STORY VII. The Courtier who quarreled with his Friend for saving his Life.
A king was enraged against one of his courtiers, and drew his sword to slay
him. The bystanders were all afraid to interfere, with the exception of one who
boldly threw himself at the king's feet and begged him to spare the offender.
The king at once stayed his hand, and laid down his sword, saying, "As you
have interceded for him, I would gladly pardon him, even if he had acted as a
very demon. I cannot refuse your entreaties, because they are the same as my
own. In reality, it is not you who make these entreaties for him, but I who
make them through your mouth. I am the real actor in this matter and you are
only my agent. Remember the text, 'You shot not when you shot;' 1 you
are, as it were, the foam, and I the mighty ocean beneath it. The mercy you
show to this offender is really shown by me, the king." The offender was
accordingly released and went his way; but, strange to say, he showed no
gratitude to his protector, but, on the contrary, omitted to greet him when he
met him, and in other ways refused to recognize the favor he had received from
him. This behavior excited remark, and people questioned him as to the cause of
his ingratitude to his benefactor. He replied, "I had offered up my life
to the king when this man intervened. It was a moment when, according to the
tradition, 'I was with God in such a manner that neither prophet nor angel
found entrance along with me,' 2 and this man intruded between us. I
desired no mercy save the king's blows; I sought no shelter save the king. If
the king had cut off my head he would have given me eternal life in return for
it. My duty is to sacrifice my life; it is the king's prerogative to give life.
The night which is made dark as pitch by the king scorns the brightness of the
brightest festal day. He who beholds the king is exalted above all thoughts of
mercy and vengeance. Of a man raised to this exalted state no description is
possible in this world, for he is hidden in God, and words like 'mercy' and
'vengeance' only express men's partial and weak views of the matter. It is true
'God taught Adam the names of all things,' 3 but that means the real
qualities of things, and not such names as ordinary men use, clad in the dress
of human speech. The words and expressions we use have merely a relative truth,
and do not unfold absolute truth."
He illustrates this by the reply made to the angel Gabriel by Abraham when he
was cast into the fire by Nimrod. 4 Gabriel asked him if he could
assist him, and Abraham answered, "No! I have no need of your help."
When one has attained union with God he has no need of intermediaries. Prophets
and apostles are needed as links to connect ordinary men with God, but he who
hears the "inner voice" within him has no need to listen to outward
words, even of apostles. Although that intercessor is himself dwelling in God,
yet my state is higher and more lovely than his. Though he is God's agent, yet
I desire not his intercession to save me from evil sent me by God, for evil at
God's hand seems to me good. What seems mercy and kindness to the vulgar seems
wrath and vengeance to God-intoxicated saints. God's severity and chastisements
serve to exalt his saints, though they make the vulgar more ungodly than
before, even as the water of the Nile was pure water to the Israelites, but
blood to the Egyptians.
Moses asks the Almighty, "Why hast Thou made men to destroy them?"
Moses said, "O Lord of the day of account,
Thou makest forms; wherefore, then, destroyest Thou them?
Thou makest charming forms, both men and women;
Wherefore, then, dost Thou lay them waste?"
God answered, "I know that this query of thine
Proceeds not from negation or vain curiosity.
Otherwise I should chastise and punish thee;
Yea, I should rebuke thee for this question.
But thou seekest to discover in my actions
The ruling principle and the eternal mystery,
In order to inform the people thereof,
And to make 'ripe' every 'raw' person.
Yea, O messenger, thou questionest me that I may reveal
My ways to the people, though thou knowest them.
O Moses, go and sow seed in the ground
In order to do justice to this question."
When Moses had sowed and his seed had grown up,
He took a sickle and reaped the corn,
And then a divine voice reached his ears:
"Why hast thou sown and nurtured the corn,
And then cut it down directly it was ripe?"
Moses replied, "Lord, I cut it and lay it low
Because here I have grain and straw.
Grain is out of place in the straw-yard,
And straw is useless in the wheat-barn.
'Tis wrong to mix these two,
It is needful to sift them one from the other."
God said, "From whom learnest thou this knowledge
Whereby thou hast constructed a threshing-floor?"
Moses said, "O Lord, Thou hast given me discernment."
God said, "Then have not I also discernment?
Amongst my creatures there are pure spirits,
And also dark and befouled spirits.
The oyster-shells are not all of the same value;
Some contain pearls, and others black stones.
It is needful to discern the bad from the good,
Just as much as to sift wheat from straw.
The people of this world exist in order to manifest
And to disclose the 'hidden treasure.'
Read, 'I was a hidden treasure, and desired to be known;
Hide not the hidden treasure, but disclose it.
Your true treasure is hidden under a false one,
Just as butter is hidden within the substance of milk.
The false one is this transitory body of yours,
The true one your divine soul.
Long time this milk is exposed to view,
And the soul's butter is hidden and of no account.
Stir up your milk assiduously with knowledge,
So that what is hidden in it may be disclosed;
Because this mortal is the guide to immortality,
As the cries of revellers indicate the cup-bearer."