the influential. They become matters of national import.

The rights, privileges, opportunities and amenities women enjoy in modern and civilized societies were not items in the daily lives of women in ancient times. A decree of divorce would, by all intents and purposes, carry hardships and challenges undoubtedly to include destitution and misery. Irreparable damage would have been done to the reputation of a divorced woman and the possibilities of re-marriage would have vanished. The king’s cabinet of advisers in considering the queen’s violation of the law, overlooked any possible mitigating factors and proposed a new and more stringent legal remedy. For the guilty queen, her immediate removal from her royal position was demanded and irrevocable, according to Medo-Persian legal code. By design, all subsequent legal outcomes of any guilty married woman would not differ from that of the deposed queen. Nonetheless, even though the king’s image and reputation may have been sufficiently repaired by deflection and the cover of the new marital law, providence served its own purpose. The open royal position would be filled on God’s terms. “He raises up the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor” (I Samuel 2: 8).

The sudden change in the palace had the cabinet of advisers taking steps once again to contrive of a way of improving the situation for the king, perhaps even aiming at keeping his anger abated. The kingdom’s beautiful virgins were to be gathered to participate in a year-long beautification period for a turn at one night with the king. Immediately, the implications of this proposal certainly are salient. Beyond the obvious and relating to their one-night experience, all these young women except one would become recluses. They would have been regarded as secondary companions, confined to a life of limitation, isolation and deprivation, and never at liberty to leave and to marry. From another perspective, the removal of these virgins from the pool of available women of reproductive age could also affect young men looking to marry. Finding no wives and not marrying may not appear at first glance a serious problem. However in the aggregate, the sudden shortage of available young women and the related birth rate declines could have possible long-term effects on the treasury. Even so, the cabinet’s proposal once more pleased the king and its implications in the lives of his subjects appeared immaterial. The king’s political capital, though seemingly inexhaustible, could have been in real danger of some erosion; they sought to likely curb it by this proposal. In an overgrown empire, there is no shortage of dissent, strife and scheming against the citizens and against the sovereign. Mighty king Ahasuerus was no exception; certainly his decrees must have confused and annoyed his subjects. Not all were happy, and though for unspecified reasons, at his very gate there was discovered a plot to kill him.

By intrigue, cunning or skill, Haman, perhaps one of the king’s military leaders, replaced the king’s cabinet of advisers. He had the monarch’s ear, the latter continuing to be easily and persuasively swayed. Whereas the matters that become public policy decreed by the prior cabinet effectively impinged on aspects of private life, Haman’s malevolent plan was utterly and hopelessly evil. The implications and ramifications would have reached not only kingdom-wide, but indeed humanity-wide. The proposed end was to exterminate the entire Jewish race. The king’s unwise views and selfish lifestyle were the ideal doorways through which Haman’s wicked and insatiable lust for power ultimately would be realized. The unchangeable and deadly edict included the Jews that had already returned to Judea as re-builders years prior, and betrayed the king’s negligence and disregard for justice. Later, in front of queen Esther he feigned no knowledge, though that hardly exempted him. Even so, the Sovereign of the universe had placed His agents within the locus of power. It was their stars that saw ascendancy as surely as Haman saw his in unstoppable descent. The queen’s wisdom and quiet strength as well as her cousin Mordecai’s prior intervention in the foiling of the plot against the king, would under the vigilant eye of the King of heaven find a sure recompense. Their moral convictions demonstrated courage that earned them political capital with wide and powerful influence. “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for He sees that his day is coming” (Psalm 37: 12-13).

It is impossible to explain or rationalize how Ahasuerus consented to such a plan, especially since it would have been permanent. The king himself did not have the legal authority to reverse it. With no proof of guilt or wrongdoing, an entire minority was to be executed and that without any legal allowances for self-defense. The slaughter of the Jews at the appointed time seemed not to daunt the king’s sensibilities. The lot was cast, but God had determined that His people would not be summarily destroyed. Esther’s political influence was at her disposal and she used it wisely while Haman tried to find ways to circumvent the malicious law to his own advantage. In just a few short hours, Haman’s fortunes turned as his influence plummeted, falling thereafter into his own trap. The confluence of events involving Esther, Mordecai and Haman prevented the massacre of God’s chosen people, but still all was not well. Redress was no easy policy.

Bloodshed between the Jews and their attackers was unavoidable. The possible complications of this could have even included civil war – perhaps the one outcome a temporal monarch does not desire, for it certainly would have weakened his empire from the inside inviting possible foreign invasion. However, due in part to the success of the two Jewish principals in the king’s court, and approximately nine months before the appointed day for the execution of the decree, a new decree authored by the queen and her uncle made provisions for the Jews to defend themselves, their dependents and their possessions. Mordecai’s rising influence had become formidable and not easily overlooked. Those among the citizenry, who were considerate, sober and well-inclined, became Jews due to the fear and respect the visible Jewish profile inspired. Whom Haman had fiercely sought to extirpate, increased. Consequently, when the appointed day arrived, by virtue of the intervening events and providential allowances, the casualties were kept to a minimum; approximately 75,800 citizens died. None from among the Jews lost his life. “The Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces…to lay hands on those who sought their harm. And no one could stand against them, for the fear of them had fallen on all peoples” (Esther 9: 2).

From this court too, more pronouncements emerged. A peculiar edict, tacitly understood to favor the minority who previously was the target of annihilation, was enacted. For a couple of days every year Purim was to be celebrated throughout the kingdom, an assertion of the Jewish community’s local and national influence, and favor from God’s hand. As a matter of public policy and political influence, the changes in the circle of advisers to the king proved beneficial to him. His revived image and political power may have contributed to his ability to maintain the control he so eagerly desired. By his side, he had a wise and virtuous queen, and a prime minister who regarded justice. While the king’s clout contributed to his court’s increased revenues due to new taxes, Mordecai amassed authority and influence, which gained him honor and wide respect. With the aid of Mordecai, the king went on to perform acts of power and might. Mordecai’s prominence accrued to his benefit and the continuing advancement of the welfare and peace of his kin. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126: 1-2).

Speak Graciously: A Devotional on Colossians 4:6

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4: 6). Toward the end of this wonderful and encouraging letter from Paul to the Colossians, he concluded with an exhortation prior to informing them of personal details. Speak graciously. Perhaps in no other time or era is this exhortation more needed or more practical than in our time. How familiar the expression, but sadly how lacking is the practice of the sentiment. In today’s cultural setting and especially due to the predominant individualistic mentality, we tend to speak freely, but is our speech gracious? Is our attitude gracious?

For believers, however, this exhortation is timely and timeless. We are to be salt and light in the world of our personal influence, in the community, in the culture at large. Taken in context, this encouragement comes off the heels of being circumspect and wise among those who do not share our faith. The believer’s attitude and behavior ought to reflect prudence. The believer has to be aware that entertaining the customs and ways of the world makes him vulnerable to its allure, whereby he may succumb to sin. Consequently, so as to keep pure in his life, the believer must exercise vigilance and expect that his associations with those outside of the Faith may put pressure on him about things, ideas and opportunities that do not align at all with his profession of faith. Evil communications corrupt good character. Further, and in similar fashion, the believer’s conduct must be just as guarded, not in generosity with the truth in love, but rather in moderating his behavior so as not to cause those outside the Faith to cultivate a negative attitude against it and its main object.

Gracious speech does not mean speech that flatters to vain ends, lacking in truth. When engaging individuals outside of the Faith, the believer’s communication must be gracious, so as to convey the dignity and respect others are due. Regardless of whether the same attitude is reciprocated or not, the believer must still offer his speech in just such a tone. All types of interactions must be “seasoned,” that is, they must have salt’s preserving qualities. Such speech must remain at a level where the subject matter and the theme are not about vulgarity and unbecoming topics, but such that the interlocutors remain respectful and above reproach. Seasoned speech prevents the conversation from taking on a debasing tone, and therefore, it is honoring to God. All Christian discourse must be suitable to the believer’s profession of faith; it must be savory, discreet, judicious and praise-inviting to God. This is of utmost importance, because if Christian speech loses its effectiveness any possible future information offered will be received with derision or mistrust. Unseasoned or diminished speech becomes fodder for conjectures about the Faith, which unfairly characterize God and further erode the opportunities for the sharing of the Word of Truth.

Though the topic of conversation may not be “grace” all the time, it must always be proffered with grace.  And though the matter of discourse may be about the common, it still must be becoming. Grace itself is the element or the quality which “salts” all communications. Grace is the preservative agent that keeps discourse pleasant, with a vivacity that enlightens and promotes good will. Care must be afforded to the taming of the tongue, for with it fires can be kindled that devour even a vast and deep forest.

There is a reason for circumspection and grace when dealing with unbelievers, as it should be, for the aim thereof is God, and the furtherance of His kingdom. All that is done by the members of His Church ultimately redounds to Him and His fame. Not in vain did the Apostle remind them earlier in the same letter to put away things like “obscene talk from their mouth,” among other undesirables, but called them to robe themselves with the “new self,” which in the course of its growth, is renewed according to the image of its Creator. Therefore, the “word of Christ” must be cultivated so that it may dwell in the believer’s heart richly. This awareness promotes an attitude of sober humility, that all that the believer does whether in “word or deed” is done in the mane of the Lord Jesus.

Taming the tongue or moderating speech attracts attention from those outside the Faith. It may provoke them to be inquisitive about the believer’s consistent mode of speech. To be sure, this does not mean that all speech has to be a show of knowledge or erudition, but rather its elegance must be from grace. Be ready, therefore, to give an answer. Be ready to share with truthfulness in all circumstances and occasions. The believer’s speech must be abundant in wisdom as in grace in order to entertain and answer all questions as best as can be, and gently and calmly correct adversarial opinions and allegations against the Faith. With seasoned speech, the believer gives the reason for his faith, shows the unreasonableness of objections in a manner advantageous to his cause and foments the least prejudice against him.

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3: 15.