Far east of ruined Palestine
The year five hundred thirty nine
Was filled with hope. The western sun
Set once for all on Babylon;
And Nabonidus fell before
The Persian forces at the door
Of Opis. Mighty Cyrus, king
Of Persia, set his signet ring
Upon the seal of victory
And published in his first decree
That Jews could now return to live
Again in Jacob's land, and give
Themselves to serve the living God.
But there were some who took the rod
Of God's chastisement so to heart
That now their faith and hope would chart
Another course: at least one clan
Within the tribe of Benjamin,
The clan of Shimei, would stay
In pagan Babylon and pray
That now, and generations hence,
God might, in gracious providence,
Be pleased to use them for some great
And saving work—to penetrate
Perhaps some curse beyond the bounds
Of Israel with joyful sounds
Of sovereign love.
Of hope and prayer and frequent tears
Went by in Babylon. One night
A million brilliant stars sang bright
Against the sable Persian sky
And called the aged Shimei
To climb the ancient cliffs beside
The dark Euphrates, up the pride
Of Borsippa. With Abihail
His youngest son, he took the trail
That led to Nippur Ridge, and stood
There with a woolen traveller's hood
Hung half-way on his snowy head.
And facing to the east he said,
"I had a dream, my son, that some
Day what we've longed to see will come,
Not here, but even farther east,
And that for you and me, at least,
The promise that the Lord has planned
Is not found in the Promised Land.
But I am old, and so the dream,
Is yours, my son. And if it seem
Too slow, doubt not the faithfulness
Of God; one generation lives
And dies to serve the next; He gives
A glimpse to Moses 'cross the veil
And me tonight. But Abihail,
Tomorrow take your wife, though she
Is great with child and frailty,
And set your face toward Susa where
The king sits on his throne; and there
Beyond the Tigris serve the Lord
Of hosts, and wait until the cord
Of Providence is woven full.
Then God will set his heel and pull
The powers of the world into
The service of his love for you
And for his children scattered through
The empire. Mark now that you do
As I have said. God will provide
For you, doubt not, and for your bride,
And for the child. Be strong, and I
Will send with you your nephew, Mordecai."
The pretty girl sat on the floor
Beside the fire and said once more
To Mordecai, "Abba, how did
My mother die? You haven't hid
The truth from me for all these years,
And late at night I see the tears
Roll down your cheek and I must feel
That it would help if we could kneel
Before the Lord and bear this thing
Together. You and I could sing
Then eye to eye about the ways
Of God. And wouldn't those dark days
Reveal the same God that you've taught
Me these twelve years to trust? And ought
I not to know then, Mordecai,
How both my parents came to die?
"The road from here to Babylon
Is hard, Hadassah. It isn't fun,
And even less if you're a Jew.
And we were three—or four, with you.
Three hundred miles of sweat and hate.
And you were big and three weeks late.
And no one gave us room. The heat
Was indescribable. Her feet
Were swollen scarlet hot. He prayed,
Your father Abihail, for shade.
That's all! Not for a house or nurse,
Or stream or birthing stool or purse
To bribe the keepers of the inn.
Just shade! And just in time (we thought)
There was a myrtle tree. She fought,
But you were big and she was thin
And there was blood, and we were men..."
"Did mother ever hold me, once?"
"Yes, right away, and your response
Was perfect peace. I wish that I
Could tell you what she said, but my
Heart moved me back as Abihail
Knelt down to kiss your mother's pale
And sweaty face and stroke your hair.
I couldn't hear what happened there,
And Abihail would never say
Too much. Just this: ‘The myrtle was
A gift of God. Jehovah does
What he must do. But there was shade!
And we agreed, the girl is made
To be a myrtle, comfort, shield.
And so together there we sealed
Her name: Hadassah in the tongue
Of Israel. May she be sung
In festival for centuries
and on his knees
Your father dug her grave beneath
The myrtle tree, and pushed the dirt
In with his own strong hands. The hurt,
As you may guess, was deeper than
The grave. We prayed and then we ran
With you. God lead us to a house,
And we besought the farmer's spouse
For mercy and a nurse. ‘You're Jews,'
She said, ‘Perhaps my man could use
A few "employees" for a spell.
Whose kid is this?' ‘She's mine, you tell
Your husband I will work his farm
If you can keep this child from harm.'
"For two long years, Hadassah, we
Were Jewish slaves, but you were free
From harm, and grew up like a tree
Beside the brook of loyalty—
The loyalty of God to his
Design. He never doubted this,
Your father, Abihail. I mean
The tree of hope stayed ever green
That Shimei had planted in
His heart. And neither pain nor sin
Nor death could break the fibers of
His mighty faith, that sovereign love
Would somehow take your mother's death,
His father's dream, your living breath,
And weave them with some loving lace
Into a tapestry of grace.
I've never known a stronger man
Than Abihail your father."
You tell me, Abba, what became
worked himself so thin
That when the fever came his skin
Hung on his bones like dough. I nursed
Him to the end. He never cursed
A soul, not one, alive or dead.
But near the end looked up and said,
‘Could you please take me, Mordecai,
Down to the myrtle tree to die?'
I laid him by your mother's grave,
And waited through the night. Once more
He whispered motionless, ‘Before
I die, give me your word, my friend,
To bring her to the journey's end,
To Susa, as my father dreamed.
For it must be that God has deemed
For you and for Hadassah there
To see the answer to our prayer.'
He took my hand, ‘Swear, Mordecai,
As long as there's a Persian sky,
You will not take Hadassah back
To Israel. And if you lack
For anything, then perish if
You must, but not beside the cliff
Of Borsippa or Jordan stream.
Forsake not, Mordecai, the dream
Of Shimei and Abihail.
The plan of God can never fail
We have not followed him in vain.'
"You see, Hadassah, even pain
Could not suffice to break the hope
Of Abihail or dim the scope
Of his design for you. I took
You yet that night, and we forsook
The shame of slavery and came
To Susa. Here another name
I gave to you to make your way
As easy as I could. They say
That Esther means a brilliant star."
"I thank you, Abba. Ten years are
A lot of love for fathering
"Esther, let us sing
Now like you said, together eye
To eye. The God who made the sky
And rules the earth with awesome might
Is wielding all the world this night
To bring your story to an end
Beyond all power to comprehend."
And O, my fearful advent friend,
As we light candle two, depend
Upon the love and power of God!
Embrace and kiss the painful rod
That leads you to a pleasant end
Beyond all power to comprehend.