Disappointment showed plainly on Ben-Hur’s face- his head drooped; and if he was not convinced, he yet felt himself incapable that moment of disputing the opinion of the Egyptian. Not so Ilderim.
“By the splendour of God!” he cried, impulsively, “the judgment does away with all custom. The ways of the world are fixed, and cannot be changed. There must be a leader in every community clothed with power, else there is no reform.”
Balthasar received the burst gravely.
“Thy wisdom, good sheik, is of the world; and thou dost forget that it is from the ways of the world we are to be redeemed. Man as a subject is the ambition of a king; the soul of a man for its salvation is the desire of a God.”
Ilderim, though silenced, shook his head, unwilling to believe. Ben-Hur took up the argument for him.
“Father- I call thee such by permission,” he said- “for whom wert thou required to ask at the gates of Jerusalem?”
The sheik threw him a grateful look.
“I was to ask of the people,” said Balthasar, quietly, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”
“And you saw him in the cave by Bethlehem?”
“We saw and worshipped him, and gave him presents- Melchoir, gold; Gaspar, frankincense; and I, myrrh.”
“When thou dost speak of fact, O father, to hear thee is to believe,” said Ben-Hur; “but in the matter of opinion, I cannot understand the kind of king thou wouldst make of the Child- I cannot separate the ruler from his powers and duties.”
“Son,” said Balthasar, “we have the habit of studying closely the things which chance to lie at our feet, giving but a look at the greater objects in the distance. Thou seest now but the title- King of the Jews; wilt thou lift thine eyes to the mystery beyond it, the stumbling-block will disappear. Of the title, a word. Thy Israel hath seen better days- days in which God called they people endearingly his people, and dealt with them through prophets. Now, if in those days he promised them the Saviour I saw- promised him as King of the Jews- the appearance must be according to the promise, if only for the word’s sake. Ah, thou seest the reason of my question at the gate!- thou seest, and I will no more of it, but pass on. It may be, next, thou art regarding the dignity of the Child; if so, bethink thee- what is it to be a successor of Herod?- by the world’s standard of honour, what? Could not God better by his beloved? If thou canst think of the Almighty Father in want of a title, and stooping to borrow the inventions of men, why was I not bidden ask for a Caesar at once? Oh, for the substance of that whereof we speak, look higher, I pray thee! Ask rather of what he whom we await shall be king; for I do tell, my son, that is the key to the mystery, which no man shall understand without the key.”